As a splash screen reminds you when you boot up Gran Turismo 7, this is the 25th-anniversary year of Sony’s flagship PlayStation racing game. It’s also been more than eight years and one whole console generation since we last saw a mainline, numbered entry in the series, the 2013 PlayStation 3 swan song Gran Turismo 6. These long spans of time loom large over the new game. Maybe they explain why it’s so preoccupied with legacy.
In the quarter century since “the real driving simulator” became a sensation with its involved physics and grainy photorealism, our relationship with cars has changed. Climate change has forced a reevaluation, and the internal combustion engine is on the way out. Can cars even be cool in 2022? “You won’t find as many people talking about car culture anymore,” director Kazunori Yamauchi said recently, adding that GT7 had been built with this new reality in mind.
Our relationship with racing games has changed, too, in the years since Gran Turismo 6. Back then, its main competitor was the Forza Motorsport series, which was made in GT’s image. Today, an upstart spinoff from those games has become a popular phenomenon by putting vibes first and borrowing the design of open-world adventures, culminating in the magnificent Forza Horizon 5, in which the cars — and the racing — were only part of the point.
In 2017, though, developer Polyphony Digital looked to the future with Gran Turismo Sport, a multiplayer-first, live-service-inspired detour. It got many things right, not least the way it brought driver and safety rating systems from hardcore simulator iRacing into a more approachable arena. But it launched as a slender shadow of what the public expects of a Gran Turismo game; a traditional single-player campaign was only patched in as an afterthought, and many GT features, including the car modification system that has always been a hallmark of the series, never made it in.
This is the world Yamauchi and his team strive to confront in Gran Turismo 7. They seem to want it to be the Gran Turismo that fans remember, with all the features they love. They want — quite desperately, it seems — to get people excited about cars again. They want this all-encompassing series to carry all its baggage, plus over a century of motoring history, into the future.
It’s a testament to their enormous skill and passion that they largely succeed. Despite its big ambitions and wealth of content, Gran Turismo 7 always feels slick and manageable, and it’s a treat to see Polyphony bring its renowned technical gloss to the PlayStation 5. But still, it’s not what you would call light on its feet. At times it seems hemmed in by tradition, and at others, held back by a heavy guiding hand.
That’s not to say it’s without the eccentric flights of fancy that have long livened up a series with