Gran Turismo 7 Is The Racing Sim That Isn't Afraid To Be A Video Game

Cutting-edge simulation meets old-school charm you won't find anywhere else.
Image: PlayStation Studios
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Gran Turismo 7 is going to be a frustrating experience for a lot of people. Of that, I’m convinced.

Not because there’s anything wrong with the driving or the graphics or the car roster. All that stuff is great — arguably better than it’s ever been, in fact. Tinkering returns to GT with this game. So too do license tests, championships and fictional circuits like Trial Mountain and Deep Forest that you haven’t driven in about a decade, maybe more. Those old favorites have never looked better.

You probably won’t dislike GT7 for any of those reasons. In fact, if you carry vivid memories of tuning a Prelude or Demio well beyond its designed capabilities, chances are that’s precisely why you’re here. GT7 is your youth in 4K, with ray tracing. It’s a remarkably earnest celebration of automotive history and the gaming franchise that disseminated that history to the masses 25 years ago. A celebration so earnest, it’s sometimes awkward.

There are surely racing games that are more realistic than GT7. Harder than GT7. Ones that have even more cars and better music. Definitely better music. But there isn’t another racing game that will demand your patience like GT7 does. For that, you might hate it, and I couldn’t really blame you.

Or, it might just remind you why you fell in love with cars in the first place.

Disclaimer: PlayStation provided Jalopnik with a review code for Gran Turismo 7 ahead of the game’s March 4 release. Then, Jalopnik didn’t publish anything for about a week! (Here’s why.) We’re back now, so please enjoy this delayed review of the game. Both current and last-gen versions were tested on a PS5 (figure the PS4 version was running in more of a PS4 Pro environment), with a DualSense controller.

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Screenshot: PlayStation Studios

What’s On The Menu?

“But Gran Turismo has almost always been a grind,” I’m confident someone, somewhere, is saying. Sure, but those older titles have nothing on GT7. This game is remarkably linear in a way few racers are anymore. It takes you by the hand, coaxing you toward your next event and the car you should contest it in, as if you even have much of a choice half the time. It’s the polar opposite of an experience like Forza Horizon 5, that throws rewards at you for empty achievements, devaluing everything. In that sense, GT7 runs against the conventions of every modern racer: getting the player into the fastest, the best, the most thrilling content as quickly as possible, preferably in a lobby with their friends.

If you’re newer to the series, GT7's Menu Books make it very clear how to enter events and what you need to do next.
If you’re newer to the series, GT7's Menu Books make it very clear how to enter events and what you need to do next.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

Progression in GT7 is dictated by completing “Menu Books” picked up from the Gran Turismo Café. The Café acts as the hub of the game’s map, and the books task you with collecting groups of cars, winning certain races or performing certain tasks, like modding vehicles. Every time you complete a book you earn prizes, including tracks. Yes — you have to unlock tracks in GT7. That’s the kind of game we’re talking about here.

Upon clearing a book, Luca (he’s the restaurant’s proprietor; there are a startling number of characters in GT7) will provide some context surrounding the cars you’ve just earned. And he’s far from the only one. I was giddy to see General Motors design legend Ed Welburn, of all people, turn up at GT Land’s favorite eatery to drop some knowledge about the C4 Corvette.

Please tell me more, Ed!
Please tell me more, Ed!
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

Sure, Mr. Welburn probably didn’t write the dialogue below the .jpg of his face, but it’s one of those small gestures that will make a big impact for nerds. GT7 is all about these little moments, where the developers’ love for cars and eagerness to share it shines through. It’s infectious, even when you’re being told something you already know.

The trouble is that these Menu Books move you through select groupings of the game’s 430-plus cars very deliberately, and there are many things you can’t do until you’ve checked off a bunch of them. You have to put in roughly four hours of play time before you’re able to go to GT Auto and change wheels and bumpers; 10 hours before the Hagerty Collection dealership (yes, it’s actually branded) will open its doors to you.

