Enjoying the varied menu of Gran Turismo 7

Well, I eventually got Gran Turismo 7 installed on my PlayStation 4 — and even managed to get some good results in the Music Rally while that was all going on. Now, though, it’s time to take a look at how the main game does things — and if it’s a worthwhile investment for those seeking some form of automotive entertainment.

First up, let’s talk about what some of you may well be wondering about: the game’s performance on PlayStation 4. Obviously you can’t expect it to be quite up to the same standard as the PlayStation 5 version, but you know what? They’ve done a remarkably good job, even running on the base spec PlayStation 4, which is what I have.

Gran Turismo 7

During races from the in-car view, the visuals run at a slick and consistent 60 frames per second, with the main visual sacrifices being a lack of motion blur, low-resolution reflections and a fair amount of pop-in (or rather pop-out) in said reflections. Replays, which deliberately use a higher level of graphical detail and add the motion blur back in, run at 30fps mostly consistently, though I have noted a couple of occasions where lots of complex car models on screen at once can tank the frame rate somewhat. This is a sporadic occurrence at best, though.

Load times are relatively long, particularly when starting a race, where they can be up to 30 seconds or so — but pleasingly there are no loading breaks when restarting or retrying a race, and the constant musical accompaniment means that you’re never just sitting there in silence waiting for things to load. The only area where some people may feel there’s a bit of an issue is in navigating through the various “pavilions” on the main menu screen, particularly if you accidentally back out of one before you intend to — it can take several seconds of loading to go back to the main screen, then another several seconds to load back into the menu you just left.

The “Scapes” photo mode takes a little while to render photos, too, and there are no real-time previews of effects like motion blur and suchlike, but given that this mode is all about tweaking settings until you’re happy with the final outcome, this isn’t a huge problem.

In summary, then, if you don’t have a PS5 but were still interested in Gran Turismo 7, I’d say you can safely pick up the PlayStation 4 version and have a good time. I certainly am.

Gran Turismo 7

So, then, let’s talk about the early hours of Gran Turismo 7, and what you will experience in that time. Because while I personally think the setup works quite well, I suspect there are a couple of aspects that a few players may find a little frustrating — most notably the need to unlock pretty much every part of the game by progressing through the single-player mode. And yes, that includes multiplayer.

The idea behind Gran Turismo 7’s main game mode is to provide a blend of the series’ classic freeform “I love cars!” gameplay with a more structured core. That structured core is intended to get people up and running more quickly than in previous games, where it could sometimes be a little tricky to figure out exactly what you were supposed to do and in what order.

There’s value to this kind of completely freeform experience, of course — particularly when you’re dealing with something that is ostensibly a “simulation”, as Gran Turismo has always positioned itself — but at the same time, if you make things too daunting, you’re going to put off more casual audiences and newcomers. And, since this is the first full-on Gran Turismo there’s been for quite some time — Sport doesn’t really count, since it was almost entirely multiplayer-focused — there’s going to be quite a few newcomers taking a look at the series for the first time.

Gran Turismo 7
Yes, that is a Neptunia racing suit and a Nagatoro helmet.

To that end, the heart of Gran Turismo’s main game mode is the Gran Turismo Café, which you visit early in the game and discover that no-one there appears to actually be serving any beverages or delicious cake, and instead everyone can’t stop banging on about cars. On top of that, the owner keeps thrusting “Menu Books” in your face, which demand that you accomplish particular objectives, with various unlocks on offer for doing so.

Conceptually, it’s kind of stupid and doesn’t really make any sense, but in terms of game structure, it does work rather nicely, particularly for newcomers. It would have, however, perhaps been nice to make this side of things optional, so that veteran Gran Turismo players can simply jump right in to the “main game” (or at least multiplayer) without playing through what is essentially a 39-episode guided tutorial. But, well, it is what it is — and it’s worth engaging with, regardless of your experience level.

Each Menu Book encourages you to do something in the game — and it’s not always just “go complete this race”. In fact, more often than not, your task will be to collect three cars of a particular type, and you can achieve this however you see fit. You can raise the money to just buy them, or you can compete in racing events where they’re on offer as a prize for a podium finish. This latter option is generally the most straightforward approach, and clear on-screen “compass” icons direct you straight to the events that will let you accomplish your goals quickly.

Gran Turismo 7

Most of the events you’ll encounter in this way are one-shot races, often with some sort of participation requirements and recommendations. While collecting American cars, for example, you’ll be expected to also be driving an American car. Each event also has a numerical “Performance Points” or “PP” rating, which gives you a general idea of the overall strength of your opponents. Using this value as a guide, you can pick an appropriate car that is likely to give you a fighting chance — and, once you’ve unlocked the ability to do so, buy parts for it that will help its PP go through the roof, so to speak.

