Gran Turismo is a name synonymous with both racing and PlayStation. It is one of the longest-standing franchises to grace Sony’s gaming system, and has remained exclusive to the brand throughout the entirety of its history.

Now, 20 years after the launch of the original, Polyphony Digital has released its latest effort, Gran Turismo: Sport. After a strong change in direction over the last few entries, this cut-down GT title is the developer's attempt at breathing new life into an aging series.

Before going further, it needs to be said that the traditional career mode (that has been a cornerstone of these games since the PS2 days) has been removed entirely. Considering that it was always the meat of the single player, this is a staggering omission. Cars can still be bought with currency earned by playing online and offline, and you still have a garage to put them in, but the sense of progression just isn’t the same.

The graphics are the big selling point, with breathtakingly beautiful visuals out on track

Diving a little deeper into the skeletal campaign that’s left behind, you have driver licence tests and challenges making up the bulk of the single player experience now. Many of these are simply driving through a series of corners while trying to beat the required time, or pass the necessary number of cars in a set number of laps. These are enjoyable for what they are, but they were never the main focus of previous GT titles, and feel like the warm-up to something else rather than the star attraction.

Gran Turismo Sport review
Gran Turismo Sport review
Gran Turismo Sport review

But putting aside my gripes for a moment, let’s talk about what the game does get right. The graphics are the big selling point, with breathtakingly beautiful visuals out on track. The racing circuits are some of the best looking I’ve seen, and when it all comes together with the gorgeous lighting and stunning backdrops, the result is a masterpiece. But it’s the cars that are the real show stealer, as they have all been built from scratch just for this game. No more PS2-era assets, finally.

The level of visual detail in each vehicle eclipses anything else out there, with meticulous attention to both exteriors and cockpits alike. Every automobile is perfectly modelled and textured, as if the developers were manufacturing the cars themselves. It’s utterly gratuitous, but it showcases the dedication that Polyphony Digital has to making the best looking cars in a video game. You won’t notice even half of this when racing, but taking the cars into the photo mode will give you plenty of time to ogle all those curves and shiny surfaces.

The cost to this perfectionism is that there isn’t enough of anything, with 162 racing and road cars making their way into the game at launch. The entire open-wheel discipline is effectively ignored, classic cars are non-existent, and there’s no V8 supercars despite the inclusion of the Mount Panorama circuit. This issue is further exacerbated by many cars being a duo of road and race variants, cutting further into the slender list of unique cars to choose from.

The total number of tracks is also paper thin, as 40 variations distill down to only 17 locations. And of those, only six are real world circuits, which is but a shadow of the 60 locations and 130 circuits featured in Project Cars 2. Tracks also need to be unlocked before you can race on them, even for custom races. This is utterly bizarre, and feels like an unnecessary progression system to make up for the lack of a career mode.

the traditional career mode (that has been a cornerstone of these games since the PS2 days) has been removed entirely

If you were hoping that the AI had improved from previous games then you’ll be in for a disappointment. The other drivers run on a railroad track, all the while happily over-braking into corners or forcing you off track if you dare to cross their path. The franchise has had a history of terrible bot drivers, and the lack of improvement here doesn’t do the game any favours. On the plus side, after years of complaints, we finally have a GT game that features damage. The cosmetic aspect of this is very rudimentary, but at least it’s a start.

Before you are able to compete online, you are forced to complete a mandatory ‘bootcamp’ comprised of two videos on racing etiquette, and what not to do to other players. I was honestly amused by the naive sincerity of the development team, who must never have played their own games in public lobbies. Sure enough, the first race I got into had people dive-bombing into the car in front of them at the entry to corners, because brakes are for noobs, apparently.

Gran Turismo Sport review

There is a penalty system that tries to negate the griefing, but it’s utterly woeful when it comes to choosing who to penalise. All too often it’s the car at the front who cops the penalty for being rammed, which is not the right message you want to be sending to people still learning what the pedal on the left does. No system is perfect, but this one needs some serious work. The alternative is to play with only friends in custom lobbies, but you won’t advance your online driver rankings this way unfortunately.

An internet connection is required at all times to save the game, even when it’s only the single player content. In the week following launch there has been infrequent server maintenance and other issues that impacted the experience. Challenges that I had completed were reset when I next logged back into the game, lap times were not uploaded, and other progress not saved. Always-online isn’t new to driving games, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying when you lose your precious gold medals because the server was down.

If you cast your mind back to previous entries in the series, you might remember that both GT4 and GT5 had stripped-down prologue editions made available prior to the release of the main game. In many ways, GT Sport feels as if it was intended as a prologue to the seventh installment, but Polyphony Digital instead gave it a unique moniker and shipped it out as a full cream title. It is anything but, and the asking price is too steep for what content was included when the game went gold.

Ultimately what’s left is just a shell – in comparison to both the series history and the current competition. It’s incredibly pretty to look at, and sometimes fun to drive, but there simply isn’t enough included on the disc. Even with potential DLC in the works to fill out the flimsy roster of cars and tracks, the likelihood of it being free is slim. When the price inevitably drops and with post-launch patches this might become more appealing, but in it’s current form, GT Sport is nothing more than the distillation of everything that’s wrong with this franchise.