Gran Turismo 7 feels like a throwback to a simpler time, in every way.
It’s a game that has a clear fondness for the roaring, fuel-guzzling automobiles of old. It also has a great love of a style of video game design that doesn’t really exist anymore. Enjoying the race is the core game loop and the reward. It’s earnest. Like Russell Crowe on Twitter, it asks to visit you and explain its passions. The game opens with thirty minutes or more of Music Rally races while it helps you dial in your controls. These races are all in gorgeous old cars on wide, sweeping tracks. Take it all in. Enjoy the feeling of being behind the wheel of these beautiful machines. Understand them. With the groundwork in place, Gran Turismo 7 begins its petrolhead indoctrination program.
Let’s grab a coffee
With the Music Rally sequence out of the way, the first stop you’ll make is at the GT Cafe.
What it offers is quite literally a sample platter. Gran Turismo 7 asks players to visit its in-game Cafe for their marching orders. There, it rolls out menu after menu of carefully curated cars for your delectation. You get to try them all, gain knowledge of how each vehicle works and feels, and add them to your collection for later use. Each menu contains three cars, which are your rewards for succeeding in the next campaign championship. In the early game, these are relatively simple cars to drive. Classic European hatches and sedans quickly give way to Japanese sports cars and American muscle.
Accessing campaign races means returning to the world map. In a modern racing game that usually means driving around a three-dimensional city in real-time to reach various destinations. Gran Turismo 7 has no time for chuffa like that. Why make you drive to a race when you could just start one right now from the menu?
At the conclusion of each championship, you return to the Cafe to finalise your menu and receive the next. While you’re there, perhaps the creator or designer of the car you’re currently driving will pop in for a coffee and a chat. These sequences are all on-screen text with no spoken dialogue.
It’s all very old school. Drive cars, get more cars, repeat.
Drive to survive
Every race in Gran Turismo 7 is a last-to-first challenge. I don’t know why my in-universe avatar is so bad at qualifying that they’re always dead last on the grid, but here we are. Success in each race requires understanding your current car’s characteristics. Winning requires learning how to leverage each car’s best qualities. What works in a front-wheel-drive hot hatch won’t work in a rear-wheel-drive Japanese sports car. You can run races as many times as you like, so if something isn’t clicking, it’s ok. You can always try again.
Gran Turismo 7 takes the “frog in a boiling pot” approach to difficulty scaling. Though you can customise the game’s difficulty to a huge degree before ever running a single race, the early game is still so easy as to seem a bit dull. Over the game’s first eight hours, you’ll rack up uncontested first-place victories one after the other. By the time I reached the American Muscle phase, I was starting to notice the difficulty curve starting to rise.
Suddenly, quickly, I found myself having to work quite hard to secure podium finishes and tick-off menu cars. Upgrades became non-negotiable. Maintaining a sense of solid racecraft became incredibly important. I had to stop expecting to win and start working to earn a spot on the podium. No heroics. No mistakes. Just a clean, sensible drive, every time.
There are other places to visit on Gran Turismo 7‘s world map. There are car dealerships, one for used vehicles and one for new. New vehicles, made in the last decade or so, are all uniformly quite expensive. Used cars are cheaper, but there are certain coveted models that receive a significant markup. The used car market is fluid, and cars change frequently. You can always bookmark particular cars for later purchase and the game will flag you when they come back on sale.
Part of the Brand Central new car dealership is a comprehensive automotive museum. Inside are lengthy videos and slideshows on the history of famous cars, brands, and people in the industry. Seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton gets a wing of this museum all to himself. Hamilton worked on the game as a drive model consultant. Beloved by the Polyphony team and credited as The Maestro, he is treated with utter reverance.
Other stops include your private garage, where you can change your cars and learn more about each model. There’s the service station, where you can have your vehicles serviced and cleaned for a fee. You can visit the parts store for upgrades (which are automatically fitted for you). There’s the Scapes menu, a dedicated photo mode where you can pose and present your cars in any way you like. There are multiplayer lobbies if you want to race against friends or rivals online. Or there’s the license centre, which will help you master the art of racecraft and propel you into higher and higher grades of competition.
It’s always been the racing games that push the limits on what every era of hardware can accomplish visually. Gran Turismo 7 is no different. Though it looks great and runs very well on the PlayStation 4, it becomes art in motion on the PlayStation 5. As usual, there are two visual modes on the PS5. One prioritises frame rate, and the other priorities visual flourishes like ray tracing. Where Gran Turismo 7 differs is that its ray tracing mode doesn’t feel like it dings the frame rate at all. Instead, the game looks utterly gorgeous and seems to cruise along with smooth and stable frames.
During a race, it’s hard to notice all the little touches. It’s when you stop that the game’s detail becomes apparent, and the closer you look, the more detailed it becomes You’ll see all the care and craft that’s gone into recreating real vehicle interiors. You’ll appreciate the way the game simulates the look of the sunlight, no matter where you are in the world. You’ll shake your head as you stare at a brake light in close up, marvelling at the way the light interacts with its multifaceted plastic.
At one point, I was running a night race. I dove up the inside of my opponent to get a clear line through an easy left-hander, and they swung in behind me to catch my draft. As they did so, their headlights lit up the interior of my cabin. The glare bounced off my rearview mirror, the shadows cast by the seats and my head twitched and jerked as the car rattled along at speed.
I’ve never seen that in a game before.
Race day track conditions
Try a Gran Turismo 7 race in the wet if you want to know you’re alive. The way GT7 models not just the physical presence of rain on your windshield and the spray from the road, but how it affects your car’s performance, is remarkable. The conditions when you begin a race are incredibly important because Gran Turismo 7 models everything. Is it cloudy? That means that track isn’t going to be as warm as it would be in direct sunlight. And that means your tyres are going to take longer to warm up. And if it takes them longer to reach an optimal operating temperature, you’re going to struggle to find any grip through the turns. What will you do if it rains, but only part of the track is wet?
Gran Turismo 7 goes further in terms of its real-world simulations than perhaps any other title in the series. There are so many little factors to take into account. You’ll overlook things, you’ll make mistakes, and you won’t realise you’ve failed to factor some crucial piece of information into your thinking until you’re on the track and it’s way too late. It uses this vast simulation toolbox not as a cudgel, but as an educational instrument. Every time you race in inclement conditions, you learn something new and important. You add something valuable to the knowledge bank. You improve your racecraft, gain greater mastery over your vehicle, and become a better driver.
Gran Turismo 7 is a work of art and a labour of love. It cares about cars, and it wants you to care about them too. It’s a gentle teacher, never overbearing, but it knows when you push you too. It’s fusion of cutting-edge visuals and decidedly old-school game design make it a pleasure to play. Even when it’s turning the screws, when it feels like the races are becoming unfairly difficult, you know there’s always a way. If you understand your car, if you listen to it, it’ll tell you what it needs.
And you’ll know all this because Gran Turismo 7 allowed a team of Japanese petrolheads to visit you and explain their passions.