It would be remiss to overlook Gran Turismo’s contribution to the racing video game market. Not only has the series sold over 80 million units, but it has laid the groundwork for what a driving simulator should be.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a racing game fan out there that has not been inspired by Kazunori Yamauchi’s vision in some form. Ergo, Gran Turismo 7 – the first numbered release for over eight years – has a gravitas that few can compete with.
But thanks in part to that elongated wait, there’s also been a whole generation of racers who have missed out on that feeling of tuning up a Skyline or achieving a gold rating across all licence tests.
Polyphony Digital’s latest must not only reach Sony’s lofty ambitions but also bring new fans into the genre and inspire a social media-addled crowd that driving cars can be fun. No small task.
How the development team has gone about this is unorthodox. I can’t think of another car-based title out there that has anything close to the structure of Gran Turismo 7. This is an unabashed return to a single-player career with more layers than a 10 pack of onions.
Things start in a humdrum fashion. You’re greeted with a modest amount of funds and a slow car. In my case, a diesel Mazda 2. Oh, dear.
Music Rally – where you drive through timed checkpoints in order to ‘finish’ a song – makes a fleeting appearance at the beginning, but is largely superfluous.
The appeal of early Gran Turismo games was slowly working your way up, improving your driving ability and the speed of your machines. The same is true here, except you travel through a series of Café menus.
That is not a typo. Each ‘menu’ has a selection of items to collect, except they are cars and not club sandwiches. Completing races earns you said vehicles or tracks on each menu. Filling a menu unlocks a history lesson and the next set of vehicles to aim for.
Combine this unique arrangement with the now traditional licence tests, a reward for driving the length of a marathon each day – which could be cars, cash or upgrades – and a game of cards for each championship victory and, surprisingly, this concoction of Japanese eccentricities creates an enthralling reward loop.
The main aim is to obtain all of the cars, which sounds simple enough. But, not everything is on the menus, reward tickets or roulette wheels. Nor can you just buy everything from Brand Central. Just like in the real world, some of the high-end vehicles, like the Aston Martin Vulcan, require an invitation to buy.
There’s also the Used Car Dealership, which has fresh stock each day. Some items are limited in availability, and you’ll only see around 17 in here after each refresh. Sitting alongside this is the Legend Cars retailer, selling just five expensive, rare, vehicles each day.
In your Garage, there’s a Car Collection area, which lists every car as a silhouette. Once you acquire a new vehicle, it then appears here in full colour. Estimating from these shapes, there will be several historic vehicles that are still secret even though the game is about to release.
This leads to a fervent need to gain all the vehicles, especially as the first time you may even know of a car’s existence is when you see it as a rival on track.
This is a car list that’s curated to highlight the history of the motor vehicle, as opposed to yet another collation of contemporary unobtanium.
Throw in the genre-leading photography options, livery editor and split-screen multiplayer and you’ll never be short of activities. Circuit Experience lessons and leftfield Missions add fun distractions to the main grind too.
The potentially controversial element to the process is that you must unlock tracks through the Café. A list of competitions to take part in, like the Clubman Cup, is also absent.
Instead, a Café challenge will take you to a track, and after completion, it will also unlock circuits alongside cars.
In the end, this adds to the yearning. I stepped away from playing Gran Turismo 7 for a day, only to find myself daydreaming about unlocking Circuit de la Sarthe and earning a classic Alfa Romeo touring car.
Speaking of circuits, the classic fictional venues of High Speed Ring, Trial Mountain and Deep Forest Raceway all return, but with heavily revised layouts. Some may find that sacrilege, but once I’d adapted, and in the case of Deep Forest, I found them more rewarding.
Alongside these three returnees, there are two variants of Daytona and every track present in the last Gran Turismo game, GT Sport. On paper, that doesn’t seem like enough.
However, each has received a visual uplift. Tsukuba and Alsace, for example, now look more weathered, with worn asphalt and permanent rubber grooves. Others, such as the superlative Autodrome Lago Maggiore have seen new kerbs, corner angle tweaks and even some additional layouts added.
The net result is that while many tracks carry across, the vast majority feel different.
This is amplified by track-specific dynamic weather conditions. Sadly, not every venue has the full suite of evolving rain, time and lighting conditions. But what you’ll come to appreciate is just how detailed it can be.
At the Nordschleife, you can start a race with a grey sky, and by the end of a lap, it’s started raining. Or in Tokyo, a race can start at night and transition to daybreak. It’s subtle but effective.
When a track is drenched, such as Red Bull Ring, if you’re on dry tyres, you need to creep around and avoid any off-line puddles. As it should be.
With such a heavy emphasis on esports and online racing in the world of Gran Turismo for the past five years, and with a focus so far on the single-player component, network racing hasn’t been forgotten.
The pioneering Sport Mode returns, providing ranked Daily Races and future promises of tournaments and championships. An algorithm factors in your driver skill and ability to race cleanly, and then places you in a race with similarly skilled competitors across the globe.
The core mechanics are very similar to that of the last GT game, only this time the number of road cars you can compete with is significantly larger as Performance Points are a determining entry factor. A numerical value signifying a level of speed, PP-based Daily Races make for more varied grids, with some cars quicker in a straight line, and others more agile.
Customisable lobbies return, with a few more setup options, while Meeting Places appear within the circuit list as places to simply show off car modifications to other players. I’m not really sure why, but they exist.
Once you’ve adjusted to the distinct progression system and realised the vast scope on offer, the vehicle handling also needs acclimatisation.
The difference between how this drives and its forebear, 2017’s GT Sport, is stark. Like receiving a pair of new prescription glasses – you can now finally see how realistic a console-based driving game can be.
Front-wheel-drive hot hatches need a little lift upon corner entry to tuck the nose in, rear-wheel-drive muscle cars just want to burn rubber and spin.
But it’s the racing cars that are the stars. They remain rigid over kerbs, uncompromising over bumps. There’s a sense of connection you will rarely feel outside of a professional simulator.
The sense of speed pummelling your pupils the first time you helm a Group C 24 Hours of Le Mans racer will knock you for six.
Again though, it’s worth noting, you won’t get to experience this until you’re far into the game. Personally, I think that’s how it should be. You really earn it. Just don’t give in after spinning a wayward Camaro for the ninth time or you’ve failed to wrestle a tuned Focus RS around Interlagos.
Which is a risk. The Gran Turismo series has always been on the accessible side of authentic, but now smooth throttle application, trail braking and car tuning – which is also expansive, detailed and sometimes overwhelming – are essential.
There will be a subsection of the audience who will hanker for every quick car immediately. They will struggle. Receiving your first racing car is a moment that delivers a sense of accomplishment rarely found elsewhere – provided you’re willing to put in the hard yards.
When you finally get to drive a Porsche 917 on a rainy Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, spearing off into a wall after placing a wheel on a wet kerb is not a frustrating moment.
You are simply in awe as the hours building up to that moment, the sound of the Mezger engine, the detailed cockpit and the representation of a drying track combine to create a euphoric moment.
It may take you a while to get to this point, but it’s worth it.
|Release date||4th March 2022|
|Available platforms||PS4, PS5|
|Best played with||Steering wheel peripheral|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.