When a developer releases a game on a fixed schedule, it’s easy to just iterate on the existing game and release a tweaked and improved version of what we’ve seen before. Assassin’s Creed, Madden and, to some degree Forza Motorsport has done this. But Forza Motorsport 7 marks a big jump forward for the series, and that means some big changes under the hood. I talked to Turn 10 executive producer Ryan Cooper about the latest in the Forza family, as well as getting a few minutes of hands-on time with the game.

To make Forza work in 4K, and to help it make use of the Xbox One X console’s increased power, Cooper said that his team had to rebuild the Forzatech engine from the ground up.

“We’ve really thought about all aspects of the game. [It] looks, sounds, and feels unlike any other Motorsport game we’ve created,” Cooper said.

“You’ll notice, as you’re barreling down the track at 200 miles per hour, parts are shaking, we have new collision cameras, the audio in these cars has been cranked to 11. We have dynamic weather. you’ll see clouds roll in… some fog, then rain comes in. Thunder. Lightning. As it starts to rain, puddles grow and shrink, forcing you to take a different drive line. It’s all about creating a more immersive driving experience.”

Rainy day racing

For my time with the game, I hopped into the track sporting heavy rain effects. Where Forza Motorsport 6 had tracks that could specifically be enabled with rain, Motorsport 7 is able to handle that dynamically. Any track can handle rain and different times of day this time around. For a game that didn’t do any of that just a few years ago, Forza Motorsport has come a long way.

Driving in the rain felt good. The car was as responsive as I’d expected, and moved the way I wanted it to. If the Forzatech engine was really built from the ground up, then Turn 10 has done a good job of making sure it doesn’t feel like it – and that’s a good thing. The driving feel of Forza Motorsport is specific to Motorsport itself. Every racer is going to have their preferences between games like Forza, Gran Turismo, and Project Cars, but each has its own feel. Even Horizon feels different from Motorsport despite them being in the same family. Despite how much the team has apparently changed, this still feels like Forza Motorsport in all the right ways.

Admittedly, Turn 10 still hasn’t entirely solved the “first corner problem” that plagues just about every racer, though Forza Motorsport 7 incorporates rolling starts from the beginning, which does help the problem. Forza Motorsport 6 didn’t see this element pop up until about eight months after launch.

But simply releasing a racing game every year isn’t enough, and the team at Forza knows that. The game features over 700 cars at launch, in comparison to the previous game’s 450, thanks at least in part to the six-year partnership with Porsche the developer has forged. There’s a new fictional track set in Dubai, and the Mugello Autodromo Internazionale track has been revamped for Forza Motorsport 7. Also, Nurburgring is in the game right from the start. The total list of tracks climbs up over 30 this time around. I tried to get Cooper to spill the beans on whether we might see a return of point-to-point tracks, but he wouldn’t say one way or the other. But then, he didn’t say no, either. As much as I like running laps, I’d love to see challenging point-to-point races make a return in Forza Motorsport 7.

One of the biggest new features, though, is the driver. In Forza Motorsport, drivers have never been front and center. Drivatars, the assembly of data used to simulate your driving style in other players games, have, but not the actual character behind the wheel.

You are the driver now

Cooper said that the team’s focus on personalization made this shift in focus a natural step.

“At the heart of Forza, it’s always been about personalization, right?” Cooper said. “When we talk to our fans, we hear that they love personalization. With the ability to personalize your car with the livery editor, and with drivatars… drivers as the natural next step.”

“Let’s pull the driver out of the car, give players an additional element of personalization, and introduce driver gear,” Cooper continued. “We have 300 driver suits in this game, and you can customize the way your driver looks in those suits. It’s just an extra element of personalization.”

You’ll be able to make your driver male or female and select from some different body types as well. Then, throughout play, you’ll earn driver suits. Your driver will show up before and after races and in multiplayer lobbies, making sure that you see your character often.

There’s no question that Forza Motorsport 7 is the best-looking Forza game yet. Running at 4K, the game looks crisper than ever. This is, however, something that’s hard to really get a handle on in a public environment like Microsoft’s showcase event. I wasn’t able to verify if the monitor I was playing on was HDR-enabled, but I don’t think it was. I also had no control over the lighting conditions in the room or the settings on the display. When I can get the game playing on my television at home, I can really dig in and try to compare the two games. Even without that level of control, though, there’s more going on on-screen at any given moment than ever before, and it’s the most impressive simulation from Turn10 yet. I’d argue at times that it even dives into hyperrealism, giving us a glimpse of reality that looks even better than, you know, actual reality.

Another element I wasn’t able to get a good handle on was the audio. Cooper bragged about the way the team has improved sound in the game, and I have no reason not to believe him – Turn10 typically isn’t too frivolous with these sorts of statements. The engine sounds, for example, are supposed to change based on which camera view you select thanks to Dolby Atmos tech. That’s another element I’m looking forward to experiencing in a more controlled environment where I can really take things in without distraction to see if they make a significant difference.

Forza Motorsport 7 hits Xbox One and Windows PC ahead of the Xbox One X, launching on October 3, 2017.

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