The latest iteration in Polyphony Digital’s seminal road racing simulator is upon us. Anticipation for Gran Turismo 7 has been huge. Has the weight been worth it? We find out.
Back in 1997, the release of the first Gran Turismo was a revelation. Almost photo-real visuals (for the original PlayStation era) and realistic driving physics that did away with arcade racing was a shock in more than one way.
Breathtaking visuals and familiar road cars as well as supercars racing on exciting circuits both real and imaginary was one thing. But having to unlearn the arcade racing mechanics of the likes of Ridge Race and its sequels was tough. The game’s insistence on making me and my mates pass driving tests to proceed resulted in more than one PlayStation controller hitting the wall.
Twenty-five years later and Gran Turismo is now the racing franchise to which all serious racing games are compared. The franchise dominates esports racing in hosting the first-ever FIA-certified video game racing championship tournament back in 2018.
Gran Turismo 7 starts with an introduction that sums up the design aspirations of the game. The montage of video and images shows the history of racing, as well as other notable historic moments over the last 100 years, right up to the modern-day where it switches to GT7 race footage. As with previous GT games, Gran Turismo 7 is a celebration of cars and racing.
The title screen offers players two game options, World map and Music Rally, with Music Rally available as soon as the game has partially installed. There are also links to the online manual and the tunning guide, Beyond the Apex.
It’s Music Rally that will likely be most players’ first introduction to Gran Turismo 7 and a reminder that this is a Japanese game with all the eccentricities that go with it. Music Rally is a checkpoint race that has the player trying to reach the maximum mileage, whilst a counter depletes in time with the beats of the selected soundtrack. There are a few tracks to choose from, but my favourite is Hooked on Classics by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, there’s nothing better than racing at breakneck speed to the William Tell Overture.
World Map is the actual Gran Turismo 7 game itself. Here you can start your racing and car collecting career. The game does a good job of explaining itself, almost too good a job if you are already familiar with GT. The menu system and UI can appear overwhelming at first, but it slowly unlocks the various destinations on the map giving players a structured introduction to the game.
One of your first stops is the Café, which serves as a sort of quest giver, to use RPG parlance. The owner of the Café supplies players with menus listing missions, such as cars that need to be won via races, in order to proceed. Finishing the races, or performing the task, as per the conditions of the menu wins the car. Completing the menus unlocks more circuits, races, and game features. Players are then treated to some optional information about the cars that have been obtained.
The circuits are a mixture of real-life and fictional. Long-time fans will recognise Trial Mountain and High Speed Ring amongst the likes of Suzuka, Daytona, and Goodwood. In total there are over 90 track variations in the game. Add in variable weather, including water ponding, and different times of the day and you have a seemingly endless combination of races.
As well as the main race events, players can select an arcade race, circuit experience, time trial, drift trial, or custom race for each of the unlocked circuits. These are designed to allow players to get to grips with the different circuit configurations.
Arcade races allow players to select the track variant, time of day/weather, and opponent’s difficulty. The circuit experience breaks the circuit down into sectors with players having to negotiate them within a time limit and without leaving the track. Drift trials have players sliding around corners using the handbrake, again, without leaving the track. The time trials pit players against themselves trying to get the best lap time. Finally, custom races allow players to customise every aspect of the race including time of day, and opponents.
As players progress, new activities become available to players via new locations on the world map. As well as the racing, there are car showrooms for new, used, and legendary cars, the tuning shop, and the GT Auto accessories shop.
The cars are the stars with the game featuring everything from the humble Mazda Demio all the way up to crazy supercars and concept vehicles. There are over 400 cars, all meticulously modelled with authentic-looking interiors.
The race difficulties can be adjusted, but you can usually tune your way out of a loss. Adding better brakes, tyres and a more refined engine will usually help you along. You can always grind for money by retrying previous races or some of the other events on offer to get extra cash for components.
According to the developer, there are 60 performance parts for each car. Adjusting ride height, dampers, toe-angle, negative camber, and tyres. You can turn your car into a finely tuned devil of the raceway or a dangerous automotive disaster. Thankfully the GT online tuning guide, Beyond the Apex is packed with all you need to know to become a car tuning wizard.
As with previous Gran Turismo games, to advance, players need to pass licence tests. At the Licence Centre players can attain their National B, National A, International B, International A, and Super Licence. These are primarily designed to teach players proper racing skills such as cornering, passing, and the racing line. Each licence involves completing a series of drills followed by the actual test itself. I’ve never been a fan of this method of gatekeeping, but to be honest, for novices, it does teach good habits.
Vehicle handling in Gran Turismo 7 reflects that of real car handling physics. This actually makes the game easier to play with something like the Thrustmaster T300RS (my racing wheel of choice) rather than a gamepad, although the PlayStation 5’s DualSense is a good second (more on that later). The game replicates the roll of the chassis when cornering, so both throttle and braking need to be applied with caution. You can feel the traction increase as you brake on the approaches to corners and the stability increase as you accurate out of them. Taking a corner smoothly and at speed is immensely rewarding once you get the hang of it.
