Ever since it was delayed from its Christmas 2016 launch, I've been wondering what's happened to Gran Turismo Sport. There's been nary a peep about the game so far this year – so it was to my great surprise (and indeed delight) to discover that there's a brand new demo of the game here at GDC this week.
It's a single-unit showcase that uses the same sit-in pod seen at E3 last year that features an adjustable racing seat, plus an in-built Logitech steering wheel and pedals. As I walked up to the unit and checked out the game running on its huge display, I must say I was immediately impressed. From the way that light glistens off the cars’ paintwork through the sun bouncing off the asphalt to the movement of the shadows around the beautifully rendered interior of the car as it races around the track, the game looks incredibly lifelike – and it was absolutely silky, surely-that’s-60-FPS-smooth. It’s a definite step up from what I saw at E3 last year. And that's when I noticed a small sign saying that the game was running on PS4 Pro.
No wonder it looked so good!
Slipping behind the wheel of the game, I was presented with a choice of six tracks: Brands Hatch GP and Indy, Willow Springs, a Tokyo street circuit, the full Nurburgring Nordschleife course, and a dirt track. Since I haven’t actually driven Gran Turismo Sport on dirt, I chose the latter option, and then selected a Subaru Impreza WRC rally car to drive. After that, it was a case of choosing auto or manual gears, and then switching off the driving assists – and I was ready engage in vehicular battle.
However, it didn’t take long before I started to wish that I’d chosen a regular street course to tackle: Turns out that driving off-road in Gran Turismo Sport is incredibly challenging. I entered the first corner with my foot flat to the floor, and tried to wrestle the car into a slide by lifting off the gas and giving it a bit of a Scandinavian flick so that I could drift around the bend with aplomb. That tactic usually works in most games, but here my efforts proved ham-fistedly inept: The car understeered dramatically and I plowed straight into the fence surrounding the track.
Slightly embarrassed, and trying to stifle a few curse words, I took off again, this time driving with far more caution – and that turned out to be a smart move as I carefully navigated through the next series of bends. Driving on dirt in Gran Turismo Sport feels akin to driving on ice, and I had to show a great deal of restraint with the throttle and steering inputs to hustle my car down the track while maintaining any semblance of control. However, once I’d gotten my head around the fact that I had to drive the game with a great deal of finesse, I started to make progress and catch up with my competitor. While in other race modes you can have up to 20 other cars, in rally races, it seems there’s only one opponent.
As I slowly began to get to grips with the racing proper, I started to really appreciate the depth and detail of the handling model. The track was incredibly bumpy, and I could really feel the suspension working to keep the Impreza planted. Driving under these conditions just felt incredibly realistic and involving, and it’s going to take a lot of practice to really learn the ropes. And don’t forget – I was playing with a wheel. I shudder to think what it’ll be like with a controller.
Once I’d finished that race, I was able to try again – this time on the Tokyo street track with a Nissan GT-R. This narrow circuit reminded me of the old Special Stage Routes 5 and 11 from earlier games in the series. It’s basically a freeway-style course that winds its way through the city, with quite sharp elevation changes as you charge through tunnels and then up onto raised sections of the road. Needless to say, it was a far easier drive this time around, and I managed to finish the race unscathed.
Walking away from the demo, I was extremely impressed with what I experienced. As I’ve already said, the game looks jaw-dropping, with a level of detailing that puts other racers into the shade. It has that signature Gran Turismo hyper-realistic look, feeling exceptionally crisp and clean. But what really worked for me was the handing engine. It just feels so slick, smooth and detailed, with a definition that takes the feel of the game to new heights.
This certainly bodes well for the regular PS4 version. While it obviously won’t feature the same graphical fidelity of the PS4 Pro iteration, the game should play identically – and that means it’ll basically handle in the same way. I’m absolutely dying to get my hands on the game, but it seems that we’ll have to wait a while before that’s possible. When I asked when the game was likely to be released, the Sony representative said, “sometime later this year.”