Gran Turismo 7

There are like three games in Gran Turismo 7 and I don’t really love any of them.

The first game, the main game, the one you spend the most time with, that’s a rhythm game. It’s a button tapping memory tester where you rapidly press the dpad in increasingly lengthening sequences, occasionally peppering in an X or a O here or there to punctuate your moves.

You start off slowly piecing together the most basic shit, but before long you’re rapidly, without thinking, firing off dpad and button combos that would allow Tekken’s King to trap players in a round-long chain throw animation.

Go to the cafe. Right, right, down, X. Talk to the Cafe owner, Luca, who will be your main point of contact for the entire game, X, X. Listen to him tell you about the history of your 2015 Honda Fit for some reason, X, X, X, X, X. Wonder idly how this is any different from the time the Xbox Live Arcade hosted the obnoxious marketing effort that was “Yaris”, (no input required). Head over to the the World Circuits to do a race in your Honda Fit, O, left, left, up, X, right, right, X, right, X, X. If you’ve got the wrong car, or a detail incorrect — the wrong tyre type, for example — you can do all of this again.

You will play this particular minigame 5000 times in Gran Turismo 7. It gets easier as you go, but more frustrating too. The more Cafe menus you complete, the more locations you unlock. Some of them have internal interfaces that make sense. Others do not. The Tuning Shop sees you fold the “R1” and “L1” buttons into your rhythmic dance, and if you make the mistake of pressing O you will be forced back to the main screen. GT Auto, on the other hand, where you wash your car or change its paint colour (which requires an interface to buy the paint and then a different one to apply it) has nested menus for different functions within. Want to wash your car? Go to the Maintenance & Servicing menu. Want to change its wheels? Go, instead, to the Customise Cars menu. And if you press circle in either of these, instead of being taken back to the screen that shows you Maintenance & Servicing and Customise Cars, you’ll find yourself on the main menu.

The GT Auto Screen

There are three different places to buy cars from. One is “Brand Central”, which contains all of the game’s car manufacturers, and within each manufacturer interface lies a showroom, a “channel” that shows you car ads, a link to the official site and sometimes a museum. It does not, however, contain all of the cars.

Another — the Used Car Dealership — offers a small discount on cars you can buy in the Brand Central, but there’s an RNG factor regarding whether you’ll see it here or not. It’s kind of a crap shoot, but if you roll the dice well and the car you’re looking for is “on the lot” (in the 20ish car menu) you’ll save yourself a number of pointless clicks and maybe 10% on the asking price.

The last is the “Legends” dealership, which also sells used cars — but these are fancy used cars. The kinds of cars you can’t find in Brand Central. Do you want to drive a 1995 Ferrari F50? Well you can only acquire it from the Legends dealership, and only while stocks last. Of course, stocks will always last because these are digital vehicles and their scarcity is a work of fiction, but that’s neither here nor there.

Actually, it’s both here and there. You can’t sell your cars in Gran Turismo 7. Where are they coming from? Where are used cars going when they’re out of stock? The Legends dealership has prices that are influenced by some real life car auction house — but why? What purpose does that serve?

What purpose does a live marketplace serve in this game? And if there is one, why is not player driven? Gran Turismo 7 is, for no reason whatsoever, always online. If you disconnect while playing it, you’re limited to nothing but the Music Rallies and a custom race creator where none of your progress is saved.

But there’s no reason for Gran Turismo 7 to be this protective of your account balance. I’ve played MMOs that are less guarded about their economy than this — and they have economies that matter. That’s not true here. The economy of GT7 is meaningless, and super simple — if you win a race, you get money. There’s no online auction house where people can sell their 1995 Ferrari F50 for $30,000 or something, instead, after a set number of players spend $3.3 million or more on the car, it’s removed from the market, destined to return at some indeterminate time.

The cynical part of me thinks it too neatly ties into the micro transactional system that allows players to buy in-game cash with real world money. The positivist in me looks on nodding, like ‘yeah, that’s definitely fucking it’. They’ve baked FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) into this game. It’s a game about collecting cars, and there’s a decent chance those cars can and will disappear before you ever have the opportunity to acquire them.

You can, via the game’s terrible ‘roulette’ rewards system (another turd heap on the pile) win an invite to buy a car — because even if a car is available in Brand Central, you might not be special enough to buy it. But these invites have an expiry date. Once invited, you have two weeks to put together the cash required to purchase whatever you’ve been invited to buy, otherwise you’ve gotta take another spin of the roulette wheel to see if it will come about again.

