Features GT7 Prolonged: where was Gran Turismo 7 at E3 2015?

Features

Martin Bigg

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There's no doubting that Sony had a strong showing at this year’s eventful E3. A departure from the clinical corporate presentations of the past with a firm focus on showcasing what matters most to gamers, i.e. new games, it had everything from surprise new IP reveals with Guerrilla’s Horizon: Zero Dawn and Media Molecule’s typically abstract Dreams. Then of course we the triple knockout punch that was the surprise reveals of The Last Guardian, Shemune 3 and that Final Fantasy 7 remake – even if all the excitement blinded people to the fact that the majority of titles showcased in Sony’s conference won’t be available until next year. Compare that to Microsoft’s relentless reveals of highly anticipated exclusives headed to Xbox One this year.

However, there was something else Sony’s conference sorely lacked: racing games. Or, to be more specific, Gran Turismo 7. I doubt I was alone in hoping that Polyphony would take the opportunity to show us even the faintest sign of life of the new Gran Turismo game, which Polyphony have previously confirmed is in the works. Even a teaser trailer showing an extreme close-up of a highly detailed headlight with a vague release window would have sufficed. Just…something. Anything. Unfortunately, Gran Turismo’s absence at E3 could have long term repercussions for the series.

Gran Turismo has been Sony’s signature racing series on PlayStation since 1998, but the lack of regular releases is starting to reduce its relevance as a brand. In its heyday, Gran Turismo was untouchable, but the market is very different today, with rival series Forza and several new IPs now leading the pack and causing the granddaddy to fall behind. It’s almost as if Polyphony are oblivious to the competition with their fingers lodged firmly their ears. Case in point: in the 17 years it's taken for Polyphony to churn out six main Gran Turismo games, it's taken Turn10 only ten years to reach the same point in the Forza franchise – and that's not including Forza's open world sister series, Forza Horizon. Effectively, Polyphony has left the gap wide open, waved their arms and yelled “come on through!” to the competition. 

There could be some logic to this strategy, though. After all, Polyphony are notorious for their perfectionism and glacially slow development cycles, and are probably biding their time to give Gran Turismo a better chance to breathe and hold its own when it's finally released. Forza Motorsport 6 already has its annual parking space reserved for this September, while Assetto Corsa is said to be arriving on consoles early next year, leaving a late 2016 release window potentially open for Gran Turismo 7 to pounce. In the meantime, Sony are probably relying on their successful first party title DriveClub to hold its own as the PS4's premier racing title, but it doesn't provide the authentic driving experience Gran Turismo does.  

Internal development issues could also be a factor – as we know, several high profile releases have been severely bug-ridden (even the mighty Project CARS hasn’t survived unscathed). The last thing Sony needs is another DriveClub-scale disaster on their hands.

But prolonging Gran Turismo 7 could do more harm than good in the long-run. The danger is that Project CARS now has a real chance to become the PS4's definitive sim racer, especially with no sign of any direct competition in the racing sim market until Assetto Corsa’s arrival on consoles next year. At this rate, it wouldn't be surprising to see Project CARS 2 pull up ahead of Gran Turismo 7. 

At least Turn10 seemed aware of Project CARS' presence when announcing Forza Motorsport 6. While we all knew it was coming, some of its headline features, namely its diverse car roster, 60fps, night time racing and weather effects, seemed like a direct retaliation to Project CARS' impressive featureset. 

Releasing a Gran Turismo 7 Prologue game would have been an ideal compromise. Yes, they’re essentially glorified paid demos, but it’s a model that worked well with Gran Turismo 4 and 5, generating hype by feeding fans a nourishing bitesize appetiser before the main course to make up for Polyphony’s long development times. This way, at least Polyphony would still have some presence on PS4. Now it might as well be called Gran Turismo 7 Prolonged. 

