It’s tough to make driving games accessible to everyone. Games like Forza Horizon have succeeded by taking liberties with realism, choosing to fling players around chaotic, weather-worn simulacrums of gorgeous countries in cool licensed cars. Kids and adults can get something out of these games without much effort — which ensures their popularity — but the compromises taken mean that the more absurd driving games on the market can’t provide the ultimate intricacy or understanding of car culture that enthusiasts crave.
The beauty of a game like Gran Turismo 7, dubbed “The Real Driving Simulator” is that in chasing down and delivering that level of intensity, it never forgets the fact that, at the end of the day, it still has to be a fun video game that everyone can play.
Polyphony Digital’s latest Herculean effort is constantly bleaching your eyes with its best-in-class graphics and massaging your hands with its haptic game feel. You could spend hours looking at sheets of numbers, tweaking the minutiae of your vehicle to achieve peak performance, or you could just empty your mind and enjoy the ride. It truly is a driving game for everyone.
For me, the reason that Gran Turismo 7 succeeds where other driving games don’t is in its structure and presentation. It feels like a true labour of love from the rousing opening movie to the granular historical timelines that accompany every car manufacturer’s showroom. Gran Turismo 7 quickly makes it clear that the game is not just about the automobiles themselves, but the culture that exists around them. It’s always trying to frame your driving through the lens of the designers, tuners, photographers and curators that elevate cars from the vehicles that take us from A to B into a culture that is deeply alluring and human.
Take the main hub screen, a huge birds-eye map of a small city. You’ll zip between garages, showrooms, circus huts, theme parks and piers as Gran Turismo 7 slowly unlocks new places to play with. The centrepiece of this map is the Cafe, a genius new addition where you’ll go to receive shopping lists of cars to collect that are presented as menu books. With your targets in tow, you’ll jet off around the world, souping up specific types of cars and using them on particular racetracks to surpass the competition. You learn how they work first-hand, and then when you head back to the cafe, you’ll get a history lesson on, say, Japanese compact cars to finesse your understanding.
It doesn’t feel patronising or overly complex — the educational dialogue is written from a perspective of passion, so even if you couldn’t care less about engines or suspension, you’ll also learn cultural anecdotes about these vehicles that are always genuinely interesting. And the assignments aren’t always about racing. Among other tasks, you’ll be asked to complete some of the series’ famous driving tests, and thanks to the PS5’s SSD, passing these bad boys is much less frustrating. The circus hut is full of awesome arcade missions, and the GT Auto area is where you’ll be sent to design liveries, outfits and wash your car (complete with a hilarious scrubbing animation you can feel across the DualSense).
Online racing is good rigid fun for the competitive-spirited, but it’s really not essential if you just want to enjoy the game as a relaxing single-player experience. The most fun I had during the review period was stubbornly souping up an ancient Mini Cooper and pushing it to the very limit against cars that are 30 years its senior. Like your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ll start to feel emotional attachment to your favourite cars, especially when you save up and spend a lot of your hard-earned money on them. I spent way too much time coating my Mini in reflective glitter and placing it around Australia, setting up eye-melting shots that look photoreal. You might want to wear a racing helmet when you start playing with Gran Turismo 7’s Dynamic Scenes system, because your jaw will surely drop. It is pure graphical wizardry, and way beyond anything I’ve seen on the PS5 so far, as cars are framed in famous environments from all around the world.
It can be easy to get used to the game’s graphics if you’re racing in the same conditions, but as soon as a weather effect is introduced or you shift the camera inside the car, you’ll understand just how beautiful this game is all over again. Tight midnight photo-finish races are always elevated further by Gran Turismo 7’s soundtrack, which is chock full of bangers that cross genres and moods, and always feel serendipitously tuned to the style of race you’re enjoying. Music Rally takes this concept even further, turning casual drives into accessible musical challenges where players of all ages can drive to the beat. A plethora of difficulty options allow you to tune the game to your own abilities, but regardless of where you fit on the scale, every drive feels engrossing, and there are noticeable changes in feeling between every single car.
Yet for a game so technically brilliant and culturally rich, there is one caveat that feels extremely out of step with the spirit of Gran Turismo. As you play Gran Turismo 7 you’ll collect credits from completing menu books and finishing races, which you’ll need to spend on cosmetic and technical car parts as well as the vehicles themselves. The speed and curve with which you earn these credits feels challenging but rewarding, and incentivises players to tune and race tactically and appreciate the history of automobiles.
But when you go to buy anything, you’ll notice that there’s an option to skip the grind with what I assume are premium currency microtransactions. I couldn’t see the conversion on real money to credits as the system wasn’t active in the review period, but that doesn’t really matter. It feels like a big diversion from the game’s overarching message, and was something that stuck in my mind as I expanded my collection. Having options for those who just want to pay their way through the game makes sense — because that type of player is definitely out there — but I can’t help but feel cynical about it with the rest of the game in mind.
Gran Turismo 7 is the ultimate driving simulator for car enthusiasts, but it’s also a brilliant introduction to the importance of car culture for automobile newcomers. Remarkably, thanks to its moreish, grounded structure and sticky progression, it’s easy to recommend to players who don’t even like cars. If you want something to test the limits of the PS5’s capabilities and you want to be educated about cars through a historic, passionate lens, then Gran Turismo 7 would be a great pick up. For series veterans, it will no doubt have years of support to come, but there’s plenty here in the base game to keep you busy for months. If only it didn’t have those sneaky microtransactions that feel completely at odds with the driving spirit of the game…
- Unbelievable graphics and sound design
- Wonderfully moreish progression systems make it accessible to all
- Historic structure and human presentation elevate car culture into a work of art
- Microtransactions that feel at odds with the spirit of the game