Hey, there’s a Ferrari! Oh, you got no credits? Now you do? Too bad, it’s gone now!
Duke Nukem Forever might have garnered the infamous reputation for legendary production delays and eventual death before ever getting released, but Gran Turismo PSP wasn’t far off that path for a long while. Announced in 2005 as the PlayStation Portable was being released, it has seen its fair share of speed bumps along a very curvy development road. Like its bigger brethren Gran Turismo 5, GT PSP has a lot to prove as the first game in the series on Sony’s handheld system.
[image1]Kazunori Yamauchi and company at Polyphony Digital sure took their time prepping Gran Turismo PSP, and mostly, it shows. It plays and feels a lot like its PlayStation 1 and 2 counterparts, despite the PSP’s control limitations. Every one of the 800 or so cars from various manufacturers in the game features a cockpit internal view that, albeit limited to the windshield, rear-view mirror, and blacked-out dashboard, turns out to be the best camera angle to play the game in. All in all, the game looks great and runs silky smooth at a locked framerate with practically no screen-tearing.
In terms of tracks, you can expect to see all the favorites you’ve come to love from past Gran Turismo titles, like Apricot Hill Raceway and Laguna Seca and even a select few dirt tracks that force you to play in a completely different style of driving. The 60 track combinations that include reverse variations were faithfully recreated for this version, taking the core 35 tracks and spicing them up, though most of the differences are more cosmetic in nature than one of gameplay. Still, it’s a blast to tear through ol’ Laguna Seca with a 750 HP Mercedes LeMans race car.
What fans of previous Gran Turismo games might miss in this version is the career mode. Unlike previous games in the series, GT PSP ditches the progressive professional mode in favor of a single-race, menu-driven mode, with practically all the tracks unlocked from the get-go. The only real difficulty is the repetition, where you have to go through each race multiple times against different computer-controlled opponents from rank D through rank A, but even then, opponents don’t prove to be much of a challenge since they stick violently to a pre-programmed route.
This new approach takes the sense out of the continuous skill evolution from the old career mode, and makes it even worse by how bare-bones and awkward the game’s storefront is presented. Instead of offering a set number of stores for all manufacturers, only a select few are available between each race, with only a handful of cars for sale. This means that the cars you wish to buy may not be available when you want them to, though more often than not, you won’t have enough credits to buy them anyway.
[image2]Worse, you cannot customize or upgrade cars at all after purchase, a standard feature in past Gran Turismo games. Even tires are automatically changed in order to meet particular race restrictions. On the flip side, all of these changes might mean that you’re lucky enough to upgrade from a (pardon my comparison) GeoMetro to a Jaguar. But you should take that with a grain of salt, because the game tends to pit you against equally-powered cars independent of the track you choose to race in, unlike older Gran Turismo games which made it possible to tear through lower-ranked competitions with a high-powered car in order to farm credits.
The only other options in this new ‘career mode’, aside from the track selection, comes in the form of a time trial, single race, and a drift mode dial that is set before each race. The first two speak for themselves, and the third is just a mess to play on. If the rally races weren’t hard enough for our collective thumbs, drift races are excruciatingly painful and just not fun at all to play on such a limited control scheme, thanks to how fiddly the PSP’s analog nub is.
Also gone are the driving tests for licenses… in a way. Instead, they are presented as driving challenges that only provide you with credits. These challenges are introduced through well-produced, fully-voiced instructional videos, but unless you have not gone through the original series’ course of tests for your numerous licenses, there isn’t much to keep you going other than fattening your virtual bank account.
The number of cars in each race places limitations on the multiplayer mode, and instead of a full-fledged online mode, only an ad-hoc local play mode is available for up to four people, though the races do count towards your single-player records. It’s a shame not to see any sort of real online option, but that can be somewhat made up by the ability to share and trade cars from your garage with friends. It works like a comparison chart between collections, ‘copying’ cars from the better garage to the other for a limited time, in order to make things fair in the case of bigger gaps between players. This car garage connectivity will also supposedly work hand-in-hand with the upcoming Gran Turismo 5 release on the PlayStation 3, in case you wish to transfer your Nissan Cube to a bigger screen. Who wouldn’t, right?…
[image3]Gran Turismo PSP can be bought in two different formats: a UMD or a hefty 926 MB digital download directly installed onto your PSP’s memory card. The UMD can be partially installed into memory to improve load times, but it still requires the disc to be in the bay while playing. I played the digital version of the game and had very short load times at around five seconds between each screen. That’s great because there are a lot of instances where the game will load as you navigate menus, and nothing’s worse than a slow-loading menu-driven mess when dealing with a game about speed.
It’s really difficult to recommend Gran Turismo to a PSP owner looking for a racer, unless that person is keen on the Gran Turismo series. It’s a great racing game and fits in well with the Gran Turismo family in terms of audio-video presentation. But the lack of an actual career mode and the broken storefront only act as a counter-weight to how much you’ll actually want to play, other than building up a car nut’s dream collection like a Pokémon master does his own. It won’t hold your attention for long, though, if you are after an increasingly challenging game to slowly plow through, and that’s its biggest flaw.