Exclusive First Impressions From Gran Turismo Sport Beta

​​​​Hands-on with Gran Turismo's long-awaited PS4 debut.

Gran Turismo®Sport Closed Beta Test Version_20170403211749
Chris Tsui

Admit it: you owe your car-person status to Gran Turismo, or one of the games inspired by Gran Turismo. Turning gamers into car people and car people into gamers since 1997, GT has lost popular ground in recent years to Microsoft's Forza Motorsport, but owner Sony plans to reclaim the crown sometime this year with a new, e-sports-focused Gran Turismo game called Gran Turismo Sport. Yes, Sport not 7

Creators Polyphony Digital have moved its racing series away from being a digital car encyclopedia to the car world's answer to professional Call of Duty. They've pared down the car list to just 140 cars and brought online competition front and center. And don't hold your breath for a "full" Gran Turismo 7 with 1000 cars (100 of them are Skylines, of course) anytime soon. Series creator Kazunori Yamauchi explained to Digital Spy that GT Sport is a full-fledged title that could have been called GT7. 

Late last week, I was lucky enough to be given a code for GT Sport's closed beta and have spent the better part of the weekend on my PS4 racing around a virtual Brands Hatch, perusing a small slice of Sony's latest flagship racing game. Here are my thoughts.

Full Disclosure: The game was run on a 500GB launch PS4 (not Pro) on a HDR-enabled Sony XBR65X750D using a DualShock 4 controller. All screenshots, pictures, and video that appear in this article were taken by myself and exported via PS4's built-in Share functionality. No press photos, no bullshots. 

Improved Audio

By far one of the biggest gripes with the Gran Turismo series has been sound. GT's grids are often derided for resembling electric household appliances rather than fuel-gargling racing machines. I'm happy to report vast improvements on this front. Engine noises are accurate, distinct, and (provided you turn the volume up) pack a punch. On top of that, Polyphony has now simulated some of the more subtle noises that come out of tossing a multi-ton hunk of metal around. Race cars rattle realistically as they corner. You can hear the 'click clack' of the flappy paddles in the cockpit view. This creates a level of aural immersion previously only found in the most hardcore PC racing sims. Here's a video. Apologies for the visual quality. 

Chris Tsui

Realistic Physics ≠ Harder

Once the greatest selling point over its competitors, Gran Turismo's driving physics now face stiffer competition with games like Forza and Project Cars. With these games, it's expected that the more realistic the physics are, the harder it will be to play. According to Gran Turismo, however, Real≠Difficult

Do you feel that driving a simulator is difficult, more difficult than driving a real-life car? Well, your opinion is about to change because we refined our physics to offer a better sense of control that honestly conveys the player’s input. In the same way you drive a real car, you will be able to control the vehicle represented in the game with increased depth to the controls.

For the most part, they have achieved this. It doesn't feel as painfully complex as Project Cars—but then again, neither does driving a real car. Playing GT Sport, I never felt like I was fighting or manipulating a physics engine to get the car to do what I want. My brain tells my hands what I would do in a real car, and the game's physics react predictably, organically, and realistically. Remarkably, in that way, I didn't feel like I was playing a game. Mind you, I only got to try the game with a regular DualShock 4 gamepad. GT Sport natively supports the Thrustmaster T500 RS, T300 RS, T150, and the Logitech G29 racing wheels. If your wallet allows, I highly recommend picking one of those up.

Translated back in terms of the old "realer is harder" scale, this game straddles the middle ground between its two chief competitors by being just as accessible as Forza while approaching Project Cars' level of authenticity. To my hands at least, it achieves a sweet spot by being so realistic, they feel like real cars--which really aren't that difficult to operate in real life. 

Chris Tsui

World Class Graphics

This is one of the best looking video games ever made, but you already knew that. Car models are some of the best—if not the best—I've ever seen, making Forza's virtual vehicles look almost a generation behind. Driving into the setting sun with HDR enabled is genuinely amazing and the best implementation of HDR I've seen in any medium. Driving gameplay maintains a rock solid 1080p/60fps even on "vanilla" PS4 hardware.

As amazing as it looks, Gran Turismo still falls into the video game trap of not looking quite as good in person as it does in PR-approved cinematic trailers. Running on a non-Pro PS4 output to a 4K TV, jaggies were noticeable. This broke the immersion particularly in the game's menu scenes where the camera lovingly pans in and around one of its painstakingly beautiful car models--some of the prettiest moments the game has to offer. Could this be fixed with a PS4 Pro, hooking up my regular PS4 to a 1080p TV, or more dev time? Maybe. 

Chris Tsui

Experience

AI, another famously criticized aspect of the series, is vastly improved and in my opinion, surpasses Forza's Drivatar system. Sport's computerized opponents no longer look like a railway train and know where you are at all times. Crashes were of my own doing, for the most part. The AI in this game behaves like real world drivers would. In comparison, Forza's Drivatars behave like real world gamers would. A key distinction. 

Menus are fast, intuitive, attractive, and clean. Not so clean is the persisting HUD that occupies way too much of the screen while driving. Kirk Hamilton from Kotaku is a staunch believer that games should be played with as little HUD as possible and I agree. With a game as visually competent as GT Sport, the currently locked, overdone HUD just gets in the way of what we really want to see. 

Overall Rating

The fundamentals are all here for Gran Turismo Sport to retake its old crown off of Forza's head. As it stands, however, Forza 6 is still slightly more fun as a game due to its larger and more comprehensive roster of cars and superior game design. However, GT Sport is not far behind while being technically superior in almost every way. 

Think of it this way: Forza Motorsport 6 is like a Ferrari 458 Italia. One of the best cars in the world, albeit a little dated now, but still one of the easiest cars to get in and instantly have a blast with. Gran Turismo Sport is like a McLaren 650S. Stronger on paper, great fun in a vacuum, demands a little more from its driver, but feels a little antiseptic if driven back-to-back with the Ferrari. Both of them are great games in the same way that the 458 and 650S are both great cars. Which you would rather have is likely going to be a very personal decision.