Forza Motorsport has a long and storied history on the Xbox. I myself have been playing since 2009, way back to the days of Forza 2, and as a series it has provided me with many happy hours of racing and painting. The series has got increasingly shiny as it’s gone on, with each iteration improving on the graphics of its predecessor. But now we come to Forza 7 and it boasting on the cover about being in 4K and enhanced for the Xbox One X – the question I guess is how good does it look today?
Well, even on my bog standard Xbox One and non 4K telly, the answer is flipping stunning. And no, that wasn’t my first choice of wording, but this is a family website and all!
Upon firing up the game, you are thrown into a three race series that is used as a tutorial of sorts. First up is the cover star of the game, the all new Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Now, when you’ve watched as many episodes of Top Gear as I have, you just know that this car is going to be a twitchy little so and so, just waiting for an excuse to fire you backwards into a hedge. So it came as something of a disappointment to fire the beast up and take to the new Dubai track to find it felt limp wristed and slow. It turns out that the tutorial turns on all the assists that the game can muster, so it was trying to brake and steer for me, and it wouldn’t let me get on the power when I wanted to. By the time I had twigged and turned them off, the race was over and I was off to race trucks, another new departure for the series. These beasts can move – there’s no two ways about it – but it was something of a shock to find multiple tonnes of metal going sideways at the prod of the throttle! As you’d expect with large vehicles on a small track, there’s a fair bit of argy bargy before you can fight your way to the front, but once there, it is pretty much plain sailing.
The last part of the tutorial involves driving a Nissan GT-R GT500 around Suzuka, in the rain. Now this is nerve wracking for a number of reasons, not least being that for the racing series, the GT-R is stripped of its fancy four wheel drive system and left with only rear wheel drive. RWD plus wet track equals an exciting event! Still, off I went, gingerly onto the track, and the difference in feel is both obvious and immediate. It really does “feel” like you are tiptoeing an angry, fire breathing monster around a track, as putting the power down too hard, too early, or both too hard and too early, leads to a spin, armco, more spins, oncoming traffic and, if the damage model is set to simulation, an early retirement.
Graphically the rain storms are awesome, the skies darken, lightning splits the air and deep puddles form on parts of the track, making driving even more hazardous. The most impressive part of the whole thing, however, is in the individual raindrops. I generally drive in the front bumper camera view when playing Forza, and the way the drops move around the “lens” is amazing. When going fast in a straight line they stream up the screen, they lean to the side under braking, and in the cockpit view they bounce off the windows, are cleared by the wipers but come back almost immediately. If the development team have paid this much attention to the way that rain works, can you imagine the detail they put in further down the line?
The story, if you can call it that, this time around revolves around your journey toward the Forza Drivers Cup. Before you can lift the ultimate trophy however, you have to prove your worth in lower levels of competition, of which there are six. Interestingly, you can win the individual cups without winning every race in the listing, as you need to accrue a certain amount of SP (Speed Points) in order to progress. For instance, I won the first trophy, The Seeker Cup, without touching supercars or the Top Gear bowling, which makes a return. You’re then sent on to the second cup, The Breakout Series, and so on.
Now, each cup is split up into different events requiring different cars, whilst Showcase events make a welcome return this year. The Showcase events stuff you into a particular car and then require you to achieve a certain goal, be it a number of overtakes, or beating all other cars to the line in a one track race. The best part about these Showcases is that at the end, it gifts you the car that you have just competed in, raising your Car Collector rank a lot. This is very important, as I shall discuss in a little while.
So, winning races grants SP and XP, which in turn raises your driver level and each time you rank up, you are given a choice of three prizes: some credits, a car (or a hefty discount off a car) or a driver’s suit. In the normal run of things, I’d advise you take the car every time, as it helps with the Collectors Rank, but it seems this time around that Turn 10 are being a bit stingy with the credits for winning races. There are mod cards that can raise the payout, either just by finishing with the mod equipped or by performing certain feats in races, like perfect turns or perfect passes. To me, any corner you get around without crashing counts as a perfect corner, but Forza 7 has a different set of criteria it seems: you have to get around on the correct line, and at the correct speed to make it count. So, performing two perfect corners in a race can net you 40% extra credits, and with three mod slots and four different rarities of mods to equip, you can soon earn some serious extra money. In addition, if you have multiple copies of a mod, you can tick them off simultaneously, making it easier to gain the rewards. As an example, I put two copies of a blue mod on that required me to get two perfect corners in a race, and I only had to do two to tick off both milestones, if you follow?
