Gran Turismo 7 Review: 4K Graphics, 420+ Cars, Not Much Innovation
Gran Turismo 7 is just what longtime franchise fans have been pining for, but its rigid nature feels increasingly out of step with the times.
The timeline is hazy, but I reckon I was about seven years old at the time. I had successfully maneuvered my way to the front of the grid in my highly modified, silver Evo IV. Barreling my way up the tree-covered cliff section of Deep Forest Raceway, doing about a buck-twenty with "Lose Control" by Ash blasting in the background, I thought to myself, "This is the coolest thing I will ever do in this life." Frankly, I've been chasing that high ever since.
I'm talking, of course, about the original Gran Turismo on the first PlayStation. Coming onto the scene 25 years ago, GT1 arguably revolutionized the racing game genre and set it on a trajectory to what it is today. It may not have been the very first racer to feature real-world automobiles but it was definitely the most notable one to do so, stuffing a then-incredible 140 vehicles onto its black PlayStation 1 CDs. It was also one of the first (if not the first) mainstream racing game to focus on realistic driving physics—and to stuff as many variants of the Nissan Skyline and Mazda Miata into one title as possible.
Four console generations, six sequels, an entire generation hooked on JDM, one detour into esports and a quarter-century later, Gran Turismo 7 drops today on the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4. After more than a decade of arguably middling offerings over its PS3 and PS4 eras, GT7 promises to be a return-to-form for the series. The numbered title is back, for starters, as is the map-style main menu, and the buy-a-cheap-hatchback-and-work-your-way-up CaRPG, car-life simulator gameplay. In addition to providing some long-awaited fan service to those who enjoyed this series back in its golden age, publisher Sony is also aiming to do with GT7 what it did with those first GTs: usher a whole new, younger generation of gamers into the wonderful world of car enthusiasm. When it comes to that first goal, GT7 mostly succeeds. As for that second one, however, I'm not so sure.
While other racing games like the fantastic Forza Horizon franchise are very much modern-day products built for audiences with limited attention spans, GT7 is a decidedly awkward and slow-burn in its approach, almost to a fault. Also sure to alienate new, younger players is the glaring absence of a true any-car, any-track, anytime Arcade mode. (If you're looking to instantly jump in a Ferrari and whip around Monza, this game won't let you do that, not after at least a dozen hours or so of gameplay.) Instead, the people behind GT have created a new game mode called Music Rally in which you drive an extremely old car to a piece of music nobody under the age of 25 would be caught dead having in their Spotify library.
It's not all bad, though, of course, and in order to provide a more complete picture of Gran Turismo 7, I selflessly spent about 10 hours playing this game on a PS5 this week. Throughout that time, I messed around with the Scapes photo mode, obtained a "National A" license, and, of course, dedicated most of those hours working through the main racing campaign, amassing a varied collection of 35 cars in the process. Let's jump in.
Gran Turismo 7 Quick Details
- Base price (as tested): $59.99 ($69.99)
- Platforms: PS4 and PS5
- Cars: 420+
- Tracks: 34 (97 layouts)
- Quick take: An expansive, gorgeous, and nostalgic love letter to GT fans 25 years in the making, but one that might come off as dated and laborious compared to modern competitors.
Driving Physics Are New and Much Improved
One of the first enhancements you'll notice playing this game on PlayStation 5 are the vibrations coming through the controller. GT7 has leveraged this console's haptically-intricate DualSense gamepad to great effect. Every menu input is met with a small nudge (similar to what you'd get holding down a home screen icon on a sufficiently modern iPhone), giving the entire experience a substantial, tactile feel. When driving, the triggers can independently simulate the feel of brakes locking up and light vibrating throttle as your car struggles for traction.