The game requires a lot more discipline and self-control than most over games, even, I’d arguably say The Xbox’s mainline Forza Games. If you think GT7 is going to let you drift around the circuits with ease, you are mistaken. Put in the time and effort, though, following the advice in the game and yes, you will be drifting around corners and handling a supercar like a champion.
The Missions area offers a decent distraction for the main races and an opportunity to practice cornering and race discipline. The mission allows players to complete overtaking challenges and races.
Each screen has hints, tips, and anecdotes from current Gran Turismo esports racers. These optional little snippets offer additional pointers that may be useful if you are unfamiliar with circuits or features.
Whilst playing through the campaign game, with Luca, the Café owner, unlocking features cars and circuits as you fill his menus, you begin to realise that what you are playing is a cleverly disguised tutorial. The game is designed to ready players for online competition.
Gran Turismo has always taken its multiplayer very seriously. With FIA certified Gran Turismo championships held all over the world the game is a gateway to the world of professional esports motor racing, some going on to become real racing car drivers. The Sport area on the Gran Turismo 7 world map invites players to take part in official races and championships. T
hese races require sportsman-like driving and a well-tuned car that meets the event’s requirements. There is also a lobby-based multiplayer mode. Players wanting to ease themselves into competitive races against a real-life opponent may prefer the 2-player split-screen, which is nice to see and invites a bit of couch multiplayer.
In keeping with the franchise’s tradition, Gran Turismo 7 is about more than just racing. The polished package invites players to really get to know their cars, to tune them, clean them and enjoy looking at them.
Whilst other racing games have failed to resist injecting some Fast and Furious-style awesome into their experience, Gran Turismo 7 maintains a style of its own. An almost classical approach to the appreciation of cars and motorsport. The game’s presentation has a refined elegance to it that complements the attention-to-detail that may not be immediately apparent but sets it apart from its competitors and imitators.
Polyphony’s love of cars doesn’t get more apparent than the Scapes area. The unique car photography mode from Gran Turismo Sport returns looking better than ever. There are hundreds of locations in which to position your car collection, pose them and photograph them. The professional photography tools available allow players to create hyper-realistic photographs. All your efforts, along with saved replays are stored in the Showcase area.
As your garage fills, the cars can be viewed via “Video Scapes”, animated showcases of owned vehicles against iconic backdrops. You can also read up on cars in your collection, all from the Garage area of the world map.
If you fancy a rest from the track, you can spend hours poring over the videos and articles included in the game. These detail the history and background of the world’s most iconic car marques.
Tied into the general polish of the game are the soundtrack and audio. The musical accompaniment to your races and replay is top class from classical to rock, with the video cut to the beat of the music. The GT7 soundtrack is very much intended to be part of the experience.
I was wondering how Gran Turismo 7 would stack up against the still very awesome 2017 Gran Turismo Sport, which looks stunning on PlayStation 5. GT Sport had a rocky start due to the lack of a decent single-player campaign, but Polyphony sorted that out making the game not only an incredible FIA certified esports racer but also a bloody good single-player offering. Post-launch updates have given the game over 320 cars and 80-odd tracks.
Gran Turismo Sport still holds up well due to the game’s general quality and the continuous support that it has had post-launch. It is, however, easy to see that Gran Turismo 7 has more fidelity than Gran Turismo Sport running on a PlayStation 5.
The cars and circuits in Gran Turismo 7 have that little bit of extra fidelity over its predecessor. There seem to have been some subtle tweaks to the lighting, with circuits like Willow Springs looking photo-real in the setting sun. All this is running at a blistering frame rate in 4K HDR.
The big additional features of the PlayStation 5 version of Gran Turismo 7 are the quick loading times, ray-tracing, and haptic feedback via the DualSense controllers. There’s real resistance in the brake and accelerator triggers. You can also feel every bump in the road. Unfortunately, ray tracing is only enabled during replays and some of the demo animations which is pretty disappointing, really. Ray-tracing was supposed to be the big deal for this generation of consoles, but both the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S seem to have difficulties. The fast loading times, though, are most definitely a bonus, allowing you to get right into the races ASAP.
To play the game, you need an Internet connection and a PlayStation Plus membership. Gran Turismo 7 is very much an “always online” game. You can play a bit of the arcade side of the game without an Internet connection, but you are wasting your money. I can’t see anyone finding the Internet connection an issue these days, but the requirement for PlayStation Plus membership may put some potential players off.
The game can be played on PlayStation 4, but it is really designed to take advantage of the new hardware. Gran Turismo Sport players will be please to know that mid-February will see stats and data from the GT Sport servers migrating over to the GT7 servers.
All in all, Gran Turismo 7 is a breathtaking addition to the PlayStation 5 catalogue. The game continues in the unique style that is a hallmark of the series. Gran Turismo 7 is an instant classic that shuns the trends of modern racing games to deliver a pure, polished, if sometimes eccentric, gameplay experience.
Gran Turismo 7 is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.