I had a strange moment while playing Gran Turismo on the PSP. In my clearly tired head I'd started to think about how the game doesn't really look that great when compared to recent racers DIRT 2 and NFS: Shift - games I had been playing on the Xbox 360. Then it dawned on me. I was comparing a game on Sony's small handheld to full-blown next-gen titles. What I was playing felt like a console game and I got a sense of excitement that only the handheld's greatest titles had evoked in the past. This really is the Gran Turismo experience on a handheld that everyone's been waiting for.
That's probably all most of you needed to read. The Gran Turismo series has been setting the driving benchmark for years, so to have that experience on a handheld is remarkable. Certain things have been changed so the game feels more like something to play here and there while on the move, which has the knock-on effect of making things feel quite basic to begin with. There's no career mode as such, with the single-player menu simply presenting you with three variables: Mode selection (Time Trial, Single Race and Drift Trial), Car Selection and Track Selection. The player able to pick and choose circuits and vehicles, with credits earned based on the difficulty, performance and number of laps you've chosen.
Initially the lack of a structured single-payer mode is quite a shock, but difficulty rank info next to each track means there's still a clear indication of what you need to do. There are 45 tracks (including layout variations) on the UMD (or digital download), and most of these can also be played in reverse, meaning there's loads of content here. You get everything from the tight winding Mediterranean streets of Costa di Amalfi and the long straights of New York, to the famous Laguna Seca racing circuit and a dirt track set in the Grand Canyon. There's even the ultimate driving test in the shape of the Nurburgring.
If you were worried about the car count due to the limited storage space on UMD, think again. GT on PSP features around 800 vehicle, each meticulously modelled and specced on their real life counterparts. As ever you'll have to start with a low powered car that will make it feel as if you're crawling around tracks at a snail's pace, but it's fairly easy to earn credits and save enough to buy something a bit beefier. Before too long you'll catch the car collecting bug, with that 'just one more race' addiction that all the GTs have had down the years. Until you've got everything the game has to offer there's always something better worth racing for, meaning it's hard to put the PSP down once you start playing. Sadly the dealerships available change after each race, so you won't always be able to buy what you're after.
Sadly missing from GT on PSP is vehicle upgrades. If you wanted to be able to kit out your cars with new turbo kits, rear wings and a sports gearbox, you're not going to find it here. There is a set of tuning options, though, with power, weight, aerodynamics, ride height, spring rate, damper toe and camber angle all being adjustable in the Quick Tune menu. Without any way to invest extra cash in your cars or visually customise them, it's unlikely you'll grow as attached to them as you probably did with your best in previous GTs. The knock on effect of this is that it makes the game feel a bit dated in comparison to other recent racers.
This will matter very little when you're actually racing, though. Gran Turismo on PSP feels like Gran Turismo, even when played with the usually less than satisfactory analogue nub. No other driving game on the handheld comes anywhere near to delivering a handling model this advanced, with tracks so detailed you can feel the bumps and undulations in the road surfaces. Stick with the game in the first hour or so, as you have to contend with driving in cars that have little to no sense of speed, and you'll eventually be cruising around some stunning tracks and pushing supercharged beasts to their limit.