Since the days of the original Xbox, Turn 10 Studios has been making car enthusiasts drool with its incredibly deep and thoroughly detailed Forza Motorsport franchise. In fact, although twelve years may have passed since the original game debuted, the series is arguably stronger than ever and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After all, not only are there the core, numbered games, there are also three spin-offs in the form of the incredible Forza Horizon series by Playground Games.
This week marks another momentous occasion for Turn 10, as it’s about to launch the next iteration of its venerable, digitally-crafted racing brand. That is, Forza Motorsport 7, the flagship piece of Microsoft’s holiday line-up and the promotional darling it’s tasked with selling its upcoming, 4K enabled Xbox One X. A lot rides on the game, but given the history it comes from, few expect anything short of success for the latest in this rather long line of sim racers.
Developed as a direct competitor to Sony’s Gran Turismo, Forza has evolved into the better of the two series and seems to have most of the momentum swinging in its favour. This hasn’t come without effort, though, as Turn 10 has repeatedly released games that have not only stood the quality test, but also tests of realism, time and fun. They’ve also always made something that is as accessible as it is customizable, thus allowing players of all skill types and interest levels to enjoy the same games.
With Forza Motorsport 7, the developer has pushed things further than ever before, and has been very boastful about the new dynamic weather system that has been implemented within. Through it, races evolve, with partially cloudy days turning into torrential rain storms, and rainy days eventually clearing to reveal a bit of sun above a soaked track and its surrounding geography. Things change lap by lap, much like they would in real life, and the lighting that accompanies this is not only realistic but also drop dead gorgeous.
The changing weather is never overdone, and is aided by the impressive technology that powered Forza Horizon 3‘s lifelike skies. For that game — and this one, from our understanding — the developers went out into an open part of Australia and took a plethora of different photographs of the sky as it changed from dawn into day, day into dusk and dusk into night, then started all over again. Then, through the use of a special program, they were able to transfer that time lapse imagery into the game, and the result was dynamic HDR skies that looked like they belonged in the real world.
Although career events are predetermined entities, which have been designed with pre-selected course and weather types in mind, freeplay opens things up to the player. After selecting said mode and choosing which track they’d like to race on, users can go into the advanced settings and alter the environment in which they will drive. This means choosing the weather type and adjusting it on a lap by lap basis. Thus, a cloudy day can become rainy before clearing up prior to an event’s end, or clouds can bring forth a wet drizzle that turns into a torrential downpour which doesn’t stop at all. Of course, rain is the sexy choice because it’s so damned beautiful and affects how the races play out, what with puddles of varying depths that form in the tracks’ crevasses and around their grassy edges. Driving through one, then, can not only affect your car’s speed and performance, but will also send droplets flying in visceral fashion.
Thankfully, the developers showed restraint and avoided going overboard with the rainy events, allowing for there to be a lot of sun in Forza Motorsport 7‘s career mode. While most championships will feature at least one or two wet events, the majority will play out in sunny, dusk and overcast conditions, or under clear night skies. The sequel is at its most beautiful, however, during sunny races in the desert and whenever the action shifts to Prague, which is home to an absolutely stunning course.
Others have said that this may well be the best-looking video game ever made, and it’s tough to argue with that. Everything about this thing is oozing with detail, realism and a level of polish that is rarely ever seen. Its several hundred different cars, trucks and ATVs are also all detailed to the nines, with lifelike engine sounds and realistic cockpit views that offer an incredible amount of ‘car porn’ to those with interest. This becomes most evident whenever you take one into Forzavista mode and truly open it up in exploratory fashion. Doing so makes for some great pictures and screenshots, too.
Also new time around are player avatars, which take the familiar and expected form of gear-clad humans. At the beginning of the game, one must make a decision as to whether he or she will rock a male or female avatar, before getting the opportunity to deck said digital person out with different coloured racing suits. Those who’ve played previous games (including any of the three Horizons) will be gifted with legacy gear befitting the themes and colour schemes of each title, with the Horizon duds being a lot less formal than any of the others. On top of this, folks who’ve purchased the Ultimate Edition will find VIP gear in their ‘dressing room.’
