OPINION: I’m a big motorsport fan and I’ve been playing racing games since the 90s but, perhaps strangely, I wouldn’t call myself a petrolhead.
I don’t drive (if I’m asked, I just say, ‘do I need to drive in London?’) and my knowledge of cars in general is body deep, as it were. What’s a hatchback? No idea. What does a camshaft do? Not a clue in the slightest.
But having played the latest iteration in the Gran Turismo series, I find my knowledge about cars beginning to deepen; my interest in car culture has broadened and I’m starting to figure out what all these car-related terms actually mean.
And it is down to the way Gran Turismo 7 presents its world of car culture. I have played previous Gran Turismo entries, Sport most recently, but have never quite got into the minutiae of car design and engineering. In years gone by, I would have shuffled over to a Drive Club (gone but not forgotten), a Project Gotham Racing (it feels Forza has replaced this series completely) or a game in the Dirt series, F1 or dare I mention it – Forza Motorsport and Horizon.
But let’s get back on the racing line to what Gran Turismo 7 does. It presents a hub with places you must unlock before you can visit them, and for those not wholly invested in the nitty gritty of cars, it’s a world that unfurls at a leisurely pace. You start with your garage and the Café – the place you’ll likely be making a stop at very often, meeting the various people hanging out there who are very happy to tell you the history of a certain car or car series and the impact it had.
Did you know that BMW’s M series grew from their motorsport portfolio? I didn’t. Or what a ‘Hot Hatch’ is? Gran Turismo as a series overflows with an appreciation of car history; as much as it is a game to be played, it’s a curator’s egg too – collecting cars from all over the world and delving into the different philosophies that designers and engineers have taken with their creations.
The world of tuning is not one I’ve dabbled much with in previous games. Perhaps the last time I really thought about it was downloading a tuning pack in Forza Motorsport 3 to turn the Toyota AE86 Trueno into the drifting beast from the Initial D anime series. In GT7, I’ve had to rely on it to complete some objectives – you could buy a new car completely but, in some cases, tuning makes more sense to get the performance bump. And all the parts and what they do are explained in an easy manner that gives you the details you need to make a decision.
Not everything will improve performance; reducing weight achieves gains in speed but then you have to think about the car’s stopping power too. It teaches you about achieving car balance and almost plays a mini game within the larger one in finding that balance between added performance and merging it with your own driving style.
All of this will seem laughably simple to experienced players, but that is what I find good about Gran Turismo 7. It isn’t dense and complicated enough that a person with not as much knowledge couldn’t pick it up and start to have fun, and explaining how all the pieces work and fit together gives the player more confidence, so they can trust in themselves more to try things.
There are other aspects of Gran Turismo 7 that stand up well, especially on the PlayStation 5. The controller isn’t a Fanatec or Thrustmaster racing wheel, but the DualSense’s haptic feedback enhances the experience, with the clunk of the gear shifts and the resistance on the brake and accelerator triggers immersing you in the game. The handling plays really well – there’s a distinct difference between a Mini Cooper S compared to a nippy BMW M3 ’07 (my favourite car so far). Having to learn to accommodate the car’s attributes with your own style is an enjoyable dance to perform.
There’s a lot more that I’ll go into in the full review, but I like how Gran Turismo 7’s approach isn’t simply just to have fun. Part of its credo is to turn you into a better, more respectful driver. There’s a fountain of car knowledge and history within this game, and I’m eager to find out more.