I have to admit I laughed out loud when I started Gran Turismo 7 for the first time. It opens with sepia-toned historical footage, chronicling the birth and history of the automobile, as the developer credits fade in gently over the top. You see people riding motor carriages at the turn of the century, smiling and waving. As you see the contraptions steadily evolve into the cars we know today, the footage is interspersed with clips of Charlie Chaplin, the Apollo 11 moon landing, The Beatles. It’s all underscored by an incredibly sappy piano piece that is amusingly earnest, and you can’t help but shed a tear.
Gran Turismo 7 is very much absorbed in its own specific, unwavering ideals about what a driving and racing game should be. It’s how the series always has been, and in 2022, it feels like the developers at Polyphony Digital have continued to be completely unfazed about what’s become popular in the mainstream racing space in the 8 years since Gran Turismo 6.
The result is that Gran Turismo continues to be a beautifully meticulous franchise that feels as finely-engineered, polished, and refined as the cars it’s simulating. There’s an aura of serious conviction, respect, and tastefulness here that is admirable. But what has changed are moves to make its world feel less exclusionary.
As a driving simulation that strives to provide perfect, true-to-life recreations of real cars and racetracks, Gran Turismo 7 has great reverence for the history of automobiles – from affordable consumer hatchbacks, to the most ridiculously extravagant supercars. It also pays great respect to the varieties of motorsport racing, and the humans who sit behind the wheel.
Gran Turismo is a very specific kind of game, for a very specific kind of person. And as the latest release for Sony’s PlayStation Studios publishing label – which has largely been focussed on the creation of streamlined action-adventure games with the broadest appeal possible – it’s fascinating to see the ways in which Gran Turismo 7 has widened its gateway and smoothed out its onramp.
Players in cars getting coffee
Gran Turismo 7 doesn’t change what the series has always been about. But it goes an extra mile to teach you about car models and manufacturers ,the techniques used in motorsports, and why people fall in love with car culture. It starts with the Cafe, the primary focus point of Gran Turismo 7’s career mode. Here, the dad-like cafe owner will provide you with a series of themed ‘Menu Books’, which act as quests that guide myriad activities in the game.
Menu books will ask you to perform specific tasks in exchange for a reward, some knowledge, and further progression into the game. For example, you’ll often be asked to collect a series of cars – say, Japanese sports cars – which can be earned as rewards by placing well in specific races, or earning money through general play and purchasing them from the store. As your reward, you’ll receive access to more tracks, get a chance at a lucky dip prize, and also receive a brief lesson on those cars you just worked hard to obtain.
Other tasks you might be asked to complete include earning a particular grade of driver’s licence, which involves learning and performing a series of specific driving techniques. You could also be asked to do things like tune your car, wash it, or simply get a feel for the incredibly robust photo mode.
It’s a very gradual and gentle onboarding system which essentially acts as a long, multi-hour tutorial. The vibe of the cafe adds an elegant air to it all, rather than feeling like the basic video game checklist it is, but it can still feel like a very slow and restrictive start if you’re somewhat familiar with Gran Turismo or other simulation-style racing games.
But the benefit for novices is pretty clear. The game will step you through things like tuning your favourite car so it can compete in higher-speed races, you get a meaningful amount of experience with different types of cars, with different kinds of drivetrains – front wheel drives, rear wheels drives, four-wheel drives – and at the end of it all, you’ll walk away with a very generous and diverse collection of vehicles to play with.
You’ll also come away learning a lot about the history of those vehicles via the cafe owner and the guests that occasionally pop in – which include the actual designers of specific car models. These aren’t long lectures, thankfully, but rather small, conversational bits of trivia facts that are more effective at latching themselves onto your brain.
As only a moderate driving game enthusiast who isn’t heavily invested into car culture, the process was educational and felt worthwhile to me, despite the slow start. It’s an effective teaching tool that imbues the cars you end up driving with a lot more context and character – which isn’t something I thought a driving game needed, but was an aspect that made me eager to keep coming back.
Another seemingly insignificant, but effective touch Gran Turismo 7 makes is putting real-world faces into the mix. The cafe owner, the car dealership attendants, even the photo mode, are run by characters with human faces who speak to you with conversational dialogue. For a series that has been so focused on asphalt and machinery operated by anonymous, helmeted drivers, it’s a minor, but very notable shift in tone.
While people like the cafe owner and car salespeople are presumably fictional characters, Gran Turismo 7 also features the faces of real world competitive Gran Turismo players. Some act as licence instructors, many more pop up during races as opponents, and in speaking to them, they’ll share tidbits about backgrounds – where they’re from, how they got into racing, what their favourite cars are and why, and often how Gran Turismo helped them break into real-life motorsports.
