A sighting of Gran Turismo for the PSP is like seeing a unicorn, it just never happens, that is until now. Sony has finally released the portable version of its realistic driving simulator years after they announced it was going to happen. Gran Turismo is synonymous with driving games, and nearly everyone on the planet has played one at some point. The realism and feeling of driving the massive stable of cars has always been the appeal, and the PSP iteration is certainly no different. With over 800 cars to collect and a ton of tracks to race this is one solid package for those that treat the series like Pokemon. However, a lack of a true career mode and online play really drag down what is otherwise the perfect portable racing game.
Gran Turismo for the PSP still feels like the core experience you have come to know and love. The minute you begin circling around the tracks everything looks and feels like Polyphony’s previous efforts, and this is a good thing. The main menu showcases a lot of options, but once you boil it down there really isn’t a whole lot to do outside of collecting cars and completing challenges. The standard career mode is surprisingly absent, further enforcing the idea that this is a portable game. Everyone knows that dedicating yourself to a GT game takes commitment. Working to complete your career takes months on end. With the portable version Polyphony has decided to focus mostly on collecting cars and just plain racing. As long as you are fine with that, you will enjoy the game.
The single race mode is broken down into three main parts: Time Trial, Single Race and Drift Challenge. The single race option allows you to pick a car from your garage and race it on any of the 35 tracks available in the game. The nice thing here is that every track is accessible from the start, so you won’t spend the majority of your time trying to unlock them all. Each track also has grade designations that you upgrade depending on your performance. They range from D to S, and the amount of credits you earn for winning goes up with each rank increase. Outside of earning more money and ranks there is little progression in this mode, and it feels more like a score challenge. I also found it disappointing that your best times cannot be uploaded and compared with friends. Ghost downloads would have also been much appreciated.
The drift challenge is much the same thing found in previous games. You earn points credits based on your performance, but there simply is no overall goal. The same goes for time trials which also sorely are lacking in the ghost options. This is basically a test against yourself as the times are all set by you and unless you let someone else play on your profile, there really isn’t much to strive for outside of besting your personal score. These are all features that are standard fare in portable games, but when a Gran Turismo lacks the features fans have become accustomed to for years it stands out so much more.
The other mode is called Driver Challenge and it consists of over 100 various activities that essentially replace the license tests. You start off accelerating and braking and eventually work up to more complicated tasks. Each challenge has various medals you can earn, but once again the only reward here is credits to purchase more cars. This is the running theme of Gran Turismo PSP, and one that everyone should before going into it. Your main goal is to collect cars, and then take them out and put them through a series of tests to see how they handle. I guess that is why it is called the Real Driving Simulator, but I still cannot feel like some will be disappointed with a lack of real structure.
Collecting cars is as much fun as you would imagine, especially with the lottery-type system the game throws at you. Every time you do an event it counts as a day on your calendar. You can shop for cars on any given day, but the selection of manufacturers will change, as will their selection of automobiles. I found this intriguing because I never knew when I would head to the shop to see that sparkling Lamborghini awaiting my purchase. It is almost like waking up on Christmas morning to discover something you totally did not expect. Not everyone will enjoy the fact that you have no control over what cars are available at any given time, but for me it was really a treat.
As far as control goes the game plays as smooth as you would expect from the team. They have been crafting this series for years now and it shows. The analog controls are fluid, and the concessions they made with the analog button presses works so well you won’t even notice the difference. The standard views are available including an inside cockpit view, but it contains no textures and is actually quite awkward. You are limited to racing against just three other cars at a time, but the AI does well enough, especially on the higher levels, that you are never without a challenge. Gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a handheld version of the game.
Once you grow tired of the challenges and collecting cars there are a few Ad-Hoc options to choose from. You can trade cars via the garage system with your friends locally, or opt to throw down in a race with up to three of your buddies. While this is all fine and dandy I really can’t help but feel Sony missed the boat by not including some kind of online option. Racing games have become so accustomed to including some form of online capability for the leader to be sans such feature is nearly criminal. Word is you will be able to transfer your garage of cars from this version into the upcoming console version, but this still doesn’t make up for a lack of online love.
Gran Turismo PSP is one sexy game. Car models are sharp and look just even better than the previous PS2 outing. The frame rate is also rock solid running at an amazing 60 frames per second with nary a sight of slowdown. The tracks are equally impressive with some lush detail and solid textures for a PSP title. The in-car view is totally wasted due to the poor presentation, but watching replays of your race is just as satisfying as it was the first time you experienced the game. Sounds fare just as well with great engine noise to accompany the gorgeous visuals. However, the music retains the generic rock anthem motif that has plagued the series since it stopped using licensed music.
Gran Turismo PSP is one of the best racing games currently on Sony’s handheld. All the years waiting have certainly paid off in presentation and gameplay, but a lack of certain standard features is likely to disappoint some. Still if you love the series, don’t mind losing some of the core aspects and are in need of a great sim racer for your PSP you will be hard pressed to find a better offering. The first game announced for the system finally makes its way into gamers hands, and I am happy to say it doesn’t disappoint.