In case you haven't noticed, the PSP is getting its game on--or trying to, at least. With a solid software push this year and a revamped PSP Go, Sony's solidly performing yet still second-place handheld is trying to reinvigorate its flagging game library as of late. And, sensibly, the focus is remaining on successful PS2 and PS3 ports. Gran Turismo and, more recently, the MotorStorm franchise have been great examples of first-party Sony success. They're A-level titles, and at last both are making their debut in PSP form in just a few weeks, costing $39.99 and being made available in both UMD and downloadable formats. We received download codes for both titles and gave them a thorough go here at the office, but the results may surprise you.
I had heard tons of hype for years (since the original PSP launch in 2005, in fact) about Gran Turismo going mobile. This long-expected virtual vaporware became incredibly tangible for us this week, and will be available to everyone else October 1. I was excited, even though I'm not utterly wild about the hard-core tuning that lies at the heart of GT's automotive fetishism. I do like racing games, and the PSP hasn't had a really good one in quite some time.
As a result, it surprised me to find that Gran Turismo was pretty boring. That's not a knock on the car models or the race tracks or the graphics in general: they're all crisp and smooth and well above average. The problem is that the game itself, in trying for realism, moves at a pace that on a small screen feels like a crawl. Watching your Audi slowly accelerate to 60 mph and take gradual turns with proper braking is the anti-Mario Kart, and not in a good way. It can be soporific, even hypnotic. While the casual nature of the races could amount to a nice mobile break from a busy day, the intensity of Gran Turismo feels like it's moved completely off the map.
That's not to say the game isn't without some great features. The car physics, for realism's sake, are probably second to none on the PSP. Game controls are fluid, and the 60fps gameplay is always smooth. The track selection and car selection is incredibly impressive, especially GT's library of 800 vehicles. The problem is that every day only four random dealerships offer up their cars for purchase, in what looks like an attempt by Polyphony to create scarcity so that gamers can trade their cars in a Pokemon fashion. That's a nice idea, but the randomness means that there's no way to try to achieve anything. Single-player mode involves simply selecting a car, selecting a track, and racing. Without a true career mode or any build-up of unlockables, GT becomes merely a credit-collecting initiative. It's also weird that Gran Turismo only allows you to race with three other AI vehicles, eliminating the excitement of larger-scale races. For a car enthusiast, Gran Turismo still represents a pinnacle of software simulation. But in this PSP edition, it's more racing simulator than game.
Gran Turismo looks really good and while I think I liked playing it a little more that you did, Scott, it does feel more repetitive than Arctic Edge and lacks some of the strategic elements of that game (it's always exhilarating to knock your opponents off a cliff or into a rock face). Gran Turismo has always been about upgrading and tweaking your vehicle and while the graphics, as I said, are certainly excellent for the PSP, there's not enough eye candy on the PSP to make Turismo as compelling as you'd hope. I enjoyed it to a degree but I think Sony needs to a find a way to deepen the actual racing elements of the game and make it more goal-oriented.
On the other hand, MotorStorm: Arctic Edge feels comparatively electric. Although more muddily rendered than Gran Turismo, the 3D effects and complex track layouts of Sony's off-roading race experience are pretty well translated to the small screen, which is an impressive feat. With a series of unlockable tracks, events, and vehicles set in forbidding wintry climates, MotorStorm has a feel quite similar to Burnout, but in the best possible way. The PSP hasn't seen a racing game this fun since Burnout Dominator and the old ATV titles, and the class differences between trucks, cars, and motorbikes (and even snowmobiles) lends a lot of fun to the replayability. In a nose-thumbing to Gran Turismo, MotorStorm: Arctic Edge has 10-player races that are as complex and exciting as we could expect on a handheld. Carnoy and I played local multiplayer, and while the frame rate appears to drop, the play was quite fun.
I'm not sure Sony meant for MotorStorm to trump Gran Turismo, but for me that's what happened: one is an arcade-perfect racer that's ideal for mobile quick fixes, and the other is an exercise in simulation. Both have great physics, but I prefer Arctic Storm.
The most impressive thing about MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is how well the developer, Bigbig Studios, has managed to "port" the PS3 MotorStorm experience to the PSP. The game just looks and plays like the PS3 versions of the series, and the graphics are some of the best I've seen on the PSP. You may not get quite the adrenalin rush that you get playing MotorStorm on the PS3, but the addition of snow/ice vehicles is a nice touch that injects some freshness into the franchise, and I thought the tracks were varied enough to keep things from getting too repetitive.
I think we both agree that the ad-hoc multiplayer could have used some bots (you have to figure that most of the time you're only going to be facing off against only one or two of your buddies at a time), but regardless, it's nice to be able to go head-to-head without having to deal with a split-screen interface.