Winning an invite to buy a car

The roulette system has to be one of the worst implementations of “Gacha” game design in a AAA game, too. You earn roulette tickets that come in a variety of grades, you navigate the tedious menus to open them and then an achingly slow animation shows you five different items and then almost always gives you the shittiest reward.

But hey, as MJ says, if you expect disappointment you can never be disappointed, right? Wrong. Gran Turismo 7 has locked a huge swathe of upgrades behind this roulette system, restricting players from ever getting access to major elements of the game. For example — the only way you’ll ever be able to swap a car’s engine for another one is if you happen to get one in a Roulette Spin. And even then, you don’t get to choose what engine will be going into which car.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter because the odds of you getting an engine to swap in the first place pale in comparison to the chances of you “winning” the opportunity to give a car manufacturer $1,000,000.

There’s an air of brand worship here that resembles religious fervour. You can go from the museum of Chevrolet to a car wash, from the church to the river, ready for your baptism. A portion of what you downloaded when you acquired GT7 was ads for cars, and they’re not even the good ones with Clive Owen in them.

When I’m playing the rhythm game portion of Gran Turismo 7, I never feel like I can get away from the fact that I’m navigating my way across some sort of billboard. I’m constantly being hit with this shit that serves exactly one type of consumer — the CMOs of three dozen car manufacturers worldwide. It honestly feels gross.

At the cafe, some smiling head tells you to ‘collect three Fords”, and when you succeed you’re rewarded with a poorly photoshopped picture of them and a ripping yawn yarn about how Ford came to be in the first place — whether you asked or not.

Win three fords screen GT7

The cafe is actually intricately linked to the primary method of progression in Gran Turismo 7, in the sense that the tasks assigned there involve both car acquisition and track unlocking. If you never get (via purchase or winning) the cars the cafe owner tells you to, you’ll never actually get to see a lot of your favourite race tracks. Or participate in multiplayer of any sort.

Once you come to terms with the fact that Luca, the cafe owner, is your sole questgiver in this game, and that all of his quests involve grovelling at the altar of the automobile industry, you’ll finally have reached the opportunity to leave the rhythm portion of GT7 behind — to some extent, anyway — to do something else.

Which means after some extended navigation — select World Circuits, select a broad location from “Americas, Europe or Asia-Oceania”, select a track, select a race on said track, “Enter” the race provided your car fits the regulations, press X purely to leave the track splash screen and then press X on the Start button to finally start a race — you enter the second game in Gran Turismo 7; slot car racing.

At some point in the future, Gran Turismo 7 will implement “SOPHY”, a sophisticated AI designed to replicate the feel of racing against real human beings — but we are, for now and forever, trapped in the present. And in the present, the cars you race against in GT7 might as well be trapped on a slot, whirring their way endlessly around these tracks while people look on.

It’s a hard pill to swallow after legions of other racing games have implemented their own robust AI racers. Obviously the Forza series has Drivatars — a system that is so watered down by Forza Horizon 5 as to not really matter any more — but other actual sim racing games have gone to great lengths to create engaging and entertaining AI drivers. I remember spending ages training an AI in RFactor 2 to have it be able to race and react to my movements.

In Gran Turismo 7, half the time you don’t seem to even exist as far as the AI is concerned. I’ve been PIT manoeuvred multiple times by AI who were attempting to assume their default racing line with little regard for my presence. At other times I’ve watched them simply get out of the way, as if a forcefield sits around my car in a bubble, shoving them from my path before I could shunt them myself, preternaturally aware of my ill intent.

It robs races of their entertainment value. Still, I’ve noticed some interesting behaviours. They won’t guard positions or really battle all that much, but cars will shift about the track to take advantage of the slipstream your car leaves in its wake, and where possible will use that extra speed to overtake you. That’s cool, I love that. And while it’s goofy as shit seeing a clearly faster car somehow stuck to the rear bumper of the crapheap in front of it — a common sight in my experience — the side-by-side parallel version of the same phenomenon looks cool and provides a decent obstacle for the player to navigate.

I get why it is this way though. For whatever reason you still begin every race in Gran Turismo 7 in dead last. There’s no qualifying in the ‘career’ races — you start from the back of the pack and you need to fight your way to the front. Winning races from the back of an even field is not terribly common in real life, but it’s literally your task in every single race in Gran Turismo.