Hagerty co-founder McKeel Hagerty is actually the one who relays this information to you in GT7, like Welburn does in the Café. Weird times we’re living in.
Hagerty co-founder McKeel Hagerty is actually the one who relays this information to you in GT7, like Welburn does in the Café. Weird times we’re living in.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

That’s not a huge deal given the steep price of historics in this game — chances are you probably won’t have enough cash to buy anything sold there until later on anyway. Nevertheless, it says something about GT7’s glacial-feeling progression. Even multiplayer lobbies and ranked competitive Sport Mode races are locked away for the first couple of hours.

Picking Up The Pace

Once the entirety of GT7’s map is finally available to you, falling into the routine of finishing books, reaping the rewards and customizing cars is effortless. And GT7 is excellent for customization, both in terms of cosmetics and performance.

Each car has a selection of at least one or two front and rear bumpers and side skirts, with extra options to fit roll cages, tow hooks, hood pins and rear wings with custom endplates. Wide body modifications are available on a startling number of vehicles; I’ve yet to find a road car I haven’t been allowed to widen, and I’m more than 30 hours in. You can even offset wheels to better fill the arches and opt for stretched tires for a more stanced look.

Some Menu Book chapters lead with introductory cinematics that perfectly set the tone for the subject in question, like this Best Motoring-inspired one for the Asia-Oceanic Championship.
Some Menu Book chapters lead with introductory cinematics that perfectly set the tone for the subject in question, like this Best Motoring-inspired one for the Asia-Oceanic Championship.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

Combine all that with GT7’s best-in-the-genre livery editor that allows you to import custom decals from a PC, and builders are offered a satisfying level of freedom in this game. The results just always look good.

In the Parts Shop, you can go well beyond your typical GT fare of semi-racing exhausts and multi-stage weight reductions and add four-wheel steering systems, torque-vectoring center differentials and even tools that let you modify a car’s steering angle to make it better suited for drifting.

And yes, there are engine swaps too. They require a bit of luck — OK, a lot of luck — as you first have to win an engine in a prize roulette, and even then you can’t stuff any motor in any car. But I’m delighted to say cross-brand concoctions are somehow allowed, against all automotive licensing precedent. An LT1 Corvette small block can go into an ND Miata, for example.

You can import liveries you made in GT Sport into GT7, as I did here.
You can import liveries you made in GT Sport into GT7, as I did here.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

That’s the silver lining to GT7’s pacing — there’s a part of me that feels I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible in this game, despite the fact I’ve completed all 39 Café chapters. Much like unlocking the Formula 1 cars in GT3 or happening upon those black test versions of Group C Le Mans prototypes in GT4, GT7 keeps secrets. It’s a sim, but it’s still proud to be a video game.

Hitting The Track

And that game is hard. Truly, staggeringly hard, physics-wise. GT7’s handling has surprised me in the level of finesse it requires, particularly coming out of GT Sport’s intuitive behavior on a pad.

The crux of the difficulty spike is a distinct lack of rear grip in rear-wheel drive cars. In GT Sport, the throttle could get you into trouble if you used it liberally but could get you out of a jam if you massaged it carefully. Depending on the car you’re driving and the tire compound it’s riding on, R2 really only ever makes things worse in GT7 unless you’re traveling in a straight line. And even then, it can be dicey.

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Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

Very fast corners you’d normally take full throttle in GT Sport, like the right-hand sweeper at Dragon Trail Seaside, now present prime opportunities to lose the back end even when the tires should be loaded. Try to countersteer when things get all light, and you’ll bite back hard in the other direction. Tankslappers are inevitable, and you never have confidence that you won’t be lighting the rears up at any given moment. In GT Sport I typically left all assists off save for anti-lock braking; in GT7, I need to leave traction control on a minimum of 1 in almost everything except front-wheel drive cars or else I have little hope of finishing a race. It’s that edgy, and I’ve been left confused as to how to reconcile with that edginess on many occasions.

