The Gran Turismo series has long billed itself as “The Real Driving Simulator” and that tradition is very much alive, well, and thriving in the latest installment: Gran Turismo 7.
Developed by Polyphony Digital and published by Sony for the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4, I reviewed the game on a PlayStation 5 (this will become very important shortly) via a Samsung QN900A 8K TV – and it has been a remarkable experience indeed.
Normally this is traditionally the point where I go on about how amazing the game looks and how there’s literally 400 cars to drive in it etc, but instead I’m going to tell you about possibly the most significant innovation to date in driving game history – using the PS5’s DualSense controller to steer the car entirely by motion.
Anyone who’s played console driving games before has found themselves desperately tilting the controller from side to side in an effort to get more out of a turn or powerslide, despite the fact the game was completely controlled by the thumbstick (or D-pad if you’re old school cool). Now, doing that actually does something.
Gran Turismo 7 introduces the ability to control the steering entirely with the motion-sensor capabilities of the DualSense controller and it works really, really well; in a literal game-changing sense.
The steering feels a lot more natural than using a thumbstick, and the haptic feedback of the controllers means you can feel the difference in handling between vehicles and terrains – the variable pressure triggers on the controller even simulate different levels of resistance when pushing down on accelerators and brakes.
It really is amazing and exactly the sort of feature that you’d expect a next-gen console and its flagship motorsport game to have. You really can “sense” the road surface and car handling, much like you can with a real car’s steering wheel.
The graphics in the game are fantastic as well, with situational ray-tracing adding to the visuals of the cars and the environment.
I cannot overstate the level of detail in GT7 – your car needs to be washed, have the dings ironed out, the chassis reinforced and the engine refurbished at certain intervals to keep it in top shape. And I’m not even going to start on the incredibly detailed level of adjustment available for everything from tyre hardness to engine valve compression ratios.
I like cars, but I tend to enjoy them from User Experience perspective rather than a “can I make this car take off from standing .02 seconds faster if I tweak this drivetrain component?” perspective. However, for people who are at home in a seat of grease-covered overalls in a garage in real life, you can adjust pretty much everything about your car – about the only thing you can’t do is tune the radio. For everyone else, you can just add performance-boosting parts to your car and go with the standard settings; either option is fine.
Even from a “I like looking at nice cars” perspective, there’s still a lot to do in GT7 – particularly via the “Scapes” mode. Basically, you get a photographic backdrop of more than 2500 places throughout the world, including the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, and literally thousands of other beautiful, scenic places from dozens of countries.
The photography for the backdrops is absolutely stunning, and the way the cars (and drivers, if you want to include them) so seamlessly blend into them in a way that makes it look like an actual, real photograph can only be described as some kind of sorcery.
It’s not just a “point and shoot” thing, either. You can adjust everything from the camera shutter speed and f-stop to focus, angle, blurring effects – and that’s not even getting into how you can position the car any way you like, photograph any part of it, and basically create your very own professional car magazine photoshoots. On a console. In your living room (or bedroom, or wherever else you’ve got your console set up).
In fact, the entire game just looks stunning and plays absolutely flawlessly – it really is quite remarkable just how good it looks.
Another highlight of the game is the Café – where the proprietor, Luca, provides you with “Menus” (essentially missions/quests to obtain certain types of car). While the direction they offer is appreciated, as is the insights you get to the vehicles, I really would have liked an option to say “No thanks, I’m not interested in collecting European racing hatchbacks” or whatever, so I could focus on the cars/races which interested me more. However, the Menu Books do provide a useful way to build up your garage and learn more about cars too, as well as helping provide some focus for new GT players who might otherwise be a bit lost as to where to take their car discovery adventure.
I really liked the “Music Rally” minigame, which involves driving around a course in a specified car while a timer counts down – in time to music which is playing.
This innovative idea is a fantastic opening to GT7, putting the player behind the wheel of a convertible and driving through a racing course in the Alsace region of France while Hooked on Classics Parts 1 & 2 plays. There are six songs currently available at launch, three of which are upbeat forms of classical music, with the other three being modern rock or urban music.
The developers have said Music Rally is an answer to the question “If you were to introduce a young person to Gran Turismo for the first time, where would be the best place to start?” and while I respect the sentiment, I don’t think the youth of 2022 are hanging out for bangers from *checks notes* the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra or Paul Mauriat.
There will be additional songs added to the Music Rally mode post-launch, hopefully with some more relevance or appeal to people born after the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Most of the in-game music was pretty forgettable, but this was more than compensated for by the outstanding audio work – you can hear engines “ticking” as they cool down after a race, you can use 3D audio positioning (with compatible headphones) to identify where other cars are, you can hear the tyres driving on different terrain, you can hear the gears adjusting.
It goes without saying that in addition to the racing-vs-AI mode, there’s also plenty of racing-vs-other-people action too, both casually and as Serious Competition. A PS Plus subscription is required, as is separate registration (which can be done in-game) for the serious competition events.
There’s going to be inevitable comparisons to Forza Horizon 5 out there, but ultimately they are different games doing different things – Forza Horizon 5 being an open-world celebration of the fun you can have exploring the world in cars and racing them in an open world inspired by a real country, while Gran Turismo 7 is very much a car enthusiast’s motorsport game, sticking to organised racing tracks or courses but with a signifcant range of “normal” cars, particularly those in that inter-generational spot where they’re not recent enough to be “new” but also not old enough to be “classic” or “vintage” – so plenty of cars from the 1990s-early 2010s.
There more than 400 cars in Gran Turismo 7, so obviously there are plenty of up-to-the minute sportscars and even a few concept cars in the game alongside the classic and even vintage vehicles, so whether you like your cars with manual chokes and hand-cranked windows, or multi-zone cabin climate control and automatic rain sensing wipers, there’s something here for you. Not to mention the ability to customise it, paint it almost any colour scheme you like, upgrade it, and even add your own liveries.
There’s also a lot of racing tracks to burn rubber on, including Mount Panorama, so you’re not going to be short of places to drive around – although it will take some time to unlock all the tracks.
While GT7 does a lot of things extraordinarily well, there are a few surprising mis-fires. One of the biggest for me was the lack of voice acting in the game. The dialogue etc is all done in the JRPG style where it’s just text on a screen that you press “X” to continue to the next paragraph and it just seems so jarringly at odds with the rest of the “best in show” concourse shine on display throughout the rest of the game.
I mean, with the mammoth budget something like this has, surely they could have gotten some voice actors and some of the real-life racing stars in the game to record dialogue?
The really long lead-in time is also quite off-putting. In Forza Horizon 5, you’re basically thrown the keys to a sportscar and told “Have fun!”, whereas Gran Turismo 7 insists on treating you like a learner driver and making you earn “licences” before you can compete in certain events, and requiring you to complete certain milestones and achievements before new courses and tuning options become available.
Yes, I know this has long been a thing in the Gran Turismo games and I understand the desire to have a sense of progression and ensure people really understand this is a serious driving simulator, but at the same time, I think there could be a better balance towards letting players choose what sort of cars and racing track experiences they want to work towards.
While these issues do take some of the shine off what is otherwise an amazing motor racing game experience, they’re not enough to disqualify the game from a podium finish, especially if you are a long-time fan of the series.
As an overall package, Gran Turismo 7 is a technological marvel and a top-gear motorsports game to boot. It’s a love-letter to car culture, automotive technology, design, and history, and if you have any sort of interest in cars or racing games, this should be very much in the digital garage that is your PlayStation’s storage drive.
Gran Turismo 7 releases on the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 on March 4, 2022.