Behind the wheel in GT7

It’s hard not to see through the veil, then, that the AI is predisposed to allow you to beat it. That even in races where everyone is in the same vehicle, you are destined to be allowed a set amount of success before the game decides to challenge you.

It’s harder to see early on, of course, where the game requires players to do fewer laps and so has a smaller window in which to execute this play. But once you begin to do five and seven lap races it becomes very clear.

For fun, I took a desperately underpowered car into a race and clawed my way to the front of the pack. The cars at the back were similar to my own, and so I had an easy time passing them. And I noticed, as I did this, that I was actually making great time. In fact, I had the fastest lap of the race.

But once I pushed my way up past eighth place, the landscape of the race changed. Suddenly the cars in front of me were trying. My fastest lap was quickly blitzed by the car in first — and not narrowly, either. It beat my best time by a full four seconds.

Now, obviously I know that all AI lets us win. In basically every game featuring an AI opponent it is allowing us to succeed — it has to. This is hyper-simplified, but think it through logically — the player is external to the system, but the AI is not.

If I ask you to guess which number I’m thinking of, the only way you can win is if I allow it. But if I wanted to make a game of it, I could make things easier on you. I can create rules, and once you learn those rules you can deduce the number. “Between one and 10.” “An odd number.” “Not a Prime Number.” And so you have your solution.

That’s what (and I stress again that this is very simplified) video games are doing when they create AI enemies for you to defeat. Elden Ring has an enemy who will parry every melee attack — which means you need to either attack while they’re mid-swing, or use the solution that works for basically every other enemy in the game (a high INT build Kamehameha). Xaero from Quake 3 Arena is a literal aimbot, but if you beat him to the railgun you can make it so he dies on spawn for the rest of that bossfight.

But in Gran Turismo 7, those rules are too simplistic. It knows it has put you at a disadvantage by having you start from the back of the pack, and it compensates — but it’s too transparent in that compensation. It slowly adds more and more cars to each race as you progress through the cafe menus, but once you know the formula those cars don’t matter.

And once it becomes too obvious that the game is allowing you success, even the hard fought success you earn against the top three positioned cars on Hard difficulty — and they are difficult to beat, because the game is capable of providing you with real challenge when it wants to — feels unearned.

But there’s a twist. You don’t actually need to win these races. You don’t need to play on the Hardest difficulty, either, but at a fundamental level you only need a podium position to secure progress in Gran Turismo 7.

Placing as high as third in one of the assigned Cafe Menu races will reward you with the car that you need to complete your objective. And because cars are generally worth more than the prize money you receive for coming first, there’s no real need to win. Obviously you will receive more prize money, but here’s the kicker — there’s no change in prize money based on difficulty levels. 

Gran Turismo 7 Dirt Racing

This ties back into an earlier problem — the economy of Gran Turismo 7 is a sham. It’s constructed around tricking you into buying currency using actual money. But this system actually makes the economy even worse.

Because cars hold no value either here.

Now obviously they hold no value in the game’s economy already, because — for microtransaction reasons — you can’t sell them. But even if they implemented the “feature” of selling your unused vehicles in the future, they’d still hold no real value, because Gran Turismo 7 throws them at you for essentially nothing.

Via the Cafe Menus, you can earn nearly a fifth of all the cars in the game by simply placing third in a race against Easy difficulty opponents. Opponents who won’t even try until you actually close in on a podium finish.

Gran Turismo 7 is a car collection game, but you don’t need to ‘collect’ cars. You’re given them constantly. It’d be like saying my reviews are part of a hate mail collection game — it implies effort on my behalf that doesn’t exist. It just flows in my direction.

I bought two cars in GT7 before my journey through the Cafe system was done. The rest — all 82 of them — the game gave to me. There are (lol)* 420 cars in Gran Turismo 7 and I ‘earned’ 20% of them via the bare minimum. I should clarify that I only realised the game could be completed on Easy mode and by placing third towards the end of my journey, and I only used this technique for two races to confirm the theory — the rest I played on a mix of Hard and Normal difficulties.

But that’s not how I used to play Gran Turismo. That’s not the Gran Turismo I grew up playing. GT was a game where you started out with a beater and you worked your way up through the ranks with that sole car. It was a game where you grew to love the decade old shitbox you’d put together. I remember in GT2 I bought a used Mitsubishi Mirage as my first car (Oof, as Hizal would say) and I stuck with that car through thick and thin. Other cars came and went, were bought and sold, but the Mirage stayed forever. When I finally went to buy a car in real life a few years later, in my mind it was going to be a Mirage (although not the Cyborg that existed in GT2).

