"Oh go on, just one more go," screams my inner monologue as I try for what feels like the 9,000th time to rack up a gold standard time on a National A license test, "You're only 0.15 seconds off, you can do it." Once again I miss an apex, brake too late, or turn in too early, and I fall shy of the highest tier. I swear quietly and hit retry again. And probably several more times afterward. That's the joy of Gran Turismo 7: You can always do better, you'll always want to do better, and it's just a few quick button stabs away.
In the latest entry in the PlayStation's top-flight race series, perfection isn't only famed producer Kazunori Yamauchi's aim--it swiftly becomes yours. It plays as close to driving a real car as you can get on a console, and much like shaving a few seconds off your commute, or playing on your favorite road in the real world, the game draws you in with challenges, physics, and luscious visuals. The first numbered Gran Turismo since the PS3's Gran Turismo 6, GT7 marks not only nearly a decade since its predecessor, but a quarter of a century since The Real Driving Simulator got petrolheads obsessed with lap times on the PS1. While it's evolved massively since then, it's also strangely familiar--for better and for worse.
Gran Turismo's goal to be the best-looking driving sim out there hasn't been dropped. There are two display modes to choose from: Scapes mode and Frame Rate mode. On a PS5 connected to a 4K TV with Ray Tracing enabled, Scapes mode becomes a visual treat for snap-happy players and fans of custom creations. Everything looks smooth enough that you'll want to run your fingers across the glistening paint jobs. However, when you're racing you'll want to have Frame Rate mode switched on--this keeps the game at a steady 60fps, but does lose some visual flare. How much you'll care about that may be limited, as when you're racing you'll likely only have eyes for the car in front, not how accurate the reflection of the advertisements you're blitzing past is on the hood. Even without ray tracing, the hyper-detailed in-car view shows bits of the dashboard reflected in the windshield, drawing your eye. It can be a bit distracting, but that's how real cars work.
Gran Turismo 7's 420+ car models are staggering. Not a switch out of place, nor an incorrect line to my experienced eyes. If you're into staring at cars, you really can't go wrong sniffing around Brand Central, the in-game location where you buy the majority of GT7's cars. It's here you'll notice something a bit strange though. While each model is impressive, many are a little on the old side. The Tesla Model S, for example, is the original pre-facelift car. Why have that when there's a fresh-faced Plaid model on sale now? How come the most up-to-date roadgoing McLaren you can buy in the game, the 650S, went out of production half a decade ago? Keeping it British: Where's the new Aston Martin Vantage, or DBS Superleggera? The cars that are there look incredible, but the vast majority are out of date.
Some of the older cars are there for good reason. A classic Mustang is always a great time and belongs in Gran Turismo for the sake of being awesome, and saving credits to afford a legendary Aston Martin DB5 from the Legendary Car dealership is an achievement to be celebrated, so it's not all "dude, where's my car?"
GT7 has a charming story mode of sorts: the Café. It's here players will be steadily introduced to all the joys the game has to offer via Luca, the Café's friendly owner. He provides you with menu books that set specific challenges, which unlock tracks, features, or cars to bolster your collection and collector level (which in turn increases as you collect cars and gains you more rewards)). Unless the challenge is to go to a specific place, like the amusingly named Understeer tuning shop to fettle your car, or GT Auto for a new wing, chances are you'll find yourself in a race to win a car of some sort.
In an attempt to humanize Gran Turismo, Polyphony's given Luca a cast of friends. Sarah guides you around the GT world, acting as something of a proxy. Car designers will appear at the café to tell you all about how great your car is. GT World Tour racers act as instructors on licence tests, adding smiles to what used to be a fairly robotic process. They're all represented as faces in discs with text underneath. The scripts they deliver go from 'a bit clunky' to 'I can smell the cheese from here.' You'll notice it most keenly when you 'bump into' a GT World Tour competitor at a race--"I like thrash metal," "I like Chevrolets, my dad has two!" If you don't roll your eyes, you're a superhuman.
Players will amass the kind of car collection a millionaire would be proud of fairly quickly, but places to drive those cars take a while longer to roll out because there are fewer tracks than cars. However, this ultimately is not a bad thing--the tracks take a while to learn anyway. Because of this you never feel rushed to pick up too many things too quickly, though you don't get to spend too much time with your motors before moving on to the next set. Sometimes you'll be rewarded with a 'roulette ticket.' These seem like a neat idea, but the promise of a shiny new car, or a huge stack of credits seemed, in my case at least, to be little more than dangled carrots to hook you, the actual prizes won were ‘low value.’
Races go the usual Gran Turismo way. You start at the back and fight your way to the front. Races have a recommended PP (Performance Point) rating to let you know how competitive your car needs to be. By sending whichever car you've chosen to race to Understeer and buying choice toys, you can comically overpower your ride and pick off most of the field on the first lap. It’s an old-school GT trick, and something that, as you advance, becomes trickier to do as your competitors advance with you. Like GT games of old, the pack at the rear is easy to take, a small gap leads you to another set, after another gap you'll encounter the front runners, before having a mildly troubling fight for first. Why Gran Turismo insists on starting you at the back of the pack for each race is baffling, but for a one-off race, it's understandable. However, for the occasional championships, no matter if you win, or place highly, in a previous race you'll still start at the back, which is perplexing–surely you'd start at the front if you were in the lead of a multi-race championship? It mocks your effort a touch. That aside, the racing is still fun. AI competitors drive defensively and occasionally make mistakes, requiring you to think about your angle of attack. Each race does feel similar, and occasionally rubber band-y, but there's enough challenge in there to make you return for more.
