Gran Turismo 7 will be a showcase of car culture and PS5 horsepower

Sony/Polyphony Digital

Polyphony Digital’s premier racing simulator for PlayStation consoles is speeding towards its 25th anniversary this year and the next generation is just around the corner, with Gran Turismo 7 set to cross the finish line on March 4.

OK, enough racing cliches, because while serious circuit racing is still very much the heart and soul of the Gran Turismo experience, there’s so much more to GT7. Series producer Kazunori Yamauchi describes the title as a “car life simulator” or a sandbox where players can experience every aspect of car culture. 

After stripping the experience to its bare bones for 2017’s competitive online Gran Turismo Sport, GT7 looks to be a return to form, reminding me very much of what I consider the apex of the series, Gran Turismo 4 way back on the PS2. GT7 promises the most accurate vehicle racing simulation in the series’ history, but it also aims to be a hub to learn about the history and culture of cars and appreciate both their physical and mechanical beauty.

“Today, you won’t find as many people talking about car culture anymore; less people are talking about the beauty of cars, or focused on the fun of driving,” Yamauchi said during a preview of the new title.

“That’s why [Gran Turismo 7’s] theme is to convey the culture and fascination for cars — the most fantastic gadget of humankind born in the 20th century — to a new generation of people,” he said. “We want to excite people to the allure of cars, even without any prior knowledge, and become aware of just how fun it is to drive, own or tune. That is the ultimate objective of Gran Turismo 7.”

The cars and the courses

GT7 will feature over 400 cars at launch from over 50 brands from around the world. Players will acquire these cars with credits earned from racing, winning and completing various challenges. Cars newer than model year 2001 are bought from the Brand Central hub, which is also where you’ll find a museum dedicated to exploring the history of each automaker with a photographic timeline. There’s also the Used Car Dealer hub, which features a roster of cars from before 2001. Like in real life, this lineup will be updated and adjusted daily with the aim of recreating the thrill of finding a deal on a gem. And finally, there’s the Legendary Car Dealer, where expensive but iconic and historic cars like the ’65 Aston Martin DB5 or Porsche’s 1970 917K race car are held in reverence and sold for a fortune.

At launch, GT7 will also feature 34 real-world tracks and fantasy circuits from previous GT games with a total of around 97 unique course configurations. During the course of the Gran Turismo Cup campaign, players will experience around 100 circuit racing events for various vehicle classes — and that’s before you include unique mission races, GT license events, time trials, drift trials, car meets and any wacky custom events you can think of.

After the launch, Polyphony Digital promises more tracks and cars will be added via future online updates.

The world of Gran Turismo

The World Map menu structure makes a comeback for Gran Turismo 7, giving players a bird’s-eye view of the world of GT. The car buying hubs, licensing center, garage, tuning center and more are presented as buildings that the player can visit to access the various modes and activities the game offers.

A new location for GT7 is the Cafe, which is a place to hang out and learn about the history of automotive culture, legendary cars and automotive design. At the Cafe, players will find over 30 Menu Book missions — such as collecting three specific Porsche 911 generations — that help to deepen their understanding of various corners of automotive culture and, along with the GT Cup circuit races, serves as the backbone of GT7’s campaign mode. The Cafe is also where you can listen to audio interviews with the real designers of legendary cars.

The world map menu, which we last saw on Gran Turismo 4, returns to GT7.

Sony/Polyphony Digital

Updated physics, weather and haptics

Tire, suspension, aerodynamics and other driving physics have been overhauled for the most accurate-to-life vehicle simulation in the series’ 25-year history. Part of accurately simulating a car is accurately simulating the environment it moves through, which is why GT7 also features an overhauled weather and aerodynamics engine. Weather will change and move dynamically during each race. On a large track like the Nürburgring, it could be raining on one part of the course and sunny on another, as clouds move through the virtual sky. And as the weather changes, so does the road moisture, with puddles forming in realistic spots on the track and moist tarmac drying out faster on the racing line as cars pass again and again.

Players will be able to feel the rubber meet the road thanks to the haptics of the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller. In addition to simulating the vibration of the engine and slip of tires, the haptic triggers are able to offer a difference in resistance between the gas and brake pedals and even recreate the pulse of anti-lock brakes. Yamauchi says that the DualSense controller will feel like a steering wheel in the player’s hands — though, if it’s all the same, I’ll probably stick with an actual racing wheel and pedals, which will also be supported. 

