Gaming technology is evolving at a breathtaking rate, even as console generations keep it static for years at a time – progress always happens out of sight.
While the proliferation of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S over the past two years has brought major graphical upgrades to the masses, however, one area seems to be lagging behind.
Artificial intelligence is a buzzword right now, but in gaming it usually means something simpler than in the rest of the world – opponents and allies. AI is shorthand for the bots you play against or play with, whether they are single player enemies or multiplayer targets.
Many games have tried to shout about the progress they’ve made with their AI, making encounters more realistic or challenging. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 made it a pre-launch song and dance, for starters.
Almost at one, however, the end results don’t justify the hype. MW2’s bots are more prosaic than ever, with laser-like aim trying to offset simple tactics.
Even games that rely heavily on bots to populate their worlds, like Escape From Tarkov, know full well that even mediocre players can spot a bot a mile away, ignoring them or dispatching them accordingly.
So that left us all the more impressed with the limited-time Race Together experience that just arrived in Gran Turismo 7 (accompanied by an extraordinary PS-VR2 fashion).
This finally allows players to race against Sony’s AI GT Sophy, a bot he spent years perfecting with researchers. Unveiled a year ago, it has faced trials since then and is now available to all of us.
It’s an amazing experience – carefully crafted to meet your expectations. A series of races are on offer, each with varying levels of difficulty, starting with you in a super-powered car compared to the AI racers before eventually offering a completely level playing field.
Once you reach that final level, GT Sophy’s sophistication is apparent, in the form of an unpredictable and opportunistic racer like no AI we’ve ever raced.
It’s not just a simple system like Forza’s Drivatar options, making the bot more or less aggressive – it’s a runner that reacts in real time and spots opportunities to pull off moves we haven’t even seen. .
The proof is in the pudding too, with pilots a million times more experienced and skilled than us who also come up against the AI and find it extremely difficult to overcome. Pushing forward from the start and defensive driving can win the day, but catching GT Sophy seems like an impossible task.
It drives like a player would, if that player was the most dependable, trustworthy driver on the circuit, and it’s amazing how groundbreaking that can feel.
The question he poses, however, is what impact this will have on the stage – 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 dashed by a Terminator-like fighter?
The good news is that the AI is in the hands of Sony and Polyphony Digital – unlike other games, where third-party bots can infiltrate from the outside to crush competitive integrity. Rocket League recently conducted its own investigation into how a bot called Nexto was used in ranked play, for its part, an almost existential threat to a game’s ecosystem.
In the meantime, ChatGPT and other AI implementations threaten the editing and programming worlds with AI-created scripts that are difficult to distinguish from created content, making the release of GT Sophy all the more timely.
For now, all we can recommend is that all racing fans seek out the Race Together event to try it out for themselves. Getting destroyed by an AI is nothing new, but playing one that’s indistinguishable from an ace human pilot leaves its own glimmer of awe.