In the latest entry in the PlayStation's top-flight race series, perfection isn't only famed producer Kazunori Yamauchi's aim--it swiftly becomes yours
License tests are back, but they’re something you have to tackle on your own time. You’re advised that if you don’t have a certain license, you can’t take part in a given event, making them an essential part of the game (just as they always have been in numbered GT games). Thankfully, they're addictive albeit occasionally frustrating little tasks that teach you the game's physics model. The way Gran Turismo handles is, as you'd hope after a quarter of a century of refinement, bang on. Barrel into corners with the throttle wide open and you'll understeer, lift-off mid-corner and the rear will swing round. Depending on how many of the game's myriad modifications from Understeer or GT Auto you've applied it'll behave differently, but within the rules of GT7's physics. The same goes for inclement conditions--not all circuits can have dynamic weather, but those that can are a different, broader kind of fun to play on You'll first find your super slick race tires (an expensive investment, but a good way to up PP fast) are now useless,. You'll then either learn how to control a slide at speed, or where the 'retry' button is. The track will dry eventually, your palms… maybe not. Night driving's a blast, as are the astronomically accurate star scapes that keep the sky bright.
While a racing wheel will be the most accurate way to play, Polyphony's work with the DualSense controller's haptics is a respectable alternative. If your front wheels are struggling, you'll feel it through the triggers. The ability to feel something, anything, that's going on above a gentle rumble via a controller is a huge boon as it helps you gauge inputs.
While racing and collecting are the main focus, you'd be a fool to miss out on Missions. These include a variety of different driving challenges, such as slipstreaming for speed, drag racing, or overtaking challenging opponents in a short slot of track. Like license tests, they can be frustrating, but you'll keep coming back for more. Similarly, the Music Rally function is a neat distraction from the main game--drive quick enough to music so you don't run out of 'beats.' You start with a set amount of beats that decrease with each, well, beat of the song you’re listening to. Drive quick enough and you’ll pick more up via gates on the track. Run out and it’s game over, finish the whole song and you’ve won. Not a reason to buy it outright, but entertaining if you want something different.
There's (still) no obvious damage to cars though. Yamauchi and the Polyphony team want racing clean, so cars don't need to get damaged, but it's 2022--if I have a prang the game should know about it. Considering the level of detail that's gone into the rest of the game it seems like something of a cop-out to not have any evidence of a crash, even cosmetic. Sure, knocking into something will bounce you and your victim off the racing line, but the car will carry on working just fine. For a ‘real driving simulator’ that’s not very real, is it? Another thing that hasn't leapt to the next-gen is the sound. 3D audio tech means you can hear more, but what you hear isn't edge-of-your-seat thrilling. Some motors lack the rawness you get in the real world, others drone. Juxtaposed with the typically Gran Turismo throbbing music you'd hope for a meatier soundtrack from your shiny supercar, but there seems to be a disconnect between the two.
There are plenty of places to race in GT7--some based on real locations, some exclusive to the game. With 90 layouts and over 34 tracks to earn and explore, you shouldn't find yourself bored. The variety on offer is staggering, from a simple oval or a dirt track, to Australia's legendary Bathurst and the fearsome Green Hell: the Nurburgring. You can explore the tracks at your leisure, or jump into races on them. Each track comes with its own challenges, not only in layout but in environmental changes as well. While you'll be concentrating on a race, it's a lot more exciting when the sun's out and the rain's at bay, as having more grip tends to make winning races easier.
When it comes to recreating the world circuits, Polyphony's done a marvelous job of mapping them down to the last lump and bump. It can't quite replace being there, but you get a decent impression of the slight elevation change at Goodwood's St Mary's corner. However, there's little opportunity for exploration here. Once you're on a track, you need to keep your car on the asphalt (or dirt if you’re on a dirt course) or else you'll lose time. Forza Horizon fans, this one may not be for you.
Jumping online can seem a little overwhelming at first. The multiplayer lobbies come at you thick and fast with a variety of tracks, racing, PP limits, and restrictions. If you’re feeling brave you can pick at random, or, a better option, is to filter your selection with handy dropdowns. The same goes for the daily, matchmade, ranked Sport races00these are laid on for you at set points over the day, and require you to own eligible vehicles. Sport races aim to keep cars on a level playing field. This meant a run with low power compact cars was a lesson in momentum preservation, racing line, and race craft. It was one of the most tense and exciting online races I’ve ever taken part in. That said, note that your experience depends entirely on your fellow racers. If they’re respectful you’ll have a good time, but if they race dirty it kills the fun quick.
Gran Turismo 7 isn't a departure, but rather a newer, shinier GT game. Its physics model is accurate, and while the racing can be formulaic it's always a giggle. The attempt at humanity is a bit cringe,the lack of up-to-date cars seems like an open goal missed, and game may not have changed drastically, but that's not the worst thing in the world. There are medals to claim, cars to collect, and people on the internet to embarrass around Goodwood, the 'Ring, or, well, anywhere really. PlayStation petrolheads are in for a good time.