Tuning simulation and visual customization

An effect of the updated simulation engine can be seen even before players hit the track in the new vehicle tuning and customization menu. Previous titles (and most other racing sims) calculated vehicle performance based on weight, power and grip to get a Performance Points, a single number that describes how fast a particular car is and how it compares to others. But that number was largely static and only really changed when you changed a part — for example, swapping tire compounds.

Each vehicle’s Performance Points score is calculated in real time as tweaks and adjustments are made to the tires, engine and suspension.

Sony/Polyphony Digital

Gran Turismo 7 calculates PP based both on the parts chosen and the settings or tuning of those parts. There are over 60 types of parts for each car that affect performance — from tires to sway bars to brakes and cams — almost all of which can be tweaked and adjusted after installation. So, adjusting the camber of the wheels, the tire pressure, gear ratios or damper settings will affect the car’s PP — which is calculated in near-real time in the Tuning menu — creating what looks like a fun meta game out of precisely honing your ride. The more accurate PP calculations also mean tuned vehicles will be better matched during competitive play.

Visually, players can also make their ride unique with over 650 aero parts, 130 wheels, custom roll cages and wide body kits. All said, there are thousands of customization parts to choose from.

There’s also an updated livery editor with over 1,200 measured paint colors with accurate names for each automaker. Looking for the exact Innocent Blue Mica from the 10th anniversary Mazda MX-5? It’s in there, ready to be applied to any car. The number of livery shapes that can be applied to a vehicle has also been increased and GT7 also allows players to place stickers on a vehicle’s side windows, which will make replica race and drift liveries more accurate.

Sound and color

Sony and Polyphony Digital didn’t speak much about the performance of GT7 on the PlayStation 4, but bragged that there will be two graphics modes to choose from on the more powerful PS5. Frame Rate mode emphasizes high frames per second for smooth racing and race replays delivering graphics in 4K at 60 fps. Ray Tracing mode boasts the highest quality graphics the console is capable of. Note that Ray Tracing mode only applies ray tracing tech to race replays, static 3D stages where vehicle models can be closely inspected, and photo mode rendering, but not realtime races.

Both modes look amazing in the preview footage I was shown. As a player who tends to drive noncompetitively, I think I prefer the fidelity improvement of the Ray Tracing mode. That said, the difference is subtle, even in races where ray tracing isn’t applied, but other graphical tricks and tweaks — like improved motion blur — still are.

Ray-traced graphics can be applied to race replays, photo mode and static 3D vehicle models, complete with detailed interiors.

Sony/Polyphony Digital

An updated 3D spatial audio engine promises to bring sound design into the next generation with accurate simulation of environmental and material sound reflection, obstruction and absorption for every tire, engine and crackling exhaust on the track. The result is the virtual equivalent of 16-channel audio, which Yamauchi says is most effectively experienced binaurally with a good set of headphones.

Speaking of sounds, GT7 features over 300 music tracks spanning many genres from jazz and hip-hop to electro and lounge. I’ve always enjoyed the unique remixes found on Gran Turismo soundtracks and hope there will be some gems for this generation. GT7 brings music even more to the forefront with new New Music Replay and Music Rally modes. The former is an extension of the game’s video replays, but with cuts and transitions happening time with the music. 

The latter, Music Rally, is a game mode where the driving pace is set to the music rather than outright speed. Players start the cruise with a certain number of beats that decrease with each beat of the song and are replenished by hitting specific marks and gates on the course. Winning means focusing on the driving line, the pace of the cruise and the music to get to the end of the song. 

If you loved GT’s license system and driver training events, they’re back! 

Sony/Polyphony Digital

Wheel-to-wheel racing

Fans of couch competition will be pleased to learn that GT7 features a two-player split screen mode for playing locally with family or friends. Players can also set up lobbies and meeting places for casual online races and cruises. For more serious and competitive racing, there’s Sport mode, which basically rolls the entirety of Gran Turismo Sport — with its ranked racing, weekly championships and daily challenges and reputation system — into the new game. 

Gran Turismo 7 hits PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 consoles on March 4, for $60 or $70 respectively, or $90 for the Digital Deluxe Edition. Preorders are open now, with predownloads expected to begin ahead of launch on Feb. 24.