The flagship racer for the Xbox brand has come a long way since its inception in 2005. Back then it really only had one competitor to deal with, and since put that granny to bed. The industry has changed quite a bit over the last 12 years. The question really is, can it fight off new up and coming competitors to the throne and is there enough left in the tank for the seventh entry in the main series to remain as fresh as we’ve come to expect?
Let’s step back in time for one moment. Last year Forza Horizon 3 launched on the Xbox One and PC and it received the accolades as one of the best racing games in recent times. The new developers, Playground Games, had struck gold due to doing many things right and this appreciation and adoration by fans seems to have rubbed off on Forza Motorsport 7. It’s as if Turn 10 Studios desperately wants their game to be ‘cool’. Where Forza Motorsport 6 took a step in the right direction, in terms of its tone and presentation, its younger sibling is trying very hard to impress the party goers in Forza Horizon 3. It nearly reminds me of DiRT 2 and its ‘America F**k Yeah!’ presentation, but thankfully it has not stooped that low. Like DiRT 2 it might look like a teenage dirtbag on the surface, but deep inside it’s still that great racing game. It’s just that it comes with several unwanted pimples and case of acne that needs swift removal.
Once you do get past the presentation woes and replayed that demo for the umpteenth time (basically the introduction to this game) you’re greeted with an interesting new take on the career mode. Instead of being guided through a typical career path you’ll decide the route that you want to take in a Forza Driver’s Cup that consists of six pillars: Seeker, Breakout, Evolution, Domination, Masters and lastly the actual Forza Driver’s Cup tier. You don’t have the choice of jumping into either of those groups at will, as you need a certain amount of points for it to open, but the challenges and showcases in each group to advance can be played in any order that works for you. When you’re done listening to a Top Gear magazine editor or Ken Block telling you about a showcase it’s time to get down and dirty with the racing. One moment you’re contending in an entry-level Modern Hot Hatch tournament and the next thing you know you’re driving an F-150 Ford Race Truck, followed by a Super Car event.
The driving, as can be expected, is exceptionally solid with each class variant creating its own unique challenge. Everything that has featured in the series to date is still there to be enjoyed, even that overused rewind button. I wouldn’t say too much has changed in the overall feel of the racing itself, which is a good thing as Forza Motorsport 6 played exceptionally well, but it would be cool if by now we saw the inclusion of some off-road rally courses. Unfortunately the graphical detailed improvements I witnessed in the 4K version on the Xbox One X can’t be replicated on the Xbox One, but it’s important that fans of the series are aware that it’s still got a solid frame rate of 60FPS at 1080P – the golden rule of any racing game that takes itself seriously. With that out the way, it’s time for us to revisit the pimples and acne issues I brought up earlier.
A bad weather forecast
With other simulation racers gunning for the top position a few cracks are starting to appear. Firstly is the much talked about weather system. Yes, Forza Motorsport 6 set the benchmark for wet weather in any racing game with the puddles affecting the handling of your car like never before. This time you can see the weather dynamically evolving as the race progresses, but the problem is that Project CARS 2 recently just annihilated anything showcased in Forza Motorsport 7. It still looks incredible, but the progression is nowhere near as detailed as what you would have experienced in Project CARS 2. That is just a little pimple that needs squashing and will very likely be fixed in time for next outing. There are however much bigger issues surrounding the overall structure of the game.
In the past players with improved skills who turned off assists, such as turning off the driving line, using manual gears, switching to simulation controls with no stability or ABS assistance were rewarded by receiving extra credits for their efforts. This, in turn, allowed you as a player to buy the more expensive vehicles you were after, but you had your work cut out to do so. These assists can still be turned off in Forza Motorsport 7, but you’ll get no reward for it at all. Instead it’s been locked behind a random lootbox initiative, named Prize Crates. Buy a Prize Crate, of which there are various options where you can unlock mods, cars, driver gear and complete mystery crates. It’s these mods that you can attach to any particular race that’ll reward you with additional credits. Some mods are fun and have been a part of Forza Motorsport 6, like performing perfect passes and corners, but seeing ‘ABS off’ or ‘No Driving Line’ show up as mods to get rewards, IF YOU’RE LUCKY, is a slap in the face for serious players. When will you take the most time to adjust these mods? When you’re waiting for the game to load, which takes a little longer than before. It’s perfectly aimed at using your spare time to buy some mods. The good news is that it’s free at the time of writing, but Microsoft has already stated that they plan to charge for it in the future. This means that what used to be basic rewards for playing well will be charged for in the future, and that does not sit well with me.
There are bizarre quirks that I have with the game. Firstly is the driver gear. It’s a nice little addition, but so much focus has been put on it and it’s something that does not affect or change the game at all. When you’re driving down the beautiful corner of Eau Rouge, at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, in your McLaren F1 the driver gear is the last thing on your mind. It’s just so pointless, and to think so much time has been spent to create each uniform. More so, the spinning wheel, once reaching enough EXP, has been replaced by a system that allows players to decide between taking credits, a car at a big discount or for free or, you guessed it, a driver gear livery. I’ve not once gone for the driver gear and I really can’t think that any sane person would jump for that over a car (or much-needed credits).
It’s not all doom and gloom as there are other extra bits that will bring a smile to the face of a fan. The photo mode is still impressive and lots of fun to play around with, but it’s good to see Split Screen returning. It’ll please offline players to know that they can have a friend join them for some racing in the same room with a maximum of 2 players. Online multiplayer is still a problem if you’re planning to race against random strangers, though private races work just fine.
Finally, the perfect steering wheel viewpoint
If you’re lucky enough to own the TX Racing Wheel Ferrari 458 Italia Edition then you’re in for a treat. The folks over at Turn 10 Studios have done an amazing job at transferring what you feel on the road to this particular wheel setup. Drive a muscle car and you’ll fight back like crazy at keeping your car on the road, but jump into a Lamborghini and it is smooth sailing. The cars obviously all handle in different ways, but what I loved about this particular game is the force feedback variances on the resistance you feel. Trucks actually feel heavier to steer than nimble super cars. However, the biggest bonus for any steering wheel player is the inclusion of a new viewpoint that shows you the dashboard without the steering wheel displaying on your telly. It drives home the immersion that you’re actually driving that car and is by far the best viewpoint I’ve yet used in any game to date.
(Please note: The steering wheel score and information does not affect the final score, as most players will use a traditional Xbox One controller when playing the game).
Returning tracks, such as Maple Valley Raceway, Mugello Circuit and Suzuka Circuit, have all returned and is a joy to experience once again. The new Dubai street circuit also plays incredibly well and adds to the fictional circuit line-up – something that can set it apart from future racers (having each simulation racer with the same real-world tracks would be pointless). When you consider that you have 700 cars to drive around these beautiful locations you’re in for a great bit of racing. Unfortunately Forzathon, the Auction House and Leagues were not available to participate in, but I’m sure it’ll be good fun once it launches. At least you can still paint and customise the look of your ride when you need a break from the racing, something that has become a signature inclusion in the Forza series.
Forza Motorsport 7 is still a fantastic racing game, it’s just that it has surrounded itself with really stupid decisions. It’s not a complete write-off yet. Turn 10 Studios needs to reflect on the high point of Forza Motorsport 4, and rid themselves of their teenage ambitions.