(Pocket-lint) – Anyone who owned an original PlayStation will undoubtedly also have owned the first Gran Turismo. Like WipEout and Ridge Racer, it took console racing games to a whole new level and became a showpiece for the console itself.
It was followed by an even better sequel in Gran Turismo 2 but, while we’ve had at least one outing for each PlayStation generation since, we can’t help feel the series never quite matched those initial heights. Until now, that is.
Gran Turismo 7 is the first for PS5 (the version we tested) and yet feels as fun and fresh as the original 25 years ago. It has its oddities that won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s accessibility and immediacy to the action that broadens the appeal.
That starts with the opening menu. Gran Turismo 7 is a racing simulator at its heart, with an extensive library of vehicles to collect and race. However, it also has an arcade mode of sorts, available to you from the very first load.
Music Rally is offered alongside the world map (which accesses the campaign and multiplayer modes) and gives you a chance to experience the game in a different way to most. Like popular arcade racers, it is checkpoint based – but rather than seconds its countdown timer registers in the amount of beats in the soundtrack song you’ve chosen. Each checkpoint adds more beats and, once expired, your run is over. Either that or you get to the end of the musical track, in which case your overall distance counts towards the trophy you receive. It’s pretty bonkers, which sums up a lot of the ancillary experiences in GT7, not least the menu system itself.
Opt for the world map option and you are – eventually – faced will the different areas of the single and multiplayer modes. You have to unlock them all first, through tutorials initially, then via progress, but once all are opened there’s a lot of fun to be had.
The overall aim of the game is to collect cars – that’s essentially the case with most big racing games these days – but as with Music Rally, developer Polyphony Digital does things a bit differently.
Licences return (hurrah), whereby you have to undergo small trials to receive racing permits and therefore take on faster, more demanding challenges. There are also several areas to buy, sell, customise and show off your vehicles.
Multiplayer comes in a couple of guises – Sport offers one-off daily or time trial events that you can just jump into – while the Multiplayer zone itself gives you much more control over race tracks, car types and scenarios.
Then there is the single-player arena, World Circuits, which presents the different single or multiple race championships you need to undertake to collect cars, earn credits and unlock new tracks and races. This is split into locations across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Oceania. There are 34 tracks in total, but over 90 different routes across them, so there’s plenty of variety – especially the further into the game you get.
But, if you thought Music Rally sounded weird, wait until you find out how progression works…
Can I help you sir?
As well as purchasing cars through the used car dealership or the Brand Central mall, you can earn them by completing individual races or championships. But unlocking new races and tracks is essentially done by visiting a cafe. No, really.
Found centrally on the world map is the hub for missions, which are given to you in a coffee shop. Visit it and you are offered a menu which, instead of listing a flat white, latte or slice of chocolate brownie, requests you collect select cars from the currently-available races in World Circuits – a trio of French hot hatches, for example. Tick them all off and the cafe proprietor will give you insights on the range and another menu for you to complete.
It’s pretty much rinse and repeat from here on in, and is by far the strangest way to collect vehicles in this kind of game. But then, it gives Gran Turismo 7 the soft of character we’ve come to expect from Polyphony over the years, and many other Japanese games in general. That and the elevator-style music that accompanies a visit.
Our only really quibble with it, however, is it does get a little monotonous, when all you really want to do is launch into the racing. After all, that’s by far and away the highlight of this latest outing.
In our opinion, Gran Turismo games of latter years (GT Sport aside) have been a little off-putting. The simulation factor has been layered on too thick, to the detriment of casual players. GT7 corrects this, adding all manner of options to make the racing as simple and fun or complex as you like.
If you want to turn on every driving aid possible and make it a gentle experience, you can. Alternatively, you can turn every aid or help off to give yourself a maximum challenge – even make the rival car artificial intelligence (AI) as tough as possible. Or, like us, you can opt for somewhere in-between, have racing lines and braking zones visible on a course, but switch off the automatic options that make the car less responsive to your own control.
This should satisfy the Forza Horizon enthusiast as capably as it does those with full driving rigs. There are even three easy options offered to begin with, which you can further tweak in settings, to let you get into the game more quickly.
That’s not to say the driving doesn’t come with caveats. There are only four driver view options, for example, with the only external, behind-the-car viewpoint feeling more like you are controlling the track around a stationary vehicle. We’ve also always found the lack of realistic damage to vehicles or the way they bounce off each other at odds with the photorealistic visuals.
But then, you don’t really care that much about either point when you’re in the heart of the action and, in that, GT7 gets everything else right. Each car genuinely feels different to drive – sometimes fractionally, others more significantly. The track layouts are accurately rendered. And, the use of the PS5’s bells and whistles make for a true next-gen experience.
Going up a gear
By all accounts, the PlayStation 4 version of Gran Turismo 7 is a great game. However, the PS5 edition adds so much more. As well as a graphical finish that amounts to a tech showcase, the PlayStation 5 version also adds two literal game-changers: fast, almost immediate loading thanks to its SSD; and a cunning use of the DualSense controller.
Both adaptive triggers and haptic feedback are utilised to enhance GT7’s gameplay, but it’s the latter that’s truly the best we’ve encountered yet. Every bump in the road, even different surface type, is reflected in subtle yet important feedback. You feel the car’s travel just as much as you see and hear it. For example, drive over the white lines on the streets of Tokyo and you feel the slight raising of the paint on Tarmac. Add to that the force feedback of each trigger – for braking and acceleration – and you have a different kind of racing experience to most.
There are two different graphical modes on offer in the game, with one favouring ray tracing, the other frame rate, but it’s worth noting that whichever you choose you get native 4K 60fps during the racing itself. Ray tracing or higher frame rate options are for the cinematic elements of the game, such as replays or car showcases.
Ray tracing drops those to 30fps but gives you some ray-traced reflections, the other keeps them at 60fps without. Essentially, it’s no biggy whichever you choose and everything looks stunning anyway.
We must admit, we’ve been waiting for a truly enjoyable Gran Turismo for a long time, and on the series’ 25th Anniversary Polyphony seems to have answered our call.
There are some bonkers design decisions, admittedly, and the petrolhead levels of details might not appeal to everyone, but the gameplay is spot on and the car collection mechanic is addictive enough to keep us coming back time and again.
We will warn you that micro-transactions have been added – for the purchase of in-game credits with real money – but we’re yet to find any instance where we’ve found it necessary. There’s plenty of content to be earned and discovered through play.
Perhaps the only slightly disappointing aspect is in the repetition of race types while ploughing through single-player progression, but that has always been a facet of the franchise (anybody remember the 24-hour endurance races?). Besides, multiplayer more than makes up for it.
In short, this is a racing game for car nuts that we can now all get behind, and another classy PlayStation exclusive, to boot.
Writing by Rik Henderson. Editing by Mike Lowe.