Since the days of the original Xbox, there has been one racer that has seemed to be the go to racer on Microsoft’s console platform, and that game is Forza Motorsport. It’s is a closed-circuit racing franchise that aims to provide a somewhat sim-like experience for fans to enjoy. I can remember playing the first game in the series and thinking that it was a step forward in the racing genre as it leaned towards a more realistic approach then arcade like. It’s been 12 years since the first game was released, and the Xbox One now sees the latest incarnation, Forza Motorsport 7. To think that the franchise is now on its 7th version in 12 years is somewhat impressive, as the game keeps evolving with each iteration, and the latest one is no different. The game is accessible to a wide range of gamers, there are 32 racing environments to challenge racers, more than 700 cars, lots and lots of track options, and of course there are the graphics and sound.
When you first start playing the single player experience (career), you are thrust into a few real-life driver’s shoes and tasked with driving their vehicles. For example, in the first race you take on the role of Michael Muller, and you race in Dubai, the new fictional track created by Turn 10. There are a total of three introductory races with three different drivers, and they are basically a tutorial for those few who may not have played a Forza Motorsport game before. Once you complete them, it’s off to the full single player game. You can choose from a male and female driver this time around, and you can put them in different driving gear (suits and helmets) when you start. As you progress you’ll earn more gear which can make them look more unique.
Forza Motorsport 7’s career mode is called the Forza Driver’s Cup. There are a total of six different cups to win in your quest to be crowned the Forza Driver’s Cup champion. As would be expected, the higher the cup, the faster the cars become, the bigger the tracks are, and the more laps you are expected to complete. You can fine tune your racing experience, from the AI difficulty (Drivatar based again), car assists, and more. You even have the ability to turn off the ‘aggressiveness’ of your opponents. This will disable the other cars from doing literally anything (e.g. side swiping you or blocking your lane) to stop you from being number one. I raced with this on and off, to see the difference, and to tell you the truth, at this point, prior to the game hitting its retail launch date (the day of writing this review) I didn’t notice too much, if any, difference. You’ll find that the AI opponents can be tough, especially at the start of a race, and finding your way through the pack can be ‘bumpy', as you’ll rarely, if at all, get out of the pack without a scratch, as there is more bumping and grinding of bumpers and side panels then you’d hope for.
You don’t have to worry about finishing every event in each cup to win the virtual hardware as you only have to focus on accumulating a set amount of points to win the cup and go to the next one. This is a great feature as it allows the game to feel less like a grind (race wise) as you try to make to the final Forza Driver’s Cup podium. Each event in each cup varies from specific cars, challenges to showcase events. The latter can range from silly, like bowling with your vehicle (make your way around a track hitting large pins for points), to more realistic, such as reliving what the game calls “Moments in Racing” where you relive and recreate specific moments in real racing. I found that even though I was racing in closed circuits for the whole game, that it didn’t always feel like a chore to get it done, as I was able to pick and choose which events I wanted to race as I attempted to get the set number of points to complete each cup.
If you are wondering how much time you’ll spend becoming the Forza Driver’s Cup champion, it really depends on what you are going to do. If you are just straight out racing, and not tuning your cars, shopping the online auctions (which are yet to go live), or creating your car liveries, I think I can give you a reference point. After winning the third cup (called the Evolution Cup) out of the six available, my actual race time, that is the actual time on the track, was just over 6 hours of driving. Now remember, as you progress the events get longer, so expect even more time to acquire the last three cups.
As you race in the career mode (and Free Play) you’ll earn in-game credits (CR) as well as XP. The credits allow you to buy vehicles. XP is used differently this time around. As per usual, it is used to ‘level up’, but this level is not reflected in your rewards. New to Forza Motorsport 7 are Milestone Awards, and these are awarded each time you reach 25,000 XP. The rewards are not based on how high, or how many times you have reached the 25,000 XP mark, but it is based on your Tier Level. This is where your in-game credit management will be very useful, and important, in getting to the higher Tier Levels. Let me explain.
Your Tier Level is based on your car collection. You start off in Tier 1, and have access to an initial group of cars where you can buy (collect) specific ones that interest you and add them to your garage at any time. There are five tiers of cars, but more Tier Levels for you to level up. In terms of the five tiers that the cars are in, they are common – uncommon – rare – super rare – legendary. Within these tiers each car has a ‘collector score’ attached to it, and the higher the tier the higher the price and the higher the collector score. As you accumulate cars, your total collector score adds up and this dictates which Tier Level you will be at. With that in mind, as you climb the Tier Level and reach milestone rewards, your Tier will allow a certain level of rewards. You can choose one of of the three rewards offered, which includes in-game credits, cars and gear. Some of the cars will be free, but some will result in you having to spend in-game credits, but these are usually higher tiered cars with a high collector score at a very heavily discounted price. The game really does force you to pick and choose what milestone reward you deem the best in terms of what is most advantageous to you at the time.
