My relationship with Gran Turismo is long, at times extremely close, and perhaps even life-saving.
I still remember the 1997 arrival of a Sony Playstation and “The Real Driving Simulator” at the offices of Top Gear where I worked at the time, the after-hours head-to-head racing with my colleagues and the battles with them to take it home at the weekend. It was so unlike previous games, with cars that actually followed physics and couldn’t simply be sent flat out around every circuit.
A couple of years passed and our editor received a call from Sony asking if he could recommend writers for the next instalment of Gran Turismo and so, for GT2, GT3 and GT4 I tapped out hundreds of car descriptions. I also organised track days at Donington and the Millbrook proving ground where GT creator Kazunori Yamauchi and his huge team could photograph scores of cars, record their engine sounds and chuck them around “for research”.
For a time we drifted apart, I still upgraded to each new iteration, but it wasn’t until the coronavirus lockdown of 2020 that I really appreciated Gran Turismo again. I had never truly been a fan of open-lobby online gaming in GT Sport. You never knew who you’d be up against, and the driving standards were, in my experience, often terrible.
That all changed when I discovered the 27Racers community, set up by former evo and Top Gear magazine staffers. This was gaming for adults, many of whom had real world race experience and appreciated etiquette on track. It was also (and still is) a creative group whose members would spend hours designing intricate car liveries in tribute to classic races, hero drivers, or, bizarrely, household cleaning products. Each week would have a new theme and the time spent researching, designing, practicing, qualifying and racing was such a welcome break from the tedium of being housebound by Covid-19. Daily conversations would take place on Twitter as my fellow racers shared their creations and their lap times. I made new friends and kept my sanity thanks to our Thursday night online meets.
Now there’s an all-new Gran Turismo and over the launch weekend we’ve all been sharing our experiences and progress through Gran Turismo 7.
What’s new? Almost everything.
Although the game is available on the PS4, it has been designed around the extra power and performance of the Playstation 5. On this platform the graphics take a huge step up from GT Sport, the vehicle detail inside and in the cockpit, the depth of the landscapes and the intricacies of the light is amazing. Sound too is ramped up, with realistic 3D audio and a massive 300-strong music catalogue.
Then there’s the driving. The physics model is more detailed and cars perform even more realistically. Rear-driven vehicles seem to lose traction more readily, but also more predictably than before, while front-drivers are more responsive to mid-corner throttle adjustments and left-foot braking. As I rack up the miles and unlock new cars the dynamic differences between them are more clear.
Developers Polyphony Digital have created a new AI named Sophy to take control of competing cars when you’re in single-player mode, and so far, they seem to be a little more talented than in GT Sport, if also prone to the occasional mistake.
There are over 400 vehicles available, and a key part of Gran Turismo 7 is collecting them. The single-player game is centred on the GT Café where owner Luca offers up a (seemingly endless) series of menu cards. Complete the challenges on the cards and you unlock more game features, vehicles and rewards. You can also learn more about models here and it’s promised to become a real car community hub with visits from car designers and engineers.
Of course, as you earn in-game cash you can also spend it. Head to Brand Central for modern metal or the Used Cars dealership for something older. If you’re really flush then there’s also Legend Cars sponsored with its Hagerty collection of high value collector vehicles introduced by our boss McKeel Hagerty himself. What’s more the actual prices in the game are based on the Hagerty Valuation Tool and will dynamically change in-game with the real world market.
At the Tuning Shop there’s a huge variety of parts to increase your car’s performance, from superchargers and suspension to a nitrous boost, while at GT Auto you can clean and service your fleet and customise the paint and livery. Then you can take photos and videos of your pride and joy in Scapes and share them with your fellow racers in the Showcase.
Like all Gran Turismo games you’ll have to hone your driving skills in the Licence Center and progress through to a Super Licence if you want to be able to compete in every race in the game.
As for the circuits, there are 63 available once you’ve unlocked them all. World famous tracks such as Laguna Seca, Suzuka, Monza, Brands Hatch, Goodwood, Le Mans, Spa and Mount Panorama, are all there, plus there’s a welcome return for the classic (but fictional) Deep Forest, High Speed Ring and Trial Mountain from previous GT titles.
I’m around ten hours into Gran Turismo 7 and still nowhere near getting to all of its features, which no doubt will continue to grow with updates, just as GT Sport did. As a single-player game I’m sure it will keep me engaged for many weeks and months to come.
Of course you can also take your racing online, in the daily Sport races, although these are currently limited, and you can expect regular championships to begin soon.
Finally, there’s the multi-player mode, where you can create custom races with friends, a feature that I can’t wait to try out with my fellow 27Racers.
My Thursday evenings just got a serious upgrade, that was well-worth the wait.