So, onto another new feature this time around for the franchise, and this one I think is a bit more controversial, and a little less successful – Car Collector Rank.
This time around, all the cars in Forza 7 are locked away behind an invisible wall, even if you have the credits to pay for them. That wall only clears once you have raised your Collector Rank to equal the rank of the cars. What this means in practice is that you have to buy a load of cars that you don’t necessarily want or need to raise the rank high enough to get the car that you do want for the next race. Of course, this then has a knock on effect on the amount of credits that you have available at any one time. So, when you level up your driver rank, it makes sense to choose the free or discounted car which raises the Collector Rank. But then again, the credit prize is generally the same as you’d get from completing three races, so that’s tempting too. The driver gear is largely just useless cosmetic stuff, it doesn’t seem to bring any advantage to wearing a particular suit so that side of things can safely be ignored.
Now, Forza to me has always been about getting in whatever car takes your fancy, be it a VW Rabbit or a Formula 1 car. This has now been taken away, as you have to advance through the campaign in order to unlock the better cars, and earn enough credits to buy them. Even with the addition of the Forza Rewards program thrown into the mix again – which so far has gifted me 550,000 credits – I’m still a long way off buying something like a Bugatti Veyron, for instance. It kind of feels like they are trying to artificially increase the life span of the game by forcing you to replay races you’ve already completed, or to do races you don’t like in order to then be able to raise your rank and afford the cars.
And speaking of things that don’t seem to work quite as well as Turn 10 probably imagined they would, we have the new Prize Crates. As things stand at the moment, you can only buy these crates, which contain mod cards, driver gear or cars, with in-game credits, but I can see the day coming when they will be available to purchase with real money. This troubles me, as the top flight crates (around 300,000 in game credits) contain legendary cars, so there could well be an era coming of “Pay to Win”, as real money would shortcut the grind to the top flight games bought using in game currency. As things stand at the moment, the only way to obtain new mod cards is from these crates, so we are held hostage to a certain degree – we have to buy them if we want to increase the rate at which we gain XP and/or credits. These are, if I’m honest, niggles and don’t ever detract from the overall racing fun.
So graphically, Forza 7 is absolutely beautiful, and looks better than any other racing game I’ve played on the Xbox One. Sonically as well, the soundtrack of growling engines and squealing tyres is absolutely bang on, with the difference between a weedy hot hatch and a V8 muscle car easy to hear. Gameplay is as tight and responsive as you could wish, with it being very much a case of evolution, not revolution. The cars all handle convincingly, front wheel drive cars washing wide in tight corners, rear wheel drive cars fighting to spin and snatch as you get on the power, and the four wheel drive vehicles gripping as you’d expect. The setup and tuning functions are also all present and correct, allowing gear ratios and even tyre pressures to be tweaked to make the car behave as you want it to. The car painting and graphic group tools are also all in place, as is the ability to share your tunes or art works all over the world. For me, this is one of Forza’s strongest points, with a huge community creating tunes and paint jobs to browse and download.
Multiplayer is also here to indulge in, if that’s your bag. It’s possible to join a lobby, or even make your own with your own rules and invite friends to join you for some close racing. Sadly, playing with the general public is a less friendly experience, as even an accidental bump can lead to opponents losing their rag and going all out to smash you off the track. This has been a feature of Forza online for as long as I can remember, and as long as the griefers can be avoided, the online races work well – there are no flying cars like there used to be in Forza 5! With this also being an Xbox Play Anywhere title, Xbox and PC gamers can finally race against each other to see who is the best.
All in all then, Forza Motorsport 7 regains its crown as king of the Xbox racers. Its slick presentation, tight and responsive controls, jaw dropping graphics and amazing sound effects catapult it straight past Project Cars 2 into pole position. A few niggles with the mechanics of levelling up and getting cars aside, this is the complete package and sets the benchmark for racing games. I for one cannot wait to see what it looks like when I’m running it on Xbox One X!