You don’t simply fire up Gran Turismo and play it. You sit down with a nice drink, lay back, and experience this game — and that resonates more than ever with the latest version that just came out, Gran Turismo 7. It’s less of a car video game or a simulator than it is a total cultural experience. Every time I play GT7 I feel like I just left a really good museum or had a particularly excellent dinner. 

This is a game I’ve been anticipating with near-rabid fervor since the first trailers came out in September of 2021. I even declared the March 4 release date as the only holiday I really needed to celebrate in 2022. Although I wasn’t cool enough to get an early review copy, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow GT fans and played the game for about 10 hours during the weekend after it dropped at 9 p.m. Pacific time. My thoughts thus far are in something of a conflict, much as the game is in conflict with itself.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

This conflict isn’t immediately apparent for the first hours of gameplay. In fact, the slow-going introduction to the GT7 universe is incredibly well-crafted. Frankly, it takes a long while to get to the exciting stuff, and the game forces you into following a strict regimen with a new Cafe feature that assigns missions to collect cars in trios, usually won in races. But after filling up a few sheets of Japanese compact cars and some European hatchbacks, the game quickly opens up to its full feature set. 

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

The main map-based menu is an adorable way to interact with the entire game. It gives the game life and character but it is also endearingly like a child’s play set. There are small trinkets laying around like some miniaturized seaplanes, boats, and animated little flags gently waving in the coastal breeze. 

As for the Café, it is much more than the previews hinted. It’s a pretty interactive way of making the game feel alive. Specific characters and real-life design icons will appear depending on the car you’re equipped with and will offer genuinely fascinating insight into each machine. I nearly transcended when a virtual Tom Matano, father of the NA Mazda Miata design, started talking about the 997 Porsche 911 GT3 I just bought.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

From the adorable main menu to the menus of GT Auto (the car maintenance and customization shop) there is this overwhelming feeling of crossing some kind of faraway finish line or important milestone. The music, once technical and jazzy in previous games, is now softer and more of a soft rock love ballad, slow rollers that feel like a corny movie sunset scene on a Miami beach than the classic GT soundtrack. It all feels self-celebratory in a way that I don’t think any other car video game has ever attempted. It feels lively, young, and its heavy with this triumphant romance for itself.

But sometimes, it really falls flat on its face. The first time you visit GT Auto, the campy, carnivalesque remixes of the classic GT musical motifs is only kind of entertaining but more of a jarring feature in what should be a familiar area. In fact, most of the soundtrack lacks that unplaceable excellence of GT Sport, in which it elevated the experience of the game. I can tell clearly that it’s aiming to be cuter than GT Sport, but I enjoyed the more serious museum aesthetic of that game and previous GT titles.

When the new aesthetic lands, however, it lands well. Music from previous games features somewhat heavily, setting us up for the celebration of GT that has been poised from the throwback advertisements, GT4-esque trailers, and an overall respect to the dynasty of GT. Trial Mountain, a timeless GT classic race track, makes a comeback in a distinctly different art style to the modern GT games. Instead of picture-perfect photorealism, colors are exaggerated, textures are simplified, and it has an overall PlayStation 1 aesthetic that really works for me. It’s an explosion of old game nostalgia, and because I still play 22-year-old Need for Speed games, this shit works on me.

This soaring crescendo and slightly bumpy crashes have been defining my GT7 experience. For every feature I absolutely and unabashedly fanboy over, there is a slight record scratch, a flaw in what has been perfection in past games. I have a few examples.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

For one, the car selection is amazing. It’s nearly everything you want without the annoying fluff, including carefully curated enthusiast cars as far as the eye can see. Split up into the Brand Central for post-2001 cars and the randomized used car dealership for pre-2001, and there is a nice collector element to the game that keeps you searching for the next interesting machine, including a collector level that unlocks so-called missions and other bonuses. Then there is the curated collector dealership where true classics are purchased.

But then it is quickly apparent that there aren’t many fresh cars in the game. The newest cars I saw were the new Nissan Z, Toyota GR86, Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series, and Ferrari F8 Tributo. A lot of other brands were notably on the old side. The most recent McLaren was a 650S, the Volkswagen GTI is still a pre-facelift Mk7, the list goes on. It’s not a terrible transgression but it’s notable. The cars that are on the list are well chosen and also perfectly modeled. This leads to interesting opportunities when it’s time to modify the cars.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

The new GT Auto is the best of the series, save for its music. Everything that existed in previous games has come back bigger and better. Now, a dedicated library of manufacturer colors can be purchased at will to paint any car in any color. But the single most excellent part of GT Auto is the selection of aftermarket wheels, which is unparalleled in its selection and quality. Every model of wheel from Rays is in there, including all four variations of TE37 and my personal favorite ZE40 in the correct Rays colors. BBS boasts a large library including the legendary LM, while Enkei and Yokohama Wheel boast similarly large selections.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

With this wheel and color selection, this game very quickly goes from the Ultimate Driving Simulator to the Ultimate Spec Simulator. All the wheels I ever dream of putting on my cars, all the colors I would paint my cars in, and tasteful aero mods let me build my cars exactly how I want them. Other games [cough] Forza [cocough], are too focused on ugly wheels with ridiculous body kits that have zero bearing on anything I’m interested in. Not that it’s bad, I just really don’t care for it.

