Gran Turismo 7 Review (PS5) – The (bloody un)real driving simulator

Prompted by the passing of my 92-year-old Grandma, I recently sat down with my Pa – a man of equal mileage – to get his stories. Playing through Gran Turismo 7, an earnest love letter to the motorcar, felt like a similar process. Boot this game, and you’re effectively pulling up your (bucket racing) seat next to series creator Kazunori Yamauchi, and listening to his explanation of the golden era he lived and breathed. One which, sadly, is shrinking in our rearview mirrors.

Driving is awesome, but it’s fading out of existence and the reasons why are many. Cars are expensive. Fossil fuels are bad. Work from home might kill commuting altogether. Modern cars all look like electric shavers instead of the sex magnets they used to be. Hell, nobody even designs them with bubble domes, tailfins or shag carpeting anymore.

Basically, the next generation of kids wants to buy the latest phone, not get their Learner’s and a fully-sick family sedan that goes “Ka-chshhhh” every gear change.

Gran Turismo 7 Review

The good news; Gran Turismo 7 delights with its usual arresting “change-of-gen” visuals, but there’s also a compelling sweetness in Kaz’s motor musings. This sequel has the beating heart under its hood that 2017’s Gran Turismo Sport lacked. It’s as much an impressive graphical powerhouse as it is an intimately personal hoon down memory lane.

To paraphrase, Polyphony’s adjusted goals are these, entice and enthral newcomers with a down-to-earth, downright educational campaign drawn from the best GTs of yore. Also, keep the hardcore happy by keeping Sport’s track-proven esports ecosystem in (though off on the shoulder). Lastly, extreme-tune and elevate everything with the PS5’s coolest hardware upgrades.

Let’s look at the solo component first, as it’s clearly the mode that’s evolved the most. With Sport, the solo offering (that was eventually patched in) was an uninspired menu farm of 48 Driving School tasks, 56 Mission Challenges, Circuit Experiences and a GT League. The latter bolted in 300 odd races, but it was slapdash and incredibly tight-arsed about handing out any gift cars whatsoever. In short; a poor substitute for a campaign.

In stark contrast to the cold, clinical nature of that, Gran Turismo 7 almost goes overboard in its attempt to show a bit of old-school soul. You start out with a shitbox. Your main menu is a Lilliputian car village. In-game messages are cheerful howdy-doos texts from mononymous townsfolk like “Sarah”, “Andi” or “Coque”. Incidentally, his tips on out-in-out cornering techniques are magnificent.

The most important denizen is Luca, a car nut restauranter who divies out “menu” tasks. You can only have one of these (39 total) menus going at a time, and old mate picks the topic. Typically, he wants you to collect three specific autos by any means necessary. If you somehow already own one of them, great! If not, a World Circuit menu of races will handily mark the events that gift the rides you seek, providing you podium finish.

It’s all simple to grasp, soaked with smooth jazz, is disarmingly quaint and surprisingly addictive. You can of course break away and do what you wish, but your sandbox options will be limited until you smash out some menus to unlock a full serving of 34 tracks, 48 mission challenges and three local car dealerships with rotating stock (think: Used Cars, Brand Central and Legends).

As a side bonus—and as a means to educate curious newbies—Luca and his regulars will explain the historical significance of the 420 odd rides you’ve been collecting. Some of these appraisals come with near pornographic glamour shots of your autos and are forced, others are optional bits of side-info that I found myself seeking out with genuine curiosity.

Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that in solo, Driver Level and earning XP for doing stuff has been turfed for a singular Car Collector status. Those Mission Challenges are padlocked off and only the acquisition of cars—bought or gifted—will let you access these Drag Races, Drift and Cone challenges, and more.

After doing many side by side comparisons with GT Sport, it feels like not much has changed in terms of handling. You still can’t really hustle cars through corners like you might in something like Assetto Corsa; GT7 also continues to be a smidge more unforgiving than Forza 7. As before, road cars retain that lovely pronounced weight transfer which demands sensible braking and gentle steering input. Race beasts feel every bit engineered to hug the track until you get too radical, break traction and then you’ll wind up in traction.

That being said, I believe the AI has been tuned some, in terms of behaviour and player awareness. You can spot little wiggles or over-corrections as they accelerate too hard out of a corner, but other than that they’re still slaves to the optimal line. Mind you, they’re much more polite this time around. In Sport, trying to brake late and force a dickish, inside line overtake would get you shunted. In GT7 the same aggressive maneuver will always be spotted by the AI—even if you’re in their blindspot—and there’ll be this obsequious little brake to give you a right-of-way you really don’t deserve.

