Polyphony Digital has released some details on the latest upcoming installment in the Gran Turismo franchise, Gran Turismo Sport. Alongside the announcement we were given a chance to get some seat time with the game at Polyphony's studios in Venice, California by way of a truncated demo. And if there's one takeaway I gleaned from this look at what's to come from the series, it's that Polyphony is longer interested in a battle of fidelity one-upmanship for console racing simulator supremacy between Gran Turismo and Microsoft's Forza Motorsport series, if they ever really were in the first place.
Polyphony has instead refocusing their efforts toward a significant expansion of GT's online experience in a way that Kazunori Yamauchi, creator of the Gran Turismo franchise, hopes will foster "an increase in real-world motorsports participation." The result of this shift in strategy might cause some dismay for GT fans who've been anxiously awaiting a technical powerhouse from Polyphony that fully exploits the horsepower of the PlayStation 4, but for those who've been chomping at the bit for eSports competition in the realm of motorsport, Gran Turismo Sport will likely be a revelation.
Gran Turismo Sport does make an effort to satisfy the traditional expectations of a proper GT title. Unlike the Gran Turismo Prologue entries in the franchise, when Sport hits stores this November it will be a fully fleshed-out installment with 137 cars, 19 different locations and 117 events included in its campaign mode. It's a visual delight as well – even if the environments still have a sense of sterility to them that's compounded by a lack of any cosmetic damage rendered on the cars in-game. The audio is vastly improved from previous GT titles too, finally ditching the synthesized engine noise used in previous GT titles in favor of each vehicle's actual recorded soundtrack.
Along with an expansion of the social features from previous GT installments, Gran Turismo Sport will include a vastly updated version of Photo Mode. Now called Scapes, this mode will provide players with more than 1,000 pre-rendered backgrounds in which to place their favorite car (or cars) to flex their photography muscles. Each environment in Scapes will include adjustable lighting and spatial information, allowing the user to augment the shot much the way one would using a DSLR camera. The results can then be rendered at up to 4K resolution and shared both within the GT community and elsewhere.
But where GT has always truly excelled is in the realm of true-to-life driving physics, and Gran Turismo Sport does not disappoint. One of the five locations offered in demo I sampled was the Big Willow circuit at Willow Springs raceway: A demanding, high-speed track that doesn't suffer fools well but can be extremely rewarding when you start nailing your lines properly. Taking to the course in a lovingly rendered Lotus Evora, every bad habit I've had rounding this course in the real world was faithfully translated in game, be it my tendency to load weight up on the wrong end of the car when approaching the bowl at Turn 5 or scrubbing off too much (or too little) speed while taking the massive sweeper that comprises turns 7, 8 and 9.
This faithful reproduction of real-world physics provides the feedback required to improve your skill in a meaningful way, and quickly reminds one that the fastest way around a road course isn't with the hammer to the floor while sideways. In fact, as a testament to just how realistic the experience is, Gran Turismo Sport players will be able to qualify for FIA-certified motorsport licenses within the game – licenses that can be used to participate in real-world, wheel-to-wheel racing events.
Bolstering this theme of an authentic motorsport experience is the inclusion of two online championships, the Nation's Cup and the Manufacturer's Cup. Like a real-world global racing series, these two championships will pit players from around the world in scheduled racing events that will bring the fastest drivers together for online battles that will be broadcast live worldwide. Winners from each championship will be given their awards in person alongside real-world motorsports champions at the FIA prize-giving gala at the conclusion of the upcoming racing season.
While my seat time with the game did not include these online racing elements, what I did experience leads me to believe that Polyphony has a viable platform for an earnest foray into eSports racing with a level of depth previously unseen. While Gran Turismo Sport might not boast a mind-boggling car count or a music festival vibe, players who've been waiting for online racing simulators to take an evolutionary step forward should be excited about Sport's fall release.