Try again screen from GT7

That right there was love. That was a game creating a connection between a player and a vehicle. I might be old and jaded and wary of brand-love nonsense these days, but credit where it’s due — older Gran Turismo games loved grassroots car culture, and they were able to get players to love it too.

Remember how The Fast and The Furious was about sexy fast cars and their sexy fast drivers? How it took tuner culture mainstream, how for a brief period at the turn of the millennium every other car had bright neon light strips fitted underneath to better show off its stock exhaust?

What’s that series about now? It’s not about doing up cool cars. The first film featured cars like the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta, and everything in it was tricked out to the nines. In F9, the only cars they do anything to are Dodge Chargers — everything else is stock, with maybe a unique paint job.

It’s the same trajectory as Gran Turismo 7. The Fast and Furious used to be about how people used cars to express themselves — that’s what Tuner culture is. But now the FF films celebrate the stock cars themselves, showcasing these vehicles exactly as they might be purchased from the dealership (except for a few minor alterations). It’s lost sight of what the series once was — and so too has Gran Turismo.

And while I’m talking Fast and Furious — how come every vehicle in those movies is liable to be crashed and trashed, but Gran Turismo 7 still won’t implement a damage system?

Because we’re long past the point where Gran Turismo’s ‘zero damage’ philosophy is a detriment — now it just looks silly. And in Gran Turismo 7, where the races barely matter and only results count for anything, crashing has never been more viable.

Nothing makes the slot car racing aspect of Gran Turismo’s races feel less realistic than the fact that they’re all impervious to damage. Certainly they’ll shower sparks when you touch a wall, but there’s no actual consequences for the impact. Which is weird in a game that is clearly desperate to find ways to slow the rate at which players make money.

It makes the divide between player and AI racer even more significant. The AI will crash into you, but there’s no malice in it — they just didn’t see you. But if I want to abandon a proper racing line and use another vehicle to help get around a corner, I’m free to do it. Hell, if the car I’m using to cushion my entry into a hairpin happens to be in first place, I’ll probably be rewarded for it.

And while I generally don’t do this — like I already said, GT7’s opponents don’t require much to be defeated — it’s a trick I felt comfortable pulling out if I’d spun out and needed to make up some ground quickly, because it works.

I hate that there’s still no damage model in these games. The excuse has always been that the manufacturers won’t allow Polyphony Digital to represent damage on their cars, but it’s long been debunked. And it has a particularly sour taste in a game like Gran Turismo 7, which already feels too willing to kowtow to the demands of automobile company marketing departments.

A crazy experimental car in GT7

The other thing it does is lend credence to the uncanny valley feeling of these games. Polyphony Digital has mastered the art of making their games look like real life. They’re based in reality — real cars, a lot of real racetracks, realistic physics** — and so you can grab a screenshot from the latest game they produce and show it to someone and they might credulously say “I can’t tell if that’s real or not.”

If blurring the lines between reality and the digital is the goal, Gran Turismo 7 represents the pinnacle of human achievement. It might even be the best looking game around, depending on your tastes. “Hyper-realism” isn’t something I personally value in art, but I can see its merits — and nothing, not even the Forza games, comes close to what Polyphony Digital manages here.

But in action, without any damage model, the curtain falls and the truth is laid bare. The pursuit of reality — at least in terms of visuals — starts and ends with the purely superficial. This beauty truly is only skin deep. As soon as you scratch the surface, you’ll realise you can’t even scratch a surface***.

What’s weird is that Gran Turismo 7 is actually capable of tracking damage.

Let’s be clear — it will never represent the cars in its stable as being beat up. But if you create a custom race, you can implement damage systems. It’s not Beam.NG or anything, we’re not seeing individual suspension break or specific engine parts blow, but Gran Turismo 7 recognises collisions and is able to represent those collisions as gameplay affecting damage. You’ll drive slower, and your vehicle will list in one direction.

It just never uses this in any of the races it makes you do via the Menus system. I believe I’ve looked at every constructed championship in the World Circuits list, and I didn’t see it in any of those, either. At least fuel and tyre wear are factored into races in the post Cafe game.

