There are only a few first-party, flagship titles that have repeatedly set the bar for a shiny new console in the past, and Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo series has always been one of them. The PS5 has had quite a few releases already that tested its mettle (i.e. Horizon Zero Dawn Forbidden West for one) and pushed it pretty far graphically. Now, after 2,500+ miles of racing in Gran Turismo 7, it’s time to reveal what I’ve been up to in the revamped world of GT, and if this is the latest PS5 release to set a new benchmark.
Kazunori Yamauchi and the history of Gran Turismo
In 1992 Kazunori Yamauchi and a small team of seven set off to create a racing game that was more than just cars and tracks. Seven years later the original Gran Turismo was released and a new genre of video game racing was born: The Real Driving Simulator.
The series has long been known for using a bunch of licensed cars, with intricate and accurately detailed interiors and exteriors, as well as real-world driving physics and real-world tracks from around the Globe. Along the Gran Turismo journey, the series has seen a dozen different releases for consoles and for the PlayStation Portable. Developer Polyphony Digital has never failed to impress with each release and now their latest addition to the series is ready for the PlayStation masses.
Enter the GT Cafe
Gran Turismo has always been a bit of a square when it comes to in-game menus, sticking with simple lists and layouts, and never really much of a campaign to speak of. Polyphony Digital decided to add a little flair for Gran Turismo 7 and, instead of using a traditional menu system, they went with a GT World map that has more and more points unlock as you progress through its campaign.
The journey begins at the GT Cafe, and tasks are given to you as Menu Books. The books ask you to collect certain cars in a collection, upgrading an owned car at the tuning shop, maybe heading to the car wash or doing some maintenance, or eventually winning world races.
The Menu Book system is designed to introduce you to the ins and outs of the game, as well as teach you the history of the cars they ask you to collect. You’ll also be earning a bunch of cars along the way. I ended up with over 70 cars in my stable just from the campaign, ranging from a slowpoke Honda hybrid to a high-end twin-turbo Pagani. It’s a system that rewards you with cars AND knowledge, and might just help birth an entirely new generation of car lovers.
Gran Turismo 7 brings with it a new XP-based system called your Collector Level. It’s pretty simple to understand: the more cars you collect, the higher your Collector Level goes. Higher collector levels unlock a separate area called Missions, which will test you in a variety of ways, including Drag Racing, and reward you with even more free cars for your stable.
These missions will have you either using one of your cars, or a loaner car, to complete tasks that will help teach you how to drive and control different cars. Drag racing can be a little tricky when you realize that you have zero traction control and must use a controlled throttle launch in order to not spin out. Sadly there’s no pre-race burnout to heat up those tires and make them sticky, so you may need a little practice on that launch.
License Tests are no walk in the park
As you progress through the Menu Books from the Cafe, you’ll be required to start taking and passing your License Tests. There are five licenses in total, and these tests get harder and harder the farther along you get. Each series has a group of tasks that will teach you the basics in the beginning, like starting and stopping within a certain distance, and eventually more advanced things like cornering at high speeds. The National B and National A series were all pretty easy to get Gold on, but the International B and International A were where I started struggling.
These tests are really all skill-based, and longtime fans of the series may blow through all of them, achieving Gold across the board, but I kind of doubt that. The Super License test is all about one-lap challenges, and completing one lap at Laguna Seca in a Formula 1 car within a set amount of time is no easy task. It’s not easy controlling that beast through the famed Corkscrew, even if you’ve driven through it in person before. The Super License isn’t required to finish the campaign as the campaign stops short of any Formula 1 races. I’m not sure why they didn’t include any of the more advanced racing types like F1, other than maybe they wanted to make the game as accessible to all as possible.
Difficulty is up to you
Gran Turismo 7 calls itself the Real Driving Simulator, and really does hit that mark, but not everyone wants to subject themselves to the difficulty that arises from trying to control a 700HP beast of a car or truck around sharp curves and long straights. Luckily for them, Polyphony Digital made Gran Turismo 7 as user-friendly as you want it to be.
The game’s difficulty can be adjusted with a two-prong approach. First, you can set the AI of your opponents to be Beginner, Intermediate, or Professional, and second, there are a bunch of assists that can be toggled off and on to aid you in actually driving the vehicle. There are assists for braking, steering, throttle, traction control, ABS, and stability. There are also driving lines and breaking markers to show you where you’ll need to start slowing down. If you turn everything on, the car won’t exactly drive itself, but it removes all of the guesswork when it comes to cornering.
Gran Turismo has always used a simple 2D driving line, and Gran Turismo 7 uses the same one. Other simulators like Assetto Corsa and GRID have started using 3D dash driving lines that actually raise, lower, and change color depending on what is required of the driver, and this more intuitive driving line really goes a long way to teaching drivers not only good braking techniques but also better throttle control. Is this something that’s needed in GT7? Not at all, but it would help folks new to the series better understand throttle control, which can be just as important as steering and braking when dealing with powerful cars.
Tuning your machine
Gran Turismo has always been about making your car better, but it was usually just by giving you the ability to up your power or install a better transmission, but without any real bells or whistles as to how you were upping your power. Gran Turismo 7 changes that by giving you a full-on tuning shop to take your cars to the next level. There are five levels to the shop, and your Collector Level determines how many of them are available.
