Growing Up Gran Turismo: Part Five

After the release of Gran Turismo 4, there was a bit of a lull in the Polyphony Digital sim-racing universe. The fourth installment of the franchise was released in 2004 and there wouldn’t be another, proper game, until 2010. During this time period two stop-gap games did appear.

The first was Gran Turismo 5: Prologue in 2007, which was nothing more than a glorified demo, intended to hold fans over until the full game was available (which would take another three years). The other was Gran Turismo for the PlayStation Potable (PSP) handheld gaming system.

It Has the Meat

Probably the most forgotten member of the Gran Turismo family, it was released in the fall of 2009. Surprisingly, this handheld game had over 800 cars stuffed onto its mini-disc. Many of the cars were nothing more than variations on a theme, and once again the game was overcrowded with Skylines, S2000s, Silvias and Civics. Still, the sheer number of manufacturers and cars was impressive.

Surprising for a handheld spin-off, new manufacturers were introduced with this title. Gran Turismo for the PSP was the very first time Ferrari, Bugatti and Lamborghini could be driven in the world of Gran Turismo. The game even had a free DLC pack with several cars players could immediately use once downloaded.

Acquiring the rest of the cars wasn’t so easy; especially if there was a specific vehicle a player was looking for. There was no manufacturer screen to buy cars. The only way to buy cars was through the dealership that offered random groupings of manufacturers with a selection of cars for sale. Every two days in-game (basically two races or two challenges) the dealership would have new cars available to purchase. And just because a dealership was available didn’t mean all the brand’s cars were for sale either. The dealership vehicle rotation did run on some sort of pattern, and astute players quickly learned its pattern.

There was a way to trade cars with friends as well, which helped in acquiring more sought-after vehicles. I’m fuzzy now on the details, but I remember there was a way using the Ad-Hoc feature (described later in this article) that players could get their hands on a garage that had every car included – in multiple colours. I acquired this garage as I am a car collector first and foremost when playing any Gran Turismo.

But Where’s the Potatoes?

Along with the excessive number of vehicles, there were 35 tracks included in Gran Turismo for the PSP, which again seems quite a lot of a handheld game. But for all the cars and tracks included, the gameplay was severely limited. There was no career mode. The only options for a player was single race, time trial, drift trial, multiplayer or driving challenges.

Single player races included a choice of any of the 35 tracks and their 70 layouts. Each had a letter grade starting at D. Win the race and the letter advanced as well as the difficulty of the competition. The goal was to get each track up to the letter S. Any car could be driven (tires dependent) and the computer AI would be selected based on the players choice.  This sometimes led to unfair matchups like pitting a player’s Chevrolet Camaro LM Race Car against the insane Chaparral 2J.

The Driving Challenges were basically the Licenses usually found in Gran Turismo games. There were 17 letters that each focused on a particular skill or set of skills. In all, there were over 100 challenges to complete and each gave out bronze, silver or gold trophies – a staple of Gran Turismo.

The time trial and drift trial were basically practice modes, with no way to advance the game or earn credits.

Impressive Racing Action

The actual racing of Gran Turismo PSP was quite good. Polyphony Digital did a good job porting the gaming experience from the console onto the smaller handheld platform. A PSP did not have analog controls so the inputs and controls were more akin to Gran Turismo 2 in the pre-dual-shock controller days.

Going back and playing it again in 2020, the game still impresses. It matches or exceeds any current mobile racing game in terms of response and engagement. It really emulates that the players are driving a car (albeit with worse graphics). The varying surfaces and vehicles feel unique enough to differentiate from one another.

Gran Turismo PSP also had a multiplayer mode. It was an Ad Hoc mode for localized play, but soon after the game was released, an application was available for the PlayStation 3. It allowed players to race each other online using that Ad Hoc mode, but through the PS3. Yes, people were basically now playing their fully mobile PSP online by being tethered to a non-portable PlayStation 3. But it was still online play.

This iteration of the Gran Turismo franchise also introduced one of my favourite features ever included in the game; Shuffle Mode. But I’ll cover that in more detail during part six of this series.

Gran Turismo for the PSP was a surprisingly good effort that could have been great, if the car list was maybe paired down to 400 or 500 cars to allow a proper career mode. Still, look at my progress below; it defiantly caught my attention enough to play the snot out of it.

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