'Gran Turismo 7' Review: Back In Pole Position
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Featured Image Credit: Sony, Polyphony Digital
I grew up adoring Gran Turismo games. The first console we ever had was a second-hand PlayStation that came with a copy of the original Gran Turismo. Putting every upgrade available into a clapped out Honda Civic and taking it to the local Sunday Cup to cream the AI was one of the simple pleasures of my childhood.
Now, 25 years after the first offering, it’s safe to say Gran Turismo as a franchise has had a tricky few laps. The high-water mark (at least as far as sales are concerned) was at Gran Turismo 4 which released way back in 2004, with GT5, 6 and the more hardcore, online only offering, Sport, all failing to fully refuel the once consecrated PlayStation flagship title.
Check out all the action from Gran Turismo 7 right here.
It’s with this in mind that series producer Kazunori Yamauchi and his team at Polyphony Digital are keen to stress that Gran Turismo 7 will be taking the series back to its roots. In a time where car culture is hugely different from the late 1990s and early ‘00s, Sony must be acutely aware of the fact that the series needs a win.
Let’s get to it then, by answering the main question I had coming into this review - does Gran Turismo 7 give me those same feelings I so fondly remember from playing the first game? The answer, unequivocally, is yes.
The obvious place to start is with how the game looks. The series is synonymous with pushing the limits of graphical fidelity, and Gran Turismo 7 is just unfathomably beautiful in all aspects. Every vehicle has been lovingly, painstakingly crafted to the point where (and I know this is said about every game in the series) it’s difficult to tell that these are not real cars racing around real tracks.
This is helped in no small part by the weather and lighting which compliment the vehicle modeling. Apparently, the weather changes are simulated according to the annual meteorological data for each track location, which is just a boggling level of detail that, if it weren’t there, I doubt many people would notice. There’s also the small fact that replays and photos of the cars are, if you choose them to be, all ray-traced to within an inch of their lives for that added layer of reality. You’ll be able to choose between Frame Rate Mode or Ray Tracing Mode, but I’d recommend choosing Frame Rate Mode for the races. Races themselves sacrifice the ray-tracing for a solid 60fps but they still look sublime, and I’d encourage you to keep the camera inside the car for the full effect.
Shadows and sunbeams play off the dashboard as you navigate corners, and it’s not uncommon to be momentarily dazzled by the light reflecting off the chromed boot of the car you’re trying to overtake. It’s not just cosmetic either - weather can have a tangible impact on proceedings. As well as time shifting from day to night over the course of a race, there’s also the chance that you’ll get a mixture of rain and sunshine too. Rain has a drastic effect on the handling of cars, as you’d expect - puddles form in low spots on the track and cause braking and cornering to be very tense affairs. If the rain stops and the sun comes out, it’ll start to dry the track up, and as cars follow the same line along straights and through corners, those areas of the track will actually dry quicker because of their overuse. I know Gran Turismo is billed as the real driving simulator but come on, that is granular and I love it. The only downside is that the rain effects look quite cheap compared to the rest of the game. When you look at titles like Driveclub and Project CARS, which absolutely nailed their rain effects, Gran Turismo 7 looks shockingly average. It’s a weird thing to get hung up on, I know, but when the rest of the game goes to such lengths to look amazing, it stands out like a sore thumb.
The sound design, by the way, is also mere decibels from perfection. Every car sounds exquisite, and it’s a thrill to tune an engine and actually be able to hear each nuanced difference when out on the track. If you can play the game with headphones, you definitely should. The PS5s Tempest 3D Audio Tech puts you in a totally different world, and if you close your eyes, you’d swear you were sitting inside the car listening to the engine purr.
Less impressive is the game’s use of the DualSense controller, which simply rumbles along contentedly to your gear changes and braking. If you choose to use the RT and LT as your accelerator and brake (there’s options to use the classic cross/square/D-pad buttons or, for the sadists among you, gyroscopic steering, too) they do bite back ever so slightly but I fear the novelty wears thin quickly, and you’ll forget all about it after a few hours of racing. It is quite cool that the amount of pressure you apply to the trigger does correspond with how quickly the cars accelerate though, making them feel much more responsive at high speeds.
So the cars look and sound great, but Gran Turismo 7 isn’t simply a beauty pageant. They’re here to race, and they’re not shy about showing it. As you’d expect, each one handles differently, and is true to its real-life counterpart. When we’re so used to perfection in simulation games it's easy to gloss over just how far we’ve come, but the actual driving feels weighty and aware. The game is a genuine joy to spend time with.
It’s difficult to define exactly what it is about the gameplay loop that’s so satisfying. Yes the money and the flashy cars are great, but the actual driving feels so meticulously thought out that I’m still having fun some 40 hours into the game. Not an easy feat when you’re literally going around in circles for hours. The mixture of sights and sounds, the way the tires grip like glue (or not, if you punt for the cheaper options) to the track - it’s the whole package. Don’t get me wrong, it’s frustrating as hell when you go flying off the road into the sand or lose the race by seconds due to a sloppy final corner, but the game isn’t unfair - it makes you want to come back better and smarter and it’s so much fun.