Which leads me, finally, to the spreadsheet portion of Gran Turismo 7’s racing. Races in GT7 are defined by their restrictions. In an effort to focus a player’s attention on the Menus, races restrict entry for a bunch of reasons.

If the current Cafe Menu is about French Cars from the end of the 20th Century, it might restrict you to Forward-engine, Front-wheel drive (FF) cars from France. That means you’re stuck driving some terrible Peugeot — but at least you know you’ll be matched up with other three-cylinder shitboxes as well.

The FF portion of that restriction is actually a classic Gran Turismo move — races were often class restricted back in the day. But here, those restrictions railroad you into using cars you’d otherwise never drive. In previous games, the restrictions just meant you couldn’t sell everything in your garage because a FF or FR race might pop up at some point. Here, they’re weaponised to force you into one of the many, many cars it gives you. Or doesn’t give you. One of the only two vehicles I bought during the main campaign of GT7 was a truck, a Toyota TRD Tundra, a lifted American-style pick-up truck that I had to spend at least $55,000 on to progress through the game.

Karting in Gran Turismo 7

Forcing players to constantly change cars is a problem, in my opinion. In its desire to showcase every vehicle, GT7 fails to really showcase any of them.

And when you’re constantly changing vehicles, it’s difficult to get a feel for their intricacies in a gameplay sense, too.

I don’t own a car. I used to, 15 years ago, but when I moved to Sydney it just didn’t make sense. I had nowhere to park one, registration is a nightmare, and because I rarely drive anywhere it didn’t really pan out monetarily speaking. As a result, I hire cars when I need one, and so I’ve driven a lot of different vehicles over the years. And every single car feels different when you get behind the wheel.

Thanks to its carefully honed physics model, Gran Turismo 7 represents that reality — but it doesn’t understand it. It mustn’t, because if it did it wouldn’t ask me to change vehicles every three races.

That’s what it does though. You win three races in some car you didn’t want to drive, Luca tells you the fascinating history of a pile of garbage on four wheels, and you’re thrust into a new car and a new race series, with new restrictions.

And worse, those restrictions don’t really restrict you enough.

Above I talked about how winning isn’t really necessary in Gran Turismo 7, but I actually left something out. If you want to win, in most cases it is insanely easy to do.

Cars in GT7 are rated using “Performance Points”, which takes all the elements of a car and boils them down into a numerical value. It takes horsepower, brake quality, tyre quality, number of cupholders and a range of other factors into account and spits out what it calls a PP.

The bigger the PP the better. I’m not making that up. If you buy a Honda Fit off the showroom floor, you’ll have a small PP. But if you buy a Porsche and drive it out of the lot, well by gum you’ll have a whopping great PP as defined by mathematics, and nobody, not your dad, or your son who is already taller than you, or that woman who didn’t want to go out on a second date despite the fact that you showed her you have a lot of money can say any different.

A Porsche drives around the Nurburgring

And the vast, vast majority of races in Gran Turismo 7 have no Performance Points restrictions on them, which means spending just a bit of money upgrading these cars will turn every race into a joke. And because you’re not spending money on cars in the first place, it feels like something you might as well do.

You don’t even have to spend a lot.

One of the truck races is around the Daytona Nascar track, four kilometres of a slightly askew oval where racers must hold their nerve, master the art of the slipstream and turn left sometimes. It’s an awesome race — provided you enter it with a completely stock Truck.

In a completely stock Truck — that is, in a Truck that is 20 points under the recommended PP of 420 — the difference between victory and not even placing on the podium comes down to a test of nerve. The rubberbanding catchup logic will allow you to work your way up from 12th into first, but physics will mean you cap out at a top speed that the other cars can slipstream behind, and you’ll find yourself in a thrilling pack battle all the way to the end.

If you decided to spend just $5000 on a “Fully Customisable Computer”, you will win that race with ease (assuming the AI doesn’t take you out before you can lose the pack). Your car will still be below the recommended PP level with this one upgrade.

But if you wanted, you could spend oh so much more. And the game does nothing to stop you. It’s not like 420 PP is a cap. GT7 does introduce PP caps for later races, restricting you to 600, 700 and 800 for the last half dozen or so Cafe Menus.

But there’s no nuance to it. The game has the capacity to limit your tyre type, your maximum base horsepower, whether your car has a turbo or not — if GT7 wanted to, it could turn the art of tuning your car into a puzzle all on its own. It would actually be a pretty good way to teach players about the tuning system, which it just sort of unlocks and dumps upon you.

