It’s no real surprise that Sony decided to drop any kind of number from the title of Gran Turismo’s PSP debut and there are a number of good reasons for this. First up, there’s the classic reason of not wanting the buyer to think they’ve somehow missed out on several games in the last few years. Secondly, had it been ‘GT4’, it’d be aeons too late – had it been ‘GT5’, it’d be too early. And finally, using either name would be misleading as the all-new handheld-oriented approach makes this very much its own game rather than a mere port. So just Gran Turismo it is then and sure enough, Gran Turismo it is.
Structuring such a massive game for a handheld format was never going to be an easy task, but Polyphony proves itself capable from the word go. Rather than have some dizzying career map full of endurance races, licence tests and strict door policy challenges, GT PSP invites you to play at your own pace. The whole of the once-overwhelming career mode can now be found diced into its individual components, the main one being the single-player menu.
From here, you can arrange a race on any course of your choosing with whatever car you like – you even have control over all the settings that go along with it, so whether you want a quick lap around a basic circuit or a 20-lap Ferrari-only Nurburgring blowout (you’ve got your mains plug handy, right?), you’re free to do whatever you fancy rather than having to buy and upgrade cars just to fish for the odd Trophy.
And as you may already have heard, upgrading is one area in which concessions have had to be made in order to translate the GT experience to the PSP. You can still set up minor adjustments to things like camber, toe and ride height, but no longer can you spend millions of Credits and hours on end tweaking and upgrading every single aspect of your vehicle. Nor, if we might be so bold, should you want to on a handheld – it almost defies the very nature of portable gaming.
While this streamlined approach is a brave move indeed on Polyphony’s part, it all works out. Now that you dictate the nature of each event, the need for such insane details is drastically reduced and each manufacturer still has enough cars on offer to ensure that whether you want to be odds-on favourite or three-legged horse, you’ll find a ride to suit your needs.
Elsewhere, the front-end menu houses a number of other options that would once have been bundled into the main GT experience but now exist away from the main racing action. Driving Challenges is a mode that mimics the Licence Tests of old in almost every way, except here the trials are not mandatory. Instead, they’re simply an invaluable tool for learning the handling and physics of the game while at the same time throwing enough cash your way to fill several garages with desirable vehicles, should you wish to play that way.
Even the showroom itself is now separated from the actual racing, but stranger yet, there’s nowhere you can go to browse Gran Turismo’s full arsenal of vehicles. As ever, each race passes an in-game Car Dealerships menu. We found this to be a strange yet immensely successful way of getting the player to think beyond the constraints of racing’s usual suspects, a bargain appearance from a surprising firm makes for a tempting – and, more often than not, rewarding – alternative.
Even within individual companies, large rosters are often staggered over multiple days and this is how the game pushes you to go for the ‘free money’ challenges and tougher race options – if you see something you like early on, you never know how long it’s going to be before it turns up in the dealership again, so you really want to have as much virtual cash ready as possible.
On the course, meanwhile, it’s business as usual for GT. With the PSP’s slight screen, our one complaint would be that certain courses cripple what little sense of speed the game has. It’s an issue that fades as you quickly fill your garage with more powerful cars, though, and we can’t remember the last time a Gran Turismo game let you move up to the high-end vehicles so quickly. As a handheld experience, it could be argued that Gran Turismo needs to be instantly gratifying.
But given the long, hard slog of Sunday Cup repeats that its predecessors enforced, a couple of hours in the lower divisions before hitting the big time can easily be considered ‘instant’ in context. The tight handling and ridiculously pretty visuals sell this game alone, so unless you’re the kind of racer that will miss replacing drive trains and saving up for hours to turn your dream car into a four-wheeled drag tank, you’ll have nothing but respect for what Polyphony has done with the series here.