It should be noted that some cars in the Car Collection cannot be bought, as they can only be acquired through such things as Prize Crates, Specialty Dealer, Forzathon, competing in various events in the single player races/mode, and by completing Showcase Events. The “Speciality Dealer” offers up nice cars but they are very few and can range from affordable to very expensive.
If you want to just race a track, away from the confines of the career mode, or try to become proficient at a track that is giving you trouble, you can hit up the Free Play mode. Here you will be able to choose which track environment you want to race, and which course set up you wish to run on. You can also choose which class of cars you’ll race against, how many opponents, and of course the time of day and the weather. You can earn XP and credits here too, so if you feel the need to just race and not worry about it affecting your career standings, and get some much-needed practice in, it’s here that you’ll be spending some time.
As this game is aimed at any level of racer, the options offered are amazing. From making a race super easy for total novices to making it very sim-oriented and hard to control with little room for error for advanced players, all gamers will find a lot to adjust. Turn 10 has always boasted they want to make the Forza Motorsport franchise a game for everyone, and I believe they have really done that. From auto-braking, full race lines, to turning off the AI aggression or turning on a feature called Friction Control, that when you race on a wet track or go off the track into the grass it does not affect the speed or control you have. Anyone can find a series of settings to make this a racing game for them, and that includes the true gearhead. There are not only game assists to turn off, but as one would want in a sim-based game, you can also tune your car to your hearts content, making the vehicle drive the way you want (e.g. gear ratios, tire camber, brake settings, tire size, right height, etc.).
Turn 10 have made some changes to the wet weather and corresponding wet tracks that are a result. In Forza Motorsport 6, huge puddles would form, which of course would cause you to hydroplane or lose some control should you try to go through them. It affected how you raced in the virtual wet weather. In Forza Motorsport 7, wet weather once again plays an important role in car control; however, the big puddles are not nearly as prevalent this time around. It doesn’t mean puddles don’t exist, they are just not as ‘big’ looking but yet they do indeed affect how your car controls should you go through them. Overall, it’s a nice subtle change.
I am always amazed by how racing game dev-teams can make cars control so differently, and Forza Motorsport 7 is no different. Each class and make of car handles so differently from each other that you’ll need to adjust on the fly. From a Mazdaspeed 3 hatchback, a Formula Mazda open cockpit racer or Audi R15 Le Mans car to a 1969 Camero with a blower, Dodge Challenger Demon, Subaru 22B or Ram Runner pick-up, they all handle differently and require a driving finesse that are each their own. Don’t expect to just get in any car and drive to victory, well, at least on the Above Average or Highly Skilled settings and above, as you’ll have to really learn the ins and outs of the vehicle you are driving at the time. Turn 10 has once again done a great job in car control and how each one feels like it is a vehicle of its own.
Last year Forza Motorsport 6 offered up the gameplay feature of mods (via mod cards), and this year that is taken much further in such that Prize Crates are the way you acquire them, along with other items, such as cars, driver gear, and emblems. For the uninitiated, mods are cards that you can use during races, giving you extra credits or XP based on the card you use (e.g. race in cockpit mode only, race in rain, race at night, finish 200m in front of other cars, etc.) The Prize Crates are bought with the in-game credits you earn. Now, they are not necessary to win, but they can very much help you earn extra XP and credits through the mods that you can get, as well as a rare car now and then. Of course the extra XP helps get rewards, and the extra credits help buy cars.
There are different types of crates, each representing different things, such as mods only to those with a chance for mods, cars, drivers gear and emblems all in one. What you get is random though. There are also different levels of crates, such as ones that allow you a much better chance for the very rare stuff, but they cost more. You have to be smart at buying the creates, or you'll find yourself racing tracks just to earn credits to buy more creates and/or cars. At the time of writing this review, there have been rumblings of Turn 10 monetizing Forza Motorsport 7, via these creates, but there has been nothing officially announced in terms of what, when and how this will be.
Of course, what would a racing game be without any multiplayer goodness? Forza Motorsport 7 has you covered. There is a split screen mode for you to sit on the same couch with a friend and enjoy some high-speed racing action. For those looking for a ‘bigger’ multiplayer experience, you can head online and race up to 23 other racers. The 23 other racers can be all online players, or they can be a mix of online racers and Drivatars. As in the past, you can make our own lobby and control all the game options from track or type of car to the number of cars you race against and more. I had a chance to head online and play on release day (the day of writing this review) and for the most part it was hassle free and lag free; however, what hasn’t changed is how when racing with complete strangers in public lobbies the race can turn into one hell of a crashfest in the first few turns, as everyone won’t give up a line, or will do whatever it takes to get a head of you at the start. That is why I prefer to race in private rooms with my online friends.