But instead Gran Turismo 7 focuses on restrictions that see you constantly changing cars while simultaneously allowing players to overtune their machines to the point of making almost every single race trivial.

And don’t give me any of that “just don’t tune your car” shit, either. The game is built around the acquisition and upgrading of cars. It’s ostensibly constructed around the idea of winning races, even if it eventually becomes apparent that victory is entirely optional. And the amount you need to spend to tune your car into an automatic victory is almost always trivial.

Hell, the fact that you can easily win races while below the recommended PP makes tuning cars seem insidious. Or at least, it seems insidious when you realise just how broken the game’s economy is. It starts to feel like Gran Turismo 7 isn’t recommending you reach some particular PP because it’s the level of the other cars, but because it wants you to spend money pointlessly tuning your vehicle. It wants you to waste your money on upgrades you don’t need as a way of bleeding cash from player’s accounts.

But if you’re smart, you’ll carefully manage your money to spite Polyphony Digital. Hell, if you’re smart, you’ll drop the game to the Easiest difficulty and blast through the races, earning wins without needing to upgrade anything at all, excising yourself from the entire rotten system while the mint condition scalextric cars march in single file down the racing line independent of your existence.

Still, you won’t complete it all without engaging with the third game in Gran Turismo 7.

The third game is a boss rush against the most devious challenges a race track has ever devised.

Behind the wheel of the Pagani Huayra

At some point during GT7 you’ll be asked to acquire a licence. It used to be you needed a licence to do anything at all in Gran Turismo. Before you were even allowed to play you needed to prove you were up to the task, a gatekeeping technique that I think correctly disappeared over the years.

Gran Turismo 7 goes too far in the other direction, but at least you can do races without first spending full minutes proving you can apply the brakes.

I actually really liked the licence challenges in Gran Turismo 7 — or at least, I liked the ones I did. I also liked the Missions, which resemble Licence tests without the pretence of teaching you how to drive. But it’s a system that is not without its problems.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty simple. It starts out as a basic ‘how-to’ on how to drive a car. Stop within this area, turn this corner, navigate this chicane, you’ll do all the basics. Each one is timed, and the faster you do them, the better you’re graded. There’s a leaderboard so you can compete with your friends, and rewards for getting all gold grades and all bronze grades in each licence class and mission set.

Stopping a car within a certain time is actually harder than it sounds, and this lesson alone teaches you oodles about how to navigate a race course. Ever since the beginning, Gran Turismo has told you to mentally mark a place on the side of the road to use as a guide to know when to apply the brakes — and it still gives you that same tip today. It’s an easy lesson to absorb, and one you can apply in other areas of racing. Once you’ve mastered it, you’re ready to learn how to smoothly turn.

That too is a foundational skill, and even if you think you’re good at racing games, Gran Turismo does a great job of walking you through it. Jerking the wheel to the side, or turning while you’re braking, or approaching the corner from too close to the ‘apex’ — all of these things will shed milliseconds off your time, lowering your final score and possibly costing you that precious gold trophy. And for people coming to Gran Turismo from arcade racers, it’s an important lesson to learn — even if you could tap the handbrake to whip your car’s backend around a hairpin corner (and you can), the amount of speed you shed doing that means it’s not worth it.

It’s very different to the regular game, too. In Licence tests and most Missions, players aren’t allowed to leave the track or scrape a wall or bump into other cars. Those actions result in immediate failure, as the screen shrinks and small text floats into view telling what you did incorrectly. Even on tracks you feel you’ve mastered, techniques you use all the time are illegal here. I basically always skip across the grass coming out of Skyline into the Esses on Bathurst because it’s not penalised in any pre-made race in Gran Turismo 7, but doing it in the licences would be a (justified) automatic failure.

A Nissan Silvia does a sick drift move

If you treat it as part of the GT7 experience it’s incongruous, teaching you lessons you can use but via punishments you’ll never see. I take the lessons I learn in licences and I apply them to better skip parts of the track, which is surely not the takeaway intended by the system.

As you progress through each licence the lessons get more difficult. Corners are chained together, weather elements are introduced. The way you think about a racetrack changes. You no longer see individual corners but systems of corners, each one linked to the next. An individual corner has an entry, an apex and an exit, where you slow down into and speed up out of the apex. But when linked together, you start to see how taking one corner wide might allow you to take the next shallower, affording you a higher exit speed on the second — and therefore a better time.

