Polyphony Digital pitches Gran Turismo 7 as “the real driving simulator” of the PlayStation 5 – but does it live up to the hype?
If you’re looking for a rip-roaring racer to get stuck into, you’re hardly strapped for choices these days. Forza Horizon 5 was one of our favourites from last year, GRID Legends recently hit shelves, and Mario Kart 8 is about to see some all new DLC. Whatever flavour of racing you’re after, there’s probably something out there for you. Well… almost.
What’s missing from the racing market is a bridge between those wacky arcade racers and the full-on simulators of the world. Although it pitches itself as “The Real Driving Simulator”, Gran Turismo 7 actually falls in a grey area between hardcore and casual. While it’s certainly more approachable than something like Assetto Corsa or Project Cars, it also compromises much of its potential fun-factor in the name of eccentricity.
Clunk click, every trip
Let’s get one thing clear straight from the start – if you like cars, then you’re probably going to like Gran Turismo 7. It seems like I’m stating the obvious when discussing a car racer, but Kazunori Yamauchi takes this to a whole other level. Every inch of this game is crafted to workshop car culture. Even if you thought you liked cars, think again – Gran Turismo 7 wants you to like them as much as it does.
While the game opens up into the newly added Music Rally mode, it wastes no time before thrusting you into the staple Gran Turismo experience. Here, you’re given a small pool of credits to purchase your first car with. Just like most people’s first car, it’ll be a second-hand banger. One that you’ll no doubt love in its own special way, but nothing that’s going to win races. From here, you’re taken down an intriguing and informative path that both teaches and draws you into why people love cars.
Progression is handled through Menu Books. Visiting the Cafe from the world map will see you speak to the owner, an unabashed automobile enthusiast. The menu books are essentially themed quest lists, and you have to do them all in order. It might be that you complete three races in the top three using a French hot hatchback. Another example would be completing three races in an American muscle car.
Once a menu book is complete, returning to the cafe will reward you with both credits and a history lesson on the car type you’ve just raced. Accompanied with some gorgeous visual shots, these cutscenes wouldn’t go amiss in an automotive museum. In fact, the game has its own museum for you to peruse at your leisure.
Nice and slow
Structuring the campaign in this way is a great way to ease in new players. The only cars you can afford in the early game are slow ones. That forces you to learn how to master the basics of race technique before you jump behind the wheel of something more unruly. The larger your car collection grows, the more access you’ll gain to Gran Turismo 7’s other features.
Before long, you’ll find the difficulty of races ramping up significantly. First, second, and third places won’t come so easily after the first four hours or so. Once you hit a skill wall, you have two options – improve your skills, or soup up your car. Gran Turismo 7 sees the return of Licences which take racing technique right back to basics. Here, you’ll learn about proper cornering, braking zones, and other technical skills required to set fast lap times. With credits also up for grabs, it’s a productive way to practice while also helping you save up for those more desirable motors.
Alternatively, you can spend some of that dosh to bolster your car beyond the competition. Cars are all rated with a PP [Power Points] level, which translates roughly to how fast they each go. In the tuning shop, there’s scope for knowledgeable players to tweak their cars to their exact preference. For those of us without a degree in engineering, GT7 helpfully highlights which upgrades make the ‘go faster’ number bigger.
What’s more, GT7 feels like the first racing game I’ve played where the effects of car tuning can actually be felt. There’s nothing more satisfying than tweaking your engine output to then instantly smoke an opponent that previously left you in the dust.
Beyond the obvious racing mode, GT7 has a fairly robust set of gameplay options to choose from. Of course, there’s Licences to get you up to speed behind a wheel. Taking that a step further are Challenges. These are small race scenarios that ask you to perform a feat within a certain time limit or track distance. These can be tricky to obtain gold status on, resulting in delightful overuse of the retry function until I nailed every single one of them.
Then there’s Music Rally. It’s a lukewarm twist on the classic time trial mode that asks you to reach checkpoints in return for an extended time limit. Except instead of adding additional seconds onto your remaining time, it’s adding remaining beats. You’ll be driving to a small selection of playlists, each curated from a different genre. While an amusing mode to try once, I didn’t find it all that entertaining and quickly longed for wheel to wheel action.
It doesn’t help that the tracks are all pulled from the game’s relatively small tracklist. I felt myself getting quickly bored of hearing the same tracks over and over in the same play session. As such, it’s a shame that Music Rally doesn’t let you pull in your own music, though it’s clear that this would have required some tricky backend technical work. Either way, I didn’t end up playing much of Music Rally and ended up playing my own Spotify in the background to break up the monotony.
While the music may have gotten old faster than Pierre Gasly’s stint at Red Bull, the visuals of GT7 constantly amazed. In both the Quality and Performance modes of Gran Turismo 7, has never looked this good on a PlayStation before. Especially once the sun sets and tracks become damp, the power of this next gen console can surely be felt.
That’s especially true in the replay and photography modes. Of course, GT7 isn’t just about racing cars – it’s about admiring them, too. You can place any of your vehicles in up to 2,500 global locations and play around with camera settings to grab the perfect shot. It’s here that the ray traced reflections really come into their own, creating uncanny valley levels of digital realism.
However, while the game can look fantastic at times, it can also look remarkably flat at others. Especially when compared to titles like Forza Horizon 5, I felt that there was a distinct lack of detail and flatness to some race tracks. Sure, the game looks photo realistic much of the time. But it also feels a little devoid of life and, dare I say, fun.
The DualSense features also left me wanting a little more. The haptic rumble does a fantastic job of helping you feel every single bump in the road. I found this especially useful when realising that I’d dipped a tyre in the marbles while attempting a ballsy overtake. While it’s possible to feel a small amount of feedback in the brakes and accelerator, it’s nowhere near as strong enough as we’ve come to expect from other PlayStation games. I felt that the driving sections in Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves did a better job of showcasing vehicles through the DualSense controller.
No Exceeding Track Limits
Talking about the technical features of Gran Turismo 7 about sums up my overall thoughts of the game. Much of Gran Turismo 7 is stunning, but plenty of it feels wasted. There’s a boasted roster of over 400 cars and 97 track layouts. However, you are unlikely to ever use all of that content. Cars are all locked behind extortionate credit paywalls and must be grinded for. It’s also disheartening to see that credits can be purchased for real cash using microtransactions that weren’t live during the review period. Following the Menu Book approach to progression was intriguing for a time, but it didn’t take long until I desired to stray from the driving line.
I said at the top of this review that Gran Turismo 7 does its best to straddle the gap between casual and hardcore racers. While it certainly does a great job of onboarding newcomers warmly, it does so at the risk of boring its more eager fanbase. That makes Gran Turismo 7 a difficult game to recommend unless you love cars and their culture with your whole heart.
A PS5 copy of Gran Turismo 7 was sent by PR to GameByte for review purposes.
[Featured Image Credit: Polyphony Digital/Sony]