The biennial launch of a Forza Motorsport game should always be on the radar for serious racing fans. However, while it’s third Horizon stablemate stomped all over the meagre competition last year, there’s a glut of fantastic looking racers arriving this Autumn. From Project Cars 2 through to the long awaited Gran Turismo Sport there’s a packed schedule full of potential heavyweights, and Forza Motorsport 7 needs to be something special to stay ahead. Fortunately it delivers, albeit with a few caveats to be aware of.
As has become the norm, you jump straight into this year’s cover star, the 911 GT2 RS ’18, and fling it around in Dubai. You’ll likely immediately be jumping into the assists menu too, as Forza 7 dumps you directly into its Easy setting, with assisted braking and assisted steering in full effect. Quite why Turn 10 does this when it’s supposed to be a simulation level franchise I have no idea, but you’ll need to set it to Hard as a minimum for your time with it to be anything like worthwhile. There’s still plenty of weight to the Forza Motorsport handling model, though it feels lively and conveys plenty of drama, and while it’s still more than capable of offering you a serious drive once you’ve turned the assists off it feels far less staid than something like the original Project Cars.
Forza 7 knows how to set a good first impression on the track though, and even on an Xbox One S this is an astoundingly pretty game. The car models offer a fetishistic level of detail – you can see the panel lights glowing in the car when racing in the dark –but it’s the incidental track details that really serve to put this amongst the best looking games of all time. Whether racing through the sun-dappled streets of Prague or hitting the neon-lit Yas Marina track at nighttime, there really hasn’t been anything like it before.
Soon enough you’ll have your first experience of Forza 7’s frankly incredible weather effects. After the last outing’s baked-in weather, Turn 10 have moved on to a fully dynamic system, and it is stunning. Water pools realistically on the tracks – going well beyond what would be safe to go racing in – which in turn reflects light realistically too, making for some true “oh wow!” moments. Okay, there may have been some stronger words used, but they were all absolutely called for. The weather completely impacts how your car behaves on the track, and there’s a real sense of trepidation when the sky starts to darken. The fact that this is all set to be bettered when the Xbox One X launches and renders the whole thing in 4K with HDR is almost too good to be true, though PC gamers can reach these heady heights already.
It’s comparatively disappointing then when your first moments with the game are watching cutscenes with an unsteady frame rate, and odder still when everything else runs at a silky smooth 60fps. In fact, most of the cutscenes judder, though they become few and far between after the opening half an hour, but you’re still stuck throughout with the disjointed animations of your avatar. Surprisingly, the game even hard crashed on me once as well.
There is also a clear downside to those phenomenal-looking tracks, and that’s some hefty loading times before you can jump into the course, and the more complicated they are, the longer it’ll take. There are occasionally some nice voiceovers to alleviate some of the boredom and you can tweak car setups and event settings while it loads, but I’m desperately hoping that the Xbox One X will put in a much nippier performance.
The Forza Driver’s Cup is the culmination of this year’s career mode, and it’s broken down into six different cups; Seeker, Breakout, Evolution, Domination, Masters Championship and finally the Driver’s Cup. Each cup plays host to a range of events across the spectrum of vehicle classes, so you’ll be careening round in an oversized Trophy Truck one minute and getting all nostalgic with the classic cars of the Vintage Sport GT the next.
Each cup also offers up a trio of special events. These are single races that aim to offer something a little different, whether that’s knocking down bowling pins round the Top Gear track, trying to pass as many cars as possible over the course of a couple of laps, or taking part in a gruelling hour-long endurance race around Spa-Francorchamps. They definitely serve to keep everything feeling fresh rather than a steady parade of ‘serious’ events, but you definitely can’t relax as they offer more than enough challenge of their own. The ability to take part in extended races is also available in other modes, and I can see this becoming a brutal online niche, or a torturous laugh in the still-welcome split-screen multiplayer.
The game plays host to a familiar range of other Forza mainstays, including Drivatars and custom car designs and they’re as meaningful here as they have ever been. You can still dive down into your car’s setup and tinker to your heart’s content as well and get things just right – or completely wrong – but then that’s half the fun.
More is made of the car collecting, with over seven hundred vehicles split into six tiers classed by rarity, and the number you’ve grabbed has a knock on effect to how good your driver rewards are when you level up. It’s a nicely weighted system, though overall it’s perhaps a bit stingy on the credits it doles out to you. There are a number of modes that aren’t available at launch, including the in-game auction house, online leagues and Forzathon, which is disappointing, though there is more than enough to get you started.
For some then the inclusion of loot boxes will smack of unwanted bandwagon jumping, and though they’re currently only purchasable with credits you earn in-game, Turn 10 have confirmed that microtransactions will be added down the line. What you get from them might expand your garage with a new car, add new items for your avatar’s wardrobe or limited use mods for upcoming events. In exchange for turning off certain assists or changing the race settings with a mod, you’ll boost the CR you earn at the end of it, replacing the previous system of tweaking the general difficulty yourself to earn more CR. In this context it’s clear to see why the VIP membership no longer applies a permanent boost to your in-game earnings, but rather gives you just a handful of mods.
We’re now gambling for in-game items, and given that the in-game economy feels just a little too tight on the credits front right now, it’s easy to see the push toward a few extra quid here and there. Forza 5’s microtransaction outrage seems like a long time ago, but it would be wise of Turn 10 and Microsoft to remember the lessons learned from it as they balance and alter the in-game economy in future.
Forza Motorsport 7 continues the series’ march towards motoring perfection, and graphically there is simply nothing close to touching it. What’s even more remarkable is that it looks so good before we see the boost the Xbox One X will bring to both the visuals and the performance. There are some downsides to that fidelity, and on a standard Xbox One the load times suck a chunk of the fun from the experience, while the game’s internal economy also looks likely to cause problems further down the line. Having said that, this is still a masterpiece of racing software, and undoubtedly it’s set to become what its rivals in the genre will be judged against.
Version Tested: Xbox One S