Forza Motorsport 7 is, from a technical standpoint, nothing short of a masterwork. Turn 10 is at the top of its game and knows how to use every wrench, ratchet, and screwdriver in its toolbox to the point of absolute mastery. And Forza Motorsport 7 is also one of the most frustratingly cynical, uninspired racing games I've played in a long time. Despite the work the team put into the technical aspects of the game – or maybe as a result of that effort, very little else has changed, and what has changed is often not for the better.
Forza Motorsport 7: Forza Harder
From a sheer numbers standpoint, Forza Motorsport 7 is easily the superior model when we look back the series. At launch, we're looking at over 700 cars and 32 locations. In that sense, there's more to do in Forza Motorsport 7 than in any Motorsport game to date. And on top of that, the game adds solar and dynamic weather cycles. When you do the math, there's a lot of Forza to be had here.
And boy is it pretty.
When my Xbox One X arrives, I'll be loading up Forza Motorsport 7 first – there's no doubt, no question. Even with the Xbox One S, the game is painfully attractive, and there are so many little touches the team has accounted for. Driving into the sun can be an almost blinding experience, and when the lighting is just right, the track is jet black and you're looking at silhouettes. After making my way through a hairpin corner, I found myself facing the sun and the headlights of the cars behind me that hadn't yet made the turn. It felt real, and genuinely, legitimately beautiful.
But it's not just the sun, or the rain, which is also great looking. It's other little details. If you're driving in one of the cockpit views, you'll notice that the driver's hands look more realistic than ever, jostling around as you bounce your car over the rumble strips of a particularly tight corner. If you're in a car with a lit-up speedometer, you'll see the light glowing against your dash. You'll see your trip mileage climbing up.
There's a mind-numbing amount of detail to be had, and it all adds up. The game launches this week, sure, but it's a must-have launch title for the Xbox One X as a 4K HDR showpiece.
Weather or not
When it comes to new features in racing games, they're often not very exciting at first glance. Forza Motorsport 6 added 3D puddles. Even now, two years later, it sounds silly to say that, but when you plow through one in a corner and that water grabs onto your wheel like it has claws, and you feel your control slip, 3D puddles sure don't sound cute anymore.
And so when we talk about the solar and weather cycles, they're both big deals.
Even with well-worn tracks like Nurburgring, they can make the track feel fresh again. You'll know the track is expecting rain before you start the race, but you don't know when the rain will kick up, or how long it will last.
With that said, the solar and weather cycles aren't as dynamic as maybe Turn 10 suggested. While rain on some tracks, like say, Dubai, would be utter nonsense, there are quite a few tracks where there isn't any weather or night-racing to be had, and you'll be racing strictly during the day time. I'd love to see what it's like to go down Laguna Seca's corkscrew corner at night, but that simply isn't an option.
What's old is old again
But aside from how attractive the game is and how weather changes things up, a lot of what you'll be doing from moment to moment is the same thing you've been doing for the last decade.
The game features six cups, each with a variety of possible race types. You might pick "Hot Hatch Genesis," or "Birth of the Supercar," and then pick from the huge selection of cars from that. It's the same as it ever was.
And you'll do that over and over, with track length and number of laps steadily increasing alongside the expected power of the cars you'll be driving.
Alongside these, though, are "Showcase" races. In a personal favorite, I was asked to race one-on-one versus a professional driver's Drivatar, while another was a "passing" race that required me to pass a certain number of cars before I finished a single lap around the track.
These add some nice variety and fun to the game, but, that's just it.
These showcases feel, more than ever, like they're admitting the that the rest of the game is kind of boring.
Don't get me wrong. Driving the cars themselves is as fun as it's ever been. Picking out your favorite car, visiting a challenging track, and putting in a new best lap is thrilling. Drafting behind an opponent and then passing them in a corner feels like little else. It's deeply satisfying.
But the act of racing a huge group of 23 other cars for 2, 3, or 4 laps around a course? That gets old.
Exacerbating that is the continued "first corner" problem that racing games still haven't solved. And really, I'd chalk it up to the number of other cars on the track at this point. For the first half of any given race, it's not a race at all. It's a struggle to simply stay on the track. The cars seem to have gotten even more aggressive in the two years since Forza Motorsport 6, and they're willing to not just tap you, but to slam into you at full speed if you make the mistake of braking before a sharp corner. I feel a little shame when I use the game's rewind feature because of one of my mistakes, but when it's because a car just rammed me at 90MPH going into a corner, I'm annoyed.
