Gran Turismo 7 - title

I recently published a video to YouTube explaining how playing Gran Turismo 7's weird campaign reminded me of why I stopped playing Gran Turismo games to begin with. This video is not a full review of Gran Turismo 7, since I don't do video reviews. It's more a retrospective of my history with the franchise, why I chose to buy GT7, and my reaction to the game's campaign and reward structure. Not to mention some obligatory jabs at the game's awful, scammy, and borderline fraudulent bait-and-switch monetization scheme. Even though this isn't a proper review, it does echo much of the content of my original blog review, so I invite you to check that out. And since the review already contains most of the points made in the video, I'm not going to transcribe the entire video in text.

Gran Turismo 7 reminded me why I stopped playing Gran Turismo.

In summary, I have felt that since around Gran Turismo 4, the games have shifted to being more about collecting cars than about actually driving or racing them. Reward cars are given out like candy, leading to a garage full of cars that I never drive and which I don't feel I really earned. There's no attachment or sense of ownership over the cars, and they just don't feel like my cars in the way they did in the first Gran Turismo. That first game required greater investment to win prize cars, making them feel more earned, and it put a greater emphasis on tuning the cars in the garage to get the best performance out of them. Buying my own cars and meticulously tuning them really created that sense of ownership that is just lacking in GT7.

I also want to emphasize that I do not hate Gran Turismo 7. Even though I dislike the campaign and its reward structure, and even though the monetization model is despicable, the actual driving is absolutely fantastic! Especially with the Dual Sense controller on the PS5. I am particularly impressed with how well the Dual Sense's motion controls work for steering the car. There's some nifty haptic feedback features as well, but steering the car with the motion sensor is an absolute game-changer. So the campaign may suck, but I'm still playing GT7 on a regular basis because of how much I enjoy the driving. I've been alternating between GT7 and Elden Ring.

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So anyway, I hope you enjoy the linked video. Feel free to share your own experiences with the game in the comments, either here on the blog, or on the YouTube video. And remember, all my content is funded by the support of readers and viewers like you through Patreon. So if you enjoy this content, I hope you'll consider contributing to help support the creation of further content. And if you do decide to join as a Patron, then, first of all: thank you! And secondly, don't forget to fill out the Patreon Entry Survey and tell me what content you enjoy the most.

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Gran Turismo 7 - title

I used to love the Gran Turismo games. I played the shit out of Gran Turismo 1-3. I think I was even close to hitting the 100% completion threshold of GT2 (well, the max 98.2% because the game was bugged and it was actually impossible to get to 100%). 1 and 3 in particular are great games in their own right, and still hold up well today. Gran Turismo 4, however, is when the series started to lose me, due to several changes to the design philosophy of the game that all converged to make it less appealing to me as a matter of personal enjoyment.

I was able to get my hands on a fancy new PS5 over the holidays, and I'm looking for games to play on it, and also technical showcases to see what the fancy new hardware can do. I was especially curious how a simulation racing game would feel on the Dual Sense controllers, with its variety of haptic feedback features. I could see a lot of potential in that genre of game. So I bought Gran Turismo 7 for pretty much this reason alone. It was a little bit for nostalgia too. This game celebrates the 25th anniversary of the series itself. So I went ahead and purchased it for old time's sake.

I was even tempted to buy the Special Edition to get the bonus Toyota Yaris. I figured the Yaris is probably the closest I'll come to being able to drive my real-life Toyota Echo within the game. However, I suspected that if Gran Turismo 7 would be anything like GT 4 or GT 5, it would be giving away cash and cars like candy. So I didn't see any value in the other special edition bonuses, like the extra credits. I sure as hell wasn't going to spend $20 for just one virtual car that I would probably race a handful of times for its novelty before switching to more powerful cars.

A Toyota Yaris GR is already available in standard edition, so I don't see any value in the special edition.

But there's already a GR Yaris in the game anyway, so I'm not sure what is so special about the Special Edition car. Besides, the Aqua and Prius look more like my car anyway. In any case, I hate special edition bonuses, and pre-order bonuses, and retailer-specific content. It's such a cynical fucking slap in the face to us consumers to have content withheld from the game unless we buy a specific edition, or buy from a specific vendor.

Feeling the road in my hands

Anyway, I bought the game to hopefully be a showcase for the technical innovations of the PS5. Of all the games I so far own on the system, none of their use of the PS5 controller's tactile features have really lived up to the promise of the Astro's Playroom game that comes included with the PS5. I was hoping that being a Sony-exclusive, flagship title, Gran Turismo would really wow me. It does do some neat things, but I don't know that I would say that it "wow" me.

This game requires finesse with the gas and brake.

I didn't really start noticing the rumble feature effects until I got further into the game and was playing with much more powerful cars. Up until then, the rumble was mostly reserved for if I hit the rumble strips on the side of the road or actually went off the road, or if I lost traction or spun out. But it felt similar to typical video game rumble. When the cars started to get more powerful, however, I started noticing some additional rumble effects. The engine would vibrate the controller a bit more, and I would also feel a soft thud from the middle of the controller whenever the car would shift gears.

