In 1997, the first Grand Touring became famous for its graphic realism. It was not uncommon to see crowds gathered around display screens in high-street shops, gawping at the seemingly impossible level of detail seen in its replays. Twenty-five years on, players have become inured to such things. And it is, Grand Touring 7‘s cornucopia of cars gleam with weighty authenticity. Yes, you can pick out each individual stitch on a leather steering wheel, and catch the reflection of the car’s interior on the inside of the windshield as you corner into the sun. Yes, all this blazing realism helps fool the brain that you are there, in the driver’s seat of a million-dollar racing car, or a mint condition DeLorean, or a Toyota AE86. But this game’s true wonders run much deeper.
The 54-year-old racing car driver Kazunori Yamauchi, creator of the Grand Touring series, has always viewed this, his life’s work, as something more than a handsome-looking video game. With each installation he has expanded and refined an interactive encyclopaedia of motor-racing, contextualizing each vehicle in its manufacturer’s history, providing commentary and insight into the significance of different models, producing an inhabitable document of both an industry and a sport. Grand Touring 7 is without doubt the team’s most complete and focused attempt yet: a stately, reverent, almost evangelistically nerdish celebration of motorsport.
It takes time to adjust to Yamauchi’s way of doing things – especially for any players dizzy from the saccharine exuberance of rival racing games such as ForzaHorizon. Grand Touring 7 forces you to obtain licenses before you can race, to wash your cars and perform oil checks, maintenance and servicing, and save up your money to buy new vehicles from secondhand car dealers. It sounds tedious, but these slow-release charms combine, with time, into a powerful spell.
The game’s missions are doled out, inexplicably, by the owner of a forest cafe. Typically, he tasks you with completing three competitive races to collect a trio of related cars: Japanese front-wheel racers, French hot hatches, American muscle cars and so on. Implausibly, the other cafe patterns include top real-world car designers and experts who provide brisk lessons and titbits of information on any of the hundreds of cars you collect. Any vehicle in your expanding collection can be enhanced with upgrades and then taken online, where you can compete with other drivers from around the world, each race captured in Grand Touring‘s famous sumptuous replays. Poor behavior on the track goes on your permanent record, and so, just as the game carefully teaches the first principles of racing, Yamauchi teaches his players trackside manners.
As our everyday real-life cars are increasingly powered by batteries and run on upgradeable operating systems, they become more like smartphones, in that obsolescence seems written into their being. In a world awakening to the existential threats posed by the climate crisis, Grand Touring 7 is arguably an unfashionable game. But it provides a delicious snapshot of a century’s worth of motoring, delivered with the warmth of a lifelong devotee whose passion, as expressed through this game, is irresistible.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism