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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Gran Turismo (PSP) 

It's spent many years in development, but Gran Turismo has finally arrived on PSP. While there are a few minor disappointments in terms of execution, it has largely been worth the wait. Featuring an extensive list of vehicles to unlock, extensive track selection and several addictive gameplay modes, there's plenty to explore. It's realistic handling and driving physics create a demanding driving experience to create exhilarating racing action. An impressive graphics engine and smooth frame rates throughout make for a visually robust title that lives up to the GT legacy. Look inside as we hit the road and explain how these elements combine to make Gran Turismo probably the most impressive PSP titles to date.

Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo games have always offered plenty of depth and the PSP edition is no exception. Looking at the individual bullet-point list of features included in the PSP edition Gran Turismo can be an intimidating task, from its extensive list of manufacturers, vehicles, tracks and options, it almost seems like there's too much under the hood. Start with the courses you'll be running on. There are 35 of them in all, with course variations included, there are actually about 60 unique races in all. These consist of a variety of well known licensed tracks such as Nurburgring, Laguna Seca, Suzuka Raceway, and others. Several city tracks are also here including street courses that will take players through New York, Seattle, Tokyo and London. A number of off-road courses traverse well-known locales such as the Grand Canyon and Tahiti are also included. Add in a few fantasy courses through mountains, canyons and water and you have a huge variety of tracks to master, with surfaces ranging from standard concrete, to off-road dirt and mud and combinations of these that create a completely challenging set of courses to master. You can choose which type of race to focus on initially, but true mastery in GT requires you to perform on each of these effectively. While this might seem like an difficult game to pull of, the game doesn't make you do this all at once and instead divides its tasks up into smaller portions that make it easier to get through. Instead of forcing you to take it all in at once, or locking you into a rigid progression model, the game starts with a fairly open-ended structure that lets you go through things largely at your own pace.

While you can take off large pieces of the game if you want, Gran Turismo PSP offers several different play modes that give you the options of doing a little at a time. You can jump right in with a single race, where you can choose your vehicle, track and get right on the course - everything you've unlocked is immediately available. These races offer you the opportunity to earn credits at the finish line, which you can then use to purchase vehicles. Rewards in the earlier tracks are a bit low, and you'll have to win several races if you want to get a decent car. Later stages and higher difficulty levels add to the credits you can earn. Players who want to compete against themselves for the fastest lap times will probably like the time attack mode, which puts you alone on the course and lets you try and shave seconds off your time. If you have a hard time learning the off-road techniques, you can go into the drift trial mode, where you can earn more credits by performing these moves.

One of the trademark GT elements has always been impressive is the License test. While it takes a slightly different from this time, in the Driver Challenge mode. Structured as a series of mini-games and grades, these courses require you to perform a quick task, such as driving through challenging chicanes and turns before the timer runs out. The requirements are stringent, and you can go through these sections several times before you get the allotted medal and credits. The upside to these is that once you complete these challenges, you'll be rewarded with piles of credits. Additionally, completing all the challenges in a certain level unlocks that driver level for you to use in other modes. Later levels also unlock other added features such as the ability to play MP3's during the race or giving you access to higher-powered vehicles. While the console License tests were somewhat annoying, they make more sense on a handheld thanks to their short length and quick gameplay. These also have the added benefit of helping to improve your driving skills. Finally, GT includes an ad-hoc wireless mode, that lets you play with up to three other nearby players in head-to-head matches, while also letting you trade vehicles or share them with others. These modes are fairly easy to understand and the game's straightforward menu system makes switching fairly easy. Unfortunately, the biggest detraction from the gameplay is its lack of a true career mode. Instead of gradually building up your skills through driving and license tests as in other games, you're basically given a much simpler path with a limited garage that makes the game feel a bit limited. The addition of car sharing and wi-fi play is great, but the lack of a traditional career mode makes the game feel a little less robust than it should.

While the number of gameplay modes in the game is impressive, Gran Turismo's depth adds to its authenticity, and makes this highly tuned simulation even more comprehensive. The game features dozens of authentic vehicles and manufacturers including the expected Japanese contingent consisting of Honda, Mazda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Suzuki to name a few. Companies from other regions are also here with Ford, Lancer, BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Maserati, Alpha Romeo, Lambroghini, and many more included. Famous exotic models including Corvette's ZR-1 and the Bugatti Veyron M4 are also here to use. Racing with these more exotic sportscars requires a different set of skills, with the main goal being to limit your reflexive desire to push down on the accelerator and floor it. These vehicles have sensitive handling, and have a way of swerving around the track fitfully if you don't know how to drive them. There's no shortage of variety with 800 vehicles in all to collect. All of the vehicles are tuned to respond and drive similarly to their real counterparts, which player controllable tuning and paint jobs, creating your own custom vehicle is a simple task. The sheer amount of detail is even more impressive when you consider all the classes ranging from classic vehicles, standard models, modified street racers, sports cars, concepts, limited editions, off-road, formula racing and rally vehicles included in the game. Its quite an impressive selection and the sheer amount of variety this offers means that there's plenty of replay value in Gran Turismo. Since you can play a single race, try to beat the driving challenge modes or go after your own laps, the game is well-suited to short-burst portable play, and also for extended sessions if you so choose.