The feel of rumble strips and the expansion joints on the Tokyo highway circuit are fed through the controller in a much more nuanced way than before. It clunks in your hands as you shift through gears; the feedback here even subtly differentiates between, say, the light kick produced by Volkswagen's DSG versus the hefty thunk of sliding the Honda Civic Type R's manual shifter from one cog to the next, which in turn also feels different from the notchier kerplunk you get when rowing your own in a Chevy Camaro ZL1 1LE. It's remarkably detailed and a new, very welcome dimension of feedback that most reasonably-priced racing wheels can't even replicate—though obviously the experience would be further heightened by a pricey sim rig. The game's depth certainly encourages that kind of setup, but it's good to know Polyphony didn't forget that most people will still use a regular gamepad to get their kicks.
Improved haptics are cool, but it'd all be moot if the underlying physics weren't sound. Said to be developed using feedback from tire manufacturer Michelin, its own top esports players, and some guy named Lewis Hamilton, Gran Turismo's reworked driving physics accurately replicate the experience of driving a real car while being reasonably accessible to play. As a result, cars feel more distinct than in past titles while being markedly more demanding to drive than their counterparts in any Forza Motorsport game. It's accurate too, with the unshakeable front axle of Civic Type R coming off as eerily similar to the real thing. But GT7's driving also feels more sterile than Forza. The sensation of speed is less pronounced and, played on a pad, the game seems to treat oversteer as a grip-killing, anomalous event that should either be minimized via assists or impossible to recover from rather than a stylishly entertaining way of going through a corner. This is a common complaint, but it's par for the course for a game that aims to simulate real driving rather than emulate it through an arcade filter.
Stop trying to slide around everywhere, and the wheel-to-wheel racing action isn't bad. Although competitors are still not as lifelike as Forza's crowdsourced Drivatar system, the AI is no longer the robotic train it used to be and, provided you haven’t taken the easy way out by simply racing with a much more competitive car, coming in first can be a solid challenge.
Stunning to Look at... Mostly
As a visual experience, Gran Turismo 7 mostly looks pretty great but, probably because I've been spoiled by Forza Horizon 5's beautifully realistic open-world environments, some off-track details (like guardrail posts, foliage, and audience members) in GT7 do indeed look jarringly low-res. For every mind-bogglingly realistic-looking yellow brick Tokyo tunnel, there's a distractingly rigid tree that would not look out of place in a PS3 game. And while rain looks quite realistic when it's poured onto tarmac, on-windshield droplets look embarrassingly primitive. These cut corners will undoubtedly be annoying enough for some that they'll declare it reason enough to skip the game entirely, and while I don't agree, it's hard to fault anyone expecting their $70 game should feel completely polished.
On the other hand, the mere continued existence of Gran Turismo and its tried-and-true formula after all this time almost feels like fan service. And if you're in that camp, crappy tree textures won't stop you from appreciating the real heroes of the game and the love that went into recreating them: the cars. The car models in GT7 sport the series' signature, millimeter-perfect, porcelain-paint look, and are stunningly impressive to behold. PS5's ray-tracing tech in the Scapes photography mode and replays mean lighting, shadows, and reflections that are even more lifelike than before.
This is as niche a reference as they come but, to me, the difference between GT's car models and those of, say, Forza are a bit like the difference between scale model cars made by Tamiya and those made by Fujimi or Revell (if you know, you know). The latter companies' plastic automotive recreations look perfectly fine... until you've seen a Tamiya, at which point those Revell/Fujimi/Forza cars look just a tiny bit off even though you can't quite put your finger on why.
So Is GT7 a Good Video Game?
GT7 is mostly pretty to look at, gives your hands plenty to nibble on, and the racing is sufficiently entertaining. But what's it like to sit down and pour eight straight hours into it?
Despite it touting 400-plus cars and 34 locations (Deep Forest is back!), most of that content is locked away when you first start the game. A bit like how every Pokémon game begins with the player selecting one of three starter monsters, one of the first things GT7 prompts you to do is to choose one of three compact Japanese hatchbacks: a Honda Fit, a Toyota Aqua (a.k.a. what we Americans know as the Prius C), or a Mazda Demio (i.e. Mazda2).
