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At rAge 2016, there were several demos of Polyphony Digital’s new game in the Gran Turismo series, called Gran Turismo Sport. Sport is the studio’s replacement for the Prologue series which used to come a year or two before the final full game, and it was often used as a showcase for their updated engine as well as new visuals and allowing for competitive online play. This time around, PD is tapping into that online play aspect to turn Sport into something entirely different, serving as the leading platform for the launch of GT Academy, as well as kicking off the GT Online leagues, which have homologated digital events that see just as many rules and close attention as actual FIA-sanctioned events.

I had some time to GT Sport by myself to evaluate it, and I have my thoughts for you right after the jump.

The first noticeable change is the menu system, which has been overhauled to be much simpler to navigate and read. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s more intuitive than GT6 or even GT5. The game’s interface throughout the series has been the source of many arguments on the GT Planet forums, and it behooves Polyphony to actually make it good rather than merely adequate.

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The graphics engine has been updated to take full advantage of the PlayStation 4’s GPU, and it includes a number of niceties like global illumination, real-time physics effects rendered through GPGPU compute engines, and levels of detail that I’ve never seen before on the PS4 (Need for Speed comes close, but it’s not as accurate to real life). While I couldn’t hear things very clearly over the television on the stand with the crowds walking around the dome, my sessions in the early morning at the Sony press room were much better. Engine notes are more noticeable, and the game doesn’t make everything sound like a turbocharged vacuum cleaner anymore (although some cars in the game are almost that).

While the game gains in technical achievements and rendering capability, it also doubly improves in the handling department. Cars now feel as if they’re cutting across the track much more precisely, and there’s an over-emphasis on understeering with rear-wheel drive cars that makes them more difficult to guide through the corners. Power sliding is almost too easy to do, though, and together with the dumb AI, still makes it difficult to get clean overtakes in difficult corners that you’ve set up for in advance.

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However, this regression doesn’t do anything to dampen the game’s driving experience. I drove a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X on Nürburgring Nordschleife, and there’s a marked difference in the experience compared to GT6, even on a controller. The S-AWC AWD system actually works properly now through the corners, and staying in the torque band for overtaking through corners allowed me to very accurately stick to the racing line. The sense of speed is also much better, taking me back to the GT4 days, which I still consider to be the finest game in the series.

Taking a Nissan GT-R around the same track, also with driving aids off, gave me the impression that the car is as heavy as it’s real-life counterpart, and placing it correctly into the corners took some practise. It bucked and skidded across the track when I was handling it roughly, and its heft made it necessary to step on the brakes earlier than the Lancer in the same corner.

But even on technical tracks with a Toyota 86, I’m able to very quickly get to grips with the car and learn its limits on the track. GT6 took a while to adjust to this because of the new body roll mechanism that it introduced, which seems to be toned down in Sport quite a bit. It’s very accessible to beginners, and I think there’s scope to tune the individual behaviour of the cars even more.

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Racing with a wheel made made another positive impression on me. I’ve played GT5 and GT6 with a wheel, and the sense of control is there, but Sport takes it to a new level. If the track has uneven bits, there’s feedback to reflect that. If you pitch forward while braking on a decline, the steering becomes heavier for a few moments, making any mistakes made in that instant possibly more dangerous. The sense of speed, again, is great, and better than in previous games.

Despite a recent delay, Sport doesn’t have the same weight on its shoulders to succeed as a full release does, because that’s not the game’s function at all. It’s going to be the place to play against other players if you’re aiming for league participation, and the new physics engine will definitely keep things fresh and challenging to experienced players who had to abandon old concepts like ideal tyre pressures for particular tracks because the series got more slanted towards attracting new blood.

GT Sport might not be the finest game in the series, but it’s going to be an important stepping stone for Polyphony as they do more work with GT Academy, and it certainly fills in the gaps while players have been waiting for GT7. Dipping your toes in for this release comes recommended if you’re a petrol head.

[Update]

Kazunori Yamauchi said on PlayStation.com that the game has been delayed until 2017. This is the quote directly from here, “Hello GT Community — I am sharing some news today that we have made the difficult decision to delay the release of Gran Turismo Sport to 2017.”

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