These vehicles are more than just different skins and paint-jobs, since the controls and handling of each vehicle makes a huge difference in how each race unfolds, making it essential for you to master all their nuances. Adding to GT's impressive level of detail, each vehicle in the game is given its own detailed pages where you can view its feature lists, a brief history of its design and impact, and configure its style by selecting different paint jobs. Players can unlock these by winning races and going dealerships where they can select which one to purchase. Some of the more advanced vehicles might seem out of reach at first, but you can use the PSP's wifi connection to trade or share many of these vehicles with friends. This allows you to accumulate a huge garage of vehicles much quicker, though some of the more exotic vehicles can't be traded or shared, which is annoying. Racing with average vehicles is somewhat dull, but since you're racing against your own class, you won't find the competition has an unfair advantage. Once you've built up a decent sized garage, you'll be better able to gauge which vehicles are best suited to specific tracks, though obviously a rally car won't be good on a speed oval while a sports car won't be that effective on an off-road course like Grand Canyon. Before each race, GT lets you adjust the cars' tires and handling manually or use the auto-tune feature to create a good default configuration. Once you're on the track with your vehicles, you'll see that each one brings a unique handling and nuance with it. The opponents' AI isn't as difficult as it could be in the earlier stages, and you can cut a few corners here and there. You won't get penalized for this, and bumping other vehicles makes things a bit too easy early on. As you might expect from the series, there's no car damage model to speak of, so you won't get penalized by bumping into walls or crashing into other cars either. This is an annoying thing that Polyphony Studios hasn't yet addressed in the series, but it looks like it might happen when GT 5 arrives next year.

Aside from these issues, the vehicular physics model in Gran Turismo remains impressive in this scaled down version. While its' not as flashy or destructive as some other racers, its quite obvious the moment you begin, that the realistic handling and performance of each vehicle remains the game's driving force and appeal. GT's controls are fairly intuitive throughout, and players will find the performance best by using the analog stick and face buttons, which allow you to maximize the control you have over steering and drifting. You can also use the standard d-pad, but this isn't recommended since it causes you to over steer and lacks the precision analog provides. Learning when to break ahead of curves, and when to accelerate when you leave them is a process of getting the timing down and learning your vehicles' power and acceleration. At the earlier stages, its useful to play it safe and go a bit slower, but as you familiarize yourself with its power and limitations, you'll be able to push the vehicle to its limits and go for faster laps to shave those precious seconds off your times. Gran Turismo's driving system and physics are remarkably nuanced and deep for a handheld game and its realistic driving controls make for a surprisingly engrossing game that delivers a solid driving experience throughout.

One of the most impressive aspects about GT on the PSP are its visuals. While Polyphony could have compromised their approach for the handheld edition, this isn't the case. Each car has been rendered beautifully and they look very much as their real-world counterparts do. You can see that a high level of detail has gone into each vehicle model which gives the game quite a bit of eye candy. Several camera angles are available throughout the races, with behind the car, first person and cockpit views available. While the cockpit view is cool in terms of presentation, it blocks your viewpoint and diminishes your field of vision, which is doubly problematic on the small handheld screen. Fortunately, the other views work fine and give you and excellent look at the action. The static screens in this review might look great, but the game's smooth frame rate and detailed tracks, complete with impressive sidelines objects are quite detailed. You can see a high level of detail in the various tracks ranging from city skyscrapers, to grandstands on the sidelines and some truly breathtaking views in the Grand Canyon stage. Gran Turismo shows an incredible degree of polish, but there are a few imperfections on its surface. The most significant drawback to this detailed approach is the fact that there are only ever four cars on the screen at once, which makes the usually epic feel of GT races feel somewhat diminished. The lack of damage is also annoying, but as stated earlier, expected from the series. Otherwise, GT delivers a solid and impressive aesthetic driving experience that brings an impressive level of detail and precision to the system in effective fashion.

While there are a few issues that keep the Gran Turismo PSP edition from perfection, looking at the bigger picture shows a game that mostly offers a console-level experience on a handheld system. It's extensive list of vehicles and modes gives the game plenty of depth, though the limited customization and lack of a true career mode are hugely disappointing. However, the ability to trade with other PSP owners via wi-fi, and the bite-sized Driver Challenge modes do compensate for these omissions to a large degree. The sheer number of vehicles and courses is all the more impressive when you consider it's on a UMD, not the usual DVD or Blu-Ray disc, which makes for an cool technical accomplishment. However, it's the gameplay that matters most, and this is very much the GT you know. It's technically challenging races are complimented with simpler racing laps that deliver plenty of speed and excitement without having to go to deeply into things. Its structured in a way that takes advantage of the PSP, by offering the ability to pick up and play a quick race on the run or go a bit deeper at home. Despite a few flaws, the game definitely delivers on its promise for the most part. The end result is that while it's been more than five years in the making, Gran Turismo mostly delivers the high-quality, simulation level experience players have come to expect from the console editions on a handheld to create a satisfying and challenging racing experience with enough content to keep players going for quite some time.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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