The result of my GT Autoing: a wingless, Zanzibar Red “PTS” 997 GT3 on TE37 SAGAs. Perfection. Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

GT7 does all of this amazing work for modifying cars but then commits one huge sin: It restricts wheel choices on some models of car. The biggest and most in-fucking-excusable crime: no BBS LMs on the E46 BMW M3. How did they let that happen? The BBS LM is the quintessential wheel for the E46 M3. 

Along with the LM, they restrict the TE37 SAGA, which is the best looking TE37 after the Ultra model. What is the point of having this huge, actually unmatched wheel library, then restricting it on certain cars? This part makes no logical sense to me.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

But once I get over that, I can’t help but take my subtle creations to the enchanting Scapes mode. This is one feature of the game for which I have zero complaints. More than 2,000 locations across the globe, all beautiful, bring the game and the cars to life. I can say with confidence I spent more than half my time on GT7 building various cars and taking pictures of them on Scapes. The quintessential GT experience, thankfully, is still maintained. 

Yes, this is 7 Iron. Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

There is some trouble in the fact that I spent so much of my time in scapes. The driving physics are repeating the same story from before: nearly perfect but also far from it. While I have a nice simulator setup that works on my PC, it does not work on my PS4 Pro, so I was relegated to a controller for my review. As is customary, I turn off all the assists except anti-lock brakes, and I especially turned off counter-steering assist. This might have been my biggest mistake.

Unforgiving is the word I would use to be kind. Borderline throw-my-controller-away frustrating is the feeling I had as I battled through every license challenge during a long Saturday. The game’s biggest problem is in how countersteering from a drift is handled. Dedicated drift cars are fine, but when racing for better lap times it is nearly impossible to smoothly recover from a slide. Most of the time, my input was exaggerated and I was sent careening away from the corner. 

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

After hours of dealing with this, I found that GT7 demands a level of precision and fine-motor skills that either requires driving assists or a steering wheel. This is a genuine shame. Even with counter-steering assist off, I noticed the game would subtly countersteer when the car began to slide, which exacerbated my own natural reactions. You could say I should just turn assists back on, but why do players who want a challenge need to be penalized? 

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

It’s an even bigger shame when I’m feeling just how good GT7’s physics have gotten. I could balance the gamepad knife-edge into exhilarating gameplay that allowed me to rotate and pose the car as I could on a real-life track. And the sound design is some of the best ever put into a racing game. Long gone are the days of the famously bad GT5 vacuum cleaners; this game stirs the soul with amazing induction tones and exhaust bark. Downshifts on tuned cars crackle with convincingly realistic bursts of flame from the exhaust and the cockpit ambiance is perfect in comparison to the third-person camera.

A big part of this is the new cockpit camera movement that is impressively true to life with how it parallels head movements during real-life high-performance driving. When it all works together, its dazzlingly immersive and a lot of fun rising to the challenge of GT7. But often, I found myself dialing in traction control to win races, or setting countersteering assist to the weak setting. I will admit that relenting to the assists improved the game greatly.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

But here’s the truth of it all: It celebrates cars and car culture in a way no other game does or has. If nothing else, it is romance for everything mechanical that binds the greatest driving games together. The love and passion overflows from the screen and into my heart every second I play this game. Sometimes, it becomes a little too much and turns into that mystical campy quality I’ve been tracing during my experience.

GT7 represents a lot of things I love about how car games can communicate the majesty of machinery and reminds me of the very early days I spent playing car games in the ‘00s. I learned everything from those old creations and this game revives a bit of that old wonder. At its best moments, it can make me emotional because I know that this is true love for the automobile and that someone else is feeling it the same way I do. All the way down to how I can customize my in-game helmets and driver suits, put little stickers on my cars, and place them in the most glorious scenes the planet has to offer. This game is here for one purpose and it is The Cars.

Chris Rosales GT7 Screenshot

On launch week, GT7 has an astounding starting point. But it’s just that, a start. There are many hills to climb here for the new GT but I think with iteration and dedication from Polyphony, it can get there. Updates including free content like new tracks, cars, potential new modes have been promised over the coming months, surely as much as subtle tweaks to control structures and gameplay. But there is plenty to do now with the fun and wacky missions that include fuel economy challenges, overtaking missions, and drift challenges. 

I may sound somewhat negative, but I really adore this game. There is so much good here, and it will take only a little bit more work to get the game where it could be. Please, God, just let me put BBS LMs on my Mystic Blue E46 M3.