In theory, I appreciate the simulated sportsmanship—no doubt a move by Polyphony to set a good example for potential esport recruits—but it’s pretty exploitable by scumbags like yours truly. I was also genuinely surprised by what constitutes a “clean race” and that +50% prize money bonus. I made “extra bank” after some pretty heinous driving.

While we’re mulling the topic of challenge, I should mention that I approached this campaign like I did back in 1997, as a teenager with very little understanding of tuning. PP (the problematic acronym for Performance Points) starts as a loose recommendation and takes a while to become a hard ceiling limit for fairness. In many cases, victory was simply about taking the gift car given, slapping the absolute biggest turbo or supercharger in it, slipping into some soft tyres—no further tuning. Providing I could control the red-line rodeo that followed, I’d powerslide into that podium result.

What’s here is a slightly cushier campaign that’s designed to be welcoming and offer a reasonable amount of challenge across 12 or so hours. Don’t stress, wannabe Stig—if you’re looking to test your mettle, then you need to look into a slew of 40 or so tougher events that exist outside of the Menu adventure. Not to mention three additional Interational license test tiers.

Also and obviously, you can always race against people who are more your speed in online multi, 2P Split or that uber-sweaty Sport mode that I’m told is basically the same as before. I couldn’t verify this with pre-launch servers being offline.

When it comes to eye candy, Polyphony Digital can always be counted on for something sugary to rot your retinas. GT Sport looked a treat in 2017 and still holds up quite well if you’re running it on a PS5 in 4K @60fps. GT 7, however, kicks everything up a gear in terms of detail, lighting and gorgeous replay modes that are no longer sullied by large black bars (my pet hate from GT Sport).

The first thing that caught my eye was how shiny everything is—freshly washed cars especially. Honestly, in the right conditions, you could use your bodywork glare as a flashbang tactic in any bumper to bumper battle. Sort of like how Scottish warriors used to swap out their kilts for full-length ball gowns covered in sequins— to blind their opponents. Exact same principle.

Mind you, you’d have to be a strategic genius (or very lucky) to weaponise GT7‘s in-game sun, because now it’s all over the sky, dynamic and real-time. Gone is the pre-baked lighting and fixed weather of Sport; Gran Turismo is now in-line with its closest console competitor, 2017’s Forza Motorsport 7.

Honestly, what we’re talking about here is been-there-done-that tech that feels weird to rave about in 2022. That said, it all looks phenomenal and works as it should, physics wise. If you somehow only play Gran Turismo and no other racing game, you’re in for some magical, script-flipping moments. Some ones that stuck with me: racing Mount Panorama and going from cocky frontrunner to shitscared, when the sun suddenly set behind the hill and plunged Conrod Straight into lethal darkness.

Likewise, I had one or two important races devolve from sure-thing victories to a whiteknuckle fights for survival. Soft sports tires + flash rainstorm + hairpins = your 1st-class ticket for the aquaplane.

Like I said, serious simmers have enjoyed all of the aforementioned for years, but it’s hard to not geek out when you finally get to see that modern tech occur on classics like Deep Forest, High Speed Ring and Trial Mountain. Even if the joy of the latter is muted by the iffy reimaging of its last corner.

Oh, and speaking of disappointments related to legacy content, the various offroad courses look great, too, but that joy is stalled by weird rally physics. They’re still so bizarre. It wasn’t uncommon for me to fly off a jump and be treated to a glimpse of the non-world underneath the track. Rookie stuff.

And hey – I know what diehards will say. Ever since dirt racing appeared in GT2, people have, er, rallied to its defense with: “awww go easy on this obvious side mode – Polyphony isn’t Codemasters and this ain’t DiRT.” I’ll give you that, but I still think 23 years is more than enough time to punch these physics into way better shape. It’s an unnecessary blight on visual presentation that’s otherwise nigh indistinguishable from a telecast.

It irritates me to say this, but the most mind-blowing features of GT7 are things that I can’t really show you or explain easily. They’re touch and sound based additions that leverage two of the PS5’s coolest bits of hardware – the DualSense controller and Pulse 3D headset.