From there, you're told to visit the Gran Turismo Café. GT7's pre-release literature describes this coffee shop in the middle of the forest as a haven in which car fans novice and seasoned can stop by and learn about the cars they've collected, but it's actually a key part of how the campaign moves forward. The Café owner, a smiling man named Luca, gives you a set "menu" of cars to collect, which are conveniently offered as rewards for placing third or higher in the newest races available. Once you've completed those races and collected the cars, the game tells you to go back to the Café, where Luca will give you another set of races (or occasionally some other objective) to complete. Rinse and repeat.
As you work through this cycle, more facets of GT7 (like car tuning, the livery editor, Scapes, and the "legendary" car dealership that's literally labeled as the "Hagerty Collection") unlock, more tracks become available, and your garage gets more vast. The whole Café setup is a little convoluted and, I suspect, there to give the illusion of freedom in what is in reality quite a linear experience. But even discounting that, GT7's campaign is definitely a much slower grind than other modern racing games and may be disappointing for those who pick this game up looking to fling a Bugatti Veyron around the Nürburgring right out of the gate.
What's more, license tests make a comeback from the franchise's early days and, just like they did all those years ago, do a good job of introducing newbies to the basics of performance driving (virtual and otherwise) while the quest to score perfect gold ratings on every single one of these continues to provide seasoned players with a maddening yet weirdly addicting challenge. Just like it is in real life, higher race licenses are required if you'd like to enter the increasingly higher grades of racing and, in turn, progress through the game.
That all might sound like kind of a drag. But I felt the exact opposite: In the age of instant gratification, this slower, more laborious style of video game is actually refreshing and indeed more rewarding in the long run. At the same time, that's all well and good if you're seven and have nothing but time, but as a full-grown adult with responsibilities, I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish GT7 had a quick-play Arcade mode in which you can instantly take any car onto any track and nothing "counts." (This game does have an Arcade mode, as well as split-screen local multiplayer, but it's restricted to tracks you've already unlocked and cars you already own.) That said, just like how GT Sport was updated with single-player events post-release, I don't see why developers can't add a free-for-all Arcade mode into GT7 in the same manner sometime down the road. Still that's cold comfort to those who just want to be able to pick up and play at first.
Game progression may be slower than most but, par for the PS5 game course, load times are mighty short, with the game being able to go from one track to another in, like, not very much time at all. (The opposite is true for PS4 players, whose loading times will be approximately three times longer.)
Other Ways to Play
The aforementioned Scapes photo mode is back and packing a whopping 2,571 backdrops at launch—take a picture at a new Scape each day and you'll still be shooting fresh angles seven years from now. These picturesque, real-world locations come from all over the globe, and having all of them at your fingertips to browse is weirdly entertaining in and of itself. When it comes to actual car photography, some locales are better than others at producing photorealistic shots of GT's digital vehicles but, as it was before, experienced photographers should be able to take some pretty stunning shots that could fool most into thinking it was real life. Here are a few examples of what's possible here:
Car tuning and cosmetic customization makes a return, too, and is quite in-depth. Swap in a new exhaust, fit your car with nitrous, draw funny shapes down the side with the livery editor, widen the fenders of a car that has no business sporting widened fenders. It's all here.
Music Rally, however, is an all-new mode for the franchise and said to be aimed at younger players looking for a less serious gateway into the GT world. You drive a car while a piece of music plays and must hit checkpoints within a certain amount of time. Even after playing it, I'm not entirely sure how your performance actually influences the tempo or the duration of the piece of music in question. In any case, it doesn't feel all that different to play than just plain ol' racing and exudes strong "fellow kids" energy, especially when the very first one you're presented with has the player driving a 1956 Porsche Speedster to "Hooked on Classics (Pts. 1 & 2)" by the Royal Philharmonic. Porsches older than their parents and classical music. That's what the kids like, right?
Another new music-related feature is Music Replay, which are like traditional Gran Turismo race replays except camera cuts and angles are synced up to the song of your choice, making the cinematic playbacks of your on-track exploits feel a bit like a music video. It is kind of cool but I'm a little curious as to why all replays aren't done this way.
