"Sport is challenging for the human mind and spirit! Sport is fun! Sportmanship is important and good. To be bad is not good. To be bad is not good sportmanship..."
The little instructional video that launches the Gran Turismo Online Championship is bad. Really bad. In fact, the presentation here is not good at all, especially during the first two hours. This is because there's a slight contradiction in how it's structured and designed; as usual, when it comes to Polyphony Digital's titles, the juxtaposition between racing sim and country club lobby with jazzy tunes doesn't quite gel.
Series creator Kazunori Yamauchi has been extremely clear that they are moving away from more casual elements, and you won't be collecting Prius models and you won't be steering a moon buggy. However, the game still treats you like a child at the very beginning. GT Sport is regulated by FiA, it is an "always online" game to counteract and prevent cheating and fiddling, and it only revolves around race cars, in racing contexts.
We find ourselves getting quickly fed up with the terrible video intro, which speaks to us as if we're four years old and don't know racing. In the main menu, our fury is triggered by the fact that Yamauchi and his crew once again insisted on playing horrendous piano jazz in combination with memorials from "timeless events through world history" (like when Clapton broke through or when the first moon landing took place - stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with racing).
However, we get the idea. Polyphony wants to create a car club where everyone will want to "hang out", one clever enough and aware of the outside world rather than being self-contained and introspective, something that could be said of some of the most hardcore racing communities out there. In the same vein, Polyphony doesn't want to be inaccessible by throwing too many difficult motorsport terms in the player's face too early. We understand, but regardless, we hate how Gran Turismo Sport begins.
Driving tests are gone just like the traditional career mode. We heaved a big sigh of relief since we were tired of being forced to steer 72 horsepower hatchbacks around Willow Springs for 39 hours to afford a Nismo N24 GT3 GTR, but then we noticed that the "Challenges" contain what seems to be exactly the same as the old driver's license tests, just under a different label. Very well, the first two hours consist of proving to Polyphony that we know where the brake pedal is, and that we understand that one should turn when a curve pops up. In the same way as the "sport is challenging" video, we didn't enjoy this one bit.
But then Gran Turismo Sport opens up and, after some 25+ hours of playing time, we now consider this to be the best game in this series in a very, very long time. After finishing the most basic lessons in the Challenges mode and unlocking the first tracks, Polyphony throws us into the seat of a LeMans car, and it's now about learning (step-by-step) the most important things in racing. Here, the priorities of the studio have really been on point. Even better, when we finish six stages in the game's Challenge mode, we step into the section that divides the various tracks into small sections and using finely-crafted visual aids it trains us to attack the apex with the right steering input, and step in with the right amount of speed to properly maximise a specific corner. This is a fun and educational way to show the player how it works without ever making it overbearing or too challenging. Here, right here, is where this game shines brightest.
All of this, including the time trials and the custom races, are just preparation for what Gran Turismo Sport is really about: online racing (more specifically, FiA-regulated online racing). Being forced to pay £430 for a FiA membership to possibly aspire to achieve some kind of virtual success in a game isn't for everyone, and for these players, there's plenty of other tournaments and championships in the online lobby.
In Gran Turismo Sport, racing etiquette is very important and Polyphony has borrowed from iRacing in particular with regard to the points you are awarded as a player at the end of the race, which then puts you with like-minded players in the next. If you drive too aggressively and maybe even carelessly, you'll be able to compete against other crazy-drivers and it will be visible when you log in that you are that type of driver. We think this is a smart way to "clean up" online competitions and we suspect this game will be very popular in the future if this system proves effective in the long run.