The dawn of the PSP promised a lot of things for portable games; wonderfully rendered, high-detail games to take anywhere and play anytime. In this initial release, a demo was shown of a promising looking handheld version of Gran Turismo. This was shown in 2004. Five long years after multiple rumours of cancellation and falling off the radar, Gran Turismo portable has finally been released. After this long period what does Gran Turismo have to offer in terms of a simulation racing title on a portable console?
What's instantly noticable is that the graphics are among some of the best on the PSP system, or any portable system for that matter. With vehicles and tracks fully rendered, Gran Turismo looks like a scaled down version of it's PS2 counterpart, Gran Turismo 4. The only visual gripe surrounds some of the details on the cars, as they look a little fuzzy when the view gets close enough to the car. There is also a cockpit view in the game that isn't the most appealing since it's practically just a black outline of the car's frame and there are no textures or dashboard to be seen.
What does make up for gripes though, is the sheer number of vehicles to be raced in the game. Gran Turismo boasts roughly 800 cars although this number does seem a little inflated because there are quite a view cars that are almost identical. For example, there are American, European and Japanese versions of multiple vehicles and essentially the only changes revolve around the driving side. Having said that, it is still a massive amount of vehicles to play with. Along with the vehicles there are 35 tracks to be raced on with many available in reverse as well, which changes the way the course is raced entirely. All in all, it's surprising how much is packed in to such a small capacity.
While there are a huge number of vehicles in the game, there is the issue of how the vehicles are obtained. Money is a fairly easy thing to come across since most races are pretty rewarding, so it's just spending the money that is difficult. Vehicles are obtained from dealerships just like in previous titles. The problem is that there is also a day system in place that randomizes small amounts of vehicles at a time. How this works is that each race takes place over a day's time in game and every other day there are about six manufacturer dealerships available at once. Within these manufacturer categories, there are about 8 vehicles in the individual dealership. So this becomes an issue for finding a given vehicle.
The advantage to limited vehicles is that it helps support a multiplayer trading system in the game. The trading system essentially allows players to trade and share vehicles between one another. One flaw with this, however, is that two players have to live in close proximity of each other and both play quite a bit to unlock decent or rare vehicles the other player may want. Beyond trading vehicles, there is a decent multiplayer race mode available. Up to 4 players can race together on any of the available tracks, with handicap levels available for players of different skill level. One big problem with multiplayer though is that it is all ad-hoc only, meaning no infrastructure online play available and players have to be in the vicinity of each other to play.
The game modes in single player are rather limiting as well, since there are only two race modes beyond the license mode, which is just preset scenarios. One mode is single race, where the player sets the vehicles, the track, and how many laps there are and races. The other mode is drift where the player sets the vehicle and track, that's it. The drift mode scores points for drifting around set corners, the wider and faster the car drifts, the more points are scored. There is no career mode or progression of races with preset vehicles to choose and race, which is unfortunate but does work in the sense of a portable game. For a player to be able to pull out the game and choose a race based on how much time is available is a nice way to set a portable game such as this, but it would still be really nice to have that traditional mode for playing at home or on long trips.
While the game modes are fairly weak, Gran Turismo does back itself up well with it's physics model. The whole game feels very polished and all of the cars handle very appropriately based on what type of vehicle it is. All the cars have a surprisingly realistic feel to them for being on such a small system and the physics will feel right a home for players of any other of the PS2 Gran Turismo titles. The cars all control well with assists on and have that similar feeling to the console counterpart. For those more into the full racing sim who want to pull the full potential out of the cars, the controls kind of fall flat. With assists off the physics really do shine through, but unfortunately the physical limitations of the PSP rears its ugly head. With no pressure sensitivity, cars spin out at the slightest press of the gas in high torque situations. The analog nub also poses a problem as it is usually a little over-responsive. The d-pad is still available, but it feels a little under-responsive at times. This is really unfortunate since the feeling of a sim racer is hidden behind ugly controls that can't really be helped in the full sim application.
As a whole, Gran Turismo holds up very well as a technically amazing handheld title. It's just unfortunate that so many features are missing and that the controls are a little poor for the hardcore sim players that want the full potential of the Gran Turismo series. When all is said and done though, Gran Turismo on the PSP is a decent addition to the franchise. It's just that in the amount of time it took to release the game, a little more time probably should have been put into the game modes available. It's definitely worth a look for fans of the series and one of the better racing games available for the PSP system.