Well, I never thought I'd be saying this: The latest Gran Turismo – at this stage, at least – isn't much of a looker. The playable build on show in London yesterday was riddled with technical issues, from screen tearing, frame drops, noticeable aliasing and poor texture filtering. But the biggest issue, ultimately, is that it isn't as big a step up from GT6 as you'd expect from the series' leap onto PS4.
And that's a huge shame. For a franchise so often celebrated for its stunning presentation, GT Sport is so far looking like a bit of a let-down. The game appears to be targeting 1080p/60fps, but the lack of polish in yesterday's build suggests Polyphony may have let its ambition for including obscure features, like real-world digital licenses (by playing GT Sport you can, somehow, get yourself recognised by automobile clubs across the world) lead to the developer ignoring some of the basics. Even the replays suffer.
There doesn't appear to be any damage modelling, either, with cars simply bouncing off walls and each other, and we haven't yet been shown anything on night racing or weather effects. Whether Polyphony is holding these back until they're ready, I don't know, but with the performance on display yesterday I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that they'd been cut from the project altogether.
These things, perhaps, would have been a little more acceptable had GT Sport arrived as a stopgap a year or so into PS4's release. But for a game releasing on the console's third anniversary (and two years after DriveClub, a game that could end up remaining the console's visual benchmark for racers), it's reasonable to expect more.
It's an altogether different case for the game's impressive photo mode, though. Titled 'Scapes', the mode lets users place any number of cars into over 1000 landscapes, including a variety of city streets, deserts, mountains and, er, petrol stations, before exporting the images at 4K. It's Kaz's holiday snaps mode, essentially, and while I haven't yet been able to get my hands on it, it looks particularly easy to use and (unlike the rest of the game) phenomenally pretty.
Physics-wise, GT Sport is still Gran Turismo, so you'll know exactly what to expect if you've ever played a game in the series before. The lineup of cars on offer in the demo handled well, and while I've heard criticism about the way they sound, director Kazunori Yamauchi claims that the audio has all been "redone from scratch" since Gran Turismo 6, meaning “the level [of quality] should be much, much higher". 137 'Super Premium' vehicles are promised for launch, too, including a mix of real-life and virtual concept cars, with each one offering an interior view. 110 offline events are featured as well, along with 19 locations (including the return of dirt tracks) split across 27 layouts. One of the new locations is 'Tokyo Express Way', a track based on the Japanese highway.
Other details include a new livery editor, a companion app, and a revised emphasis on online play, with each user given their own profile detailing their achievements, stats and 'Sporting History', along with a Twitter-like timeline of online activity. The online, in fact, sounds rather interesting, with new races being posted each hour for players to compete in, and with racers rated on both their speed and their sportsmanship. If you're someone who chooses to smash into other cars to get round corners rather than use your brakes, expect that to be reflected in your rating. Official weekend races, known as Weekend Finals, will also bring together the world's highest-rated players to compete in broadcast events.
Polyphony is targeting PlayStation VR support from launch, too, and not just in a limited side-mode, either, but across the entire game. "My plan is that Gran Turismo Sport will be compatible to allow all aspects of [the game] to be experienced in VR," Yamauchi says. "We've been compatible with 3D before, in GT6 we've been compatible with Oculus, so it's just a continuation of that." Quite whether he'll achieve it, of course, remains to be seen, especially given the state of the current code.
With all of these new elements failing to be put into the hands of players at yesterday's event, though, it's still difficult to determine how GT Sport will offer the level of innovation that Yamauchi promises. For better or worse, Gran Turismo is still Gran Turismo - it just doesn't look or yet perform anywhere near as good as you might expect.
There's still six months to put things right with the visuals, of course, but at this stage (and two current-gen Forza Motorsports later), it's disappointing to see Polyphony delivering a build without significantly more polish. And if I didn't know any better, I'd wonder if the developer – and Sony – is counting on PlayStation Neo to really make GT Sport shine...
Gran Turismo Sport launches on PS4 on November 18, and is currently available to pre-order from Amazon.