Few franchises carry as much credibility and clout as Gran Turismo. Originally debuted on the PlayStation back in 1997, it introduced the joys of collecting and driving virtual renditions of some of the world’s most desirable performance cars. In a few short years, a sequel would come along and add more cars and circuits, officially cementing the series as the top simcade offering in the world.
Fast forward to 2022 and Gran Turismo 7 is ready for its time in the lights. Following the release of Gran Turismo Sport for PS4, Polyphony Digital’s latest is releasing as a more conventional Gran Turismo game. While Sport eschewed massive car counts for a focus on competitive racing, Gran Turismo 7 returns to familiar territory, offering enough content that you may wonder if your already-oversized PS5 can contain it all.
Hitting the apex
The setup is rather simple - mix hundreds of the world’s finest racing and sports cars with nearly one-hundred circuit configurations. At its core, Gran Turismo just wants to celebrate motorsport and the enthusiasm for driving. Players will routinely be reminded of Polyphony Digital’s reverence for the source material in nearly all aspects of Gran Turismo 7.
Car culture was one of the defining characteristics of the last century, though future prospects are unclear in the face of the transition to electric vehicles and automated operation. It’s possible that future generations will look at the fervor around combustion engine racing in the same way we look back on the lawless wild west. Perhaps Gran Turismo 7 is nothing more than a romanticized glorification of this culture, but there is a lot of fun to be had for those still smitten with the idea.
Returning players will recognize the basic progression through Gran Turismo 7’s content. Tackle a few license tests, buy a cheap ride, and hit the circuits to earn credits and unlock more content. An overworld map is presented with various buildings representing modes or menus. Unlocking cars and circuits will be the primary task in Gran Turismo 7’s Cafe, located in the center of the World Map. Players are introduced to a man named Luca who runs a coffee shop that appears to also be a front for distributing car collecting missions as if they were organized crime contracts.
Luca will offer players a menu book with three cars of a certain type, requesting that each of the cars be acquired to complete the collection. The cars can sometimes be purchased new for credits or unlocked by winning race challenges tied to the active Cafe collection. Upon completion of a menu book, Luca offers a few short cutscenes showing the car models parked in front of scenic vistas and such. You’ll also get a few lines of text explaining the year and country of origin for the cars and sometimes a quip about the collection’s place in automotive history.
The Cafe system probably sounds more engaging than it is in practice. It mostly serves as a fancy backdrop for what could have been static menus, though it does offer the opportunity to get some looks at the car models using ray-traced rendering (on PS5 consoles). The rest of the buildings in the world map are just as superficial as the Cafe, but the NVME drive in the PS5 means that users won’t be constantly annoyed with waiting when swapping between them to complete tasks. I also take some issue with how these challenges more or less force players into upgrading or altering the cars required for race entry. The “magic” that makes each car unique is lost when you have to toss on a bunch of new parts before you ever get time behind the wheel.
I found the way progression works in Gran Turismo 7 to be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the process of sending players out with low-end cars and slowly unlocking things that are faster is great for newcomers to driving games, but I found myself frustrated that I was unable to immediately take some of my favorite vehicles out to the tracks for friendly time trial laps or the like. Even if you opted to grind out Cafe collections and race events to accrue credits, lots of the vehicles in Gran Turismo 7 are inaccessible unless unlocked through certain modes (such as license exams). Even more frustrating, you can’t even purchase some rides from the showroom without being given an explicit invitation to do so.
While the experience of Gran Turismo 7 is solid as a whole, I did run into one bug that drove me bonkers. When attempting to return from winning a race event back into the World Map, the game occasionally hung up and failed to respond to controller input. I could only get back into the game by swapping the PS5 into a different game, then re-loading GT7. Each time I did this, the game seemed to lose all progress from the most recent session, regardless of length. This bug hit me several times, including after I had spent five hours securing gold trophies for all but the Super License exams. Hopefully this bug can be squashed soon, but it got annoying to have to repeatedly unlock content each night.
Once you are divorced from the menu fluff, arbitrary rules for car acquisition, and other distractions, the on-track portions of Gran Turismo 7 are sublime. The upgraded physics and visuals offer a new level of immersion for the series. UI elements cleanly and clearly convey the information important to your driving and the collection of audio and visual cues help to convey track condition, grip levels, and more. The game defaults to cockpit view at the start and I found myself sticking with it for the entirety of my review time. The new interiors are the best I’ve seen in any game and the way light moves through the cabins looks and feels outstanding. While the Forza series may have done windshield reflections first, Gran Turismo 7 does it much better.
Much of the feedback offered to drivers comes via the DualSense controller. Much hyped before the console’s launch, the new triggers and haptic feedback promise to elevate gameplay. In the early years of the PS5 life, this has not exactly proven to be true and Gran Turismo 7 likely won’t be the software that changes minds, even if it does some things very well. The left trigger works as your brake pedal and the controller gives resistance but it never really feels like a load cell approximation and I didn’t notice clear and obvious pedal stiffness between various car models. It felt like some cars had a bit of resistance on the right trigger/gas pedal, which decidedly felt weird, but I haven’t actually driven these cars in real life, so I can’t say if that is how their pedals operate.
