Though it certainly doesn’t sound like it at your local Macca’s carpark at 3 am, revheads are an endangered species. Kazunori Yamauchi, producer of the Gran Turismo series is keenly aware of this. As this “real racing simulator” celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, societal change is forcing him to shift gears on what you’d normally expect from a GT.
All of the usual ingredients that would fuel another entry in this franchise are sloshing around in the tank – an OCD attention to physics and high-octane visuals are a given. That said, a few surprising new ideas have bubbled up in an effort to propel Gran Turismo 7 into the future. Kaz’s ultimate goal: “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.”
Bear with me as I explain them now. Some are a little left-field, but I also think they may make for quite the pleasant oil change. (Quick note: the game has totally brought those back into the mix again.)
For starters, the career mode you know and love (that was hastily patched into Sport during that title’s lifetime) is now bolted in, standard. However, Polyphony Digital has eschewed the cold world map menus for a quirky little car suburbia.
Shopportunities are in easy driving distance, friend! You can go tyre kick 400 cars in three dealerships, including Brand Central (new cars from 2001 onwards), Legendary Cars (iconic wallet-destroyers) and Used Cars (a rotating list of lemons with sawdust in the gearbox to make them sound ok… probably).
Just down the road is the Car Cafe, truly one of the quaintest inclusions in this Radiator Springs-esque burg. Basically, you’ll park your butt in a chair, pick up one of 30+ menu books and complete any activities/assignments/dishes on the list. Consume all of the items on the menu, and a figure from the automotive industry will pull up a virtual chair and regale you with some of their memories about the car/manufacturer featured in said menu.
Having a cuppa with a curating captain of the car industry – what better way to learn about the world of horse-less carts, eh?
Once you’ve skipped out on the cafe bill and sprinted outside to whatever car you’ve bought earlier, you can ship off to 34 international locations to make your rubbery mark on one of 90 different layouts.
An interesting difference between GT7 compared to previous iterations of the series, is that various races and activities are hosted at each track. Your familiar Sunday Cup and Clubman Cup are applied per track, and there is also a Circuit Experience for learning tracks for each of the tracks in game.
Ever the pioneer and envelope pusher of new hardware, Polyphony are doing some exciting things with the PS5’s unique features. The sound engine has been overhauled to leverage a 3D audio expression called Third Order Ambisonics. In not really layman’s terms: the PS5 renders sfx to several hundred channels of speakers, and according to the position of the player, outputs this to multiple speakers or sends binaural output through HRTF (head related transfer function) to a 2 channel headphone.
Plonk a Pulse 3D headset on your melon and you’ll feel like Matt ‘Daredevil’ Murdock as your earballs perceive those tyres rolling over curbstones “below” you. From “above” you might be treated to the trackable buzzing of an overhead helicopter or the pitter patter of rain. Laterally, the sounds projected by your beast will get bounced off objects and back toward you. Sounds pretty cool. Literally.
The aural pleasures don’t stop there, either. It seems Polyphony has been scratching its head over a problem I’d honestly never considered: why are they paying all this money to license music, when hardcore sim gamers just switch it off to hear the vroom vrooms?
The answer: a Music Rally mode that I honestly don’t fully understand yet. It’s probably best if I let the man himself explain it.
“Rather than just driving fast, the objective of this mode is to enjoy the music,” Kazunori tells me.
“Players will start off with a set number of initial beats allotted to them. Their number of beats will decrease as the player drives and once the beat becomes zero, the music will stop and it will be game over.
[That said,] the number of beats are replenished by going through extension gates on the track.
If you can listen to the music all the way to the end without running out of your allotted beats, you’ve cleared the game.”
Driving at a measured pace sure sounds different to what I usually do – driving like I stole it – but I’m open to new things. It all depends on the soundtrack. If Polyphony resurrects Ash – Lose Control (of original GT fame) I’m strapped in immediately.
Interestingly, this new musical initiative is running in tandem with a special Music Replay function. You’re getting the conventional, jaw to the floor power of a GT post-race replay, but now the camera timings and angles are generated automatically to suit a soundtrack that boasts over 75 artists and 300 tunes.
On the topic of expressing oneself automotively, I’m told the Showcase options have expanded. As you’d expect, you can make a car your own by bunging on a bad arse spoiler and some fully sick rims. The livery editor has also evolved in many ways – key of which is the new ability to smear things on windows, plus the layer count has increased.
Every change you enact on your ride can be immortalised and shared in a virtual creative suite that’s also expanding. I’m talking saveable replays and Scapes where you use real-life photographical techniques to snap a pic good enough to make a mechaphile bite their bottom lip.
Accoutrement features aside, what’s new under the hood of the real driving simulator itself? Straight off the grid, “a lot of enhancements” have been made to the AI to make it more aggressive and to take appropriate, complex actions when racing you. Lastly, I’m assured that in terms of online multiplayer, this new game will at the very least be the equivalent of GT Sports impressive offerings.
In terms of downsides, I’m seeing very little this close to the checkered flag that is launch. Part of me is annoyed that GT7 is slipstreaming GT Sport’s “online only” approach to save files. However, I can see the sense in Polyphony’s reasoning: keeping save data server side to prevent filthy cheaters from prospering.
Despite some risky deviations from the expected racing line, Gran Turismo 7 seems on track to be the petrolhead’s paradise long-term fans like myself deserve after (*sigh*) quarter of a century. I’m expecting an altogether different launch product, compared to the sparse and spurious GT Sport.
Tantalising new parts have been fitted and the outer shell has been buffed to a truly incredible shine. If GT7 can manage to handle as good as it looks, it could be the wheel deal all over again.