[REVIEW] Gran Turismo 7 – All hail the Seventh Son

The automobile, for some it’s merely a way to get from A to B, for others practically a man-made deity. For them, motorsport is a religion in itself. Anyone who speaks ill of “the holy cow” is nothing more than a blasphemer. The car is sacred, an impeccable gift from above that should never be cast in a bad light. Kazunori Yamauchi is a devout follower of this religion. Since 1997, he has been paying tribute to his gods with the Gran Turismo series. In 2022, thanks to him, the Seventh Son arises, which bears the name Gran Turismo 7. Aided by a new generation of hardware, Yamauchi’s job is to cement the faith of the old-timers and even convert new followers. But as with many religions, Gran Turismo sticks to the old ways and is careful about tampering with them.

1997, I still remember how it all started for me. Gran Turismo was a godsend, a game any car enthusiast could only dream of. A ‘real driving simulator’, according to Polyphony, as far as that was possible at the time, of course. It was the way for some to be introduced to more cars than just your dad’s raggedy-ass Volvo V40.

I had never heard of a Mazda Demio in 1997, let alone driven one. But Gran Turismo gave me the opportunity to do that. Of course, with your controller in your fists you couldn’t speak of ‘driving a Mazda Demio’, but Gran Turismo gave you the feeling that it was going to teach you in the world of motorsport. It made total car collectors of young lads like me.

With each part, the models only got more beautiful. As the auto industry began to focus on fewer corners and more rounded shapes, so did Gran Turismo. More polygons made for an even more realistic representation of your favorite vehicles. And that pattern has absolutely no end with Gran Turismo 7. I’d be lying if I said Gran Turismo 7 hasn’t raised the bar again in terms of graphics.

True, we have not had to deal with low-poly models on a CRT tube for several years now. Still, Gran Turismo 7 deserves to be crowned one of the most beautiful racing games in 2022. Representing pure beauty within the automotive industry has always been a big part of the series. I always get the feeling that Polyphony puts so much thought into car modeling that showing an inconsistency or blemish is almost seen as a criminal offense. Even if you’re dealing with a used car from your local dealership.

That feeling has been perpetuated over the past 25 years due to the lack of a damage model within Gran Turismo. It’s as if displaying a car with external imperfections is sacrilege. It is understandable that Polyphony did not yet have the resources to do so in 1997. But Gran Turismo has never gone beyond “a scratch here and there” in 25 years. And although Yamauchi has indicated that Gran Turismo 7 has moved with the times in that area, there is little to notice. Even after slamming a car into the wall at 200 km/h, damage is limited to superficial paint damage. We don’t do about crooked frames and broken wishbones. “The Mighty Mustn’t Fall”.

And that kind of sets the tone when it comes to innovation. Gran Turismo is originally very good at conveying a certain ‘feeling’ and often relies on that in part 7. With its stylish presentation, coupled with a classic overture here and there (sometimes interchanged with horrible modern beats), Gran Turismo 7 exudes a certain sense of class. In a way that only a Japanese developer pulls that off. Where American counterparts sometimes opt for bravado, Polyphony seizes on peace and tranquility. Babbling streams and picturesque bistros provide the setting for your best pics when you’re not tearing up the tarmac.

The bistro in particular is a key piece in Gran Turismo 7. Or rather a coffee house in which some bearded connoisseur explains a thing or two about all types of cars as you collect them. As with any other Gran Turismo, collecting is a core task, which becomes more enjoyable by the load of background information you gather with it. Behind almost every one of the 428 vehicles is a story, ready to be told. Well, not literally told, but rather presented as subs from an extremely talkative guy. It once again emphasizes that a game like Gran Turismo does not only have a right to exist among fanatic sim racers. It certainly also does among enthusiasts who don’t mind scrolling through endless Wikipedia-like lectures. I didn’t mind, but I can see how others might find it restricting and boresome.

