So I'm powering through the deucedly taxing driving challenges in Gran Turismo for PSP and having a great time. I miss force feedback, but otherwise the car handling feels great. And I'm getting a good glimpse at some of the 800 licensed vehicles and 35 real-world tracks that have somehow been crammed into a mere 950MB of game.
I think to myself: Wow, Polyphony Digital has actually managed to recreate the rich and lengthy Gran Turismo experience on a handheld device.
That assessment turned out to be premature.
After finishing set "H" in an alphabetized list of license test-like skill events (and about 90 minutes after starting to play) I see the credits start to roll. That's weird, I thought. A game's credits usually run after the career mode ends.
But, as I found out upon heading back to the main menu, there is no career mode in Gran Turismo for PSP.
I didn't believe it at first. I surfed through all of the menu options again and again, thinking I was missing something. But even the simply titled "single-player mode" offered only the ability to pick a car, a track, and whether we wanted to race against three A.I. opponents or simply try to set a record for fastest lap.
After a few of these races-which felt meaningless, as they offered no sense of progression toward any goals-I headed back to the main menu. At least I could spend the two million credits I earned in the driving challenges on some new cars and upgrades, right?
While I could indeed purchase cars, my selection was limited to the "dealerships of the day," a group of four random manufacturers that change every couple of events. And once I'd purchased a few cars I realized that there was no way to upgrade them. I could fine tune them for specific tracks and racing conditions, but buying and installing new hardware simply wasn't an option.
Upon procuring about a dozen new cars (all from Toyota, Nissan, and Bugatti, as those were my only options for that particular day), I was keen to hit the pavement. Without any sort of career mode I figured my best bet would be to pit my skills against some humans.
Except I couldn't, because there was no support for PlayStation Network play. Just local wireless, which does me-and, I'm guessing, millions of other PSP owners-no good about 99 per cent of the time.
I put down my PSP and leaned back in my chair, wondering what reasoning Polyphony Digital could have possibly had for denying players so many of the things that seem essential to the Gran Turismo experience.
This might sound like blasphemy, but the folks who made Gran Turismo actually could have learned a thing or two from another PSP racer released this week: MotorStorm: Arctic Edge. While the two games are at polar opposites of the racing spectrum, at least Arctic Edge provides players with an experience nearly identical to what they get in the console editions of the franchise, complete with a lengthy 100 race career mode.
In fact, I'd easily recommend Arctic Edge over Gran Turismo. It has issues, too-especially to do with difficulty (it's incredibly easy for the first third then suddenly becomes maddeningly challenging)-but at least it feels like a real game.
By contrast, Gran Turismo is little more than an interactive promotion for the upcoming Gran Turismo 5 for PlayStation 3 (one of its few redeeming features is that you'll be able to transfer cars purchased in the PSP game to the new console edition). We've already been fed one such game: The aptly-dubbed Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. There was no need for another.
Five years between proper entries in a series is a long time to wait. And trying to make money during that time with a couple of games that feel more like full-priced demos is close to unconscionable. When Gran Turismo 5 eventually does hit shelves (either late this year or early next), Polyphony Digital may find that their ocean of loyal fans has dried up.
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha