While there’s dozens, if not hundreds of fantastic games coming out this year, 2017 sometimes feels like the year of the console sim racer. Three major franchises are lining up on the starting grid this autumn, each with varying levels of excitement and expectation heaped upon them. GT Sport is the old veteran trying to reinvent itself and find a new lease of life, Project Cars 2 is the plucky and scrappy upstart that’s maturing into an all-rounder, and then there’s Forza Motorsport 7, which alongside the Horizon spin-offs brings great racing to Xbox One, and now PC, year in, year out.
Simply, Forza 7 looks incredible, with the weather effects a particular highlight. It could be ripped out of a Hollywood film, as the deep, dark and foreboding clouds hanging overhead before the heavens open and rapidly flood the track, lightning striking things off in the distance and giving a burst of light alongside the rolling thunder. While hardly realistic given the safety conscious nature of modern day motorsport, racing through not just wet, but hellishly stormy weather at the Nurburgring GP track is a glorious example of the weather systems in the game.
Lightning flashes across the track as I battled through the other cars on track, while the torrential rain quickly puddled on the track and showed off the pinpoint reflections in the game. Capping off the two lap race, the storm died down – or more likely came to terrorise other parts of the full Nurburgring circuit – and allowed the Sun to break through as it slid down to the horizon, making for a truly gorgeous finale as I crossed the finish line. The race was far too short to really see the weather system’s effect on the racing, from changeable grip and a drying racing line, to aquaplaning, but as a visual showcase, it was stunning.
One of the absolute highlights with Forza 7 is the way that Turn 10 Studios are consistently able to get the absolute very best out of the hardware at their disposal. They brought 1080p60 to the original console when others settled for 900p or even lower, and they will look to maintain that with Forza 7, but they’re also given the capacity to really flex their muscles with the Xbox One X and supporting Windows 10 PCs. Full 4K is easily within reach – this is really the poster child for Microsoft’s “True 4K” push – and they’re making the most of having HDR integrated into their graphics pipeline.
For the first time, the HDR pipeline will be making its way to PC, something that was missing from Forza Horizon 3. Despite the Xbox One X not being released until a month after the PC version, those with high end PCs will be able to push the game to its limits with 4K and HDR. However Bill Gieve, Creative Director on Forza Motorsport 7, also said that this focus on the pinnacle has actually helped them at the lower end as well, which can be seen by the fact that the game’s minimum and recommended specs have been lowered, facts which will also affect the quality of the standard Xbox version of the game.
The handling model is difficult to get a handle of with just an Xbox One controller in hand on an increasingly busy Gamescom show floor, but turning the settings to a harder difficulty did still give a satisfying experience. Every time I play a first party racing game from Microsoft I’m also always impressed by the feel that having vibrations channelled through the triggers and into your finger tips can give you. I realise it’s something odd to praise in 2017, four years after the console first came out, and when I tend to play racing games with a wheel, but it’s one nuance and advantage that the Xbox One controller continues to have over the DualShock 4.
With only a handful of prescribed car and track combinations to try, the Nissan’s Motul Autech GT-R GT car was quite predictably glued to the road despite the changing weather, but then the Radical RXC Turbo was particularly unruly, forcing me to really feather the throttle out of corners. The same can be said of the very racey 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS, which is making a debut in the game and has the traditional tendency to oversteer as the rear decides it was quite happy going straight forward, thank you very much. It makes for a lively driving experience, that’s for certain.
Collecting and racing all manner of cars is at the heart of Forza’s single player progression, as you unlock car after car, working up from the slowest hatchback through to super and hypercars and pure sporting vehicles in tiered groups. The Forza Driver’s Cup career mode is split up into six championships, starting you off in Seeker, before you progress through to Breakout, Evolution, Domination, Masters and Forza. As you might have guessed, each is a loose and fictional construct and not tied down to a single category, discipline or class, but instead works to highlight the 700 cars in the game and take you through a diverse set of events and racing series, giving players a fair amount of freedom to choose what they want to race in. Because of the breadth and depth here, a new addition is interdivisional series.
That player choice continues through to the interactive loading screens and menus, which feature a fascinating degree of polish and refinement. You can play music from your OneDrive account into the game’s virtualised speaker systems, for example, and your driver can wear hundreds of different outfits, from the more modern racing jumpsuits, back to a time where you’d strap some goggles on, wrap a scarf around your face and get behind a simple wood and metal wheel. Pick your event and it starts to load in the background, but you can still make more than a few changes, tweaking your difficulty settings, tuning your car’s set up, and plenty more while you wait.
Forza Motorsport 7 feels like it’s coming from a studio at the top of its game, who have learnt to get the very best out of the Xbox One and now get to take off the shackles and really show what they can do on Xbox One X and PC. It’s more than just a technical showcase, though, with vast amounts of racing to be had, and intriguing career format and an emphasis on player choice. It’s got some stiff competition, but Turn 10 are definitely in the running for the best racing game of the year.