Can you remember back to 2004? At E3, in May of 2004 to be exact, came the announcement of the PSP system, and with it the unveiling of a portable version of Gran Turismo. Now, five years later, the game will be released alongside the PSP Go, the third revision of the hardware. You will be able to pick up the UMD and digital version (requires 1 GB) on October 1. Was it worth the wait? Sorta.
Fans of the Gran Turimso series know what to expect, and expectations are very high for this portable version. We have been told, after all, this is a "fully specced Gran Turismo" by series creator Kazunori Yamauchi. Sadly those words are going to haunt him. The problem here is not in the mechanics of driving, or the tracks, or the cars, but the challenge and objectives itself. Games are fun to play because they present the user with a challenge, which includes quests or objectives to complete. Gran Turismo for PSP falls flat on objectives, as there is no career mode to speak of.
The Driver Challenge is a set of short challenges that feels like a really watered down License Test from past games in the series (though as you have no career, they are not tied to progression). Beyond these sets of increasingly challenging tests, such as taking a corner in a FF car correctly, you have three modes in Single Player. You will spend most of your time here, in Time Trial, Single Race, or Drift Trial. Even more baffling than the lack of career is the lack of being able to upload ghosts of your best times in Time Trial, or a leaderboard for your best scores in Drift Trial. There are also no pre-set times to beat in Time Trial; no scores in Drift Trial. The game only has local ad hoc multiplayer, so ghosts, leaderboards, and pre-sets would have gone a long way here.
On the track you are looking at a game that looks and feels very much like Gran Turismo 4 on the PS2. It is not the best-looking PSP game out there, but it is close. There are bland textures here and there, and gemology stitching (white lines) is present on many tracks. However that does not change the fact that this is the king of all sim racers, and the PSP is no different. The only competition on the handheld is a little known series called TOCA Race Driver, but that game does not have the level of physics, cars, and tracks present in Gran Turismo on the PSP.
The default controls work well, though you can map the controls to your liking. Use X to accelerate, Square to break, and RT for E-brake (Triangle for reverse). I like this control scheme so much I changed Gran Turismo Prologue to mimic it. One tip: turn ASM to OFF. This will give you more speed into, and out of turns, and generally feel a lot better – especially in the faster cars.
The game boasts 800 cars, but many are repeats with different paint stripes or liveries – still, a staggering amount of cars for a portable game. The interface for browsing and purchasing them is not that great, however. Every "day" in the game you get four random manufacturers with up to 10 random cars each. If you do not have enough credits saved up to purchase the car you want, you have to wait until that car shows up again. It is really frustrating when you want to buy a Shelby GT 500, and after four or five attempts, you still do not have one. At least a "day" is a very short amount of time; usually one race equals a day.
More impressive are the amount of tracks in the game, with 45 track layouts real and original, including city circuits and snow and dirt tracks. If you are like me, you will go straight for Laguna Seca or the Suzuka Circuit right away, and these are represented in good detail. Some tracks have more than one route of course, and you can always change from forward and reverse layouts.
Local multiplayer is extensive, but after this long, I would expect it to be extended to Infrastructure Mode, too. You have basic races which includes a Party Mode, and options to make it more balanced for less experienced players. You can also trade and share cars. In both single player and multiplayer modes, you only have four players at once on the track. This seems a little barren when you look at other games, and it takes a little of the competitiveness out of the game. Having to beat three A.I. controlled cars is just not as much fun as an entire grid of 12 or 16.
So at the end of the day, this is a car collection game, which is not a bad thing; this series has always been about collecting and upgrading cars. Except there is no upgrading of cars here on the PSP, just collecting, at random. You can see how this is not a "fully-specced Gran Turismo" game. I understand that Polyphony Digital set out to make a pick up and play GT, and that is great, but there is simply not enough for me to come back for more, let alone pick it up and play it. You will spend time getting a Gold trophy in all the Driver Challenges, and if you are a completionist, you will strive to get S rank in the Driver A.I. level for all tracks, and of course buy as many cars as you can. However, this game needs more, well, game. At least the cars will transfer over to Gran Turismo 5 on the PS3 when it ships.
Bottom Line: Gran Turismo is a game I want to love but when it cannot even live up to its own namesake, or the other racers on the platform, it is hard to give it a full recommendation. The driving physics are all there, and you do have a GT game in your pocket. So in that sense you are not going to get a better driving experience or track selection than right here. You just don't have a career mode, and that is the biggest take away from this game.
Gran Turismo is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.