It’s always been one of my favourite things about the Gran Turismo series. Once you get past the B licence, it starts to feel like you’re moving from one boss fight to the next. I spent hours on some of these challenges.

And that’s where I saw the problems with GT7’s version of them.

First of all, Gran Turismo 7 leaves counter-steering assists on even if you chose to begin the game with no artificial assists. Anti-lock Brakes and Traction Control Systems are real world features of actual cars, and I’ve got no problem using them (when a race allows them). But Counter-Steering is the Aim Assist of racing games, an artificial crutch designed to help controller users compete with wheel users. And if I turned off all the other auto-drive options, I expect CSA to be off as well.

The reason I’m hung up on this is because with CSA on, as it is by default (even if you turned the assists off), one of the licences is essentially impossible to gold. A-9 – Hairpins asks players to make a smooth turn around the hairpin on Suzuka, and I eventually broke and googled how to do it after spending an hour on it. It took me less than five minutes after I turned off Counter-Steering Assist.

But even beyond the game directly boning me, some of these challenges feel too great to overcome. I relish the challenge, but eventually you find yourself chaining too many little pieces together at once. And it’s just not how I want to spend my time.

Now don’t get me wrong — I totally understand that some people do want to spend their time this way. Taking an hour to really nail a Mission or Licence challenge can be super satisfying, and if you top your friends leaderboard while doing it too, that’s gotta be great. I spent far more time trying to beat Malenia, Blade of Miquella, so I totally understand the impulse.

And more than that, I don’t think Gran Turismo 7 owes me a gold trophy. I don’t think it needs to nerf the gold times to make them easier, or anything like that. It’s just that I came to the realisation, mid way through the International A Class licence, that I didn’t really care to pursue Gold times any longer — and that’s a shame, because like I said, it’s one of my favourite things in the game.

This Corvette has massive PP

I find myself sitting around wondering why Gran Turismo 7 still doesn’t have a rewind feature. It’s a system that has been around for 17 years, a function of Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano and later GRID, where players can turn back the clock to undo a mistake. I miss it dearly in Gran Turismo — especially in the licences.

I hate multi-stage bosses in Souls games. I absolutely loathe them. Used sparingly, as they are in Elden Ring, I think they’re at best fine, but when a game like Sekiro is structured around them I lose interest very quickly.

The problem with the multi-stage boss is that generally Souls games allow you a moment to breathe after boss fights, and when the big bad gets back up after you’ve killed them, you’re not given that opportunity. When it’s restricted to just a few of the bosses it adds a degree of importance to the fight, but when it’s used constantly, it makes the early phase (or phases, in Sekiro’s case) feel pointless. Like a resource sink. Once you know what you need to do for that phase, and you feel you’ve got it down pat, you get the feeling that you might as well just reset when you fuck up.

It turns what is supposed to be an epic, grand event into something tedious. The first time you fight Sword Saint Isshin, your eyes widen each time he gets back up again. But after the 20th reset during phase two, your eyes begin to roll instead.

I say this, because after the International B Class Licence every single test feels like a multi-stage boss fight. Suddenly the game is chaining together corner sections and then adding another corner section to beat. It diminishes the importance of the first corner set, relegating it to a tedious prologue before the real story. And when you know you haven’t nailed it, you reset before you even bother with the second set of corners because you need to take the last corners at a certain speed to actually analyse the correct line.

So you reset, and you begin the whole thing again, and you start to resent the earlier corners for being in the way.

But a rewind system would alleviate that issue. When you bork a corner, you could rewind until you nailed it. Instead of restarting from the beginning, you could simply wind back a second to before you entered the corner, and you could see if you could do it properly this time..

I mean even fucking Dark Souls games let you take a health potion when you screw up. Even Elden Ring will wallop the shit out of you and then allow you to recover your health a bit before doing it again.

One of the missions, which are like licences but less “educational”, sees you drive a 1968 Fiat 500F piece of shit around a racetrack at a slow jog. It tasks you with beating seven other 54 year old hunks of garbage around this track. It’s a race like any other, except every car on this track combined has a smaller PP than my electric powered Porsche. It’s a hilly track, because the people who created this challenge share a lot in common with the villains in Prisoners in that they want to stop people from believing in God. The hills of the Autodrome Lago Maggiore, combined with the whopping 16.8 bhp and half a ton weight of Fiat 500F mean you will spend a portion of this “race” moving at a snail’s pace.

