Gaming technology moves at a breathtaking pace, even if console generations make it feel static for years at a time – advancements are always happening out of sight.


If the proliferation of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S in the last couple of years has brought major graphical upgrades to the masses, though, one area feels like it’s lagged behind.

Artificial intelligence is a buzzword at the moment, but in gaming it generally means something simpler than in the wider world – opponents and allies. AI is shorthand for the bots you play against or alongside, whether those are singleplayer enemies or multiplayer targets.

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Plenty of games have tried to shout about steps forward they’ve taken with their AI, making for more realistic or challenging encounters. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 made a song and dance of this before launch, for one.

Almost to a one, though, the end results don’t justify the hype. MW2’s bots are as prosaic as ever, with laser-like aim attempting to make up for simple tactics.

What is DMZ? Call of Duty Warzone 2.0's new mode explained photo 3
Activision

Even games that rely on bots heavily to populate their worlds, like Escape From Tarkov, know full well that even mediocre players can spot a bot from a mile out, ignoring or dispatching them accordingly.

So, that’s left us all the more impressed with the limited-time Race Together experience that just arrived in Gran Turismo 7 (along with an extraordinary PS VR2 mode).

This lets players finally race against Sony’s GT Sophy AI, a bot that it’s spent years honing with researchers. Unveiled a year ago, it’s been facing trials since then and is now out for all of us to match up against.

It’s an amazing experience doing so – carefully crafted to play with your expectations. A series of races are on offer, each with multiple difficulty levels, starting you in an overpowered car compared to the AI racers before eventually offering a totally level playing field.

Once you get up to that final level, GT Sophy’s sophistication is manifest, in the form of a racer that is unpredictable and opportunistic like no AI we’ve ever raced.

Sony's Gran Turismo Sophy is an AI that can beat the best human players photo 2
Sony Interactive Entertainment

This isn’t just a simple system like Forza’s Drivatar options, making the bot more or less aggressive – it’s a racer that reacts in real-time and spots opportunities to pull off moves that we didn’t even see.

The proof is in the pudding, too, with drivers a million times more experienced and skilful than us also now bumping up against the AI and finding it hugely challenging to overcome. Nudge ahead from the start and defensive driving can win the day, but catching up to GT Sophy feels like an impossible task.

It drives like a player would, if that player were the most reliable and mistake-free driver on the circuit, and it’s amazing how revolutionary that can feel.

The question it casts, though, is how it’ll impact the scene – is this the future of practice racing, against a perfect machine that can push you to new heights? Or is it the death of competitive Gran Turismo, as people’s hopes are snuffed out by a Terminator-like chaser?

Gran Turismo 7 review screens photo 3
Sony Interactive Entertainment / Polyphony Digital

The good news is that the AI is in Sony and Polyphony Digital’s own hands – unlike in other games, where third-party bots can infiltrate from the outside to crush competitive integrity. Rocket League recently had its own inquest into how a bot called Nexto was being used in ranked play, for one, an almost existential threat to a game’s ecosystem.

Meanwhile, ChatGPT and other AI implementations are threatening the worlds of publishing and programming with AI-created scripts that are hard to pick out from authored content, making GT Sophy’s release feel all the more timely.

For now, all we can recommend is that any racing fans seek out the Race Together event to try it for themselves. Getting destroyed by an AI is nothing new, but playing one that’s indistinguishable from an ace human driver leaves its own distinct glow of admiration.



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