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Gran Turismo: What It Is, Where It’s Going, and What Drives It Forward

Main screen of Gran Turismo

I’m going to be honest with you: I hate driving. In the real world, I can’t get the potential consequences of something going wrong on the road out of my head. What a relief, then, to have a series as good as Gran Turismo out there, with all the thrill of driving, combined with unmatched realism in look and car handling, but in the safety of video games!

More than just a racing game, Gran Turismo is the gold standard in its genre. There is no other racing game or series that can hold a candle to it when it comes to quality or legacy. So let’s take a look at this legendary franchise, their history, and how they got to where they are now.

Gran Turismo Games Overview

The ultimate in realistic racing games, Gran Turismo has been a flagship title for each new PlayStation console, used to show off their graphics capabilities and other parts of the system’s potential.

As a series, Gran Turismo can date all the way back to 1992 when Kazunori Yamauchi started with a group of only seven people to create the first game. It would take them five years from start to finish.

That group was Polyphony Digital. During the creation of the first Gran Turismo they were a development group in Sony Computer Entertainment (now known as Sony Interactive Entertainment). However, just before the Western release of the game, in April 1998, they established their own studio. They’ve developed every Gran Turismo game since.

Gran Turismo has such high appeal due to it’s graphics, large number of licensed cars, attention to detail, accurate driving emulation, and the ability to tune performance. Handling of each vehicle is modeled on real-life driving, and adjustments due to tuning come from principles of physics.

Although it does have an arcade mode, Gran Turismo is best known for its simulation mode. Players start off with a certain number of credits with which they buy their first car. They then take it to races and compete with it against other, artificially intelligent, drivers.

They can then use prize money when they win to either upgrade the vehicle or buy a new one. Ultimately, players collect a whole garage full of fast, tricked out classic cars.

Gran Turismo – PS1

They say that quality takes time, and Gran Turismo proved to be no different. Many publications have listed it among the best video games of all time, and with an aggregate score of 95% from GameRankings, it’s also the single highest rated racing video game ever.

Commercially, it did just as well. It had shipped a total of 10.85 million copies as of March 2013, making it the best selling PlayStation game. For reference, half a million copies sold is usually considered to be decent for a video game.

Gran Turismo was the first game to support the PlayStation DualShock controller. Yamauchi estimates that the game utilizes about 75% of the PS1’s maximum performance.

Yamauchi also said that the development process was grueling. He said that, ‘I would wake up at work, go to sleep at work. It was getting cold, so I knew it must be winter. I estimate I was home only four days a year.’ But considering all of the accolades and commercial success mentioned above, it’s fair to say that his and his team’s hard work paid off. (Literally!)

Gran Turismo 2 – PS1

An even better game that was marred by a somewhat bungled release by Sony, Gran Turismo 2 (often abbreviated as GT2) was released in 1999, also for the PS1.

The bungling came from a few glitches that were found by fans in the first version of the game. Sony didn’t ignore irritated fans, offering to replace any faulty unit. But it was the kind of problem that led critics to wonder what might have been if the release of the best racing game ever made hadn’t been rushed.

Glitches found in version 1.0 of the game include only being able to achieve a 98.2% completion percentage due to a planned drag racing mode that was never implemented, and cars would sometimes disappear from a players garage, even if they had saved the game.

The most significant glitch was that the wrong cars could appear in the wrong races. In the 30-lap Trial Mountain endurance race, it was possible that a 680bhp Vector M12 LM could appear, even though the race had a 295-horsepower upper limit, making it almost impossible to beat.

But despite all of that, it still got rave reviews, with an aggregate score on Metacritic of 93/100. Next Generation called it ‘a near perfect sequel,’ ‘the best racer ever made,’ and ‘imagine what could have been if Sony hadn’t bungled the release.’

The gameplay, physics, and graphics of GT2 don’t differ all too much from the original Gran Turismo. But where the sequel really excels is in the number of options for playing. There is a significantly higher number of available cars, tracks, and races in simulation mode. Additionally, players can enter race events separately if they don’t want to go through an entire tournament.

Regardless of whatever snafus occurred in the first release of Gran Turismo 2, it still managed to sell 9.37 million copies as of April 2008, making it a Sony Greatest Hits game.

Screenshot from game Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec – PS2

The first Gran Turismo released for the PlayStation 2, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec came out in April 2001, and did just as well (in some areas, better) as its predecessors.

Because it was on the PS2, the graphics took a huge leap up in Gran Turismo 3. However, the memory required for that level of detail, especially so early on in the console’s lifespan, meant that the number of cars had to go way down – 180 in this, compared to the 650 in GT2.