As you progress through the career, you’ll earn credits which have always been used to purchase new cars. However, while collecting new metallic chassis is one of your main goals and aspirations here, the credits that are used to buy them can also be spent on other things, like loot boxes.
Whenever you purchase a loot box — for anywhere from about 20,000 to 250,000 credits — you’ll do so by picking a theme and size. While most offer mods (which were introduced in Forza Motorsport 6 and now return better than ever), the more expensive ones will tease you with the opportunity to win rare driver gear and special vehicles. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a badass car, or perhaps even one of the rarest driving suits, some of which take outlandish forms like tuxedos, bowling wear, and other themed costumes. Hell, if you play long enough and end up unlocking them, you’ll be able to dress yourself up like a nurse, a clown or even something resembling a girl who’s been made up in Day of the Dead makeup.
Of course, the purists won’t want anything to do with the zany costumes, and will opt to stick with the more traditional racing suits instead. Thankfully, those come in many different colours and patterns, so surely at least one will be to each individual person’s liking.
The racing, itself, is as good as it’s ever been. Mixing simulation driving with arcade elements, it has something for everyone. If you’re great at — and live for — this type of game, then you’ll be right at home on harder difficulties and want all of the assists turned off. However, if you’re like me and have always sucked at this kind of racer, then you’ll want to play on an easier difficulty and adjust the assists so that they benefit you without being overbearing.
Since Forza Motorsport 7 continues to use its developer’s patented Driveatar technology, racers can look forward to challenging their friends’ analyzed ghosts instead of completely AI racers. This is far from a new feature, though, and has become synonymous with anything Forza branded as of late. It’s these drivers whose difficulty you’ll be adjusting, then, with options like “Inexperienced” and “Normal” having been made available. The problem with those two is that the former can be very easy and even a downright cakewalk at times, whereas the other — which is the next in line in terms of difficulty options — can be pretty challenging from the get go. As such, it’d be appreciated if Turn 10 could add something in-between, either by patch or by way of Forza Motorsport 8, as this was a ‘problem’ in previous iterations as well.
The thing is, though, that if you played Forza Motorsport 6 then you’ll pretty much know what to expect from its sequel. While almost everything has been improved upon, it’s not like there’s a big, night and day difference between the two in terms of gameplay. This release adds at least one new track, gives you customizable avatars and has some new event types, but it’s not as different as some will have hoped. Still, that’s not to say that this isn’t an absolutely phenomenal and feature rich racing game, because it absolutely is.
On top of its new weather system, Forza 7‘s overhauled campaign — which now goes by the name of “Forza Driver’s Cup” and has several tiers, such as Seeker, Breakout, Domination and Masters — also boasts multiple different racing and event styles. As such, you can look forward to experimenting with things like limousine and cop car bowling, hour-long endurance racing, gate challenges, Hoonigan, and NASCAR, among others.
As you progress through the Forza Cup, you’ll find that the championships get longer (starting at 4 races each, then evolving to 5, 6, etc.) and that things will begin to get more difficult. Each different tier will offer you lots of choice, though, in the form of which championships you take on. Do you go for the hatchback series, or pick NASCAR instead? What about the open one, wherein you can use any vehicle you’d like? It’s all up to you, unless you’re aiming to get all of the achievements, which will require you to do every single series anyways.
Progression isn’t exactly locked to the events that you do, either. Instead, it’s all points based, with each tier of the Cup having its own point goal. How you get there is up to you, as the game will award you points for just about everything you do. Completing a race will earn you some, while finishing the series it’s a part of will earn you a lot more. Conversely, partaking in the tier’s few to several different showcase events (which is what they call the bowling, the endurance stuff, and other one-off challenges) will net you some as well, albeit not as much since they’re supposed to be fun one-offs.
