It’s been a patient wait for the Gran Turismo series to finally hit the PlayStation 4, but the PS4 finally gets its first release with Gran Turismo Sport, an instalment that has more of an emphasis with an online focus than any other game in the long running series.  It’s the sign of the times in which regardless of the genre, online play is ever more on the increase.  This focus feels very much at home in GT Sport and for the most part, its implemented very well, however, this increase in online focus might take away much of the offline content that many gamers would want to pick this game up for.  However, thankfully for the big update in December, GT Sport does have a fully fledged singleplayer career and a host of extra luxurious cars to boot.  So prior to the update, if you were put off by its lack on content, then worry no more.

Let’s begin with the offline modes before we get on to the online aspect.  The GT League was the star of the show for the big December update, offering you four major leagues from Beginner, Amateur, Professional and Endurance, each with their own multiple competitions within.  Here as you might expect, you earn your career progression, unlock new cars and so forth.  Obviously the more advanced leagues you enter, the more fierce the competition becomes, but you will of course have an increase in the quality of rewards.  Prior to this update, this lack of proper singleplayer career was a potential deal breaker, but I’m glad to report that this is pretty much the career mode that fans wanted in the game to begin with.  Naturally I would have preferred this content to be included from the get-go, but I suppose as they say “better late than never”.

Aside from the GT League you also have three other career categories of racing challenges that are there to teach you how to drive better, handle certain cars and take on some of the most challenging tracks.  These are broken up into the Driving Skills, which teaches you some of the more fundamental skills, Mission Challenge, which will have you take on some more challenging techniques and finally the Circuit Experience, which has more of a focus on the 19 locations (and 27 configurations) that the game has to offer, from the more basic circuits such as the Kyoto Driving Park to the Nürburgring and the Colorado Springs.  There’s something very addictive about all of the challenges, so much so that even when I earned a Gold reward, I wanted to do better, and before you know it, you’re losing track of time.

You do also have some of the more basic modes in Arcade such as a Single Race, Time Trial, Drift Trial and Custom Race, and even a 2-Player Split Screen race.  When playing the split screen race however, you are restricted to just having the two player cars only with no AI, but it’s still a welcomed feature none the less as this option is often ignored in today’s generation.  There is also the PSVR’s VR Tour, which takes you on some kind of “immersive 3D driving experience, complete with a 360-degree view.”  But as I no longer own a PSVR as I traded mine months ago, I was unable to test out this particular feature.

So what do we have on offer with GT Sport’s online modes?  Well at this time you can partake in Daily Races.  From here you will have a choice of three races to jump into, each offering a different circuit and a select choice(s) of cars.  Each race has a set start time, which if you’re lucky enough, you should easily find one starting within 5-10 minutes at the most.  Having this formula does feel somewhat restricted, because if I’ve got only five minutes to jump into a quick game while it’s my wife’s turn to put our son to bed, I can’t always just jump into a race if the start time gods are not in my favour.

However, what I would say that by having these particular start times, is that it does have some benefits.  For example, before participating in each race, you can play the Qualifying Time Trial.  Now I’ll openly admit that as of yet, I’ve not recorded the fastest qualifying time in a particular race (though I have had the 3rd fastest before now), but just by recording any kind of time will give you an advantage and potentially push you up the starting grid, no matter if your time sucks.  Because you can pretty much guarantee that at least one participant won’t attempt a qualifying time, so you’ll at least be guaranteed to start ahead of that particular player.  Also, if you do record a qualifying time, but you miss a race, your time will still hold should that particular race become available a little later on.

If you want something more competitive with a team spirited vibe, then the FIA GT Cups and Series might be for you, which will run simultaneously throughout the year.  In the FIA GT Nations Cup, you represent your country using any car of your choosing (as long as they’re in your garage).  The better you perform in each race and round, the more points you will earn for you and your country.  However, in the Manufacturer Series, rather than representing your country, you will instead represent a manufacturer car brand by signing a seasonal contract.  Having played both modes, in slightly different ways, both have an extra edge of competitiveness and each tournament makes you feel a part of something, as you persist in earning the points for your team.

While I traditionally play shooters online, I’ve never really had the patience to play many racing games online.  This is because, some races can be absolute mayhem, for example, in most of my experiences playing Forza Motorsport 7 online, the races seem to resemble a Destruction Derby, rather than a clean, sporting race.  It instantly put me off and I’ve not had the desire to return to Forza 7’s online offerings anytime soon.  But the great thing about GT Sport online is that before you even start your online career, you must first watch two short ‘Racing Etiquette’ videos.  It may come across as a little patronising, but it helps set the tone before playing online, as it outlines the importance of not deliberately bashing an opponent off the track or going into a corner at full throttle with little consideration on whether or not you will collide with another player.

