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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Gran Turismo 7 VR Review

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When it comes to next-gen racing games, I’ll admit I generally reach for the wheel of Forza Horizon 5’s approachable open world over the close second that is Gran Turismo 7’s more rigid dedication to realism. But the shiny new PlayStation VR2 headset is like a burst of nitrous oxide in the latter’s engine, narrowly pushing GT7 ahead of the competition by finally putting its money where its mouth has always been. Impressive headset haptics, HDR, and 3D audio all come together so believably, creating a one-of-a-kind experience that any car junkie or racing fan should want to dive into, even if you aren’t usually into the strict regimentation and slow-burn progression GT7 lays down. And if you are already a bonafide Gran Turismo fan, the PS VR2 offers such a visual and experiential feast that it’s hard not to call GT7’s VR mode an essential upgrade.

Gran Turismo 7 VR’s lifelike cabin visuals and physics often feel like I’m taking an actual sports car for a joyride down the Deep Forest Raceway or through Tokyo’s Central Circuit, generally at speeds that would land me in deep trouble in real life. Trust me when I say once you’ve raced a Ferrari Vision GT at 300 mph in the rain – with dirt and water splashing all across your virtual windshield, only a few inches in front of your face – you’ll probably be as motivated as I was to see everything Gran Turismo’s campaign can throw at you.

While menus are still disappointingly composited onto a flat screen inside of your headset, your entire 110-degree field of view lights up with detail and color once you enter a race or one of several VR-specific modes. Turning your head left and right gives you an actual sense of your surroundings, and unsurprisingly, playing GT7 competently in VR mode demands you have a similar level of spatial awareness as if you were driving a real car. Rearview mirrors and other reference points provide a strong sense of how your vehicle handles, and I imagine it’s even more grounding if you have a fancy steering wheel setup.

Fortunately, the PS5’s packed-in DualSense controller works great on its own. It provides a nice mixture of haptic bumps and jerks to replicate the motion of a steering wheel in my hands and uses its adaptive triggers to mirror pedal resistance on my index fingers as engines roar in all directions. If you collide with a wall or another vehicle, the PS VR2’s in-headset haptic vibrators give a satisfying jolt of feedback. All of these details quickly add up in my mind, making me feel like I am truly in the cockpit in a way that’s actually quite rare for a VR game. It’s a way better example of what virtual reality does well than many other games which – for instance – can ask you to simulate walking around by swinging your arms left and right.

Playing in VR made me care more deeply about GT7's rules.


It does suck that you don’t ever get to watch yourself physically step into the cabin, and it’s similarly disappointing there are no special animations or VR scenes to portray what’s going on between menu selections. None of your vehicle’s consoles or buttons are interactive other than lighting up when your headlights are turned on either, which happens automatically in darker driving conditions. But it’s not like Gran Turismo 7 was ever particularly focused on flair or excess to begin with, and even the simple menus are forgivable when they are still a pretty convenient way of getting around. While inside a vehicle’s cabin, I’m never really focused on anything other than the road itself anyway, so the lack of virtual interactivity is a minor downside considering the otherwise transcendental racing experience.

Bringing Gran Turismo 7 into virtual reality did something I didn’t expect: it made me care more deeply about its rules. When I was so physically entrenched in its virtual simulation, I spent the time to really learn how to navigate its optional systems. The intuitive in-race HUD is seamlessly mapped over my vehicle’s physical dashboard, but fine-tuning my ride doesn’t just change a number on a screen anymore; it affects the way the car handles, and in VR, I can feel those subtle changes in my body. That includes TCL, fuel mapping, brake positioning, tuning, and more adjustments. That nuance can be a lot tougher to pick out when you’re playing in third-person mode with less audiovisual and haptic feedback guiding you, but in VR I could truly learn the ins and outs of my vehicles. That makes the simulation aspects of GT7 that might be intimidating to some that much more important – and captivating – in VR.

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When the PS5’s many cylinders are all firing during peak moments, GT7 VR positively radiates eye candy, pushing vast draw distances and rendering a ton of action at once. This is best exemplified when you’re a tailing a car neck-and-neck – and then out of the corner of your eye, you catch several other cars chasing you in your rearview mirror to the backdrop of a sunrise glinting over the French countryside. There is nothing quite like this anywhere else, and it really is a testament to how good the PS VR2’s technical specs are. The immersion is only broken by a few animation glitches here and there, like your avatar's hand occasionally glitching through the gear shifter, but you really have to be looking for them. Some minor missing details like the lack of a handbrake animation may also annoy detail sticklers, but they don’t ruin the experience when so much care has clearly been put into everything else.

Shopping for vehicles in GT7 has a shiny new layer to it since you can now activate the drop-dead gorgeous VR Showroom. This lets you spend as much time as you’d like with a full-scale replica of every single car in Gran Turismo 7’s expansive fleet. It’s neat to hear the growl of a new Jaguar F-Type R V-8 engine up close, both inside and outside of the vehicle. Popping into your garage lets you enter a more expansive version of the same VR Showroom mode, allowing you to travel to a wider variety of locations. Here, you can play with the lighting options to get all kinds of up-close angles of each of your owned vehicles, which is a delightful way to drink in Gran Turismo 7’s photorealistic lighting system in the PS VR2’s full 4K HDR OLED glory. It’s impossible to describe how cool it is to physically stand next to one of my own custom liveries, especially when they may have started as a silly in-joke between friends.

VR replays provide a novel approach to reliving your best racing moments, though I can’t say they’re the most comfortable. You basically stand-in as the replay camera while GT7 itself moves you ahead of the swiftest car on the track every few seconds. This is kinda jarring, but it gives you opportunities to watch (and record) the track from unique angles as the racers zoom past. It also lets you hear cars screech by as their engines and tires echo around the geometry of the track, and GT7’s use of the Doppler shows off just how good its 3D sound design and audio spatialization are.

Verdict

Gran Turismo 7 is the same amazing simulation-focused racer it always has been, but playing in a PlayStation VR2 headset has elevated it in ways I wasn’t expecting. Driving its intense and alluring races in VR adds such a high level of tactility that you can physically feel the tweaks you make to your car, demystifying a lot of the otherwise intimidating optional customization for the average player. It also looks stunning, making up for flat menus and the lack of interactivity in its cabins with impressive lighting and audio alike. If you’re buying a PlayStation VR2 headset anyway, and you had to buy just one game to keep you busy for an indefinite amount of time, make it this one.

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