The 155 V6 TI touring car, like many of GT7's less-powerful racing machines, is both easy and thrilling to drive.
The 155 V6 TI touring car, like many of GT7's less-powerful racing machines, is both easy and thrilling to drive.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

That’s not to say GT7 is all pain behind the wheel. Strengthening brakes, firming up the suspension and trading stock rubber for sticker material can help you achieve that delicate mix of liveliness and precision. In spite of their intimidating presence, race cars tend to be much easier to drive fast than road cars, too.

I’ve built a handful of track day-esque vehicles I absolutely love in this game so far, including a BRZ, an R32 GT-R, an Integra Type-R and a 930 Turbo. They’re all a blast, even if I haven’t been able to completely stamp out the 930’s widowmaking ways. (Side note: the whine-and-woosh of a turbo reaching optimal pressure is intoxicating in this game. Lots of titles fail to convey the unique way in which turbocharged cars build speed, but GT7 nails the sensation perfectly.)

The integration of the DualSense controller’s high-resolution haptic feedback and adaptive triggers also do a lot for immersion, though the triggers carry their own learning curve. Older cars will exhibit heavier pedal feel, and the micro-vibrations of well-worn ABS systems and the resulting spongy trigger action makes driving more physically visceral, but simultaneously more challenging.

Image for article titled Gran Turismo 7 Is The Racing Sim That Isn't Afraid To Be A Video Game
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

I’m more keen on the haptic behavior. The DualSense conveys every gearshift with a powerful clunk and dynamically moves vibrating force across the body of the pad to impart where the grip is underneath the car. As I kept moving back and forth between PS5 and PS4 versions, the latter felt profoundly empty due to the lack of support for this PS5-exclusive hardware, and it’s safe to say GT7 exhibits the finest, most nuanced implementation of this tech yet.

I wonder if the less-forgiving physics out of the box are supposed to spur players to get their hands dirty with more advanced parameters like camber and toe, but GT7’s educational ways stop before the nitty-gritty stuff. That’s a missed opportunity, because Polyphony is courting emerging gearheads here that’d probably stand to benefit from learning about the profound difference a little suspension dialing can make for a car’s behavior.

Rain makes for a serious handful in GT7. Be sure to pick up some Intermediate and Heavy Wet tires — they make a huge difference.
Rain makes for a serious handful in GT7. Be sure to pick up some Intermediate and Heavy Wet tires — they make a huge difference.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

Artificial intelligence has been one of GT’s chronic bugbears, and I’m happy to report GT7 poses at least a slight improvement. For one, there are three difficulty settings at the jump upon starting the game, and you’re free to adjust your preference at any time. The races associated with Menu Book progression are unfortunately of the “catch the rabbit” fare, where you’ll start out in 20th place in a heavily gapped rolling start, but there are other events — marked with hot pepper icons — that feature standing starts and more skilled opponents.

GT7’s AI can be shockingly violent at times on the Expert setting, dive bombing overtaking zones and even passing on the grass. It’ll regularly spin you out exiting corners in a PIT maneuver-type way, because computer cars concede no space and cannot be physically moved from their intended path. That feels especially unfair, but at the very least it makes for a good battle, which is more than can be said about previous entries in the franchise.

As in GT Sport, GT7 features thousands of Scapes that allow you to seat a digital car in a super-high resolution, real photograph.
As in GT Sport, GT7 features thousands of Scapes that allow you to seat a digital car in a super-high resolution, real photograph.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

A Beautiful Drive

As with any GT, a big aspect of GT7’s story is how it runs. The short answer is beautifully, most of the time. That’ll undoubtedly raise scores of red flags, but I assure you, the qualifier makes the situation sound worse than it is.

At native 4K resolution and a 60 frame-per-second target — coupled with GT7’s addition of real-time weather and time-of-day simulation — the PS5 has a lot on its plate. Hell, the PS4 has an unconscionable amount of heavy lifting to do because, remember: this is a cross-gen release. Both platforms achieve their goals in all but limited situations. In some, it’s actually the PS5 that breaks a sweat before the older hardware. Then again, GT7 unsurprisingly looks markedly softer on PS4, with blurrier textures and shadows, fewer trackside objects and less effective anti-aliasing.