Therefore, it is important that no detail is missed, not even in the interior. No matter how beautiful your car looks from the outside, if the interior does not reflect this, the real connoisseur will drop out. Fortunately, in Gran Turismo 7 we don’t have to deal with dull black dashes without any form of realism. Although some things still seem a bit ‘flat’ – the display unit of the Tesla, for example – the rest all look pretty good. GT7 is also quite well put together in terms of engine sound. It’s not that every motor sounds like a broken dust buster. Even small details such as a wheezing turbo have been thought of. That is if you’ve had them fitted in the tuning shop.

That doesn’t mean Gran Turismo 7 isn’t subject to change. After a mediocre reception of Gran Turismo Sport – partly due to its primary focus on online – Polyphony has this time again largely focused on offline gameplay, without completely dismantling the online element. Those who seriously want to race online will still have the opportunity – after agreeing to strict regulations. But those disappointed by the absence of an offline campaign in GT Sport, can breathe easy again this time.

Because there is again plenty to do offline in Gran Turismo 7. From collecting national and international driving licenses to completing challenges, the bronze, silver or gold beckons for fervent soloists again. Gran Turismo 7 is once again the Valhalla for tuners and customizers who want to fiddle with settings. That requires a certain status to be acquired at the tuning shop by working yourself up in the scene. Then again, that comes naturally when you win races and expand your list of collected cars. And hey, you might even win a free upgrade by cashing in a roulette ticket, because unfortunately, that is also an option.

And that brings me to my gripe with Gran Turismo 7. It can’t be called a loot box or gambling element. But seriously, who thought it was a good idea to have a roulette system – which I don’t even think you have any influence on as a player – incorporated into a game like Gran Turismo 7. Nine times out of ten the prize falls on a handful of credits instead of a free car or upgrade, after which the game also points out the option to buy in-game credits from the PlayStation Store. In my view, a game like Gran Turismo 7 – which takes itself extremely seriously – does not need these kinds of peripheral matters at all.

Anyway, you quickly forget these kinds of disturbing elements when you think about the things that do contribute to a nice sim experience. Things like DualSense support, with an emphasis on its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. Once you have become acquainted with the refined feedback of the DualSense, you no longer think about the rumble of yesteryear. Every pothole, every curb… even the seam between individual pieces of road surface can be felt. According to Yamauchi, the adaptive triggers should simulate the feeling of fluctuating pressure on your pedals. But to be honest, I haven’t really noticed. But that could also be due to my level of expectations.

Anyone who wants to use the DualSense as a steering wheel can also give that a try. With the motion sensors of the DualSense, there is the option to exchange the D-pad or analog stick for tilting the controller itself. That does take some practice though. I gave it a try and ran my ’16 Ford Mustang GT straight into the wall through massive oversteer because of zero back pressure. My advice: if you really want to have the feel of a real steering wheel, buy a compatible steering wheel. As nice as the DualSense is, nothing beats the real deal. Gran Turismo 7 in combination with a Thrustmaster T300 works wonders. T(h)rust me.

To sum things up: Gran Turismo 7 is mainly a Gran Turismo game whose core has mostly remained unchanged. Polyphony still emphasizes the outward appearance and conveys a ‘feel’, yet again forgetting to address known shortcomings. That does not alter the fact that the core is excellent. Driving gorgeous cars on magnificent tracks – both online and offline – is still no punishment. But with today’s technology, realistic damage models could have turned Gran Turismo 7 into a ‘real driving simulator’.

On the PlayStation 5, Gran Turismo is still the king of simulators, but Polyphony will now have to understand that the reign of a king is also finite. Project CARS might have given up the fight and Assetto Corsa hasn’t shown its true potential on the PlayStation 5 yet. But if Polyphony wants to maintain the hegemony within the simulators, it’ll have to step up its game at some point.

Still the king (for now)
The Fast
Visually sublime
The focus is once again on single player
It still conveys 'the feel'
Perfect for both petrol heads and racing enthusiasts
Works like a charm when combined with a compatible steering wheel
The Furious
After 25 years, there's still no sign of a realistic damage model
Totally unnecessary gambling elements and microtransactions are ruining a lot
DualSense features aren't all that impressive