June 24, 2009 – Whenever a huge series decides to release a portable entry, there is always some skepticism as to whether the downsized offering can live up to its console predecessors. However, increasingly, handheld titles are amping up their quality, and series like Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, God of War, and even Rock Band have gotten portable titles that have definitely measured up to console gamers’ high standards.
When Gran Turismo 4 for mobile was first announced back in 2004, prior to the launch of the console release of Gran Turismo 4, many, including myself, were skeptical that the game would ever live up to the experience on the PlayStation 2 that had gotten so many people hooked on the franchise. As the years wore on, this endlessly “in development” title seemed to all but vanish. And when Gran Turismo 5 Prologue finally came onto the scene in 2008, it was easy to assume that Gran Turismo 4 Mobile had all but died in lieu of the new Gran Turismo title for the PS3. However, the title is back, and it has been rebranded as just Gran Turismo for PSP, set to release in October 2009.
We were able to get our hands on a demo version of Gran Turismo for PSP, and after 5 years in development, this game looks very good. During our demo we were able to try out a handful of the game’s 800 unlockable cars as well as try out the regular racing mode. One of the biggest things I noticed early on was how faithful this game was to the mechanics of the bigger console versions. Though it might have been easy to make Gran Turismo for PSP a softer, more arcade-feeling release, all the sim mechanics are here, and the track that we played featured plenty of harsh turns and challenging loops reminiscent of prior releases. In fact, one of the Sony reps we talked to said that many of the tracks for the final game will be lifted from Gran Turismo 4, so vets will definitely have an advantage when playing this one.
Another facet of the game that has been lifted from Gran Turismo 4 is the mission mechanic. Game progress will be mission-based, and it will not feature the more linear license progression of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Of course, this all makes a lot of sense as the game was originally designed to be a portable version of Gran Turismo 4. But, if you are worried that this game will feel old once it is finally released, fear not! There will also be plenty of elements of Gran Turismo 5 at work in this title, especially those pertaining to the games visuals.
The game’s visuals are extremely polished, and everything from the cars to the tracks all sport a gorgeous sheen and plenty of detail. Everything from the leaves on the trees to the tail lights on the vehicles looks incredibly detailed, and it was hard to believe that the game I was seeing was actually being played on a PSP. The game runs very fast as well, with a solid frame rate of 60 FPS. Although it is easy to be impressed by the screenshots or trailer footage, this is one title that you really must see for yourself to believe.
However, though the graphics are mightily impressive, the thing that really sold me on Gran Turismo for the PSP was the car roster. Although most of the cars were locked in the demo we played, the final version will have about 800 cars available for play. This is the largest roster I have ever heard of for a portable automotive game, and I was completely blown away by just how many cars you will be able to play with in Gran Turismo for PSP. However, there was one thing that made me a little bit nervous about the unlock system. Apparently, a lot of it will be trade-based, and the game will make it very difficult for you to unlock all of its cars without linking up with another PSP (ad-hoc) and trading with a friend. Hopefully we will learn more about this feature as we get closer to release.
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with what we saw of Gran Turismo on PSP, and I am very excited about its release this fall. If you would have asked me about this title several years ago, I would have probably scoffed and said that it wasn’t worth my time. However, this is yet another portable title that is showing that it can live up to the potential of its console brethren, and my anticipation for this title is only outpaced by my excitement for the equally-delayed and aloof Gran Turismo 5.