Success will also lead to an increased driver level, with credits, (free or discounted) cars and driving gear being up for grabs as a reward for each level up. This isn’t the only level you’ll be increasing, however, as the cars that you buy and collect will also factor into a collector level that slowly improves over time. The idea with it is that, as you buy, win or earn more cars, your collector rank will go up and, through it, the class of cars you’ll be able to use (and types of events you’ll be able to enter) will also improve. Certain Forza Cup championships are locked behind this mechanic, and only become available once you reach their listed levels.
Needless to say, there’s something for every type of racing fan to enjoy. You can even jump into a rally car and speed throughout some rather breathtaking courses, or use mods to add challenge, by either giving you a goal to meet (like four perfect passes) or by making things more difficult (with locked camera angles, worse starting positions, removed ABS or something of that ilk). Base mods will practically gift you bonus credits and experience when equipped, but the more prestigious ones will demand something of you, else they won’t give you anything. It’s a risk versus reward situation, as it should be.
Those who prefer to play against real life competition can, of course, do that too, by heading online and choosing a lobby based on the type of vehicle they’d like to use. If a game is just about to start, jumping in can be seamless, but if the race has already started then you’re in for a bit of a wait, as is usual with racing games. What also tends to happen here — as it does with the genre as a whole — is that online events quickly turn into chaotic crash-a-thons, where the winner ends up being the person who can get ahead of the mayhem or the one who avoids it the best. This has always kind of been the case with the multiplayer found in more traditional racing games, because people either take risks, crash and then cause a chain of wreckage, or the odd person will enter with the goal of pissing people off. These folks will do what they can to annoy others, by purposefully crashing into them out of nowhere, and that kind of thing. None of this is the game’s fault, though, as developers can’t do anything to stop people from failing to brake or purposefully attempting to annoy others. It’s not like it was in Need for Speed, where, because the game was always online by default, people could wait and then crash into you just as you were about to finish a hotly contested single player/campaign race.
Leagues will soon be coming to this game, as will the marketplace, wherein players can buy and sell both vehicles and original creations accomplished through the paint shop. Of course, you can also save, upload and share tunes, pictures, replays and your own personal designs if you so please. The leagues, themselves, will exist for those who’d like to take part in eSports action, which seems to be the new it thing in gaming.
One of the main selling points of Forza Motorsport 7 — and the thing that Microsoft has advertised most in reference to it — is the fact that it will soon boast 4K textures and resolution. Having been natively designed to support the increase in resolution that the Xbox One X will offer, Turn 10’s latest has become a media darling for Microsoft and has also become its new console’s flagship title despite releasing a month before the new box does. Knowing how incredible Forza 7 looks in just 1080p makes us eager to see how great it will be in 4K, because as it stands now it’s easily one of the best-looking video games ever made, with a lighting cycle and a level of detail that is practically unparalleled.
Adding the above to a game that already has such great visuals and celebrates car culture as it does will really set it in a league of its own, although it’s arguably already there. This is all aided by some great narration from people in the business, who’ve excelled at the different racing disciplines that are presented, and have been asked to share their knowledge during loading screens.
With all that having been said, Forza Motorsport 7 is most definitely a must buy for anyone with interest in the genre. Although it doesn’t represent a revolutionary change or upgrade, it offers a host of nice improvements and is arguably the best simulation racer out there as a result. With a revamped career mode, various different disciplines, several hundred different cars (all of which are detailed and explorable) and an incredible dynamic weather/lighting system, there’s lots to like and little to complain about.
**This review is based on the Xbox One exclusive, which we were provided with**
- Dynamic weather makes a big difference and is a sight to behold
- Great racing mechanics, with several hundred different vehicles to choose from
- Absolutely stunning
- It arguably doesn't do enough to separate itself from Forza Motorsport 6
- There's a bit of stuttering in FMV sequences
- Online race quality is dependent on other players