GT Sport may look and feel like Gran Turismo, but it's a very different beast under the hood. In place of an extensive single player campaign and an exhaustive car roster, developer Polyphony Digital have established a professionally sanctioned esport-focused racing platform under the watchful eye of The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile. There's no denying that GT Sport hits a few bumps along the way, and struggles somewhat under the weight of Gran Turismo's legacy. But when viewed as something new, GT Sport accomplishes nearly everything it sets out to do. It offers a wonderfully detailed and responsive driving experience along with arguably the cleanest and most competitive online racing on a console to date.
The renewed focus comes at a cost, with GT Sport offering a meager 160 cars (far less if you discount variants) and 40 courses based on 17 distinct tracks. And because your progress, earnings, and reputation are linked to your competitive profile, GT Sport requires an internet connection for most of its content--single player included. The only exception are one-off races in arcade mode, but your rewards there won't be saved unless you keep the game running until servers are back online. It’s one huge caveat, and while maintenance and outage periods have been minimal post-release, losing access to most of GT Sport isn't unheard of.
Despite the relatively small selection of cars, each one is beautifully rendered with an incredible attention to detail. And while GT Sport's tracks lack dynamic lighting and weather effects, each real-world track has been laser scanned to an impressive degree of accuracy. Marry these qualities with the improved tire and suspension models, beefy engine tones and screaming tire sounds, and GT Sport makes a strong impression behind the wheel.
Online races are your ultimate goal, and come in a few different forms. While you can create a private lobby to race with friends, most of the action happens in the organized daily races. Daily races occur at set times--usually every 5 to 10 minutes, though this can change--and come in three options, each with varying rules and regulations. Place well and you’ll see your Driver Rating improve, which defines the skill of the drivers you’ll be placed into future races with. If you place poorly you’ll naturally see your driver rating drop, and be forced race with less capable and confident drivers.
Ranking highly isn't everything, and will mean nothing if you fail to race cleanly along the way. The overarching system monitoring everything you do is called the Sportsmanship Rating, which counts all incidents you’re involved in, regardless of fault. Shown as a rank of A through to F, put a wheel wrong by touching another car, leaving the track or, unfortunately, being rammed, and you’ll lose some of your sportsmanship rating. Drive a few clean laps and you’ll recover what’s lost eventually, though it’s clear the no-fault system is a sore point, causing needless annoyance at losing SR on top of having a race ruined.
On the same foot, though, it appears to be working. Although turn 1 tends to be a bit of a nightmare, once things are underway races are generally as clean as you’d hope for. Cars recovering from spins or looking like they’re going to crash will ghost, letting you drive right through them, though this can be a bit sketchy at times as you can’t really tell when a car will solidify. Thankfully there are plenty of assists like ABS and traction control to help racers who might struggle, which can also be turned off for the hardcore or those with wheel and pedal setups. These support systems are a boon beginners who may be intimidated by GT Sport's demanding races but nonetheless want a taste of competition.
Outside of the daily events are the officially sanctioned championship events, which in practice are run similarly to daily races, but with a few core differences. Each round runs five races at pre-scheduled times roughly once a month, and like the daily races there's a small window of time for you to sign up. The main difference is that you can only sign up and compete in a round once, so if you have a bad run in the first of the five scheduled races for that round, you don’t get another chance to improve your results. While intimidating, this also adds a palpable sense of tension to the beginning stages of each race.
The number of points you can earn per race is worked out using a few variables, but is mostly down to your driver rating; the higher your rating, the more potential championship points you can earn per race. Your final points tally is accumulated from your three best finishes, ensuring that a bad race or having to miss one because of other commitments won’t put you out of contention. In general, the level of competition is extremely cutthroat, making race wins--especially in the official championship races--very difficult to come by.
That said, there is plenty of satisfaction to gain from merely finishing races. Personal achievements aside, every race rewards you with in-game credits, mileage points--another in-game currency used to upgrade cars or purchase paint decals, wheel rims and the like to customize your car with--and experience points that raise your driver level. You’re given a new car for each driver level you attain, up to and including level 20, and the Daily Workout bonus also gives you a new car after driving only 40 kilometers (just under 25 miles) in a day, so it doesn’t take long to amass a personal car collection.
Where you fall on GT Sport will mirror how you feel about racing games in general. If you’re looking for a highly focused console racing sim, GT Sport is excellent, but don’t come looking for a robust "Gran Turismo" experience.
Given the focus on online races, the single-player campaign is more an elaborate training tool than any campaign from a prior GT game, geared to prepare you for the jump to racing online. Its three modes--Driving School, Mission Challenge and Circuit Experience--each cover a specific aspect of racing, be that the car handling, knowing the circuits or knowing how to race with other cars without running them off the road. In clear Gran Turismo tradition, hit the bronze target time for the exercise and you can move on. But although this is a good measure of your performance, a more detailed, visual breakdown of your runs would go a long way towards making these lessons more effective at making you a better racer. Accompanying YouTube videos give you an impression of how it’s done, but something that gives more feedback would be more welcome. Arcade mode is the closest you’ll get to the traditional style of campaign, letting you pick your car and track combo then race offline against the AI, who do a good job of racing cleanly but with a measured sense of aggression too.
Ultimately, where you fall on GT Sport will mirror how you feel about racing games in general. If you’re looking for a highly focused console racing sim, GT Sport is excellent, but don’t come looking for a robust "Gran Turismo" experience. You won’t find it. Casual fans will feel the pinch of the scaled-down offering and the intimidating push towards racing online. But for sim-racers with a competitive spirit, it’s easy to look past the smaller car and track roster and appreciate the incredibly detailed and responsive driving model, which is better than anything the series has offered before.