The adaptive triggers do a little bit more heavy lifting. The throttle will stiffen up if the car starts to lose traction or if trying to accelerate up a steep incline, especially in inclement weather. Even in ideal conditions, smashing the gas and hitting top speed in a straightaway will also make the controller feel unstable in my hands, sometimes to the point that I'm genuinely afraid that if I turn the steering wheel at all, I'll instantly lose control and spin out.

By the time I feel the car slipping in the rain, it's already too late.

This actually causes me to loosen my grip on the trigger and throttle down, which usually restores some stability to the car. Instead of completely losing control because I have no way to know just how lose my car's hold on the road is, the adaptive trigger helps me to maintain control by signaling that I am throttling too hard. Pulling my foot off the accelerator pedal a little is exactly what I do in real life if I start to feel my car losing its grip on the road (which happens quite often in the gusty winds of Las Vegas), and that instinct is exactly replicated in the game.

More generally, the adaptive triggers make it uncomfortable to jam on the accelerator or the brake, especially for an extended period. It really encourages slowly depressing each trigger in order to better control the acceleration or braking of the car. Again, this mirrors how a real-life car is controlled. This makes all inputs feel much more deliberate and controlled.

Steering can be done with the motion sensor.

9 and 3

The real surprise highlight of playing Gran Turismo with the Dual Sense controller is steering the cars with the motion sensor. I'm not sure if this option was available in Gran Turismo 5 or 6 on the PS3 and PS4, or if it's available on the PS4 version of Gran Turismo 7, but this is a totally new way of driving a video game car for me. And I'm actually genuinely surprised by how well it works. I chose the motion control option after I booted up the game for the first time, thinking it would be borderline unplayable, and I would switch back to the traditional analog stick steering. But holy hell, I actually stuck with it!

The motion sensor is surprisingly responsive and maps reasonably well to the motion of holding a steering wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock positions. Using this control method, and the first-person cockpit camera, I had little-to-no problem keeping my car in a straight line and steering it through corners. I even got a gold medal on all but 1 of the B-1 license tests (and all but 3 of the A-1 license tests) using the motion controls for steering.

Steering with the motion sensor is surprisingly responsive and accurate.

It is a little awkward to hold for longer races. Holding down the throttle and brake triggers can be a little bit uncomfortable, especially if I'm trying to use my middle finger for them. And trying to use other face buttons often results in my car veering a bit. Holding the controller out in front of me (where a real steering wheel would be) can also be tiring after lengthy races. Not being mounted to a dashboard means I can't rest my hands on the controller the way that I would on a steering wheel.

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Final Fantasy XV - title

I really don't know what to make of Final Fantasy XV. On the one hand, the game is trying to do something new and kind of interesting with the long-stale open world formula. I desperately want to be able to celebrate the game for these new ideas. That being said, the game just completely blunders so much of its fundamental design, and it tramples on many of these promising new ideas by falling back on too many of the very same tropes that have killed so many other open world games.

The obvious common criticism of the game is that it's got too much of the player just sitting in the car waiting. You don't even have to drive the damned thing, as you can set one of the NPCs in your entourage to do all the driving for you. And even if you do decide to take the wheel, the car drives itself. You just press the gas, and the car automatically steers itself to stay on the road. You can't even turn off of the road even if you want to.

You know what? I'm actually OK with that.

Final Fantasy XV - reading in the car
I actually don't mind the long drives, as I can catch up on some reading along with Gladiolus

A nostalgic road trip adventure

You see, having such restrictive travel mechanics actually forces the player to think more about how you're going to navigate the world. While in the car, you are confined to the game's roads and highways. You can't just point the car directly at your objective marker and drive off-road in a straight line to get there. You're also limited to traveling during the daylight hours, and you have to make sure that you budget the time and money to stop for gas and lodgings. There's a genuine amount of logistical planning required for accomplishing virtually any task in this game. You have to think about traversing this world in the same manner that the characters would have to think about it! This is a role-playing game, after all, isn't it? So these travel mechanics are actually pretty clever ways of putting the player in a role-playing mindset and giving you a game to play when you're outside of combat.

I get the feeling that Square-Enix wanted Final Fantasy XV to emulate being on a road trip. You spend large chunks of time sitting in the car driving across the countryside, passing rest stops, scenic overlooks, and roadside diners. You stop every so often to admire the view, take a walk through nature, or chat with the locals. When the sun sets, you are pressured to find a motel to bunk in, or to set up a camp site if you happen to be on foot.

