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There’s still nothing quite like Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo 7 returns to the series’ roots

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At any given point in time, a Gran Turismo game may or may not have the best graphics, the most cars, or the most accurate physics of any console racing game. It’ll also never compete on the same terms as hardcore racing simulators on the PC. But the one thing Gran Turismo will always be is the most Gran Turismo game around.

The latest game in the series, Gran Turismo 7, is a full-blown celebration of that intangible, inimitable vibe. Polyphony Digital president Kazunori Yamauchi, who directs and produces the Gran Turismo games, is a man who knows what he likes: smooth jazz, precise typography, gorgeous travel photography, and informative explanations of the history of automotive sport. Gran Turismo 7 puts the focus back on this unmistakable aesthetic — and is all the better for it.

While this is the seventh numbered Gran Turismo game and the eighth mainline entry in the series, it feels like the first one in a long time that hones in on the early games’ fundamental appeal. Gran Turismo Sport for the PlayStation 4 was a good game, but it focused on competitive online racing more than the single-player experience. The PS3 entries Gran Turismo 5 and 6 variously suffered from technical issues, convoluted menus, and the inclusion of many lower-quality car models that had been lifted directly from the PS2 games.

Gran Turismo 7 immediately rectifies these problems. Following a lengthy and gloriously self-indulgent opening sequence, you’re placed at the world map and told to visit a cafe. There, you’re told, you’ll receive “menu books” that instruct you to collect a certain assortment of cars like stamps to get a free coffee. These open tasks are then highlighted on the world map; place high in the races and you can move onto a new menu book and learn more about your new cars, fail and you’ll need to tune your vehicles, grind races to buy more, or just work on your driving skills. License tests serve as a way to help you with the latter, but they also unlock more types of events once you pass enough of them.

Cafe theme aside, this was basically how the original Gran Turismo worked back in 1997. This classic “car-PG” structure isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of coffee; like an RPG that has you fighting rats in sewers for several hours before you get to take on a dragon, performance car enthusiasts who pick up Gran Turismo 7 will have to grind through countless races in affordable hybrid cars before they’re allowed behind the wheel of something more exciting.

As far as I know, there are no packed race tracks anywhere in the world that actually play host to these dramatic battles between Honda Fit drivers, but that’s part of Gran Turismo’s fantasy. The Pokémon games present a world where everyone you’ll ever talk to has nothing to say about anything but Pokémon; likewise, in Gran Turismo everyone is a race driver whether they own a McLaren or a Mini. 

That relatability is key to Gran Turismo’s appeal. You’ll start in the career mode racing and upgrading vehicles that you could conceivably own yourself, learn more about them along the way, and appreciate the achievements in design, handling, and performance when you’re able to drive something more advanced (and expensive). I am really not a car enthusiast myself, but I do have a lot of experience driving rented Toyota Aquas to Costco on the Tokyo Expressway, which is replicated in Gran Turismo 7 to gorgeous effect. This baseline relationship with driving is all I need for Gran Turismo 7’s career mode to feel rewarding and aspirational.

You don’t even have to have driven a car before to appreciate the incredible attention to detail. It’s not going to convert fans of more detailed sims like iRacing or Assetto Corsa, but it does a wonderful job of feeling realistic and accessible at the same time, with meaningful differences between vehicles and environments. The weather effects in particular are very noticeable — if it’s raining, you can feel the difference in traction when you drive through a puddle or exit from a tunnel.

Part of this is down to the remarkable implementation of haptic feedback on the PS5’s DualSense controller. A wheel and pedals will always be the optimal way to play a game like Gran Turismo, of course, but this is by far the most satisfying controller experience I’ve had with a vaguely realistic racing game, and it’s the best showcase for the DualSense I’ve yet to see. The vibrations in the controller do a convincing job of simulating various surfaces, conditions, and degrees of traction, while the triggers increase resistance based on your vehicle’s capabilities. You can even feel the pressure release in anti-lock brake systems. 

Gran Turismo 7 also makes the most of the PS5’s internal hardware. You get crisp 4K visuals and 60fps performance, with an optional 30fps ray-tracing mode for replays. I was impressed with the graphics but more so with the load times, which are virtually non-existent — moving around the menus is extremely responsive, loading a new track takes just a few seconds, and restarting a race or license test is instantaneous, with the smoothness only marred by an oddly high number of typos in the interface. That’s a big change from earlier Gran Turismo games, which often looked equally sleek on the surface but didn’t have the performance to back it up. 

Gran Turismo 7 will not be for everyone. You might find the structure to be plodding and grindy and the game design to be conservative, or wonder why Polyphony continues to refuse to add user-friendly options like the rewind system from Forza Motorsport. And hey, not everyone likes jazz and coffee. If you do vibe with Gran Turismo, though, this is a heck of a Gran Turismo

Racing games don’t get the attention that they used to. I was recently talking to a colleague who is, let’s say, considerably less advanced in years than me and didn’t realize that new Gran Turismo games used to be genuine blockbuster events. But I still remember getting the original PS1 release along with the just-launched DualShock controller for my birthday as a kid — it felt like a monumental advancement in racing games.

Gran Turismo 7 is the most fun I’ve had with the series since that moment because it plays to its traditional strengths, improves those where it can, and ignores absolutely everything else. 

Gran Turismo 7 is out for PS5 and PS4 on March 4th.