Let me explain it in a direct GT Sport and GT7 comparative – driving the exact same car (a Dodge Tomahawk) on the exact same track (Northern Isle Speedway). In layman’s terms: this is the act of driving a BHP behemoth around an incredibly tight speedbowl track filled with other cars.

With a DualSense, the feedback coming through my hands as I undertake that task is akin to listening to a symphony of touch—tons of different notes piping up, here and there, all of them from instruments I can recognise. On the force feedback triggers, I feel skittering R2 trigger tightenings as I push the limits of tyre grip and common sense. Likewise, my brakes on L2 constrict and relax under the strain of shifting weight and the odd unintended drift moment. Lateral nicks and pushes occur when I trade paint with competitors or lean on a barrier. Deep in the core of the controller, I’m treated to mechanical ker-chunks of gear changes and bursts of blue flame backfires from my exhaust.

Comparing the exact same experience on a DualShock 4 is like night and day. I’m getting one, blaring vibration that has all the subtlety of a white noise machine. It’s no longer a fascinating conversation between man and machine. I’m simply being shrieked at through my hands. That’s the level of difference. Being serenaded by an opera in an auditorium versus some lost drunk yelling at you through your intercom.

Ever since launch, I yearned to see what a first-party developer with R&D level knowledge could achieve with a DualSense. The wait was worth it. Obviously, I prefer a traditional wheel, though… it’s a pretty close race. I scoffed when Kaz suggested that “the [DualSense] can allow the user to control the car on the same level as using a steering wheel controller.” I’ll be damned if he isn’t right. There’s absolutely a heightened sense of precision here.

And if all that sounds good, wait until you hear the audio. For starters, you’re getting all of the expected delights: cars that have been painstakingly recorded while going flat knackers on a dyno, and they evolve in subtle ways as you switch parts. I also dig the little flourishes that are there for car nuts – like the crackling tinks of your engine equilibrating to cooler air after a race.

Slip-on a Pulse 3D headset, and all of a sudden you’ve got Daredevil levels of hearing with Tempest 3D tech that equates to having a 16 channel audio system strapped to your melon. I found myself marvelling at subtle surface changes occurring very much “beneath” my car. Meanwhile, I could blindly track heavenward things, like rain pinging off my roof, helicopters or getting buzzed by a squadron of jets. Laterally, the sounds projected by your beast will also realistically reverberate off trackside barriers and back at you. It’s pure aural sex.

So, where does Gran Turismo 7 end up when the checkered flag drops? Well, I can confidently say it overtakes GT Sport, providing Polyphony’s promises are kept and all that esport functionality returns. In terms of single-player offerings and recapturing the spirit of classic GTs, this new model blows the doors, boot and bonnet off the old girl.

You’re getting way more content, more of an actual reason to push through said content, and there’s the usual visual upgrade that puts the current Gran Turismo at the cutting edge of whatever your particular PlayStation can handle.

Does this flagship PlayStation racer still have a ways to go in its fight against Forza Motorsport? Yes, in some areas. Polyphony continues to lag on AI and raw car numbers (FM7 had 700 in its stable). Those are important facets that really should have been prioritised over stuff nobody asked for, like Music Rally modes and more soundtrack-friendly replays.

All that being said, for the first time in a long time, we have true game-changing points of difference on this side of the fence. Through the PS5 hardware, GT7 is doing things with touch and sound on a level that no other console racer – or a PC without an insanely pricey sim rig – can hope to emulate.

Basically, Gran Turismo 7 is a triple threat: it’s one of the best sounding, most luscious-looking and phenomenal feeling racers I’ve ever played in my life. And I’ve strapped into all of the ones that matter.

Verdict: Short of full PSVR2 integration, Polyphony couldn’t have hoped for a better celebration of 25 years worth of automotive excellence.

Gran Turismo 7 was reviewed using a digital code provided by PlayStation Australia.

Gran Turismo 7
Reader Rating0 Votes
Feels crazy good through a DualSense
An auditory delight with a Pulse 3D headset
A wonderful nod to early GTs
Approachable yet there’s depth aplenty for Larry Leadfoot
Rally physics are still whack
Sports mode hidden behind a veil
Unlike Sport, no PSVR support

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Adam Mathew
Adam Mathew
I grew up knowing and loving a ludicrous amount of games, from dedicated Pong console onwards. Nowadays you'll find me covering and playing the next big things. Often on Stupid-Hard difficulty. Because I'm an idiot.

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