Don’t get me wrong, the online community is by no means perfect, but I’ve certainly had more positive experiences than negatives.  The collision detection does a decent job at predicting online collisions, as it turns some cars into ghosts for a brief duration of time.  And there will be times when you will feel robbed, such as an opponent bashing you off the track at the last bend, knocking me from 2nd into 3rd with no chance of getting that place back, despite their measly one second penalty (or in some cases 0).  Speaking of penalties, you will be docked points for such things as bashing into players with intent or going into corners recklessly and I’d say 85% of the time, the game gets it right.  But if you are punished with a time penalty, you can get that time back by driving more sportingly throughout that race.  GT Sport also gives you a Sportsmanship rating, to give you an indication of some player’s style of racing.

But most importantly, how does GT Sport handle?  Well in a nutshell, it handles sublimely.  Of course it all comes down to personal preference, some may prefer the likes of the Forza or Project Cars series, or even DiRT Rally, however, while I am a big fan of each of those games, GT Sport in terms of gameplay, feels more satisfying than any other racer that I’ve played in quite some times.  It’s an absolute joy to play, and whether you’re playing in the singleplayer or multiplayer offerings, each one to their own, is as fun from one race to the next.  GT Sport may only feature just shy of 200 cars following the December update, which is very low in comparison to some of the previous games in the series or certain games currently on the market, but that means that not only from a gameplay perspective, but also visual, each and every car has had even more devoted time and care.  So you won’t see a blacked out interior for lower-end cars like in GT6.

Previously in my own personal humble opinion, I would say that Driveclub was the best looking console racer on the market, but now I would say that GT Sport has taken that throne (and I don’t even own a PS4 Pro).  It’s just a shame that GT Sport doesn’t feature dynamic weather like Driveclub does, because that would make the game look all that more stunning.  However, you can change time of day and select the weather of your choosing in the various Arcade Modes, it’s just the shame that neither feature on the fly in some of GT Sport’s other modes.  But hopefully much like Driveclub, developers Polyphony Digital may add those features and more via a free update a little later down the line, much like extra free content which was also added to GT6.

GT Sport also comes with some new and overdue features, namely with custom liveries and driver gear, which is a first for the series.  It’s not quite to the depth of the Forza series, but it’s still very detailed, as it gives you the option to add some of your identity to your favourite cars and driving gear, and I can only see it being improved upon from here on out.  Also, Photo Modes are the thing nowadays with visually impressive games and GT Sport certainly fits that criteria.  I always like playing around with photo modes, especially with the Uncharted series, Horizon Zero Dawn and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

GT Sport’s photo mode comes in the form of Scapes and it has an insane amount of customisable options.  You can select your favourite multiple cars and place them on photo-realistic backdrops in a number of positions and angles.  You can also alter the usual brightness and contrast and then some.  It also has plenty of filters, which you can even put filters over your filters.  I don’t think I’ve seen such an in-depth photo mode to date, there’s simply too much for me to mention, but it will be great seeing what stunning images the community comes up with.

Image edited/taken using Scapes

However, my one major gripe comes with GT Sport’s obsession with an online connect, which should you lose your online connection, even on a temporary basis, regardless of whether it’s your internet or if the GT Sport servers are down (as they were over Christmas), you cannot save any of your career progress.  Prior to the December update, if you had no online connection, you were pretty much locked out of much of the games modes.  However now while following the update you will be able to play the singleplayer campaign modes, you still can’t save your progress, so once you turn the game off, unless your connected online, you will lose that career progression generated from that session.  I understand that much of the game benefits from being connected online, especially when GT Sport has a great emphasis with its online career, but holding your singleplayer progression hostage in such a manner baffles me and I hope that Polyphony Digital fixes this issue ASAP.

In conclusion, as I said at the very beginning of this review, GT Sport is a mixed bag of tricks.  On one hand, you arguably have the best looking racer on the home console, with arguably the most fun, addictive and refined gameplay.  With its focus with online play, I believe Polyphony have achieved a standard of competitive play that they hoped to achieve with the series since they started this acclaimed franchise.  It takes a lot of practice to win an online race (the best I achieved is 2nd place so far), but you always feel that you have an outside chance if you’re a decent enough racer.  Now that may of the pre-December issues have been resolved, I can hand on heart say that this is the (finally) Gran Turismo game that I’ve been waiting for since I purchased my PS4 console at launch and I feel that many of its loyal fans will now feel the same as GT Sport inducts itself into the PS4 “must own” elite.