A lot has changed in the quarter century since the original Gran Turismo roared onto PlayStation consoles in December 1997.
At the time, ‘simulation’ racing games were either too dull (see the early Need for Speed games) or too complicated (like MicroProse’s Grand Prix games) to truly muster mainstream appeal, but Gran Turismo stumbled on a magic formula that guaranteed success.
Not only did it look unlike anything else on the market at the time, with what were genre-leading visuals for 1997, but it also managed to take motorsports seriously while still somehow appealing to players who didn’t.
This was a game that was clearly enthusiastic about not just racing but cars in general, and yet despite clearly being designed to appeal to petrolheads first and foremost it had an enthusiasm that was infectious enough to pull in those who didn’t really care about cars (in much the same way as the Tony Hawk series pulled in those with no interest in skating).
In 1997 there was really nothing like it, but in the 2020s that’s no longer the case. Gran Turismo is no longer a revelation or a torchbearer, it’s simply part of a larger pack of realistic racing games all jostling for pole position.
Games like Automobilista 2, Project Cars 2, Assetto Corsa Competizione and Codemasters’ F1 series have all made their mark in serious racing games fans’ lives in recent years, meaning Gran Turismo 7 needs to do something truly special to take the podium again.
Then, of course, there’s Microsoft. The Xbox didn’t even exist when the first Gran Turismo was released, but now it could be argued that the Forza series is the definitive racing experience out there, with Forza Motorsport providing the serious side and Forza Horizon focusing on the sheer fun of driving.
Horizon in particular really drives home the point about how its cars aren’t just an arbitrary selection of metallic chunks with wheels on them, but that to some people they’re a lifestyle and a passion. Just like the original Gran Turismo did 25 years ago, Forza Horizon makes people with no interest in cars suddenly see the appeal.
It’s clear that with Gran Turismo 7, series creator and director Kazunori Yamauchi wants to recapture exactly this feeling. In a post on the official PlayStation blog earlier this year, Yamauchi said: “The objective for GT7 in current culture today, is to design a game to convey everything from the last 150 years of car and racing culture, whether you are a lifelong fan or discovering cars for the first time.”
It’s this idea of ‘car culture’ that Yamauchi is pushing with Gran Turismo 7. Whereas 2017’s Gran Turismo Sport (the only game in the series to be released on PS4) had a clear focus on online racing, with a simple and grindy single-player ‘campaign’ mode added post-launch almost as an afterthought, this time Yamauchi wants a game that incorporates all elements of car culture.
“Whereas 2017’s Gran Turismo Sport had a clear focus on online racing, this time Yamauchi wants a game that incorporates all elements of car culture.”
In one of the numerous behind-the-scenes videos in which he’s been appearing on the PlayStation YouTube channel, Yamauchi explains that to him car culture means different things to different people, and this time he hopes to cater to them all.
To those for whom car culture means appreciating the look and craft of each car, the main selling point is obvious. Gran Turismo 7 promises to be one of the most graphically impressive racing games ever made and the level of detail going into each of the game’s 400 cars looks set to be verging on ridiculous.
While ray tracing won’t be enabled during races, it will be during replays and in the garage, enabling players to study their favourite vehicles and discover new favourites at a level of fidelity not yet seen – certainly in a Gran Turismo game and possibly in any game, the new Forza Motorsport pending.
To others (usually those with larger pockets), the idea of car culture is synonymous with collection, and Yamauchi hopes to deliver in that respect too. Gran Turismo 7 will have more of an emphasis on trying to build a collection of what he calls “many of the most fascinating cars from motoring history”.
Combine this with the fact that there are over 400 cars available at launch compared to the 168 Gran Turismo Sport offered on day one, and it’s clear there’s a tightrope of both quantity and quality being walked this time.
Customisation is another huge part of car culture and one of the areas in which Gran Turismo has traditionally shined. The parts shop – the lack of which in Sport disappointed some long-time fans – makes a welcome return, meaning players will be able to tune their cars to a meticulous degree.
“The parts shop – the lack of which in Sport disappointed some long-time fans – makes a welcome return, meaning players will be able to tune their cars to a meticulous degree.”
Polyphonic is also promising an easier to use livery editor. This is an area where Gran Turismo has absolutely trumped the Forza series in recent games, with players able to upload SVG files as decals to use in their own liveries, instead of Forza’s frustrating vinyl layers where players have to slowly build images out of geometric shapes.
When you look at the feature list, then, it’s clear that on paper Gran Turismo 7 promises to be one of the most comprehensive entries in the series to date. There’s only one major element that remains a relative unknown to this point, which is obviously how it plays.
While the series’ past achievements on that front doesn’t give us cause to believe that there’s anything to worry about here, it remains the case that the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and so while our hopes are high for the first main numbered entry in the series for a decade, we’re still reserving judgement until we’re actually on the asphalt. At the moment, however, the signs are very positive.