Another hardware/software upgrade came from the developers’s collaboration with Logitech to create the GT Force steering wheel. Designed specifically for GT3, it’s known for featuring force feedback.

GT3 has nineteen race courses. Almost all of them are fictional except for the California Laguna Seca Raceway and the Cote d’Azur, which is heavily based on the Monaco Grand Prix track. Of the full nineteen courses, fourteen of them also have reverse variants, and four of them are dirt tracks.

Finally, GT3 includes six unlicensed versions of real Formula 1 cars. Plus, albeit only through a cheat code, players have the option to pick up a racing JGTC Lamborghini Diablo and a Porsche 911 GT3.

Continuing the tradition of extremely positive reviews, Gran Turismo 3 has an aggregate score of 95/100 on Metacritic, and many fans see it as being the best in the series. It was also lauded as being ‘the first must-have [game] for PlayStation 2.’

It also continued, and exceeded, the tradition of high sales. One million copies were sold in the first three days, and as of April 2008, it has sold 14.89 million units. It is the best-selling game in the franchise.

Due to the positive critical reception, a shortened version of the game called Gran Turismo Concept was released in regions around the world except North America in 2001. Although it was shorter, it did include new models displayed during famous Asian and European car shows.

Gran Turismo 4 – PS2

Is it just redundant at this point to say that the next Gran Turismo game was a huge critical and commercial success? Despite getting the lowest aggregate score from Metacritic yet (89/100) Gran Turismo 4, released in 2004, still won Best Racing Game at the E3 Game Critics Awards, and was the third best-selling game in the franchise with 11.76 million copies.

Using more memory and more knowledge of the PS2 system, Gran Turismo 4 was back with another huge list of available cars. Car lists changed in different region releases, but the PAL region, for instance, boasts 721 cars from 80 different manufacturers.

Those extensive lists included several Gran Turismo firsts. Gran Turismo 4 was the first game in the series to feature pickup trucks, the DeLorean, a diesel-powered car, a production minivan, and a D1 Grand Prix tuned car.

Normal first-person driving mode is now called A-Spec mode, and there’s also a new mode in which the player is a racing crew chief who directs the driver called B-Spec mode.

A new feature, similar to the license tests that have always existed in Gran Turismo, are the Driving Missions. Completing a set of them earns the player a specific prize car.

The graphics in this game take a leap upwards yet again, but so do the physics of driving. Cars now experience body movement, like pitching under breaking. Also, barriers have much more friction to slow down the cars to stop players from ‘wall riding.’

And finally, for the sentimental fan, there is also a new Photo Mode in the game, in which players can take a virtual camera and grab snapshots of their cars on various tracks or locations. They can then either save those screenshots or save them to a USB device.

Critics pointed out the lack of rendered damage to any vehicle when crashing into a barrier or another car, or any consequences at all. Additionally, they were frustrated that it’s possible to cheat in some races by taking unrealistic short cuts or driving directly across the chicane.

But overall, even professional drivers who had driven these cars in real life marveled at the accuracy of handling each of the cars, and the critiques certainly didn’t stop casual fans, for whom it might have been part of the fun.

Because the release of Gran Turismo 4 was pushed back by ultimately a year and a half, in December 2003 an expanded demo version of the game was released called Gran Turismo 4: Prologue. Despite only being released in Japan and Europe and only being meant to serve as a stop-gap until the full GT4 came out, it still managed to sell 1.4 million copies.

Gran Turismo 5 – PS3

Gran Turismo 5 came out at the tail end of 2010, the first Gran Turismo game made for the PlayStation 3, and, of course, did very well. For a while, it was even the all time best selling game on the PS3, until it was beaten by Grand Theft Auto V.

The biggest change with Gran Turismo 5 is the inclusion of an online play mode. It allowed players to meet in ‘lounges’ or ‘race rooms’ and share cars, car parts, trained AI drivers, photos, and designed tracks with friends. Online activity ended in May 2014, though, as fans and producers shifted to Gran Turismo 6.

The other big upgrade in Gran Turismo 5 was the inclusion of both internal and external damage modeling. Types of damage vary depending on the car. GT5 is also the first game in which it is possible to overturn your car.

Speaking of types of cars, there are a total of 1,089 cars available in Gran Turismo 5, including for the first time (officially) a Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Bugatti. Those cars can be driven on 31 different locations or ‘scenery,’ and 81 different track layouts.

Gran Turismo 5 took five years to complete, which, according to Yamauchi, came from how different the processor in the PS3 was compared to the PS2, and that designing for it was much more time consuming than expected. Total cost of development was about $60 million.

But, naturally, that cost was made back. As of March 2013, the game had sold more than 10 million units. For thirteen days when it first came out, it sold 423,000 copies per day. And as of 2015, it holds the record for longest chart run by a racing game.

