Review – Gran Turismo 7
Jeremy Clarkson once said in the launch trailer for Forza Motorsport 4, back in 2011, that we, lovers of speed, car enthusiasts, were an endangered species. In this day and age, loving cars is seen as being a villain to the future of the planet. As he masterfully mentions in that trailer, video games are the true modern safe haven for us gearheads, a place we can collect and race beautiful machines without feeling guilty, without worrying about the harm we’re doing for the environment. Nowadays, games like Dirt 5, Forza Horizon 5, WRC 10, Assetto Corsa, and many others, keep the flame of collecting cars and racing alive. Gran Turismo, the granddaddy of the genre, was the only one being dormant for a while. It took Polyphony nearly nine years to develop the sequel to Gran Turismo 6, a PS3 game. Was Gran Turismo 7 worth the wait?
Gran Turismo has always been seen as the more “tasteful” of the racing simulators. Given the fact its director and main developer is an actual racing driver with a ton of clout in the automotive industry as a whole, every single mainline release feels like an event. People preorder these games way in advance. Race drivers occasionally show up as guest avatars. Every single brand in the industry begs to show up in a billboard. Car marques go as far as come up with brand new concept models solely for the game. That used to be the rule: GT was the undisputed king to rule the entire racing landscape… until Forza Motorsport arrived back in the early 2000s.
That game featured the same focus on racing simulation as Gran Turismo did, but with more customizable controls and physics, as well as plenty of “pick up and play” modes to appeal to a wider audience. The franchise would eventually take GT‘s place on the top of the food chain due to its more accessible nature and more frequent release schedule. As previously mentioned, Polyphony took nine years to develop a sequel to Gran Turismo 6. Forza Motorsport is en route to receive its eight iteration, considering its first game was released years after the first Gran Turismo. I’m not even taking the Horizon spinoffs into account, either.
Why am I talking so much about Forza in a GT7 review? Well, the answer is simple: those games pushed the boundaries of how a racing simulator should look, feel and play in this day and age. Forza put a heavy emphasis on simulation, on automotive culture, car parts, but it always made sure to take newcomers into account with various difficulty settings, customizable physics, tuning, and most importantly, a crap ton of side content meant to introduce and educate people about the history of the automotive industry. Everything that Gran Turismo 7 is currently boasting as revolutionary features for the genre. Essentially, Polyphony takes so long to develop their games, and paid so little attention to the rest of the industry, that they’re now unintentionally playing catch-up.
Gran Turismo 7 starts off with an introductory (and unskippable) short film showcasing the birth of the car, the automotive industry, and racing culture. Old pictures and clips of classic cars are intertwined with archived footage of Elvis Presley, the Titanic, the Beatles, and so on, all accompanied by a gorgeous piano ballad meant to make any car lover weep like a baby. “I’m home”, that’s what I thought. Gran Turismo 7 wanted to embrace me and tell me I was safe to waste as many gallons of gasoline as I wanted, with the most ludicrous of hypercars. I was ready. I was stoked.
Then I remembered that Gran Turismo games have always been fun to look at. Not to actually play…
One of the first things you’re greeted with once you boot up the game is a message that has the audacity of telling you that “many things have remained unchanged from previous versions”. I am dead certain one of these things is the gameplay. Gran Turismo 6 was a stiff racing game, in which even the fastest and best performing cars were stiffer and clunkier to handle than my uncle’s 1978 Jeep. I know some will point out that “this is the point, this is a simulation, driving cars ain’t easy”, but if Assetto Corsa Competizione, the game once touted to be “impossible” to play on a controller, is now perfectly playable on Xbox and PlayStation, there’s no excuse for a 2022 racing game to feel so… dated.
There are so many gameplay elements that still feel like older Gran Turismo games from the PS2 era. The stiff controls are one thing, but the limited customization of the game’s physics is another big flaw. Sure, you can customize your controls to a nearly unnecessary degree (accelerating with X? What’s this, Mario Kart?), but having limited access to everything else is pretty sad. It removes the sensation that you’re playing a full-fledged simulator, with things only getting worse when you realize that, for reasons beyond my comprehension, cars can still hit a wall at nearly 200mph and barely get a scratch. If every other simulator in the market features cosmetic and physical damage, my conclusion is that this immersion-ruining “feature” is a deliberate decision by Polyphony Digital. A terrible one, may I add.