For brief periods of time, this game hits a very serene high in which you start to feel like you're really in this world and with these people, as they sit bored in the car, or eat dinner over a campfire while going over the photos that they took of the day's adventure. It's the same sort of feeling that No Man's Sky hits in its early hours, when you're still awestruck by the sheer size and scope of the new planets you set foot on. Having been someone who used to take annual road trips with my family to visit national parks around the country, seeing a video game try to simulate and systemize that activity (and the human bonding that it engenders) is genuinely endearing and makes me more than a little bit nostalgic.

Final Fantasy XV - camping
This game makes me nostalgic for the summer camping trips of my youth.

Mundane video game adventure

But then, much like No Man's Sky, Final Fantasy XV shatters that experience by forcing you back into "video game land". It isn't the long stretches of non-interactive driving through a video game vacation that bothers me. Instead, I'm bothered by the sheer tediousness of the mundane fetch quests and busy-work that the game throws at you. You see, a road trip -- and an adventure in general -- only really works if you're always traveling towards a destination. This is a feeling that Final Fantasy X completely nailed!...

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Last time, I discussed what I perceive as a problem in the way that most open world games (specifically, sandbox games) design their maps and use the space that the maps offer - or fail to use that space, to be more specific. So many open world maps end up feeling less like actually playing the game, and more like a convoluted mission-select and collectible checklist screens. This problem is especially bad in the Ubisoft model of design, and is also a problem (to a lesser extent) in Bethesda's open worlds. Due to the popularity of these developers' franchises, many other developers have been cloning these styles of games to one extent or the other, to the point at which Ubisoft's open world model seems to be the go-to template for any developer trying to make an open world game. These games aren't necessarily bad. They just aren't very good at making the space of their maps feel meaningful in its own right.

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate - zipline
Many open world games have large, expansive maps that mostly feel empty and pointless,
as the player rushes through them simply to get to the next map marker or checklist item.

But now that I've established what I see as a problem, I want to focus on positive feedback. In this discussion, I'm going to look at a handful of games that should serve as inspirations for would-be open world developers. Ironically, some of these games aren't even open world games, but they still pose valuable lessons for how games that are open world could better use their game spaces. That isn't to say that the games discussed here are perfect. In fact, many of them have their own major flaws. But each of them has some element of design that utilizes the actual game map as a component of active play, rather than just a space in which game sequences exist. First, let's take a look at a game that was re-made recently, and use it as a "before and after" case study of map design...

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I wrote a lengthy blog late last year about the stagnant, "limbo"-like feel of most open world games' narratives. I had written that blog mostly before I played Metal Gear Solid V, and so I wasn't able to incorporate my thoughts regarding that game into the blog. But I did come to a new realization about open world gaming while I was playing MGSV. In my review of that game, I noted that:

"Even the open world itself feels constrained, as sheer cliffs prevent you from travelling too far off of the roads and serve to functionally railroad the player towards the small set-piece outposts and villages."
    - from my Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain review

I realized while playing MGSV that the game had built this large, open world (well, two large, open worlds really, but I hadn't gotten that far yet), but it didn't really care to let the player actually traverse that space or use it in any meaningful way other than scavenger hunting for collectibles. At least those collectibles felt relevant to gameplay though! Roughly half the map is dead space that the player can't even access. There was also this strange focus on using the helicopter to drop in and drop out of missions, rather than actually living in the game world, as the character had to do in Snake Eater. The map started to feel less and less like a place, and more like a convoluted mission-select screen. At first, this seemed like a strange, isolated example of an open world game that really doesn't want the player actually exploring its world. But as I thought about it, I realized that this isn't really a new phenomenon; it's actually just a very extreme example of what has become a sort of defacto state in most open world games.

Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain - restricted world map
The Afghanistan map of Metal Gear Solid V feels heavily constrained by sheer cliffs.

Think about it this way: in a linear game with rooms and corridors, every hallway and room should serve some purpose or function. In most games, this function will be some kind of skill or system mastery test. An action game like Devil May Cry will throw enemies at you to fight; a puzzle game like Portal will have a puzzle (or a piece of a puzzle) in the room to solve; a stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 will have a sneaking challenge or obstacle to pass; and so on. In the best games, each of these challenges will also provide a unique or novel test of skill or system mastery: unique combinations of enemies, unique puzzles, or novel arrangements of enemies and obstacles. Other games can use those rooms for thematic or narrative purposes. A survival horror game like Resident Evil or Silent Hill will usually put enemies, puzzle items, or supplies in a room, but some rooms might instead contain a scripted scare. In some cases, a room might even be left completely empty in order to build some kind of tension or anticipation, or to delay the release of already-built tension or anticipation.

So what is the gameplay purpose of an open world map? ...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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Final Fantasy XV's road trip is an interesting concept that deserves a better gameFinal Fantasy XV's road trip is an interesting concept that deserves a better game06/14/2017 I really don't know what to make of Final Fantasy XV. On the one hand, the game is trying to do something new and kind of interesting with the long-stale open world formula. I desperately want to be able to celebrate the game for these new ideas. That being said, the game just completely blunders so much of its fundamental design,...

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