You can tweak and micro-tune almost every aspect of every car if you want to, but I’ll be honest dear reader, much of it was way over my head. It's good that it's there for the petrolheads, but the rank and file drivers won't be bothering with it. One thing to take note of is that raw horsepower and torque are not the ultimate defining factors when considering the right car for the job. Performance Points return from Gran Turismo 6 and they basically determine how good your car is on the whole - taking into account it's acceleration, braking, handling and so on. The bigger the PP (who’s laughing?), the better the car. Some races will even have a PP limit (please stop laughing), so there is such a thing as overcompensating your automobile.
The game’s ‘career mode’ - for want of a better description - is wrapped up in the new GT Café. You’re greeted by Luca, the café owner, who sets you various automotive tasks in the form of Menu Books. Each Menu Book will have you winning races, getting licenses, collecting cars and progressing to your end goal - the World GT Series Championship.
Gran Turismo 7, though, is about much more than just racing to the finish line, ironically enough. Completing the GT Café will take you some 25-30 hours depending on how good of a driver you are and how smartly you upgrade your vehicles, but my real vice became collecting and modding every single car I could get my hands on.
I was skeptical that GT Café could amount to much more than a gimmick, but as a newly relapsed fan, it really made me care about the cars I was racing and collecting. I imagine full-on petrol heads might think it’s simplified a little too much, but with the game’s core message of re-igniting that love of cars for folks with a glancing interest, I think it does a great job.
Back again is the overworld map from where you can embark on races (both online and off) take your license tests and, of course, buy new cars. As you progress through the GT Café you’ll unlock the Used Car lot, Brand Central ( where you can buy cars direct from the dealerships) and the Legend Cars dealer, where you’ll have to stump up some serious credits in order to get the most iconic cars ever to grace the planet. In total, there’s over 400 cars available at launch. What’s interesting, is that I did receive a timed offer for some cars (including a beautiful Bugatti Veyron 16.4) which presumably means that certain rare cars will pop up from time to time for short periods. If this is the case and it’s spaced out properly, it’s a good incentive to keep people playing in the long term, as they aim to collect them all.
Whilst we’re on the subject of longevity, Gran Turismo 7 does have microtransactions, which is disappointing to see. Credits can be bought with real-life money which raises the question about online races being pay-to-win when cars and upgrades bought with credits can be used in races against others. The grind isn’t so harsh that this is a real problem, but it’s still rather unfortunate and not at all necessary. Throughout the course of the game you’ll also be given vouchers for a roulette wheel which you can spin to get things like engine parts, credits and cars. In my entire time with the game I only ever won low-tier upgrades and the lowest amount of credits available which again begs the question - why are these here? Why not just give those as a reward instead of creating the gambling façade?
Other new inclusions in Gran Turismo 7 are the Music Rally and Music Replay modes. For Music Rally, the premise is that you attempt a time extension race, but instead of adding on time, it’s beats of one of the game’s songs. This apparently serves as a great jumping on point for absolute beginners and young kids who might be playing for the first time, but I didn’t feel much yearning to play it again once I’d experienced it - it doesn’t really add or remove anything, it’s just there. Similarly with Music Replays, the concept is that the camera changes are affected by the beats of the song and not just random. In concept this sounds cool but in practice it’s barely noticeable, so another one to file under ‘it is in the game’.
Outside of the arcade and career offerings, there’s online (and joyfully, local) races to get stuck into, as well as the Sport Mode to scratch your competitive itches. During the review period we were unfortunately only able to play online during specific time periods which provided a somewhat sanitised experience, but the multiplayer is much as you’d expect. The usual mix of lobbies await in which you can race against friends and strangers for bragging rights and points on a leaderboard.
Sport Mode offers a much more in-depth challenge with daily races, Championships, leaderboards, time trials and more for serious drivers to tuck into. This mode wasn’t fully active during my time with the game before release, but it aims to pit you only against drivers it deems to be of a similar standard to yourself. Kind of like Call Of Duty’s much maligned skill based matchmaking, I suppose, but hopefully more effectively implemented. Players are given a Driver Rating, or DR, and a Sportsmanship Rating, SR, which together govern how good and fair the driver is. If you go plowing into opponents you’re going to get a bad SR, and so won’t see yourself at the top of any leaderboards. Needless to say, I wouldn’t last five minutes in a competitive online race, so it’s perhaps best that this feature was limited.
The litany of other features like Scapes (photo mode), Missions, livery editor and more will keep those interested going for hours and hours once the credits have rolled but in truth, the real reason to come back to Gran Turismo 7 will always be the driving. I’m thrilled to say that this is the best GT game I’ve played in the better half of a decade. It’s not without a few bumps in the road, but they’re nothing that will keep avid racers away. It serves as both a perfect first experience for new racers, and a welcome homecoming for those who have been away for a while.
Pros: Gripping racing action, awesome visuals and lots to do
Cons: A lot of filler content, some effects look tacky
For fans of: Forza, Need For Speed, Going really fast
Gran Turismo 7 is released for PlayStation 4 and 5 on March 4th. Review code for PlayStation 5 was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.