The drivers bring some nice perspective into motorsports and car culture, and it’s a lovely insight into why this world means so much to people. Maybe it was a passion that brought someone closer to their parents, or maybe they were just really obsessed with the anime series Initial D – it’s all pleasant to hear about.
While the interactions are delivered solely through static portraits and text, and their comments sometimes feel a bit disjointed or out of place, the human touch of Gran Turismo 7 is a nice thing to experience, especially when you’re spending most of your time alone, behind the steering wheel.
But what a steering wheel it is.
Behind the wheel
When it comes to the technical aspect of video game graphics, it feels like the technology has long been at a point where cars have appeared true-to-life.. Yes, the wheels are very round and yes, the chassis is very shiny.
But the devil is in the details. Many of Gran Turismo 7’s real-world tracks have existed in games before, and while man-made racetracks aren’t particularly exciting locations visually, standout tracks that take place amongst natural environments – Italian countrysides, Swiss forests, and the incredible view at the top of Australia’s Mount Panorama – pop with intensity, due to an incredible clarity of nuance, and some wonderful lighting and weather work. Starting a race on the cusp of sunrise or sunset, and seeing the world gradually change as you complete your laps, is a beautiful experience.
That level of detail very much exists inside the car too. In fact, Gran Turismo 7 is the first driving game where I have felt completely comfortable driving in a cockpit view – that is, a first-person view placed in the driver’s seat of the car. Even on a standard 16:9 display, the field of vision was wide enough to let me check my rear and side-view mirrors in most cases. The clarity of the vehicle’s dashboard, and the lighting simulation in the cabin was so good, I was completely confident playing the game with all in-game overlays turned off, relying solely on in-world information, without feeling compromised.
The experience is also greatly boosted by the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller, which gives Gran Turismo 7 the benefits of nuanced haptic feedback and a great, practical application of the adaptive triggers.
It’s a wonderful feeling, having to push hard against the left trigger while braking the car, with the triggers simulating the resistance of a real world pedal. It makes it much easier to perform more gradual and subtle braking actions, and gives you a sense of the much sought-after feeling of g-force when stopping a car at high speeds.
It’s also incredibly helpful to be able to feel the variations in the road surfaces – driving over small puddles, the bumps of the rumblestrips that line a racetrack, even the seams that connect pieces of a freeway all emit unique and believable sensations in your hands. As a result, they greatly help your ability to mentally understand where your vehicle is positioned in virtual space.
I’m not someone who’s particularly sensitive to the under-the-hood aspects of the simulation driving genre, but as someone who drives a lot every day, Gran Turismo 7 looks and feels true-to-life in a way no other driving game has for me before. Never have I felt more certain when judging things, like my sense of space on the road and braking distances, without a specialised setup. Out of the box, Gran Turismo 7 boasts a level of immersion that will make you forget you’re looking at a flat screen.
Don’t touch that dial
Music also plays a notably large role in Gran Turismo 7, and acts as both a tool to make the game more approachable, as well as cementing the kind of splendour the game desires.
The approachability aspect comes in the form of Music Rally, a mode completely separate from the main career campaign. In it, a piece of music is matched with a particular vehicle and track – like a dinner course with matching wine – and your role is to simply enjoy it. Music Rally is a low-stakes, arcade-style mode where there are no winners, and the background music takes precedence. All you’re asked to do is drive confidently enough to keep consistently reaching checkpoints within the time limit. It’s a great mode to jump into for a quick drive, especially given how instantaneous the loading times are in Gran Turismo 7.
Outside of Music Rally, the carefully curated selection of music is what really provides Gran Turismo 7 with its strong sense of personality. While licensed artists and mainstream genres do appear, the game heavily favours downbeat and chill tempos, with lounge, jazz, funk and classical tones underscoring much of what you do outside of races.It helps the game maintain a chic, classy vibe I very much enjoy.
The game that plays you
In design, presentation, and practice, Gran Turismo 7 staunchly upholds its long-held series ethos. The love and dedication to cars and motorsports that comes through feels genuine. But the game also works hard to make you feel welcome and in the know, taking the time to slowly build your skills and understanding, to make sure you’re not left out of the love-in. A detailed driving simulation with impressive fidelity and presence in an approachable package, Gran Turismo 7 is confident, handsome, and endearing.
5 Stars: ★★★★★
Gran Turismo 7
Platforms: PlayStation 5
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Release Date: 4 March, 2022
A copy of Gran Turismo 7 on PS5 was provided and played for the purposes of this review