An all-time favourite game of mine is Burnout 3: Takedown. The launch title I bought alongside my PS3 was MotorStorm. The outside chance of a new Ridge Racer is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Well, I mean, that last one's an exaggeration, but Bamco, it's time. Come on.
The point is, I love arcade racing games, and I probably always will. Often free of stuffy manufacturer licenses and untethered by reality, series like Burnout can really let loose. Flying around at ludicrous speeds, chaining together physics-defying drifts, and boosting your way to victory — these colourful, high-energy games are always fun, super satisfying thrill rides that never get old for me.
Having said that, I do dip my toes into more serious racers. I've enjoyed more sober driving titles like Race Driver: GRID, the F1 series, and DIRT Rally 2.0, to name a few. Though they're much more grounded, many games like this, which tread the line between arcade and simulation, still offer that excitement I'm after. There comes a point on the racing game spectrum, however, when sims become too realistic, and I start to lose interest. For the longest time, I thought this included Gran Turismo.
On PS2, I played Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec and Gran Turismo 4. To be honest, I'm not sure what possessed me to get the latter, as I found the former to be dull as dishwater. I would've been quite young at the time; when GT4 rolled around, I'd have been 15 or 16 (and, let's remember, obsessed with Burnout). I thought the series was too clinical, straight-faced, and boring. It felt slow and rigid, with a sort of holier-than-thou sensibility that got up my nose. In my early noughties bedroom with my little portable TV, I convinced myself it just wasn't for me, almost resenting the fact it was somehow popular.
I've sat on that mindset for what is scarily close to 20 years. Many times Polyphony Digital has put out another gorgeous driving simulator, and many times I've ignored them. While I've continued to enjoy arcade racers through the years, my stance on sim racers and Gran Turismo has gradually softened, but I've always just assumed I'd bounce right off any new entries. I suppose I never put the time in to consider a) my tastes and mindset maturing, b) the games incrementally improving, or c) that I might one day work for a PlayStation-centric website.
During the PS5 reveal, Gran Turismo 7 was announced, and my colleagues were getting amped up about it. I couldn't care less, but I was obviously happy they were happy. Cool. The game released earlier this year, and those same colleagues talked it up, saying it's the best one in a long time, a return to form. Great. Have at it. Where's my new WipEout?
Just a couple of weeks ago, I received a Thrustmaster T248 racing wheel for review purposes. I'd always wanted to give these things a proper try, so I was looking forward to diving in. Sammy pointed out that, if I was going to review a wheel, I should have the PS5's flagship racer with which to test it. So, this was it, then. After about 17 years of apathy, I'd be playing Gran Turismo after all, and I had to, because it's my job.
You can read much more about my thoughts on the wheel itself in my review, but my experience during this little project has been quite eye-opening. Not only do I have a far greater appreciation for wheel-and-pedal setups and what they do for racing games, I've almost completely U-turned on GT. And I think it's because of the bloody wheel.
When I began playing a handful of racing games with the T248, I wasn't having a great time. Ultimately, I think I was impatient, expecting a wheel and pedals to transport me, unearth my digital driving potential. To start with I was extremely clumsy, far too heavy-handed, and the result wasn't pretty. I was entering corners much too fast, and then would be surprised when I ended up spun out on the grass. This sucks.
Then I booted up Gran Turismo 7. I knew little about how the game operates, so I was surprised when the very first thing you do is a Music Rally stage. I did know about these, and enjoyed the laid back drive to a classical medley, but it's an odd way to introduce the game. Then it plays a preposterous eight-minute sequence, detailing humanity's history with the automobile before kicking into high gear with some impressive gameplay shots. I couldn't help but crack a smile at what I was watching.
Obviously, though, the on-track experience is what began to change my mind. Those initial races in my wholly unremarkable Toyota Aqua, along with the first set of licence tests, were bafflingly enjoyable. I think what clinched it for me was the fact I was trying to learn how to properly use this racing wheel at the same time. Starting fresh with GT7 — a game that opens up rather slowly — I was almost forced to rewire my brain. Having you begin with a run-of-the-mill production car, especially with certain assists activated like the braking zone, was actually ideal. I could absorb this, learn how to drive the wheel and pedals in a not dissimilar way to learning how to drive for real: with patience, practice, and respect.
I guess I felt this most during the B-licence tests, which taught me about more nuanced use of the brake and accelerator, as well as giving me time to get used to steering with the wheel. GT7 was setting me up for success in other games as well as itself. I'm not saying I suddenly turned into racing game god, but I think this was the turning point where I finally started to "get" the T248. It was quite satisfying.
I also started to understand Gran Turismo, however. The racing wheel aspect certainly contributed, but I think some credit should go to the game too. Its purposely protracted start is kind of genius, because if I was thrown in at the deep end, I'm not sure I'd be writing this. It's quite a complicated game when everything is unlocked, but through the Café, it's all delivered to you in a relaxed, friendly manner that's super easy to digest.
Once I had the hang of how it operates, I started to realise I was genuinely loving GT7, regardless of the wheel. I'm not sure I know how to describe it, but there's a very particular quality this game has that I've not really appreciated before. It's so disarmingly nerdy about cars that you get caught up in it. Why am I watching this replay of my race in a Renault Clio? Why do I care what Luca has to say about rear wheel drive Japanese sports cars? What exactly am I getting out of washing my Mazda RX-7? Well, GT7's replays look spectacular, Luca's enthused summaries are endearing, and I want my nice cars to look their best, obviously.
This isn't necessarily a game for car lovers — it's a game that loves cars. I honestly feel I've gotten more from my short time with it than I have from any other racing game in recent memory. It is a bit pretentious, but it's also a rich, addictive racing game with far more enjoyable action than I anticipated. I'll still always love arcade racers, and I sincerely hope they make a big comeback, but the Thrustmaster T248 somehow upended years of indifference towards Gran Turismo in just a few days. If nothing else, I'm grateful for that.
Have you ever held one opinion of a game that totally changed once you actually played it? Do you also pop on Scapes Movies for a few minutes just to admire it? Go for gold in the comments section below.