It’s worth noting that for most of these events, the PP rating is by no means a requirement; it’s just a guideline. Set your car up properly — or simply be able to handle it well — and you can easily beat opponents whose cars are technically “better” than yours by quite a noticeable margin. Plus it’s always worth experimenting with both old and new cars; you may find that a high-PP old car is rather difficult to handle thanks to its lack of modern electronic stability systems, and thus a slightly lower-PP new car can sometimes be a better choice.

The racing itself feels really good — particularly if you have a good steering wheel with which to enjoy it. I recently invested in a Logitech G29 steering wheel, and it’s completely changed my perception of racing games with a more “realistic” feel to them; now, it’s much easier to control throttle, braking and steering with a great deal of precision, and my overall driving ability is considerably better as a result.

Gran Turismo 7
See, I can win races and everything

Don’t feel like it’s mandatory to spend a couple of hundred quid on a good racing rig, though; an excellent heads-up display shows things like your steering angle and pressure on the accelerator and brake pedals, even when using a controller, meaning you can use this information to help make better use of the analogue controls for added precision. There’s still a learning curve if you’re more accustomed to arcade racers that encourage you to throw your car around corners, of course, but the driving assists help make that transition a lot less painless.

Of particular benefit are the “Brake” markers that can optionally be overlaid on the tracks. These are red striped areas that appear when you’re currently at a speed which is too high for the upcoming corner. Start braking as soon as you enter the red striped area and stop once the marks disappear, and you’ll be at a good speed for the corner. Special markers showing the best entry point, apex and exit point of each corner — even if you have the main “racing line” turned off — are also very useful.

Since taking corners in more sim-like racers is the hardest adjustment when coming from an arcade racing background, these features work very well; they’re unobtrusive and helpful, and while they’re active you still feel like you’re demonstrating your skill — you’re just doing so with a few visual cues. The aim is to be able to see these things in your mind’s eye when they’re turned off — but don’t feel any shame about keeping them on for however long you need to. I’m certainly going to be leaving them on for a while yet!

Gran Turismo 7
Sing it with me: “DAYTOOOONAAAAAAA”

You’ll notice that I say “sim-like racer” above rather than outright “simulation”. That’s because at no point does Gran Turismo 7 forget that it’s trying its level best to be an entertaining video game first, “The Real Driving Simulator” second. To that end, some of the more dedicated sim racers online inevitably refer to the series as a whole somewhat disparagingly as “simcade” — but that absolutely shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. There’s definitely a market for this approach, which combines more realistic handling with the sense of spectacle and bombast of more arcade-style games, and some may find themselves graduating to more po-faced sims later in their virtual racing careers.

What do I mean by this? Sweeping cinematic flybys of your car before a race starts. Exaggerated bleepity-bloop sound effects highlighting new records. Music during races — Gran Turismo 7’s soundtrack is particularly excellent — and a constant musical accompaniment with a markedly more chilled out tone while navigating menus. And, interestingly when compared to some previous installments, a definite attempt to infuse the whole experience with a bit more personality through the use of named characters.

As you progress through Gran Turismo 7, you’ll “meet” a variety of people. Some of them are racing drivers, some are car enthusiasts, some are famous car designers. All of them have things to tell you, tips to offer or historical insights to provide, and it really does make a big difference to the overall experience.

Gran Turismo 7

Knowing that you’re slipstreaming the guy responsible for administering those bloody license tests rather than some anonymous driver makes it all the more delicious when you successfully overtake them. Screaming past the guy you were chatting with before the race started makes it feel like you have a proper friendly rivalry going on. And dropping by the café only to find the local car enthusiast drooling over your current ride is always an oddly validating experience.

Gran Turismo 7 is a game that wants players to have fun with cars, and it succeeds admirably in this goal without going to the lengths that the Forza Horizon games do — in Forza Horizon 4, for example, it outright doesn’t matter what position you finish many of the events in, so long as you just finish them, whereas in Gran Turismo 7 you generally need at least a podium finish under most circumstances. Forza Horizon has its own distinct appeal, of course — definitely a tad more towards the “cade” side than the “sim” side of things — but Gran Turismo 7 has really found a sweet spot for itself that helps it to stand out.

It’s more accessible than the hardcore racing sims available on PC, but offers more depth, complexity and realism than your average arcade racer. And, more than anything, it serves as a potent reminder that when Sony lets its Japanese teams actually make games, they most certainly come up with the goods. It’s just a shame that doesn’t seem to happen all that often these days…

Gran Turismo 7 is available now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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Pete Davison
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