Gran Turismo, the RPG of racers, returns with the seventh entry in this long running series – so long as you go by the numbers at least. Our Gran Turismo 7 review gave the game a 9, in no small part thanks to the stunning visuals on display. Polyphony has always strived for photorealism, and thanks to the power of the PlayStation 5 it’s made another leap here – especially when it comes to Ray Tracing, though that does come with some limitations we will discuss later. That’s not the only big addition though, as a full dynamic weather and cloud simulation system is now present in the engine, a welcome addition since the feature debuted in Driveclub many years ago. Doubly nice, it’s not exclusive to the PlayStation 5 version, meaning PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro players are not left wanting.
Ray Tracing Mode
The PlayStation 5’s Ray Tracing hardware empowers Polyphony to increase the realism and accuracy of the car models and all materials. These were already convincing in GT Sport, and what we see here is an iteration or two further from that 2017 release. Being built on that engine means the same industry-leading HDR and lighting quality are present to deliver consistent and accurate cars and interiors that are convincing as they differentiate themselves with excellent micro-facet behavior and energy consumption properties. The physically-based materials used in Gran Turismo are amongst some of the best in the business. That includes Global Illumination for the bouncing of light from one surface to another, as seen when the striking red bucket seats of a Honda Integra bounce soft, red-diffused hues onto the leather steering wheel or the faux carbon fiber dash. The different reflective surfaces of the car each bounce and absorb light differently, bringing a realistic look that convinces us we are looking at chrome, leather, rubber, and so on.
This is a strength of the Ray Traced Reflections used here as they emphasize the micro-facets of the surfaces, allowing highly uniformed surfaces such as the chrome bumpers of a Mini to reflect the objects around it. The improvements that Ray Traced Reflections bring can be transformative, and are most easily noticed on the Garage view of cars, in car interiors, and in the Scape movies. Although they run in replays and can be of benefit in certain conditions when cars are close together reflecting each other, they can also go unnoticed in other sections, with road reflections, building or even drivers’ helmets, all reverting to dynamic cube-map reflection or screen space reflections. In a testament to how good these methods are here, they do a convincing job of emulating the same details to most players’ eyes.
The PlayStation 5 also offers other visual boosts over the PS4 and Pro versions. Self-shadowing is improved with far better and more accurate shadow filtering and ambient occlusion. This carries on outside with far more shadow-casting objects, higher texture details on grass, buildings, and roads, and improved asset quality. Higher Foliage is used with better shading and again grounding within the world. All these elements are cemented by the dynamic weather and cloud system allowing light in all areas to drastically change from sunny skies to overcast, rain, and more. The volume of clouds is better and, although a minor boost over last generation it still adds load to the GPU. The Planar Reflections used on car mirrors are also of a higher resolution, object density, and filtering. It adds up to a great looking game on PS4 and Pro but one that can look significantly better on PlayStation 5 in specific sections thanks to these enhancements, even in the frame rate mode.
All Ray Tracing is disabled in gameplay, no matter the choice you make in the menu. Prioritize Ray Tracing ensures that the reflections on car surfaces are enabled in replays and track interlude shots, though this only includes the cars, and it reduces the frame rate to 30 fps whenever it is active. This dynamically changes during replays with certain shots and interiors jumping between 30 and 60 fps. During gameplay itself, Ray Tracing is disabled, giving you performance one in the same with the second mode, Prioritize Frame Rate, which runs all sections – including replays – at 60 fps without Ray Tracing.
The other benefits of the PS5 enhancements are all included in both modes, such as the improved Ambient Occlusion, Foliage, and Screen Space Reflections. It manages to keep both modes at a locked 3840x2160p output at all times, which delivers a very sharp and highly detailed image even in action. This includes an additional per-pixel radial blur in gameplay, which is exclusive to the PS5. The clean image does a great deal in aiding the strong impression the visuals have, even if they are similar to GT Sport.
The PS4 and the PS4 Pro have a single mode, which runs gameplay at 60 fps and all replays at 30 fps. The split between gameplay and replays is a sensible one, as it enables them to keep a consistent image quality throughout and allows even the base PS4 to look incredible. Coming in with a locked 1920x1080p output, it really is impressive considering the age of the hardware and the fidelity on offer. The Pro is a refined version of this, aside from a minor increase to foliage density and Planar Reflections, the biggest boost is in resolution. PS4 Pro offers an approximate 3200x1800p output via a Checkerboard or reconstruction technique, just like GT Sport, which can present some shimmer and dithering on shading effects and specular highlights. The increase in pixel count is instantly apparent, with it sharpening textures, thin elements and all high-frequency elements across the screen. Aside from these areas though the two PlayStation 4 consoles offer an identical and impressive package. This is not to say the game doesn’t have weaker areas though, as trackside details, trees, and crowds can look flat and fall short under scrutiny. This makes sense given that these will often fly past at 155+ mph covered in Motion Blur. But with some replay segments and trackside previews, these shortcomings can be noticeable and stick out in comparison to the intricate details on the car models and interiors.
I am happy to report 60 fps gameplay remains, as we saw in 2017 GT Sport, across all formats. The PlayStation 5 version delivers a solid 60 fps reading during most sections and tracks of gameplay, letting you hone your racing skills with fast and consistent input response and a largely stable 60 fps readout. Dips into the mid 50s only occured in intensive scenarios, such as if you happen to be at the back of the pack on a rain-soaked 20-car grid. This is still impressive considering the level of detail and multi-million polygon levels being pushed across the highly detailed cars, and is a worst-case scenario that’s not indicative of most gameplay you will experience. The PS4 is similar, offering a pretty stable 60 fps performance metric in the majority of cases. It can have some infrequent 33ms single-frame skips from time to time in races, and again, those rain-soaked sections can also cause some mid 50 readouts when you stress the machine. Aside from these sections though it delivers on the target far more often than not, which is equally if not truer on the Pro. Again, dips can occur from time to time with only the same stress segments causing any noticeable dips below that target 60 fps performance line.
Replays can be more problematic, with dips on all formats, be that 30 fps Ray Tracing or 60 fps in Frame Rate mode. These are worse when at the start of a race, with a packed 20 car grid, depth of field, per pixel motion blur, high resolution particle mist and other FX alongside 5000+ car polygon models each adding a great deal of load to the GPU and CPU. Once free of these areas as the grid fans out, performance levels return to the target level. This is true across all formats with each of the consoles having the most dips during replays, but the biggest cause is from those packed grid starts. As these are non-interactive elements of the game though, the trade off from visual fidelity and stable performance is likely the correct choice here. When it comes to gameplay, I never experienced bad performance across any format, and the majority of the time it hits that target. That said, a locked 30 or 60 fps should be the aim for a racing game, and I hope that at some point Polyphony can add in a dynamic resolution scaling system, which would resolve most of these issues if and when they should arise. I doubt most would even notice the visual impact when they do.
Finally, loading times. The PlayStation 5 really stretches its legs here, with races being loaded within 4 seconds. The PS4 Pro comes in five times slower, with races loading in around 20 seconds. The gap to the PlayStation 4 is even larger – around 40 seconds of load time. The advantages of the PlayStation 5’s superior storage solution means that you can be half-way around your first lap before the last generation players have even started their engines.
Gran Turismo 7 is a passionate, petrol fueled show for Polyphony Digital, delivering a nostalgic return to form of the Gran Turismo series. The technical nips and tucks come in all in the right places to deliver an incredible-looking swan song for the PlayStation 4 generation, whilst improving and refining the new-gen experience thanks to Ray Tracing, near-instant load times, and other visual boosts that allow Gran Turismo 7 to shine as bright as the team would allow.