Each car has its own Performance Point level (PP) and the tuning shop will raise this number, depending on what you do. Keep in mind that some races have a max PP level, and a car that has been tuned may no longer qualify for a race you originally used it for. Don’t sweat it too much, though, because you can purchase a power limiter and a custom racing computer to drop that PP number back down into the proper range.
Each vehicle has the ability to have multiple custom settings sheets, which comes in handy when using the same car at different PP races. Some cars will benefit from the added adjustable downforce of a rear wing or front air dam, and these can be purchased and installed at the GT Auto shop. You’ll also find the livery editor and wheel shop there, as well.
The depth of the tuning shop is a welcome addition to the Gran Turismo family. As a former ASE Certified technician, I really appreciated the ability to have the engine bored and balanced. One doesn’t need to fully understand what that means in order to benefit from it in-game, but if you do, that’s a plus.
The same thing goes for headers, racing exhaust, and a racing air filter. Being able to take a somewhat slow pick up like a Toyota Tundra, and then dropping $200k at the shop on upgrades and turn it into a 663HP beast, with the ability to hit 180MPH at Daytona is a fun little feat. Not all cars are ready, really, for all of that massive HP, and you’ll need to learn how to control a beast once you’ve upgraded it. I took a ’69 Vette, dropped a ton of cash on upgrades, and created a monster that didn’t want to stay on the track at Willow Springs. I ended up turning the power down to better control it on that specific track.
Controller vs. Wheel and pedals
For the sim racing purists out there, me included, there is no debate when it comes to either using a controller or a wheel and pedals for racing. The fastest lap times require the finer control of a wheel and pedals, but Gran Turismo 7 can be played nicely either way.
Haptic feedback on the PS5 DualSense controller gives you a really good feel of the track, the brakes, and the throttle. You can use motion controls for steering too, if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it. That was a scary few minutes in my living room.
I personally use a Thrustmaster T150 with the T3PA pedal add-on, but there are several other supported wheels you can choose from. One item I wish the game had was the ability to shorten the turning radius of the wheel in-game. When driving the faster cars like F1, being able to turn quicker is a must when going at high speed. The F1 car corners like it’s on rails, so being able to turn with less movement would be nice.
GT Sport Returns
My time in multiplayer, Sport mode, or otherwise, has been limited due to only the press having access to the game. I did join a couple of online sessions put together by the developers and was able to join a full 16 player lobby, running on the road course at Daytona. The game ran flawlessly and was quite a bit of fun working my way through the pack. The game does have private lobbies in regular multiplayer mode that can be set to private if you want to just race against friends. There’s also split-screen racing if you want to race a friend on your couch.
GT Sport is the ranked mode of online racing but there have been very few daily races available so far. Sport mode has you racing against other gamers who are close to your skill level (Driver Rating), and ranks you not only in skill but also sportsmanship (Sportsmanship Rating). There will be tournaments to compete in and also leagues which you will be placed in based on your DR and SR. Daily events will include time trials as well as races and I look forward to trying to work my way up the leaderboard daily.
New for Gran Turismo 7 is a mode where you can meet up with your friends and show off your cars at a track meet. What’s really cool about this mode is the ability to change cars as often as you like and that gives you the ability to show off your entire stable if you wish. The mode is very barebones right now, and you can’t get out and walk around cars, which would be a great feature, but it’s a start.
Honestly, if you’re going to include a mode resembling a meet-up, you should be able to open the doors and hoods on the cars and walk around them, maybe even look inside them. It seems like a missed opportunity that I hope they add in later.
Cars and Tracks
At launch, Gran Turismo is said to have over 420 cars available for in-game purchases and/or unlocking. Now I haven’t gone through and counted them all, but I can say there are at least that many. If you look at each car and the level of detail each car has, it’s simply amazing how many man-hours had to go into creating them all in-game.
The realism of each car is what sets Gran Turismo 7 apart from all other racing games out there and sets a bar that isn’t easily reached. One cool feature is if you are in your garage and just let the game sit for a minute, a video of whatever car you have selected will start to run, showing the details of that car. This is absolutely mind-blowing in 4K — the below video is in 1080p and still looks incredible.
The recreated tracks are just as impressive as the cars in Gran Turismo 7. There are 34 World Circuits to choose from, and several of them have multiple configurations. Tracks like the Nürburgring in Germany have 3 different configurations, from the short Grand Prix track of just 3.7 miles, to the full-on 24H layout that stretches 15.77 miles. The 12.94 mile Nordschleife layout is just as impressive, but just a little bit shorter. None of this, not the cars, the tracks, the spectators, the dirt, the mud, nothing looks like it belongs in a video game. The realism has reached a monumental level that I didn’t think possible 20 years ago.
Gran Turismo 7 Review: The Final Verdict
The Gran Turismo franchise has always impressed me, from 1997 until today. Kazunori Yamauchi had a vision in 1992 of a game that would look and feel just like real life. Gran Turismo 7 hits that mark dead on with the sights, the sounds, the physics, and the animations of real-world driving and real-world racing.
How much more can the PS5 do? I’m not sure, but I am sure that developer Polyphony Digital must be pushing it to the max with Gran Turismo 7.
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