We take a quick spin in Gran Turismo Sport at E3

The hotly anticipated game nears its fall release.

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"I'm often asked what separates Gran Turismo Sport from other racing games," Polyphony Studios CEO Kazunori Yamauchi said at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. "The answer is quality."

GT Sport has had a rather lengthy gestation period, with Polyphony slated to ship the game this fall roughly two years after its formal announcement at the 2015 Paris Games Week and four years after the PlayStation 4 debuted for the 2013 holiday season.

That timeline stands in contrast to other major racing franchises like Forza Motorsport, which is set to release its third title for the Xbox One, Forza Motorsport 7, around the same time that Gran Turismo Sport is set to make its debut as the first entry designed for Sony's current-generation system.

But Polyphony is nothing if not meticulous about its craft, and our first hands-on experience with GT Sport last year showcased the company's ambitious plans for the title as well as the significant amount of work that's still ahead of it. Recently, we participated in an exclusive closed beta test of the game to get a better sense of the progress Polyphony's team has made since last year.

"Right now we're really in the final stages of development," Yamauchi explained. "The quality of the game is rising significantly every day."

While it's easy to dismiss that as marketing speak, it's also clear from our seat time with the beta and at E3 that the game has evolved substantially over the past 12 months. Fifteen tracks with 27 different layouts are promised to be available at launch, and of the half-dozen or so locations I've had a chance to use in the game, each has a distinct character in road-course dynamics and presentation.

While Gran Turismo games have always had a somewhat sterile visual aesthetic and GT Sport doesn't look to upend that tradition, there's no denying that this game looks gorgeous, and Polyphony's efforts to create realistic lighting effects to simulate various times of day and weather conditions are only trumped by the attention to detail applied to the car models. "Aside from the CAD models that auto manufacturers use to design and build their vehicles, the models used in GT Sport will be the most detailed and accurate ones you'll find anywhere in the world," Yamauchi said.

But impressive graphics can only take GT Sport so far — it's the driving experience that truly matters. As we experienced last year, the physics utilized in Polyphony's latest title are sophisticated and impressively true-to-life. There are some caveats, though, particularly in the realm of vehicle-to-vehicle contact, which continues to both look and feel like something of an afterthought for the developer.

Drivers who routinely make contact with other vehicles and/or put all four wheels off the track can see their Sportsmanship Points dinged. This encourages drivers to run clean races, lest they want to find themselves lumped in with other drivers who have similar habits in their next event. It also makes the racing feel more authentic in that it requires patience and strategy rather than simply a lead foot, which leads to events that feel much more compelling and intense overall.

While the Campaign mode of Gran Turismo Sport will include a total of 145 events, Sport mode Polyphony will vastly expand the game's replay value by creating what it says is an entirely new form of motorsport. Working in conjunction with the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile ( FIA), the developer will bring two officially sanctioned championships to players throughout the year in the form of the Nations Cup and Manufacturer Fan Cup, replete with world finals and a real-world award ceremony alongside FIA sanctioned race winners at the FIA Gala. ( Forza is doing the a very similar thing at Le Mans.)

With much of the game's lasting value based on the ongoing involvement of its community, only time will tell if Polyphony's ambitious plans will come to fruition. But with the game set to debut this fall, would-be virtual racers only have a few more months to wait before they'll be able to reach a verdict on the long-awaited title for themselves.

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