As momentum gathers for the PSPgo launch, Sony is preparing to unleash the first of its milestone releases for the re-invigoration of its handheld brand. Polyphony Digital has finally completed its much-delayed Gran Turismo for PSP, and review code was duly despatched to those deemed worthy enough last week.
Having had a taster of the portable experience at gamescom a few weeks back and coming away very impressed, I was very eager to check it out. Very little in the way of actual, tangible assets have emerged, with Sony's own E3 reveal shying away from showing the actual game, and this is rather odd, because even as a non-professional video editor, armed with around 30 minutes of raw video captures, I was able to put this trailer together, showing that - at its best - GT PSP can look quite spectacular.
What we have here is, in a sense, a bit of an experiment. Internet video is usually locked at 30FPS, but that's not Gran Turismo. This video is encoded at full fat 60 frames. Playback performance will vary owing to Adobe's rubbish Flash h264 decoder, so if the video lags for you, either click on the EGTV link for a traditional 30FPS encode, or else right-click and pipe down this specially prepared download for the full experience.
Polyphony Digital has taken a number of measures to accommodate Gran Turismo on the PSP, without sacrificing the core elements that make the game what it is. First up, the game uses the smallest frame buffer available to the unit, resulting in a stippled, dithered look to the visuals. Any one who has played Ridge Racer or its sequel on the handheld will know exactly what I'm talking about. This format means lower memory usage, lower bandwidth requirements and frees up a lot of fill-rate - all essential in getting GT running at 60FPS. Next up, the tracks have been pared down - most notably through the use of lower resolution textures. The impact on the image quality here very much varies from track to track: the detail-rich cities look a bit odd, whereas the rest of the courses look fine. Crucially however, the actual geography of the circuits is absolutely authentic to the original console versions.
GT PSP remains a technical marvel, for a number of reasons. First up, Polyphony Digital's love affair with the automobile is undiminished when you see the love and care that has gone into the vehicle modelling: it's frankly excellent. Secondly, the sheer amount of content in the game is staggering - all of the circuits from GT4 are in there, along with a car roster that appears to be just as comprehensive as its PS2 predecessor, if not more so, with the inclusion of the likes of Ferrari, Bugatti and Lamborghini. There's evidence of other, smaller tweaks that gamers will welcome: the ability to play your own MP3s from memory stick during gameplay, for example. The ability to install the game to memory stick if you're running from UMD is another. Tweaked colour profiles specific for the integrated display and the TV-out is another interesting bonus.
Perhaps the most crucial element brings us back to the point of this blog entry. It's unequivocably 60FPS (albeit with occasional tearing), and as such the handling model feels just as good as it did on PS2. It might be four years late, but in terms of the way it plays, this is indeed the portable Gran Turismo driving experience as was promised so long ago.
But over and above the technical achievement, is the game any good? How have the exhaustive gameplay modes been repurposed to accommodate the handheld market? Sony's review embargo lifts tomorrow at 5pm BST, and as I write, Tom is hard at work on the review. Be there.