Gran Turismo Sport (2017) Is My Favourite Game Of 2021

Gran Turismo Sport is a game that cost me only about £8, but I’ve spent more than a hundred hours in it, which would make it one of the best entertainment bargains ever. I’ve driven more than 14,000 miles, accumulated 232,000 mileage points, and earned over 44 million credits.

Previously, I’d played the first Gran Turismo, and owned the sequel on PS1. I bought GT3 for the PS2 and was wowed by the graphics. For the time it was an astonishing leap to see the light casting down through the trees and the realistic beams scattering through the leaves on Trial Mountain.

But I was not a good driver. At that age my strategy involved buying the fastest car I could afford and doing it up as much as I could and then entering races where I would slaughter the field. It was not skill, only power differential. I would play the game like pinball, crashing around the track and relying on my vehicle’s acceleration to put me in pole. I never completed these early Gran Turismos. I wasn’t able to get the Special License, which you needed in order to complete all the races.

This year, in 2021, I completed a Gran Turismo for the first time. It so happened to be GT Sport on the PS4. I completed all the Driving School challenges and Mission Challenges and Circuit Experience challenges – in gold. I won many cars this way. I won numerous GT League competitions and drove for hours and hours to save up the 20,000,000 credits necessary in order to buy a Ferrari 330 P4 ‘67. Buying the stunning classic car, which is also very rapid, was a satisfying moment. Not least because I could now enter the ‘Nostalgic 1979’ series and could continue my march towards completion.

Progress! We haven’t been able to have too much of that this year. In England we have had several lockdowns throughout 2021, which have stymied the best laid plans of all and sundry. I was relatively lucky, since I was living at home with my family over the lockdowns. But emotionally, it was not easy for many of us, myself included. While anxiety and unpredictability ruled, however, I found solace in getting into a car and going driving. Not in real life, you understand, but on the virtual racecourse.

When I bought GT Sport on a sale near the beginning of this year, I did it on a whim. I’d heard negative things about the game – how it was half finished or lacked cars and tracks – which is why I had left it for so long. These criticisms might have been the case when it launched in October 2017, but when I booted it up, after an age spent downloading, I found a meaty, fully-formed game.Gran Turismo Sport isn’t like a traditional Gran Turismo. The career progression is lacking compared to previous entries and the car modification is pretty minimal. It doesn’t have some of the more game-y spit and polish or slightly quirky nature that made the older GT games so peculiarly fun and interesting for a car sim.

But the driving experience…my goodness. Each car model’s distinctive weight, handling and grip combine to make the feel of driving better than ever. The cars look great too. GT Sport has a hefty file size, but once you see the race courses and car models, it all makes sense. The detailing on the vehicles is astonishing. Visually, it is not quite as impressive as Forza Horizon 4, but in terms of attention to detail for the cars, GT Sport is easily up there with the best of them, even today.

I am now much older than when I played Gran Turismo 3 like a Crash Bandicoot kart racer. So I made a deliberate decision. A conscious effort. I would do something different for this Gran Turismo and I’d apply my years of experience to it. I would, in short, git gud! And I discovered something – I could actually drive!

I started to understand braking distances, helped by the still superb driving challenges. I started to learn racing lines. I began to formulate the almost Zen-like koan of – in order to go faster, you must go slower… These things hit me like revelations. No longer did I bounce around a racetrack – nor could I, really, since many of the courses in GT Sport do not have barriers but instead acres of gravel. Now I was not driving all over the place, I was following the proper racing lines. It felt really, really good. Powerful! Like I was amassing power through my hands, controlling these cars like some kind of supreme master.

While outside in the real world an invisible enemy lurked unseen, in places unknown, GT Sport found me focusing on what I could control, on what I could master. I felt a connection I had not felt since…well, maybe ever, since I’d never connected with a racing game like this before. I recall the first real hot laps I did around Dragon’s Tail in a Gr.3 car. I flew around. It all flowed, and I felt like a goddamn race car driver.

2021 wasn’t a great year, all told. Not for games, not for humanity (big yikes, eh). But something happened in 2021 that was positive for me, and it was somehow linked with Gran Turismo Sport. I found my creativity spiked at a certain time this year. Over spring into early summer, I wrote thousands of words for a personal writing project. It was hard to begin with, like wading through mud. Trying to move through that creative space and attempting to get words down on the page felt sludge-y and difficult. At this point I was also going running at least twice a week. I felt I needed it. To get out of the house, to move in a way that felt free, when freedom was curtailed due to lockdown. And in the evenings I would play Gran Turismo.

I found those evenings sat in front of the telly focused on my car, driving laps around the track, simultaneously stimulating and relaxing. It was wonderful, this feeling. I could wander – in my mind. As I drove laps in marathon races, my mind would wander and I’d find sentences would come bubbling up. Writing issues I had, in my writing project, and problems in the text, would get solved. This creativity, as I raced round and round, would surge for some reason, and often I had to abandon my Dualshock, and pick up a notebook and pen to jot something down.

I came to understand the importance of these driving sessions, as the space for the mind to be somehow both engaged and disengaged, as a spur for creativity. My writing, like a train, gained momentum. It picked up steam, the axles churning no longer through mud, but liquid, and finally, air, as if gliding. The combination of running through the countryside in the afternoons; the evening sessions playing Gran Turismo Sport, and the discipline to write every day found me at my most productive, creatively.

The greatest achievement, in my mind, is getting gold on the Lap Attack on Nürburgring Nordschleife in Circuit Experience. This legendary German racecourse has more than 150 corners and is nearly 21km long. It requires an enormous amount of concentration, sustained over nearly seven minutes, lest you spin out at a corner and ruin all the hard work you’ve put in. It is a feat of endurance. A test of focus, nerve, and stamina. The ultimate challenge.

The game helps you, a little. It breaks down the racetrack into sections, which you can complete first, to get those golds. But the final challenge involves you trying to beat the clock around the whole course. Suddenly, all the little sections don’t seem to matter. Putting it all together is the challenge. This is a track that is more than the sum of its parts.

I remember one evening staying up far longer than I should have done. I was determined to get the gold bauble. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t do it. I was so close too. But try as I might, it seemed insurmountable. Normally, I would’ve stayed up all night, in a stubborn agitated state, trying to beat it. But I decided that to properly do this challenge I would need rest and refreshment. The challenge would remain there, to be taken up, in the morning.

On some glorious day, things happened to click into place. I finally managed to wrestle the BMW M6 GT3 Walkenhorst ‘16 around the 21km-long track in a time of 6:57.531. I’d completed this, this Everest of challenges. It is perhaps my proudest gaming achievement. And in this year, it felt like I’d unlocked something. I had ascended. My gaming career now has a peak. Others may have Ornstein and Smough. I have Nürburgring Nordschleife.

Completing GT Sport and getting the 100% notification paled in comparison. The challenge of becoming good, of becoming a decent driver at last, was a journey… Oh my god, did I just say that? But you know what, this year was tough, let me have it! It was like a gaming pilgrimage, almost, the process of getting good. In my mind, the journey to progress and learn those driving lines was holy. The play was unmotivated by commerce or gain. It was simply one of the greatest driving experiences I’ve ever had and one of the purest gaming experiences, too.

Roll on, GT7!

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