Regarding the gameplay, the actual main culprit, in my opinion, is Gran Turismo 7‘s awful third-person camera. Unlike other racing simulators, GT7 goes for a fixed, behind-the-car camera style if you choose this setting, in which the car is always positioned at the center of the screen. The results are terrible: whenever you turn around a corner, it’s the world around you that’s moving, not your car. It almost feel like one of those dated arcade racers like OutRun or Hang-On, where the racetrack pixels were the ones moving onscreen, not your car. To make matters worse, this camera angle results in hindering your overall track visibility; the game even tells you to “look for a landmark in front of you” when teaching you how to properly brake before a sharp corner. For real?
Those are all issues in which you can (begrudgingly) get used to. Given how Gran Turismo 7, just like every other damn GT game, forces you to partake on really annoying driver’s license tests in order to “learn” how to drive a car (weirdly enough, after you’ve driven a few races, because logic), you can use these sections in order to learn to cope in GT‘s environment. In other words, unlearn how to play every other racing sim in the market in favor of a control scheme that is still stuck in the PS2 era. At least the DualSense’s adaptive triggers and haptic feedback are used in a neat way. Not the best I’ve seen in a racing game so far (Dirt 5 exists), but interesting nevertheless.
Let’s talk about the star of the show, depending on who you ask: the career mode. Gran Turismo games have never been known for featuring “pick up and play” modes (even though there is a very interesting side mode I’ll talk about later), so let’s focus on the core experience: starting from the bottom with a crappy Japanese compact, earning breadcrumbs in order to afford other used rides, until you start winning enough races to afford better (and brand new) rides that don’t handle like a mammoth on an ice rink. For the most part, Gran Turismo 7 retains the same progression system, including the atrocious (and mandatory) driving schools, but there’s a big difference in this version: the Café.
The Café is the most divisive aspect about Gran Turismo 7‘s career mode. In theory, this was supposed to be the core of the game’s entire “celebration of car culture” schtick. You can meet avatars who will explain a bit more about each car you own, and offer you gifts and objectives by partaking on small missions shaped like a café menu. A place to celebrate car culture, as mentioned by Polyphony during GT7‘s extensive marketing campaign.
In practice, this is neither a competitor to Forza‘s Autovista feature (in fact, in no moment are you allowed to explore your car like you can in those games), nor a simple “suggestion” as to where you should go next. This is, in fact, a very slow-paced, extremely hand-holdy, and very linear series of mandatory objectives which basically dictate which race you should attempt next, which cars you should buy, which categories to explore. Most of the game’s car categories, modes, stores, and tracks can only be unlocked by accepting these linear objectives, so the café acts more as your quest hub. Gone is the possibility of simply choosing your own path, as long as you had the appropriate racing license. While I do understand that this makes GT7 more appealing to newcomers, it turns this entire career mode into a borefest for veterans.
A good chunk of the franchise’s most annoying issues, which Polyphony treats as “features”, hasn’t been changed at all. Japanese cars are still much cheaper than other foreign rides, as if the team was deliberately forcing you to stick with one region for the longest time possible. That goes against what the Forza Motorsport games do, for instance: in those games, you can pick a preferred region right from the get-go. The developers are also insisting on the terrible “Performance Point” system, instead of an actual chart showcasing the pros and cons of each car, such as acceleration, handling, top speed, braking, etc. It feels so dated when compared to the competition.
The overall car roster is surprisingly smaller than Gran Turismo 6, being more akin to the size of Gran Turismo Sport‘s roster. There are around four hundred cars to collect, which is not exactly bad, but much smaller than GT6‘s twelve hundred rides. There are pros and cons to this decision. This means that Polyphony has removed a ton of filler cars (GT6 used to have around thirty to forty Skylines, we really don’t need that many), and more rides will be added for free in future updates. The cons are equally noticeable, however, as cars like the freaking Prius have remained in the game’s main roster. This also means that Forza Horizon 5, currently its main competitor, tramples GT7‘s roster size by nearly one hundred fifty cars, featuring a wider selection of older rides from the 20th century.
I do appreciate the inclusion of a much more robust car customization system, though. I’m not only talking about tuning a car’s engine and buying better parts, but being able to basically mod a ride as if you were playing Need for Speed Underground 2, complete with bumpers, spoilers, decals, and much more. Sure, it’s a feature other racing simulators have had since 2005, but I do appreciate this inclusion, especially since Gran Turismo 7 might possible have the most user-friendly decal editing system of all racing sims in the market. Considering the fact its overall UI is garbage, that says something.
