I still vividly remember the summer of 2001 when I saved up all the money I could and traded in as many PlayStation games (and console) so I could get a PlayStation 2 bundled with Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. I was such a huge fan of Gran Turismo 2 and could not wait to play the new game on the new console and enjoy those incredible graphics. 20 years later, I’m racing in Gran Turismo 7 and those fond memories come rushing back. Yes, I am enjoying GT7, but it’s not exactly meeting my expectations.
Learning the Ropes
The Gran Turismo series is not a pick-up and play kind of game. Yes, you can tune the settings so that the game essentially drives the car for you, but that defeats the purpose. Simulation-style racing takes time to learn. You need to understand the differences between engine types. It takes time to learn the courses and to understand when it’s best to brake versus accelerating in turns.
Because of that, you have to invest a good chunk of time early on learning the ropes. In the older games, you had to complete your licenses before you could race. Here, they kind of do the same but at a more casual rate. If you’re a long-time fan, you know you need to do the licenses, so you’ll probably jump there first and get as many as you can out of the way so you can get to racing.
In GT7, the single-player portion of the game is done through the game’s “Café”. Here, the owner Luca will task you with menus to complete. In most cases, you’re completing races to unlock cars, then using those cars in bigger series. Every once in a while, a menu will be something basic like fitting a rear wing to your car or widening the body. These non-racing menus usually open up new areas of the game’s world map.
Slowly unlocking things
While completing Cafe menus unlocks more of the game, it takes a long time to unlock everything. You won’t unlock the final course location until you reach the final menu. The menus can take about 10-20 hours to complete depending on your speed, so that’s a long time before you unlock everything.
Those non-racing menus do teach you about some of the other things you can do in the game, one area they don’t focus on is giving you an understanding of why you should be improving and/or tweaking your car’s settings. You get one menu mission early on where you open the parts store but there are no menu tasks that go into detail around the benefits. Later in the game, it’s become important to have a car that is as close as possible to the recommend/required Performance Point rating. Instead of explaining where to focus on those improvements, you’re just buying parts and not tweaking your cars.
Outside the Cafe, if you’re not attempting to earn medals and get your International Licenses, then you’re probably playing Missions or racing Online. Missions are like the license test, where you have to complete an objective before reaching the finish line. These are incredibly tough and require racing perfectly to get the necessary gold medal.
I hate Rolling Starts
Since this is a racing game, you’re spending most of it competing against other cars. In a weird decision, every single race you take part in for completing Café menus is a rolling-start. These are not-time trials where it makes sense to space out cars. Nope. Your objective is always to go from last place and reach the top 3 before reaching the checkered flag.
I don’t understand the reasoning behind this. Sure, it’s an extra challenge, but it takes an important racing strategy and throws it out the window. It feels “unfair” when you’re doing one of the main championship series and you always start last. It would make sense if they did a reverse order for the follow-up races but that’s not the case. Where you always start last, your closest opposition in the standings might be starting fourth.
This also just made it feel like I’m not learning to be a better driver. Instead, I’m just learning that I need to spend more money to buy the fastest possible car for that race and/or on parts just so that my PP is high. In most cases, I just used the money to buy a more expensive car and only bought parts if I had the required car and needed to improve its PP.
Racing is such a data-driven sport, but GT7 doesn’t care about data. Since racing against the computer isn’t necessarily “fair”, post-race information is bare-bones. You don’t get any info other than the total time of the winner and the distance each other car was behind. There’s no information on lap times, average speed, and other key pieces of information that may help you if you’re struggling to reach the front.
Impressive graphics but the rest feels dated
The cars look fantastic. The environments are nice. But that’s about it on the graphics side. Everything else seems dated. The world map is pretty basic but fits the aesthetics of previous games. Oddly, all the talking-heads in this game are just images with text on the screen. I don’t care for the Gran Turismo eSports athletes who feature in the game, there is no real connection made with them. For a game that cares about the presentation, the lack of effort in other areas is a bit comical.
Course selection is a bit of a head-scratcher. There are 34 locations available in the car but most of in Japan, the United States, and a few scattered across Europe. Outside of the Tokyo highway course, there are no city courses. So classic tracks like Seattle and Rome aren’t here and there are no new replacements. Sure, courses do have multiple track configurations, so it’s more than 34 tracks to race on. Unfortunately, I’d rather there be more course variety with locations than configurations.
Two weeks into the game’s launch, there was a significant “bug” that made the game essentially unplayable for over 30 hours. Although a large part of GT7 is a single-player experience, you require an online connection to play. If the game is in maintenance mode, then you can only play Quick Race and the Musical Rally.
The downtime happened because of an update that made changes to the rewards you get in the game. The developers reduced the coin rewards on certain courses and made a few other adjustments. The community has already been pretty critical of the low coin count and high prices for most cars. The developers want to “push” people towards spending real money to get more exotic cars. Unfortunately, it also shows that they don’t understand the fine line you need to walk when developing a Live Services game.
While I’m not too bothered by the reduction of coin rewards, not being able to play a game you spend money on is frustrating. Gamers/Press have often been quick to criticize other companies for these kinds of methods (Sim City 2013), but Sony/Polyphony Digital are currently getting a pass here (although that’s quickly changing after this downtime put those issues into the spotlight). This is something that needs addressing quickly, otherwise, the community’s support will drop fast.
Gran Turismo 7 makes me more interested in Forza Motorsport
Although most of this blog post has been pretty critical of Gran Turismo 7, I don’t hate the game. Yes, I wish there wasn’t such a reliance on an online connection. I wish every race wasn’t a rolling-start. And, yes, they need to modernize the User Interface. But the driving is where the game shines, and I’m enjoying myself and I keep wanting to race more.
At the same time though, GT7 puts its biggest competitor, Forza Motorsport in an interesting position. We haven’t seen or heard much around Turn 10’s next core racing game. Whereas Gran Turismo caters to the more hardcore community, Forza appeals to the larger, casual race fan.
The last few Forza games haven’t been that remarkable, the Xbox One generation of Forza games kind of came and went without too much fanfare. I suspect that the development team in Redmond, Washington is taking notes and will attempt to take the stuff GT7 does right and improve it. At the same time, they will see what GT7 has fallen behind on and avoid similar mistakes.
I’m still planning on playing more
When I began writing this post, I thought it would be a “Quick Thoughts” on Gran Turismo 7. Instead, I went into much more depth because of how engrossed I am with the game. Yes, I’m having fun but that still doesn’t take away from the disappointment I have with most aspects. There are a lot of promises for the future and the game in its current form won’t be the same six months from now. I definitely want to see where things change and hopefully, I’ll share more thoughts in the future.