The haptic feedback is acceptable in most cases, but I often found myself wishing that it did a better job of conveying the loss of grip. I appreciated the rhythmic pulses in the left trigger when ABS systems kicked in during hard braking scenarios, but also found myself confused when I felt the same pulses on the accelerator. The amount of feedback is also inconsistent. When driving over concrete slab joints on a highway, the controller feels like it may burst apart, but barely offers any feedback if you plow into a wall at 190kph.
Opting for a wheel and pedal set may be the best option for dedicated players. Gran Turismo 7 offers built-in profiles and configurations for all the top options on the market, though I didn’t get to try any of them myself. The series has had a sterling reputation in the past when it comes to wheel support, so I suspect the same will be true for Polyphony Digital’s latest.
The tracks themselves are of very high quality. You’ll eventually unlock an assortment of real-life circuits and fictional events, with most offering alternate layouts and/or the ability to drive them in reverse. The real tracks are instantly identifiable from the graffiti covering the Nordschleife to the desert sun washing over Laguna Seca. Track accuracy seems to be in line with the best PC simulators (based on my non-expert observations) and a clear step ahead of something like F1 2021.
The audio side of things is generally strong. Positional audio worked well in my living room setup and I was able to focus on the sounds of rubber sliding on the pavement to get a gauge on how much grip I did or didn’t have. It was a more reliable indicator than the controller feedback. Some sounds were just perfect and others left me scratching my head. All within the same race with the same car and tires, I noticed that gliding over curbs could either make a sound like rubber dragging a curb or like a cast iron bathtub being dragged over broken glass. I also found the engine sounds to be dull and many cars seem to have similar drones.
Gran Turismo 7 comes loaded with music tracks that are generally solid. The Music Rally and Music Replay modes that were highly-touted in the run-up to release are nothing more than gimmicks, with Music Rally simply aligning a checkpoint countdown to a track’s BPM. Music Replay offers camera cuts in line with the beats, but even these don’t seem to work the way I expected, with some cuts coming on upbeats and others not falling in time with any part of the song. I will say that I absolutely love the sound of the engine block and exhaust metals contracting while your credits ring up at the end of races.
Visually, Gran Turismo 7 is strong, despite being a cross-generational affair. First and foremost, the stars of the show are the cars and this is where Gran Turismo gets it right. The car models are outstanding across the board and feature the best interiors I’ve ever seen. The lighting quality and the way the light interacts with various materials like gravel pavement, vinyl dashes, or Alcantara-wrapped steering wheels looks fabulous across all sorts of lighting conditions. Dynamic time-of-day support is in and conditions on the track can change on a moment’s notice. It all looks clean and convincing. Quite a few times I found myself noting the beautiful backdrops, particularly during the golden hour.
The PS5 offers two visual output options: Prioritize Performance and Prioritize Ray Tracing. Regardless of which option you select, racing will be handled without ray tracing with performance targeting 60Hz. Selecting the Prioritize Ray Tracing option enables ray-traced reflections and shadows within replays, the Cafe, Scapes (where you place car models into real-life photos with dummy lighting added to enhance realism). The ray-traced cars look fantastic, even bettering the ones we saw in Forza Horizon 5. Unlike the solution in Forza that only allowed the cars to reflect on themselves, GT7 cars can use ray tracing to show world reflections.
Being a cross-generational product, I was disappointed that you can’t have the ray-traced goodies and a smooth, solid framerate at the same time. That said, nothing is more important than how the cars handle and they will not handle well with low frame rates. Hopefully, Sony has plans to bring Gran Turismo 7 to PCs and give simcade fans a chance to have their cake and eat it, too. On that same line of thought, I really hope that Sony is hard at work ensuring that Gran Turismo 7 will support PSVR 2 at launch. This is the killer app for VR (assuming Sony can’t coax Valve into porting Half-Life: Alyx to PSVR 2).
The last thing I wanted to touch on was the overall vibe and presentation in Gran Turismo 7. Despite running on the latest and greatest console hardware, the game has a decidedly dated look and feel. Environments look great under the new lighting, but at the same time feel incredibly sterile. Menus, bumper music, sound effects, and the like all feel like they came out of a time machine from 1997. There is no mistaking this for any other driving franchise, for better or worse. Gran Turismo 7 often feels like what someone’s dream version of the game could have been all those years ago. I think that some players will be turned off, while others will eagerly bathe in the nostalgia.
Waving the white flag
While most of my thoughts above may be interpreted as negatives, I genuinely feel that Gran Turismo 7 is the PS5's killer app. It doesn’t offer cinematic visuals like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, nor does it carry the same core-gamer street cred as Demon's Souls, but it delivers an ocean of top-tier content for those who can’t resist the allure of horsepower. The presentation is a bit odd in 2022 and I would have liked to get ray-traced visuals in gameplay, but it doesn’t detract from the high you can get when shaving a few tenths on a flying lap at the Nordschleife. Sure, modern gamers may tell you that Nathan Drake or Aloy are the true mascots of the PlayStation brand, but Sony already had its Mario back in 1997 in the form of the Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R. 9/10 carbon fiber spoilers
This review is based on the PS5 version of the game. The product key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Gran Turismo 7 will be available on March 4 for PS4 and PS5.
Gran Turismo 7
- Outstanding car physics and handling
- Exhaustive amount of content to consume
- Ray-traced replays and Scapes
- Wheel support and DualSense haptic feedback
- Potential for VR in the future
- Progress-erasing bugs
- No PC version
- Progression design unfriendly to experienced players