Driving the Fiat 500f in GT7

And the cruel joke of this particular challenge is that even if you are winning before the first lap is over, you must then execute a perfect second lap, or else you will have failed. A perfect second lap in a car that is nowhere near as fun as it looked in Lupin the Third isn’t a second phase of a boss fight — it’s around your sixth. You already mastered a hairpin turn, a steep climb into a sweeping right and then another long turn into the uphill straight to the lap marker — when you lose just a little too much speed doing that final corner for the second time and you get beaten to the finish line doing 23 km/h, you begin to wonder whether you’re trapped within Roko’s Basilisk****.

A rewind feature would essentially undo this pain. It would negate this issue. You messed up on the final turn of a torturously slow race in a car you hate? Don’t worry, here’s your Estus Flask. Try again.

And like Estus Flasks, rewinds could be limited. You could restrict the number of them. Hell, I’d be ok if a Licence test couldn’t be Golded via rewinds — you’d still be able to practice each section of a track properly before you tried it for real. As it is now, Licence tests involve you inventing the choreography to a stage show mid-performance and then booing you when you don’t get every step correct.

I do mean that literally — if you screw up enough times, one of the very helpful talking heads of Gran Turismo will pop up and tell you to watch a demonstration of it being done, and to try being less garbage. It’s not very helpful.

The real kicker here is that the Licences actually stop being necessary. You don’t need the International B Class licence or anything beyond it to compete in Gran Turismo 7, rendering the system moot. It’s weird, because you’re doing races internationally, driving all over the world — but a National A Class Licence is the most you’ll need. Or at least it is for now.

Missions aren’t really required at all — there might be a Cafe Menu that involves one, but it’s barely relevant.

And while I have my problems with them, they still represent my favourite part of Gran Turismo 7. You spend time with the cars. There are stakes, and consequences, and there’s a challenge present that I can’t circumvent via what is, to me, a core part of the game experience. It’s not tied to predatory monetisation, not burdened by an economy designed to trick me into paying money for fake currency.

I keep coming back to that because games are always more than the sum of their parts. GT7 feels like three games — a rhythm game, a slot car racer and a boss rush challenge mode — but all three are inextricably linked. When you’re finding out what meaningless restriction you’re burdened by in the slot car racer, you’re doing that via the rhythm game. When you’re earning a vehicle by defeating the boss rush mode, you’re using it in the slot car racer.

The faults in each of these games weigh down the others. On its own, having to click an extra time whenever you want to compete in a race because there’s a splash screen for the track is inconsequential. But when you forgot to buy the dirt tyres you need, that extra click turns into one more among a dozen. Not needing later licences might seem like small potatoes, but it makes you look closer at the slot car races available — did we get an unfinished game? None of these faults happen in a vacuum, and each has a knock-on effect.

A Nissan Skyline tricked out for racing

I don’t know how I’d fix the menus, but I don’t think criticism needs to come with a solution all the time. I don’t think you should drive everywhere, ala Forza Horizon, but I think it would be better than what we get. There’s very little driving in Gran Turismo 7, the so-called “Real Driving Simulator”. Racing isn’t driving, and there’s very little reason to simply experiment with vehicles in GT7 outside of actively racing, because the economy is so poorly weighted that time spent not earning money is time wasted.

But the truth is, to fix GT7 you’d basically need to start from scratch. Because the real problem isn’t the terrible UI, or the constant brand worship or the predatory monetisation. Those are symptoms — symptoms of a developer that traded its soul to the automobile industry and is either too happy with the outcome, or too spineless to do anything about it.

It’s weird to accuse a series that has always been about the deification of luxury consumerism as having sold out, but that’s what’s happened. By ceding control to the manufacturers, the game has turned itself into a flashing neon-lit billboard in their honour, a pop-up ad you pay $100 for. And then it has the balls to try to eke a little more cash out of you afterwards. The real sin of Gran Turismo 7 is that it’s not built for car culture, it’s built to exploit it.


* lol funny weed number lol.

** I mean I think? I’ve never driven a Ferrari at 250 km/h or anything.

*** The game actually does let you scratch the paint in a very fixed manner but I was just really stoked with this line so consider this an immediate correction.

**** If you are not familiar with Roko’s Basilisk, do not look up Roko’s Basilisk.

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