And finally, despite receiving a score of 84/100 from Metacritic, it also received fourteen awards from a wide variety of gaming institutions and magazines around the world.

Gran Turismo 6 – PS3

Just three years later, in December 2013, Gran Turismo 6 was released for the PS3. The new main entry into the series didn’t only feature more car options than ever before, but also came with connections to several other massive car and driving institutions.

Gran Turismo 6 featured partnerships with the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Ayrton Senna Institute, Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and NASCAR. GT6 is actually the first video game ever to have officially certified FIA content.

There are 1,200 cars to choose from in Gran Turismo 6. The total number of tracks went down here to 30, but some of those tracks have variable conditions based on weather and time of day. Additionally, one of the tracks is literally on the moon, at Hadley Rille with the Lunar Rover.

Gran Turismo 6 is the first game in the series to have regular updates to cars, tracks, and other features, as well as to fix bugs. Updates came all the way through 2015, but the online servers for GT6 stayed active until March 2018.

The week that Gran Turismo 6 came out, after only two days, it had sold 204,784 copies. For reference, the second highest seller moved 117,432 units all week. Sales never shot up quickly after that, but it was remarkable in how it stayed on top 20 charts for a while. In 2015, two years after its release, it was the seventh best-selling game of the year in the PlayStation Store.

Critically, GT6 had the lowest ratings yet, with a score of 81/100 on Metacritic. Although critics appreciated its dedication to realism and continued wide selection of cars, it was dinged (so to speak) for not improving more from Gran Turismo 5, and for the focus on online play. Plus, a few glitches before the first couple of updates didn’t help.

Even so, it still either won or placed for nine different awards given by gaming magazines or institutions, and critics who analyzed it head to head with other racing games of the time acknowledged that Gran Turismo continues to come out on top and be the gold standard.

Gran Turismo Sport – PS4

Gran Turismo Sport is the first game where Polyphony really decided to switch their formula up, and it’s not because they jumped console generations to the PlayStation 4. Released in October 2017, while there is still an option for single-player racing in arcade mode, the focus is now on online multiplayer PvP competitive racing, called Sport Mode.

Sport Mode involves three daily races that reset every week. Players have a Driver Rating (DR) and Sportsmanship Rating (SR). Generally, the highest DR is A+, the highest SR is S, and the lowest score for both is E. However, although it is not easily available, there is one higher DR out there: S, for players who rank in the top 200 worldwide.

There are also two tournaments that Gran Turismo Sport features at the same time throughout the year. The first is the Nations Cup where players represent their country. The second is the Manufacturers Cup where players represent their favorite manufacturers. Both championships are certified by the FIA, and the FIA manages the races directly.

As an online-based game, Gran Turismo Sport features continuous updates, just like GT6. Although it was released in 2017, updates still come out for it regularly. For instance, Sport started out having only 168 cars and 29 tracks, but free game updates since then have brought those numbers up to 324 and 82, respectively.

The updates also added a single-player campaign to the game, akin to what most players have come to expect from a typical Gran Turismo game, but that wouldn’t come until several updates in.

Other firsts for Gran Turismo Sport include it officially featuring cars from Porsche, and offering support for Sony’s PlayStation VR headset. Although it was originally announced to be fully compatible with the VR headset, though, VR support would eventually become limited to only a special VR Tour Mode.

This was, critically, the least well reviewed game in the Gran Turismo main series. Of course, that still means ‘generally favorable reviews’ on Metacritic with a 75/100. However, while some critics liked the switch to online racing, others lamented the loss of the traditional Gran Turismo experience and pointed out that the online experience was lost with a poor internet connection.

Nevertheless, as of June 2019, Gran Turismo Sport has sold roughly eight million copies, was nominated for sixteen awards, and made Eurogamer’s list of the Top 50 Games of 2017.

Gran Turismo 7 – PS5

Announced at the PlayStation 5 reveal event in June 2020, Gran Turismo 7 is planned and in development for the PS5!

Not much is known about the new installment in the Gran Turismo series yet, but so far we know that, while Sport Mode will return, so will the old school special events, championships, driving school, used car dealership, and everything else that has been so loved in previous entries.

There is no official release date announced yet, but since the PS5 is scheduled to be released in the holiday season of this year, fingers are crossed that Gran Turismo 7 will come out around the same time.

Gran Turismo has long been the final word in racing video games. Their level of detail and precision both in look and feel when it comes to driving such a wide variety of cars is absolutely unmatched. And with a new mainline game on the way, the future is bright for Gran Turismo fans! There’s a lot to be proud of there, and a whole lot more to look forward to.

Polyphony Digital, Sony Interactive Entertainment
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