By far, my favorite new feature in Gran Turismo 7 is the sole single player mode available from the start that isn’t tied to the main career. Let me present to you, Music Rally. In essence, this is a full-fledged arcade racer where you race against the clock, trying to race to the next checkpoint as quickly as possible. This is, by and large, a brand new Ridge Racer game. The catch is that the clock’s timer doesn’t go down in seconds; it goes down according to the beat of whichever song you choose for your ride. Songs range from electronic remixes of classical music to one hell of a dancehall banger that just so happens to feature Idris Elba as a guest rapper. One of my favorite songs of 2022 in general, and I’m not even a dancehall guy.
I have left the two most controversial aspects about Gran Turismo 7 for last. A lot of people have talked about the game’s utterly ludicrous microtransaction prices, with some cars costing over forty dollars if you decide to buy them with real money. It is insane, without a doubt, and I cannot, for the life of me, suggest you spend a single dime in the game’s microtransaction store, even though a prompt to jump straight to it shows up whenever you earn in-game credits through your own work.
With that being said, earning money is not that difficult… once you finish the first couple dozen races in the career mode. You will start to earn more than 40,000 credits per race (60,000 for a clean victory), which is quite a lot for any racing simulator standards. A good Porsche will cost you around a quarter million credits, for example. It’s easily achievable, and considering how quick this game’s loading times are, it won’t take long for you to amass this sum. In short, those microtransactions are an embarrassment for Sony and Polyphony, but they do not ruin the overall experience.
Finally, the biggest elephant in the room: the visuals. Gran Turismo 7 is a gorgeous game. It also… kind of isn’t. Anything related to car models, such as their interiors, bodywork, the quality of their paint job, is gorgeous. Lighting effects are also jaw-dropping at times, especially if you decide to play the game on quality mode, with an emphasis on resolution and ray tracing.
On the other hand, tracks look unbelievably cheap. I made sure to replay Forza Motorsport 7 (a game from the previous generation, mind you) and the next-gen version of Assetto Corsa Competizione to compare some of the tracks shared between these games, and GT7‘s tracks, as well as environment assets around them, just look beyond dated. They make the game, originally marketed as a PS5 exclusive, a killer app meant to showcase the power of the system, look like a PS4 racing game from the second half of that system’s life cycle. It’s weird to think that a Gran Turismo game, of all things, has managed to equally impress me and disappoint me when it came to its visuals.
What makes things even more bizarre is the fact that, for some reason, the game looks way more polished and crisp whenever you watch a replay of a race. Whenever I watch a replay after finishing one of my races, I just stop and wonder, why does this look better than the game I just played? This is running on the same engine, isn’t it? What the hell is going on, then? Let me clarify once again that, for the most part, GT7 is a pretty game. Sadly, other racing games have impressed me much more with their visuals this generation. One of them, Dirt 5, was a launch title for the PS5, and a cross-gen title at that.
Gran Turismo 7 was a mixed experience. I love its car loving philosophy, giving us gearheads a playground to mess around with some of the most beautiful and powerful machines ever created. Sadly, for every aspect Polyphony has knocked out of the park, such as the quality of the models and the Music Rally mode, there was something else that made the overall package feel like a glorified PS3 racing game covered with a next-gen, ray-traced coat of paint. The dated controls, the annoying hand-holding, the irritating UI, the single worst third-person camera system in a modern racing game, all of those made me realize that, at the end of the day, despite being uglier than this brand new 2022 title, I’d rather stick to Gran Turismo 6 instead. Or any of the countless racing simulators currently available on the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Car models look amazing. Lighting effects are astonishing, especially when you turn ray tracing on. Everything else, however, from the actual tracks to menu assets, look like something from a PS4 game at best.
Gran Turismo 7 doesn’t feel as fluid as any of its competitors, mostly due to a myriad of dated gameplay elements and lack of proper physics customization. Not to mention the terrible third-person camera angle and poor UI.
Car engine noises are nowhere near as immersive or realistic as in other racing games, but they’re not overly terrible. The soundtrack in the main game is decent at best, but the tracks in the Music Rally mode are fire.
Fun Factor: 6.5
The vastly reduced car roster, stiff controls and the obnoxious amount of hand-holding in the career mode make Gran Turismo 7 less enjoyable than its predecessors. The Music Rally mode is amazing, though.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Gran Turismo 7 is available now on PS4 and PS5.
Reviewed on PS5.