Gran Turismo has been a gold standard for the simulation-racing genre for over 25 years. The franchise has continually served as a showcase for PlayStation’s latest hardware both from visual and technical standpoints. Gran Turismo 7 is no different in this regard; the racing has never felt more precise, nor have the vehicles ever looked truer to life. However, in the time since that initial entry, the field has caught up to Gran Turismo. This new entry is still an excellent driving simulation, but it’s no longer lapping the competition.
Gran Turismo 7 sets the tone early; this is the sim-racing series at its most self-indulgent. The several-minute-long, unskippable credit-reel chronicling the history of the automobile followed by a long in-game cutscene demonstrates just how serious it takes car culture. While other racing games have taken intentional strides to remove as many barriers to the fun as possible, Gran Turismo 7 has no qualms about doling out the action at its own pace. While this delivery is sometimes too slow in the early goings, once the career mode opens and rubber meets the road, sim racing doesn’t get much better than this.
Whether you’re driving a finely tuned supercar north of 200 miles-per-hour on a straightaway or are precariously navigating a twisting offroad course in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, Gran Turismo 7 masterfully delivers one of the best driving experiences in gaming. Every inch of the road traveled carefully considers the conditions in which you’re driving; elevation changes, weather, driving surface, road bank, vehicle downforce, and countless other factors seamlessly contribute to whether you successfully carry your momentum into a turn or spin out into the grass.
Even the most minor miscalculation sends you sliding off the track. With no rewind functionality as seen in many modern racing games, I love the tense feeling of victory and defeat balanced on a razor's edge around every single corner. Unfortunately, if you want to use the assist tools to help you better compete on the track, the drive-line tool, which tells you the best path to follow through the course, is not only less informative than those of Gran Turismo’s contemporaries, but it’s also unreliable. On several occasions, I followed the line’s advice and still slammed into the barrier, only to realize the brake indicator didn’t properly populate on the track. Every time I got into one of these accidents, Gran Turismo 7’s lack of damage modeling took me out of the experience; when a game is so focused on realistic visuals and controls, emerging from a high-speed wreck with little damage is jarring.
Polyphony Digital’s adoration of auto culture remains evident as you progress through Gran Turismo 7’s unconventional career mode. Constantly returning to the in-game café, where you retrieve quests like collecting specific vehicles or winning a grand prix, you get an effective tour of the game’s many modes and offerings. Each time you complete a car collection mission, you’re treated to a rundown of the real-world history of whatever the theme is; I learned a lot about the history of the Ford Mustang in my early hours. Each time you get a new objective, Gran Turismo 7 clearly communicates what you need to do to complete it. Even the side modes, like time trials set to music, mission-based challenges, and specialized license events, had me mashing the retry button because I knew I could achieve a better time.
Progression happens every step of the way, giving you incentive to play “just one more race.” I lost track of time on more occurrences than I can count as I discovered the reward for the next race was a car I coveted. I was hooked by the career mode’s structure around vehicle collecting, with each activity rewarding you with money, cars, and more. As your garage expands with the more than 400 cars available at launch, your collection level rises, unlocking more missions and features. The cyclical ecosystem Polyphony Digital leveraged in Gran Turismo 7 is satisfying, and by placing the emphasis more on building a garage than winning races, I rarely felt my progress stall, even if I couldn’t take home the checkered flag in each event. Still, I loved juicing up my favorite rides using the robust tuning features to give myself the best chance to finish first.
Sadly, the multiplayer suite often pumps the brakes on the fun. Currently, your options are to take part in scheduled Sport events, where you sign up for a session and then wait for it to start, or join multiplayer lobbies. Sport events are great fun – I particularly love Gran Turismo 7’s emphasis on being well-mannered in your driving, actively discouraging collisions – but they take too long to get into the action. After signing up for a Sport event, you sometimes must wait longer than 10 minutes before the race starts. Sure, you can drive practice and qualifying laps while you wait for the race to start, but I wish these events just began once you entered a full session. Lobbies are a great way to circumvent the waiting period while setting your own rules, but with the front pages often populated by near-empty groups, the barrier to jump into a multiplayer session sometimes wasn’t worth the hassle.
Despite its multiplayer shortcomings, Gran Turismo 7 is a terrific racing experience. I love the emphasis on car collection and the respect paid to the history of automobiles and racing culture. Gran Turismo 7 provides some of the best driving mechanics available and gives you several guided ways in which to engage with it. While it sometimes spends too much time off the track, every long cutscene is clearly done with love, and that sentiment shines through even more on the track.