The PSP’s rocky relationship with Gran Turismo has been turbulent, to say the least. Announced as Gran Turismo 4 Mobile back with the PSP itself in 2004, the game has been subject to half a decade of delays and continual scepticism from detractors. Five years later and we’ve finally come full circle: Gran Turismo gets announced at E3 ’09 to be released in October with the new PSP Go. Much has changed since 2004 though, and a handheld version of Gran Turismo 4 is not quite the technical marvel it once was.
The problem, as developer Polyphony Digital always put it, was the extraordinary challenge of cramming a game that’s both extensive and intensive onto a proportionally tiny UMD cartridge. How could they condense all that onto a handheld and not irrevocably squash something in the process? Despite head honcho Kazunori Yamauchi’s assurances that the PSP version of Gran Turismo would bring the full Real Driving Simulator to your morning commute, it’s not quite all there: there’s no inclusion of a single-player career mode. The game starts by throwing the player into a series of Driving Challenges to ape the age-old License tests, none of which are particularly perplexing, and then plonks you at the meat of the experience – Single Races alongside Drift and Time Trial challenges. Pick your mode, pick your car, pick your track and off you go.
Looking at it from another angle, there’s the idea that a fully-fledged in-depth single player career might be too much for a svelte portable racer’s needs. But a more structured single-player mode isn’t simply an overly complicated way to force gamers to jump through a series of arbitrary hoops; it’s a way of adding structure alongside a constant sense of progression and achievement to a game. Removing a career mode doesn’t make the game more suitable for portable gaming, it just takes away one of the most compelling reasons to keep the UMD drive spinning.
There’s no real sense of structured progression other than accruing credits to buy faster, flashier motors. With an admittedly staggering reported 800 cars to choose from, which also introduces models from manufacturers Lamborghini and Bugatti to the venerable roster, you’re at least spoilt for choice. It’s a testament to Polyphony Digital’s dedication to the game that the cars all have their own particular nuances and quirks, and going into the same corner with two different cars often feels like an entirely different experience. There’s also an optional racing line, akin to Forza, for those who need a bit of assistance in getting around the trickier bends.
Despite the grumbles it should be noted that racing to obtain faster, sleeker and shinier cars is often enough to spur a player on. To add to the mix, certain manufactures only set up shop on certain days. Finish a race, and the game will advance one day. This forces you to plan out your purchases ahead of time, although it’s likely that you’ll be doing this anyway. Credits don’t come cheap, after all.
There’s still the problem of the hardware itself. This flaw can hardly be attributed to Polyphony Digital, but the PSP’s fiddly analogue nub adds often feels like a hindrance when trying to perform the tight, controlled movements that Gran Turismo demands. The d-pad doesn’t exactly fare better.
Following on with traditional PSP irritations, the only form of multiplayer in Gran Turismo is ad-hoc support for a maximum of four players. If you fancy playing over the internet you’re stuck with looking up third-party VPN methods or the forever-promised Ad-Hoc Party application for the PS3, which is still only available in Japan in spite of being almost a year old. There’s no form of online leader-boards, either, despite them being considered modern day necessities: they could have certainly been used to pep up the Time and Blitz Trial modes.
It would certainly be unfair not to marvel at the game’s technical accomplishments. The game runs at a fixed, unwavering 60 frames-per-second at all times and keeps much of Gran Turismo 4’s visual fidelity. Polyphony Digital have been forced to sacrifice visuals in various areas, the most noticeable being in backgrounds and scenery, but much of the drop in quality is helpfully offset by the smaller screen size. It really is a fantastic looking game, and a perfect showcase for the PSP’s comparatively gargantuan horsepower. The game’s industry-leading replays make their appearance here, too, and are the perfect jaw-dropping experience to go alongside the launch of a new hardware revision. We doubt this is a coincidence.
Whilst it’s easy to lament on what’s been removed, it’s worth remembering just exactly what Polyphony Digital have managed to retain; 800 unique cars, each with their own handling model, and 35 different tracks from the PS2 iterations of the series, all of which can be played in reverse. The iconic series has always been first and foremost about the driving, and Polyphony Digital has managed to encapsulate that perfectly. It’s just a shame that some of the more endearing bells and whistles have had to be removed.
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