Bonus: The Real Meteorology Simulator
One of the more impressive-sounding features of Sony's latest racer is the one where it simulates the sky, rain, and how it all affects grip. Developers took real-life meteorological data and simulated how clouds are formed in specific regions of the globe. "Skies in Japan will change as they do in Japan and skies in California will change as they do in California," stated game director and GT creator Kazunori Yamauchi. "Puddles form in locations that are prone to them. The rain ends, and the surface starts to dry from the areas that tend to dry first. The areas with puddles will remain wet the longest. And these kinds of changes will occur naturally."
The resulting effect really is one of the most impressive technical aspects of this game. Day-night cycles and dynamic weather mean you can start a race in the dark and end it with the sun up, or start a sprint in the dry and eventually cross the finish line with your wipers on, car soaked in precipitation. It all happens extremely naturally, too, as does the way rain affects grip.
For example, when it started dribbling in the middle of a skirmish at Tsukuba, I didn't need to adjust my driving style initially since the track wasn't all that wet yet. About a lap later, though, I could see that the ground beneath me had become visibly more damp and feel my VW Scirocco's grip waning. In another instance, the Japanese sky above me and my Integra Type R went from pitch dark to daylight over the course of two laps without me explicitly noticing, a bit like how the sunrise creeps up on you in real life.
The Verdict: Great for True Believers
Grinding through its campaign, Gran Turismo 7 feels a bit like what you'd get if Netflix decided to do a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake of Seinfeld in 4K HDR. The picture quality is way better, Jerry dresses a lot sharper, but the jokes are the same. Those who witnessed and loved the original will find it to be an amazing shot of nostalgia. But I'm not sure it would hold up when viewed through the eyes of a younger audience who never had the pleasure of growing up with the original. Hell, even if you did watch the show when it was new, your own tastes and sensibilities have changed since then—and it's entirely possible that this theoretical 4K Seinfeld remake would still feel jarringly dated especially when you realize how many of the gang's problems could've easily been solved with smartphones, how utterly ridiculous the entire concept of a laugh track is, and how glad you are that modern television has largely moved away from such nonsense.
I digress. For better and worse, GT7 hangs onto many of the classic tropes that made it both a gaming and motoring icon in the '90s and '00s. But this is the '20s and racing games have evolved. Car culture has evolved. Technology has evolved. With access to every Doug DeMuro video ever made, countless Top Gear clips, and, of course, websites like [checks notes] The Drive in their literal pocket, does Gen Z really need Gran Turismo to show them how cool automobiles are? I don't think they do. And even if they are wanting for a video game expression of car culture, Forza Horizon 5 is a vastly more accessible and youthful experience.
As a longtime GT fan and car nerd, however, this game is exactly what I was expecting, and I mean that in the best way. The visuals—while not perfect—are astoundingly realistic in the right setting. The racing is on-point and the PS5 controller's vibratory abilities are used extremely effectively. From an objective technical and content perspective, this is unequivocally the greatest Gran Turismo game ever made and, transitively, one of the best racing games out there. It's what 2017's GT Sport should've been—actually, scratch that—pare down the graphics and it's what 2010's Gran Turismo 5 should have been. Except it's coming out in 2022, a time in which it can't help but feel a bit... old hat.
Perhaps that's part of its charm, though, and I admittedly did enjoy turning off my phone and immersing myself back into the Gran Turismo universe, a weirdly zen place where soft classical music is an appropriate thing to play while you're shopping for Corvettes and "Cars and Coffee" is a decidedly classier, more serene affair. But as long as we're borrowing from GT tradition's past, I'd like to propose another one: Make this console generation in which we get two solid Gran Turismo games instead of just one. Streamline the campaign mechanics, expand the car and track list, polish up some of the graphical flaws, give it an unrestricted Arcade mode and call it Gran Turismo 8. Now, that'll be a banger of a racing game. For now, though, GT7 will do just fine.
Gran Turismo 7 is playable on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 4 Pro.
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