At a Glance: Gran Turismo PSP is a game that gets the fundamentals down but drops the ball in its execution.
Originally announced as one of the flagship titles of the then yet to be released PSP, Gran Turismo Mobile quickly dropped off of the radar into vaporware territory. Well, imagine everyone’s surprise when, at E3 2009, Sony and Polyphony Digital confirmed that Gran Turismo PSP was not only in active development but that it was also going to be released this year. After all this time, you’d think the PSP iteration of the long running and obscenely popular Gran Turismo series would measure up quite nicely with its console predecessors. Regrettably, if you thought that, you’d be mistaken.
While this title boasts a very impressive 800+ car roster and a fairly large selection of tracks, many of which can be driven in reverse, and a realistic handling model lifted from Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, it can’t compete with its console brethren due to one very large and disappointing omission. The career mode of Gran Turismo games past is missing in action in Gran Turismo PSP.
In lieu of any kind of career mode, you have the option to run a time trial, single race or drift trial and only the latter two will earn you the valuable credits you’ll need to build a vast collection of automobiles, both classic and modern. In addition to this, there are a large number of “Driving Challenges” to test your skills. These challenges are almost identical to the dreaded license tests in Gran Turismo games past, the primary differences being that they (thankfully) aren’t mandatory completions in order to enter certain races and reward you with credits for completion in the bronze, silver and gold tiers.
Starting out, you are given 100,000 credits and presented with four of the game’s many dealerships from which to buy your first car. Every two in game days, there will be a random selection of four dealers to choose from and none of them will offer you more than ten vehicles to choose from on any given day. There’s no option to bypass this system, so if you’re looking to buy a particular car from a particular dealer, you have to participate in a couple of events to advance the game forward a couple of days and hope the dice roll in your favor.
This was particularly annoying when I spotted one of the cars I’d been dreaming of (the ’09 Corvette ZR1) and tried to buy it, only to realize I didn’t have enough credits. I was forced to cope with the frustrating realization that I couldn’t possibly earn enough credits before a new selection of dealers and cars appeared the next day. On one hand, this is an interesting way to introduce players to cars they might otherwise have overlooked but to leave everything to the luck of the draw seems asinine.
Before this turns into a giant hate fest, allow me to say that there are a number of things that Gran Turismo PSP does right. The visuals on display here are among the best the PSP has to offer, running at a liquid smooth 60 frames per second, the car models are surprisingly well detailed, given the limitations of the platform. Control wise, everything is completely customizable, which is a great inclusion. Handling physics are another high point, but this is no surprise, as the Gran Turismo series has always delivered fairly realistic physics. This also seems to be the easiest Gran Turismo to get into and it’s very easy to pick up and play from the very beginning, especially with the much less strict and inviting Driving Challenges.
With no career mode structure and everything unlocked from the very beginning, there’s a prevailing feeling of pointlessness in your actions. With everything unlocked from the start, there’s no brass ring to reach for and no sense of accomplishment to be gained. Eventually, the endless grind of racing for credits to buy new cars gets stale and combined with the lack of online multiplayer, the long term appeal is limited quite a bit. Ultimately, Gran Turismo PSP is a good game that’s buried underneath a series of poor design decisions. The gameplay, visuals, car roster and track selection are rock solid but without any sort of direction to guide players through the game, I can’t imagine this will appeal to any but the most hardcore of Gran Turismo fans.