Only a few turns into the first lap my wiper blades start swishing back and forth. A second later fat rain drops begin to smack into the windshield. Fog begins to settle on parts of the track, rain puddles on others. In an instant my ’69 Camaro goes from 3,300 pounds of freedom hurtling down the track a ton-and-a-half of steel that’s barely under control.
Instead of slamming down on the accelerator as I exit a corner I have to nurse it. Give the Chevy too much gas and the rear end tries to meet the front. But on the next corner I get a little too aggressive and the steering lets me know. It whips one direction and I struggle to counter-steer without sliding off the track. This goes on for four more laps before I finish and can finally breath again.
That’s Forza Motorsport 7 in a nutshell.
Microsoft and Turn 10 Studio’s latest in their long-running racing simulator may be the most complete entry yet. Whereas the open-world Forza Horizon series stepped in to fill the arcade niche previously owned by Project Gotham Racing; Forza Motorsport 7 takes aim at other simulators like Project Cars and the perennially delayed Gran Turismo series.
Rain or Shine
Forza Motorsport 7 brings two big additions to the racing experience: dynamic weather and dynamic time of day. Forza 6 dabbled in this but the implementation was limited; only some tracks could be in the rain or at night and the conditions were set for the entire race.
Now, the conditions will change as the race progresses. A late night race at Sebring will finish with the sun rising out past the straightaway. Circuit de Catalunya starts dry but will be a slip-and-slide after the first lap. Even more noteworthy with the rain is that it’s not even across the entire track. As the storm “moves” you’ll go through some sections where it’s reminiscent of a summer squall while other sections are alight drizzle.
The changing conditions add an entirely new strategic element. Braking has to happen just a hair earlier, turns just a little more deliberate, and if you’re driving from the in-car view you have to contend with the rain drops and wiper blades obscuring your vision. I’m looking forward to doing some longer endurance races to see how it impacts a race over the course over a longer period of time.
Rising Through the Ranks
One of the most difficult challenges for a simulator like Forza is how to handle the single-player. Each subsequent entry has tried to wrap what amounts to a series of unrelated races into something cohesive. In Forza Motorsport 7 that manifests itself in the “Forza Cup,” a collection of short racing series earning you points towards titles as you work your way up through the ranks.
Progression is…odd. Forza 7 effectively has three parallel tracks that look something like this:
- Driver Level: This ranks up as you earn credits and is the most familiar system. Instead of pre-determined awards when you rank up you’re given a choice of bonus credits, a new suit for your driver, or a car, which leads you to…
- Collector Level: Cars now have rarity levels and points totals assigned to them. As you purchase or win cars you earn points towards your Collector Level. Increasing this level will level up your Driver Level awards and open up new racing series. It also prevents players from banking all of their credits and purchasing a La Ferrari or Huracán early on since these cars are locked behind higher Collector Levels. Which leads to the final ranking system…
- Skill Points: As you complete individual races and winning series you earn Skill Points. These funnel into each of the seven championship series that eventually allow you to win trophies on your way to the Forza Cup. Thanks to Forza’s concession to more casual players, you don’t need to get 1st to move on; progress may be slower but 2nd or 3rd is enough to get you where you need to go.
In practice these three systems work well enough together but it can get a little difficult at times trying to manage at least the first two together. Tough decisions come up trying to decide if it’s worth taking the credits or getting a car for free (or heavily discounted) to bump up your Collector Level. I’d prefer a more freeform system that allows players to buy and drive anything they can afford.
Where Forza 7 drops the ball is the addition of Mods. Forza’s implementation of loot crates is, at best, ham-fisted. Limited to driver skins (which you rarely see) and credit or XP boosters based on racing conditions I’ve found them to be largely worthless. Currently Turn 10 has said they’ll only charge in-game currency for them until they figure out the market and can introduce a real money component, but my it’s my hope that this never happens. There’s simply no way that they could justify charging real money for Mods in their current implementation.
Car Collecting and Globetrotting
At the core of any racing game are, of course, the cars and the tracks.
You’ll have your choice of over 700 cars in Forza 7 which is far and away the most in the series. It has your usual collection of Nissans, Mercedes, BMWs, and more. But added into the mix are oddballs like a Polaris 4×4 off-road cart or the iconic VW Beetle. An odd, but fun, addition are racing trucks. Forza 6 added one as DLC and more domestic trucks and SUVs have appeared in prior installments but Forza 7 takes it up a notch.
The most impressive part of having so many cars is that each legitimately feels different. One race has you taking one of Ken Block’s Ford Focus RS RX which kicks in the face with its grip and acceleration while you can feel the Ford F-150 Raptor Race Truck’s softer suspension and weight. Add in the changing weather no two races feel quite the same.
But cars don’t mean much if you don’t have anywhere to race and Forza 7 again delivers. There aren’t too many new additions (one, to be exact) if you played previous installments in the franchise, but some old favorites do make a return after various absences.
Dubai’s Jebel Hafeet Mountain Pass, proclaimed by some to be the greatest driving road in the world, is the showcase track for Forza 7 and it shines with a mix of technical and high speed portions. Other racing stalwarts like the Nurburgring Nordschliefe, Sebring, Laguna Seca, and the Circuit de la Sarthe of course make an appearance. But the best is the return of my favorite Forza course: Maple Valley Speedway.
One of the complaints I had with previous Forza games, particularly before the Xbox One era, was how sterile they felt. Thankfully, Forza 7 doesn’t have that problem.
When you’re in the cockpit view you’ll notice the wiper blades and mirrors shake a bit and your vision darkens on the edges. Acceleration is punctuated with the camera kicking a bit to simulate gears shifts. Some the effects are so realistic it can be almost disorienting, particularly the reflection of the dashboard onto the windshield when the sun hits the interior.
However, The biggest improvement has to be to the track environments. Turn 10 can only do so much with the real world locations which are understandably beholden to the realities of crowds and safety. But the fake locations like Maple Valley and Rio de Janiero are much more impressive. It wouldn’t surprise me if the mainline team has been taking some hints from Forza Horizon developer Playground Games to make strides in this area.
Not to be lost in all of the eye candy is the sound and it’s actually what first comes to mind whenever I think of Forza 7. There’s a visceral, almost primal, audio experience at work here. The engines in the higher tier cars are almost crass in their loudness and harshness. Every gear shift sets off a cascade of mechanical sounds that always finishes with the sweet sound of an engine roaring back to life.
Buy or Not?
Turn 10 Studios has been perfecting their craft for over a decade. I’m not sure if Forza 7 is the best Forza, but I believe that that accumulation of experience makes it the most complete entry. It’s a game that still knows where its roots lie as a unflinchingly realistic racing simulator. But it also has absorbed some of the, for lack of a better term, “fun,” of its sibling Forza Horizon that had been missing in previous installments.
If you’ve been in the market for something to break up the monotony of first-person shooters this fall then you can do a lot worse than Forza Motorsport 7.