Last week’s Update 1.35 for Gran Turismo 7 came with an unexpected bonus – the first expansion to the highly eccentric Music Rally mode since the game’s launch back in March 2022. With six new Music Rally events joining the initial half-dozen, the mode has now doubled in size.
What’s unfortunate, however, is that the mode hasn’t really gotten any better.
Music Rally, for those of you who haven’t played GT7, is essentially a series of distance trials challenging drivers to travel as far as possible before the associated song ends. You start with an allocation of beats, depending on the tempo of the song, and passing through checkpoints on track will keep them topped up until the music ends. It’s ultimately very straightforward.
In the lead-up to GT7’s release, series creator Kazunori Yamauchi described Music Rally as a low-stakes mode geared towards beginners – particularly children – and designed to allow players to enjoy a relaxed drive to music. In reality, truly succeeding in Music Rally doesn’t really accommodate such a leisurely approach; meeting the gold cup distances requires aggressive and rapid driving. Or, at least, as fast as you can in the pre-selected vehicles – most of which come from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. One comes from the ’20s.
Not the 2020s; the 1920s.
To be clear, the problem with Music Rally isn’t the vintage of the cars. I love old cars. I’m a huge car dork. No, the problem is the music itself.
Of course, as with anything, music is subjective. Enormously so. I’m not about to get into a George Gershwin versus Garbage debate here. However, let’s be realistic: how many Gran Turismo enthusiasts are also fans of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Louis Clark’s early-1980s disco remixes of classical music? Enough to warrant a quarter of the Music Rally events? Somehow, I doubt that. I’m willing to wager that Venn diagram crosses over in Polyphony Digital’s office and approximately nowhere else.
Admittedly, GT7’s Music Rally is a short-term novelty at best. It’s completely separated from the core solo career. There are no rewards for completing all the events. In fact, as a standalone mode, you can essentially ignore it entirely – and I’d expect most players have. But how much better could it have been if the music had been curated with more consideration? What if there’d been more thought invested into what songs would make Music Rally truly resonate with Gran Turismo fans?
In my review of GT7 for IGN, I mused that a Music Rally mode stacked with recognisable songs from the early Gran Turismo games would likely have struck a real chord with long-time players. As much as it feels like we’ve been living on the brink of a nostalgia burnout for the last decade, where every second product seems to be a remaster or a reboot, it would have been difficult to be cynical about old tunes making a reappearance in this way. It was the 25th anniversary of the series, after all. What better way to celebrate that than cranking up the music?
I’m talking songs branded so deeply into the brains of some GT players they’re still sizzling today. I’m talking My Favourite Game by The Cardigans. I’m talking Kickstart My Heart by Mötley Crüe and Just a Day by Feeder. I’m talking Ash, Garbage, Lenny Kravitz, and The Chemical Brothers having their way with Everything Must Go by Manic Street Preachers. It would’ve been a high-speed powerdrive down a proverbial memory lane. It’s long been known that music can trigger powerful autobiographical memories.
If any of the six original Music Rally songs did sound familiar, it’s because you may remember one of them as the theme to the opening movie of the PAL version of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on PS3. The awkwardly titled SURV1V3, from long-time GT composer Daiki Kasho, is an internal Gran Turismo rock track that’s appeared on almost every instalment since 2007 (alongside the same dozen-or-so other Daiki Kasho tracks). Unfortunately, the cavalcade of certified bangers that helped define the first few Gran Turismo games outside of Japan (from established international artists outside of the GT development sphere) were forgotten. Now they’ve been forgotten again.
Allow me to stress I’m not going to begrudge you for finding any of the six new Music Rally songs catchy. Maybe you like European disco-funk. Maybe you’re into the pulsing version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic your grandma was dancing to back in 1982. I still just think it’s a massive missed opportunity.
To be fair, it should be stressed the music that GT fans in the West have weaved throughout their early experiences of the franchise likely carries little meaning within Japan. For clarity, the music you associate with the early days of Gran Turismo will actually vary based on whether you played them in North America or in PAL territories (including Europe and Australia/NZ). GT2’s North American intro, for instance, features My Favourite Game by The Cardigans, but the PAL version instead went for a somewhat listless remix of the same track. The in-game race music for each version was different, too.
The soundtracks for GT3 were also significantly different across the North American and PAL releases. The North American version kicks off with an energetic electronic remix of Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way and has almost double the songs of the PAL version (which opens to the incredibly infectious Just a Day from Welsh rockers Feeder).
However, the early GT games in Japan featured no licensed music at all. All the music was contributed by Japanese jazz fusion guitarist Masahiro Andoh and video game composer Isamu Ohira. The upshot of this is that Gran Turismo’s musical legacy isn’t one-size-fits-all; there are some significant cultural considerations to be made. Indeed, it’s entirely probable the crew at Polyphony Digital have zero emotional investment in the music that has such a potent nostalgic pull for GT gamers outside of Japan.
That said, one of the first six Music Rally events was set to a track called Green Monster (which was recorded for the Japanese release of the original Gran Turismo by Masahiro Andoh) so I think they get it. I appreciate using songs that appear to have been commissioned specifically for the Gran Turismo series in the first place is probably vastly cheaper, but GT7 isn’t really catering for its international audience evenly.
It’s definitely a shame. Some of my favourite video game soundtracks of all time have been racing games. Perhaps the majority, even. I’m a sucker for this stuff. When Playground Games celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Forza Horizon series by temporarily tweaking the intro of Forza Horizon 5 to recreate the opening to the original I got chills. I don’t listen to EDM, but in this context Porter Robinson’s Language helped trigger a blissful, aural trip back in time to my early days at IGN and my first experience with a franchise I may have played more than any other over the past decade.
This special Forza Horizon 5 intro for the 10th anniversary of the series is a ripper. pic.twitter.com/Mq80wJPlcu
— Luke Reilly (@MrLukeReilly) October 14, 2022
As inessential as GT7’s Music Rally mode is, I know I would’ve found events featuring much-loved songs from the previous games irresistible.
If they didn’t put any of it in the upcoming movie, they’re absolutely mad.
Luke is a Senior Editor on the IGN reviews team. You can chat to him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.