In many ways, when I play “Gran Turismo 7,” I feel like I’m approaching the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club, half-expecting to hear the voice of CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, welcome me to this year’s Masters. “Hello friends.” Make yourself comfortable.
It’s not the kind of feeling I associate with a racing game, where the need for speed and the thirst for victory usually pumps players with adrenaline like gasoline. In comparison to titles like “F1” or even the more arcade-like “Forza,” “Gran Turismo 7” feels like a Sunday drive – windows down, radio on, weaving through winding but manageable back roads at around 15 miles per hour beyond the posted limit, enough to deserve a ticket for speeding but not to put yourself in danger. It’s a bit jittery, but your palms stay dry and your blood pressure stays low.
Given the plethora of customization options and a catalog of over 400 cars, including premium makes and models that can reach speeds in excess of 200mph, I’m sure the thrills await you in a bend. But the first experiences of the game were very pleasant in fifth gear. It’s a slow build, which is wonderful for beginning racing game players like me, but might frustrate a more experienced racer who wants to dive straight in and indulge their inner Ricky Bobby.
“Gran Turismo 7” looks like the racing game for car enthusiasts. The people who will appreciate it the most are those who keep the latest copy of Car and Driver under their pillows, with Porsche and Aston Martin pin-ups lined up in their bedroom. Twenty-five years after the series was first released, it’s a game that celebrates the automotive industry as much as motor racing. First, you will learn about cars. Then you see what they can do on the track.
In the aforementioned café, players spend time chatting with a handsome, bearded man named Luca, who feels like the kind of quasi-dashing man of intrigue who hangs out in such places to chat with middle-aged divorcees. Behind his salt-and-pepper beard, Luca will give you useful information and give you “menus,” which are basically a series of challenges you complete to reach new cars and unlock new areas of the world map. After unlocking new cars, Luca will tell you about their history. Did you know that “European hot hatches” are a family of compact hatchbacks modified for improved performance? Or that FRs are a class of rear-wheel-drive cars with the engine positioned in the front? I imagine him slowly stroking the exterior of a BMW as I read his words, his eyes gazing vigorously at his just-polished exterior. Luca, rascal, hold on tight!
Chatter is nice if it’s one-sided, because the in-game dialogue consists of nothing but characters – represented by headshots and closed captions – talking to you. And between these discussions, you drive cars on race tracks in “Gran Turismo 7”. The race feels good.
Perhaps the most welcome feature is “Gran Turismo 7’s” use of the DualSense controller, which allows you to steer your car by holding the controller in front of you and turning it left or right as you would a flying. The right trigger accelerates the car, the left trigger brakes, and both will push back with different levels of resistance depending on what your car is doing. Accelerate quickly? Expect more resistance on the right trigger. Need to stand on the brakes? Expect the left trigger to push back against your finger.
Haptics enhance the experience. When you’re driving in real life, there really is a ‘road feel’, where the friction and vibrations of the car’s tires reverberate through the steering column and into your hands on the steering wheel. It literally puts you in touch with the road, and here it’s reproduced better than ever.
In “Gran Turismo 7”, the controller pulsates when you change gears and squeaks when you brake. There seemed to be more subtle clues beyond these, but I honestly didn’t feel tuned enough to the game or the controller to tell them apart. Maybe a really seasoned racing sim player would be able to discern if they’re useful or muddy, but they’re there.
The entry-level experience also features a mode where the game will aid drivers by automatically braking and accelerating, especially when cornering. This makes racing extremely easy, even on the standard difficulty setting for opposing drivers. I also feel like it might get in the way of players later in the game, as tougher competition and faster cars will require players to master acceleration and deceleration around corners and follow the right ones more closely. paths to maintain high speeds. While the auto-assist helps you stay in control and stay on course, it also limits how fast you can go.
That said, players should have plenty of time to adapt, as game progression is extremely deliberate. Players will need to familiarize themselves with many other non-racing tasks to get through the early stages of the game. (Did I really need to “wash” my car at the GT Auto shop? Or noodles with the game photo mode?) For better or worse, patience is required to unlock new areas and access new race tracks and competitions.
The world map consists of 14 locations that allow you to perform various functions, such as find a race, tune your car, buy new vehicles, train, or find a multiplayer race. Each unlocks gradually, usually preceded by a “menu” from Luca. Some races, like the Tokyo Highway Parade Championship, require you to pass certain practice drills to get a “license”. Multiplayer races are not unlocked until you complete your 10th challenge “menu”. Next is Sport mode, which is the game’s ranked multiplayer mode. (We haven’t tried any of the modes before this article, due to a lack of viable servers.)
But the game’s first facet-unlocking journey is made tolerable, even enjoyable, by the massive collection of automobiles. There are dozens of sports cars familiar to those who grew up in the 1990s (and before) pining for a dream car they could never afford. It’s equally enjoyable to drive a virtual version of more accessible vehicles like bloated European or Japanese compacts. After earning enough credits, it was fun to go to the in-game dealership and buy a 2014 version of the 2011 Volkswagen GTI that I drive in real life (much more responsibly, with two car seats to the back).
Because I don’t foam at the mouth, long to unlock high-level cars and races, or perfect my turns, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with “Gran Turismo 7”. If you just want to jump behind the wheel and take off into the sunset, you’ll likely find the start of the game a bit frustrating. If you’re a fan of car culture as much as motor racing, and if you enjoy talking about cars like our guy Luca at the cafe, chances are you’ll find the same pleasure in this game.