As with past Forza games, liveries, tuning and photos are back. You can once again share your car designs, your tuning set-ups as well as photos and replays. You can also search for something that you might be interested in. As an added bonus, if you’ve created any liveries, or have specific car set-ups (tuning), from some previous Forza games you can transfer these into Forza Motorsport 7. As a bonus, if you are a diehard Forza fan, you might just get a few ‘rewards’ when you first fire Forza Motorsport 7 up too, depending on how much you’ve played any of the previous games in the Forza franchise, both Motorsport or Horizon.
Leagues are back in Forza Motorsport 7, but as of writing this they were noted as “coming soon” on the menu screen. Here you can race in a scheduled race series where players are organized by skill level. The events can be weekly (they were in FM6) and start off with an introductory league followed by a class challenge and then specific car challenge. It's a true test of one’s skill as you go against other real people for bragging rights. Forzathon will also be implemented in Forza Motorsport 7. For those who don’t know what this is, it is a small period of time, usually a few days, where if you complete certain challenges you are rewarded for doing so. Exactly what will be rewarded is yet to be announced.
Visually, Forza Motorsport 7 is a great looking game. I was impressed by its predecessor, but this follow up is even better. We all know that this game is set to be a demo of what the Xbox One X can do, but even on the Xbox One S it’s a looker. You’ll notice how the textures are very detailed (e.g. new Dubai track has some incredible rock textures throughout) and that the lighting/shadows in the game are very much improved. This is very evident when racing on tracks where the sky is partly cloudy and partly sunny, as one section of the track is bright whereas the other has a darker look due to the cloud cover. The cloud system in Forza Motorsport 7 is the same one used in Forza Horizon 3, so it’s dynamic and can change from sunny to overcast to raining (with thunder and lightning). And speaking of the rain, when you race on any wet track for the first time and watch as you get water splashed onto your car from the car in front of you, you'll realize the detail of the visuals.
I noted that the color pallet is somewhat different then I remember on many of the tracks, and I don’t mean in a bad way. If anything, some of the old favorites that you might be used to racing (e.g. Silverstone, Nürburgring, and Laguna Raceway to name a few) seem to have an even more realistic look to them, and not video game like. Along with this, the textures of the various track surfaces you will be racing on are varied and very noticeable. Finally, you can see how your windshield wipers start to ‘rattle’ at high speed, the individual suspension moving up in down when racing in an open cockpit car, the heat waves rising from the very hot track, and if you look around at the inside of your car (e.g. sides) anything that is loose will also be rattling or shaking (e.g. strap door handles). All of this moves in 1080p@60fps without so much as a hiccup. Racing with 24 other cars that look details, and move smoothly along the track, is impressive.
Adding to the great visuals is the great sound. Each car continues to sound distinctly different, from a Mazdaspeed 3, the Nissan GT-R Forza Edition to any of the 1960’s muscle cars or the newly introduced Mercedes Racing Truck (Rig). Environmental effects continue to make the game sound even better too, be it the sound of the car if you are inside the cockpit or using an outside view, to the ‘whoosh’ of the wind as you speed by the pillars on one bridge found on the Prague track or when you enter a tunnel when in the Alps, Dubai, or Rio, and the whine or roar of your car starts to echo somewhat. You can’t forget the sounds of your car going over the rumble strips of any track too, and each time you do it in a different car, it manages to sound different depending on what you are driving. There is music in the game, but I chose not to listen to it as I wanted to hear the roar of my cars. There will be support in the future for any music you have on One Drive, so you’ll eventually be able to drive to your own tunes.
Having put many hours playing Forza Motorsports 7 since we got our review copy, I am amazed that I found so much to enjoy given it’s the seventh iteration of the game. This version of the franchise continues to evolve the sim/circuit experience that it aims to conquer, and it is accessible to all levels of racing fans and general gamers alike. The visuals and sound make for a presentation that is next to none on the Xbox One, and the gameplay feature set is one that will keep you playing for months to come. The Prize Crates have me a bit concerned about the possibility of monetization, but there is nothing written in stone yet. Right now I have to give a big ol’ congratulations to Turn 10, as they have once again set the bar high for the Forza Motorsport franchise, and I will be honest here, I can’t wait to see what the retail version looks like on the Xbox One X come November 7th.
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