Version tested: PSP
When it was first announced alongside the PlayStation Portable, Gran Turismo 4 Mobile was a statement of intent. PSP, the videos argued, would be the only handheld for which you could buy games that look and feel like the ones you buy for the home. The intervening five years, however, which have also seen the game renamed Gran Turismo, have softened its impact considerably. It's tempting to begin by pointing out that while it does look and feel like a racing game you might buy for the home, that also assumes you're referring to the home of 2004.
But that would be doing Polyphony Digital a disservice. Gran Turismo pelts along at 60 frames-per-second and the developer has wisely sacrificed texture detail to preserve that, safe in the knowledge that the quality of the underlying car geometry will distract players from the odd low-res building in the background, and ensure those all-important replays still exceed expectations laid down by half a decade of portable WipEouts, Ridge Racers and Need for Speeds. They do.
Likewise, the handling model may be cut straight from Gran Turismo 4 - something Polyphony actually claimed to have achieved on PSP as long ago as September 2006 - but that handling model was and remains a cut above the majority of comparable handheld titles. There's real subtlety across the more than 800 vehicles available for purchase, allowing you to appreciate the difference not only between cars with different drivetrains, tyres and performance settings, but between different cars with the same drivetrains, tyres and performance settings.
The issue of realism in racing games is often a thorny one (not least because I doubt any of us has driven a Bugatti Veyron - or indeed any of the Ferraris), but every vehicle is characteristic. Accelerate aggressively into a wide turn with a Honda Integra and you get massive understeer, compared to entertaining oversteer with a Mazda RX-7 and greater stability with a Mitsubishi Evo VII. But the fact you can appreciate the difference between the latter and a similar 4WD car is the more interesting revelation.
All the same, Gran Turismo for PSP is a strange experience. Because while it may look and feel like a serious driving game, it doesn't really function like a game at all for more than a few hours. Following in the tyre treads of pit-stop releases like Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, Polyphony gives you a series of several dozen Driving Challenges to complete - similar to the old licence tests, but with cone slaloms, overtake challenges and beat-the-clock cornering tasks making up the bulk. Once you finish those, which doesn't take very long, you're left to your own devices.
There's no career mode to speak of - just Single Race, Time Trial and Drift Trial options, for which you pick a car and a track and then have at it, without any structured progression or notable unlocks (apart from the option to choose from your own MP3s for the soundtrack, and making that an unlockable just feels cheeky). Instead you just bash away with no particular goal in mind besides accumulating credits to buy cars. The only restriction is that the Car Dealerships only show certain manufacturers at certain times. It's not a great substitute for a career mode.