At this point, you would think Polyphony would be be pouring all their resources into preparing GT7 for PS4. Instead, they’re still clinging onto the past, as we’ve still been seeing new Vision GT cars announced for Gran Turismo 6 on PS3 this year. Their diligent post release support is admirable, but it’s now been 18 months since the release of PS4 and Xbox One – if Gran Turismo 6’s paltry sales figures are anything to go by, most people have moved on now. As Codemasters found out to their cost, sticking with last-gen formats for too long doesn't pay off. Releasing GT6 on PS3 was probably a mistake: ironically GT6 technically still isn't finished as it's still missing previously promised features such as the long overdue course maker which is apparently still coming. 

Polyphony’s contribution to the automotive industry cannot be understated. The multfunctional display inside the Nissan GT-R? Polyphony designed that, along with a host of other notable car components. Polyphony also pioonered the annual GT Academy which has provided a host of new racing talent, turning gamers into fully fledged racing drivers. The efforts of Kazunori and his band of passionate petrolheads go above and beyond most racing game designers, which is why he’s such an industry icon.

As the pioneering Vision GT programme proves, Gran Turismo’s relationship with car manufacturers is growing to the point the recently-unveiled Peugeot Vision GT concept car designed exclusively for GT6 had its own prestigious Paris press event. The Vision GT programme was an interesting novelty, but one that noone asked for – I would have happily traded the numerous Vision GT DLC installments with contemporary cars that are already in DriveClub and Forza. 

It leaves you with the feeling that Polyphony are losing sight of what gamers want for Gran Turismo, as the lack of communication on Polyphony’s part and their reluctance to move the series forward to catch up with the competition with more up to date cars and features is starting to allienate even the most patient players. Let's just hope the fruits of Polyphony's efforts to harvest relationships with car manufacturers will come into fruition in Gran Turismo 7.

So, when can we expect Gran Turismo 7 to be announced? Well, Sony’s next major event is the Paris Games Show following their departure from this year's Gamescom, followed closely by the Tokyo Game Show. Given that Polyphony are Japanese, an announcement at the Tokyo Game Show isn’t out of the question. Then again, it’s possible Polyphony want to avoid being a part of a main conference – Gran Turismo 6 had its own announcement event held at Silverstone as part of the series' 15th anniversary celebration to give it maximum exposure. Gran Turismo 5, on the other hand, was announced at E3 2009 but was delayed until the following year.

Gran Turismo 7’s belated announcement will most likely take place at E3 2016 if we’re to assume it will be released later that year – Kaz has promised we'll be playing GT7 before 2017, so late 2016 is a feasible target in-line with GT6's December 2013 release. 

At that point, the PS4 would have been out for three years. Gran Turismo 5 had a similar release schedule, arriving in late 2010 four years after the launch of the PS3. Let's just hope it's not too little too late like GT5 was  – the series has struggled to stay relevant in recent iterations, arriving with outdated car lists and archaic features. The GT mode's convoluted structure, for example, needs a drastic overhaul.

The longer we have to wait for Polyphony to break their silence, the more astronomical our expectations for Gran Turismo 7 will become. People will now expect Gran Turismo 7 to run at an unflinching 1080p and 60fps, have night time and weather effects available for every track and over 1000 premium cars with full interiors if it has any chance of catching up with the competition.

However, there is still hope that Polyphony will respond to the competition and innovate the genre once again. There’s a possibility of seeing the return of bikes which haven’t been featured in a Polyphony game since Tourist Trophy (bikes were originally planned to feature in the canned Gran Turismo HD PS3 game before it became a digital demo), since Polyphony were previously spotted on location at the Isle of Man TT. The audio design is apparently getting a radical revamp, too, as Polyphony have enlisted a former Forza Motorsport sound engineer, as is the car damage – two key areas that have always let the series down. Gran Turismo 7 could well be a spectacular return to form and reclaim the racing game crown it used to proudly wear all those years ago. Anything less than that simply won’t cut it anymore.

Were you surprised not to see Gran Turismo 7 at E3? Are you losing your patience with the series or do you think it will be worth the wait?

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