I encountered frame drops and skips at a full-grid, standing-start race at Trial Mountain on PS5 at the same section of track lap by lap, regardless of how many opponent cars were on screen. Interestingly, that same event on PS4 didn’t produce any notable performance dips. Although I couldn’t cross-reference it against the PS4 version, I also found the PS5 edition to struggle in an event at the Daytona oval, where all cars were spaced apart pretty distantly.

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Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios
PS5 version up top, PS4 Pro below. Can you spot any differences? (Yes, I know the compression doesn’t help.) Trust me though: The PS4 edition holds its own extremely well, and stands as a testament to Polyphony Digital’s optimization of the older hardware.
PS5 version up top, PS4 Pro below. Can you spot any differences? (Yes, I know the compression doesn’t help.) Trust me though: The PS4 edition holds its own extremely well, and stands as a testament to Polyphony Digital’s optimization of the older hardware.
Screenshot: Jalopnik/PlayStation Studios

Again, these are specific circumstances, and I hope they can be addressed via updates. Even if they aren’t, I wouldn’t lose sleep over them. It’s a bit surprising to see GT7 struggle in any context, given how reliable and consistent GT Sport’s performance was, but then GT Sport didn’t have to deal with the environmental variables present in the latest installment. If you’re especially curious about GT7's performance, I highly recommend the incomparable Digital Foundry’s latest deep dive.

Hiccups notwithstanding, GT7 is gorgeous. The lighting and material qualities are second to none, and I adore the motion blur during gameplay. While the lack of in-race ray tracing on PS5 is a bit disappointing, its omission doesn’t gravely diminish the visual fidelity. I can live with the compromise there and I suspect most folks won’t even notice a difference with it on or off.

The shadows cast on trees and the atmospheric evolution in general is beautiful to behold over the course of an event. Most races in the campaign employ time and weather change in some fashion which is great to see, though it’s annoying that pre-race screens don’t display forecasts. You pretty much have to guess what tires to use based on the cloud coverage in the sky, which is ironic considering there is an up-to-the-second weather radar available while racing, in the HUD.

The Verdict

The forecast omission happens to be a fitting note to end this review on. A game this large is bound to have its share of quirks, and GT7’s are numerous.

To provide more examples, it’s frustrating that you can’t apply a carbon fiber finish to parts of a car, but only the entire body. Despite GT7’s bizarre fixation on music the soundtrack is genuinely terrible, full of head-scratching remixes of classical tunes with an electronic slant. (There are at least a few outliers in the playlist, including the one banger with Idris Elba in it.)

Multiplayer is still borked nearly a week since launch, as lobby hosts don’t yet have the ability to change tracks on the fly. That’s indefensible considering the game’s lengthy development cycle. Oh, and you have to be connected to the internet to do anything in GT7 outside of the Arcade Mode. Yeah, I hate that too, but unfortunately it’s one of those realities of modern gaming. Hopefully when Polyphony shuts down the servers years from now, it’ll make provisions so players in the future can continue enjoying the game offline.

I can look the other way on most of that though, because GT7 is the deepest and richest Gran Turismo there’s ever been. My nostalgic heart will always belong to GT2 and GT4, but when I think about the intricacy of GT7’s simulation and visuals; the delicate way in which it honors the series’ past while introduce newcomers to the world of cars; and the depth of the things you can do outside of pure racing, like customization, driving missions, photography and more, I have to conclude it ranks among Polyphony’s finest achievements. It’s nothing less than a triumph.

A triumph whose oddities will put some off, surely. But if you want to drive a cavalcade of cars without really thinking about them, there’s Forza Horizon. If you want the most technically proficient simulation that locks nothing away so long as you’re willing to pay up, go play iRacing. If you want that but on a budget, check out Assetto Corsa Competizione. I’m wholeheartedly biased because you wouldn’t even be reading this now if my brother didn’t trade Yoshi’s Story on the N64 for GT1 when I was five, but the fact remains: I’m just relieved Gran Turismo is still Gran Turismo.