And breathe out. After almost five years of undergoing a seemingly pedal-powered development rate, Gran Turismo has finally rolled out on PSP. The reward for your patience? Arguably the best driving experience on handheld to date.

Before we get onto that, some figures. Gran Turismo PSP features an impressive 35 tracks (reversible and with the odd varying layout) comprising real world examples and long time favourites from the GT series, offering a selection of tarmac, gravel and ice on which to push your machinery to the limit.

But boundaries aren’t exactly what Polyphony Digital respected when it came to the car roster. A staggering 800-odd vehicles are crammed into the UMD, which, to put it into perspective, represents more bodywork than any console GT title has featured to date.

In practice, it means that if you think of a desirable car, you’re more than likely to find it’s available for purchase.

Unusually, the closest the game features to a career mode is Driving Challenges, a series of tests designed to get you to focus on different areas of driving technique. Fans of GT will know the score: you're presented with a task (such as negotiating a tricky corner) and must make it from point A to point B within a set time. Do it well and you get a trophy ranging from bronze to gold.

Other than that, you get to make your own fun by selecting Time Trial, Single Race or Drift Trial (either a set number of corners or unlimited laps around a full track) and taking out any of your cars for a spin – literally if you've switched off the TCS and ASM driving aids (you can, of course, tweak the other usual set-up parameters, as well as some limited tuning options). It feels disappointing at first, but makes sense when you think about the dip-in-and-out nature of portable play.

It won’t blow your turbo to learn vehicles are acquired by exchanging credits earned through on-track performance but the developer has thrown a spanner in the engine bay by not allowing access to all of the car dealerships at any one time.

Instead, a selection is available for a number of days (each race event in GT counts as one day) before the dealers are updated and you’re faced with a new menu of delectable four-wheeled offerings.

Far from being irritating, this ties into the lack of a structured main mode and ensures you sample a wider range of machinery than you might otherwise, but it also rapidly explains why credits are so easily won in GT PSP - you may be saving your pennies for the next time the Veyron shows up, but you can bet something else will turn up beforehand that you’ll find it impossible to resist.

The reason you find yourself compulsively purchasing cars in a manner that would wipe the smile from Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld’s smug faces is that nearly all behave differently.

The handling model is so comprehensive that it feels like the most advanced to feature in a portable game, with weight transfer, under/oversteer, acceleration, braking, cornering forces and every other facet of real-world driving conveyed in a manner that is rarely less than convincing. (As much as a game is able to convey such parameters.)

Switch the driving option from Standard to Professional and the drive becomes even more engaging, requiring a level of concentration in order to tame the silly bhp-powered machinery that will be a long way down the road from what experienced fans of handheld racers are used to.

But you do it because the reward is also exceptional.

Less outstanding is the lack of damage. Long an issue with GT games, it’s an aspect that these days feels instantly odd the moment you notice its absence. In effect, it destroys much of the realism so well conveyed by the game’s other elements.

But if you stay on the track it’s almost a non-issue, not least because your focus will be on GT PSP’s other weakness: the AI competition.

Just three opponents feature, meaning races can get lonely, but it’s their behaviour that - despite evolving as you progress through the game - never does much to convince you that you’re battling anything more than drones.

The option to race ad-hoc against three human players (pleasingly, a number of ‘party’ style options are offered to fully exploit this mode although proper online modes – even if just leaderboards – might have been preferable) should only serve to further highlight this issue.

Then again, the argument surrounding the GT series has always been that if you long for a racing experience, you’re better off strapping yourself into another game. What GT does better than most is to provide one of the most exhilarating opportunities to take a car out on a track and push it to its limits. And here you've got that experience distilled into perhaps its purest pick-up-and-play form.

It’s you and your machine versus the circuit. In this respect, Gran Turismo PSP doesn’t stall, effortlessly powering to the front of the handheld field in a manner that is likely to leave many a petrolhead breathless.

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