On a big NASCAR track, 24 cars isn't so bad. But in when you drop into Nurburgring, it feels downright claustrophobic. It feels like they asked, "can we fit 24 high-poly cars on-screen at once," but never stopped to ask "should we."
Racing against so many cars is just not fun.
One of my favorite moments while playing the game running up to review happened when I was exploring the weather options in the game's Free Play mode. I dropped into the Maple Valley Speedway track and turned on rain. I dropped the number of other cars on the track to just one, and then I cranked the difficulty up a couple notches higher than I usually go. I set the race to just one lap, and we were off.
And it was a blast. The whole race was intense, and it wasn't because I was gritting my teeth trying to not swear at the other cars ramming into me. It was because I was having to concentrate on every element of my driving. Every corner had to be perfect, and the rain I'd turned on certainly didn't help.
In a normal race against 24 cars, turning the difficulty up so high is an exercise in frustration. I would spend so much time fighting to stay on the track and not get pushed off by an overzealous Drivatar that by the time I got anywhere near the front, the top three cars had pulled out so far ahead that it was beyond unmanageable. It was physically impossible to catch up.
In this race, though, it felt like a competition. I was pitting myself against another driver, and putting our skills to the test. At the very end of the lap, in the last corner, I finally passed my opponent, and got my nose out in front of theirs just in time to take first place.
Wow. There's a genuine rush to be had in Forza Motorsport. So why does the game ask me to play bumper cars for the first 5-10 minutes of every race?
I should mention, too, that the tuning the Forza Motorsport games were previously known for seems to be toned down in this game. It's still there, sure, but every race you run in is "homologated," meaning that the cars have been evened out in hopes of making driver skill the winning factor, not whoever has the best muffler and air filter. I can seem some sense in this – I imagine most people were just clicking the "auto-upgrade" button in Forza Motorsport 6, and Turn 10 was likely collecting usage data on that. As a response to that, this seems to make sense. But it doesn't seem to be an option in Forza Motorsport 7. Homologation is just how things are done. I should be able to turn it off. Tuning is an important part of racing, but Forza Motorsport 7 doesn't seem to know that.
And I should mention that load times are absurd this time around. I'm not quite sure why, but tracks in this game take forever to load. Nurburgring leaves you sitting for over a minute on the Xbox One S's internal hard drive before you can get rolling. If you have lots of mod selection to do, this isn't so bad, but that's just not always the case.
Round and round
And similar to the continued "first corner problem," Forza Motorsport 7 is leaving me wanting once again with regard to variety of race types. Sure, you can race in this type of car or that type of car, and they are very difference experiences, but every single race in Forza Motorsport 7 is a lap around an asphalt track.
Once again, I'm left waiting for the team at Turn 10 to bring something truly new to the series. Or even to bring back something old. I want to see down- and uphill races from the original Forza Motorsport return. I want to see the snow and dirt tires from Forza Horizon make their way over along with some dirt tracks. There are so many trucks and rally cars, that not being able to get them properly dirty is a crying shame.
Anyone with a passion for racing knows there's more to it than driving in circles, but something is keeping Turn 10 from addressing that.
Microtransactions everywhere (soon)
Microtransactions aren't anything new in Forza Motorsport 7. They've been around in the series in one way or another for years. I'm not too fussy about that. I'm not keen on microtransactions, but I'll let them slide unless it seems like the game is designed around them.
And Forza Motorsport 7 is designed around them – even though they aren't even integrated yet.
A lot of what you do from moment to moment in the game feels designed to get you to buy lootboxes. You can buy them with in-game credits, of course, but of course you can buy them, too.
In those loot boxes, you might get cars, mod cards, or the new suits that clothe your Drivatar.
It's super cool that I can clothe said Drivatar, and many of the outfits look really nice. But aside from those awarded for playing other Forza games and buying special editions of things, driver gear is unlocked entirely through leveling and lootboxes.
When you level, you get a choice: Some cold hard credits, a discount on a car, or driver gear.
I'd better mention the car collection right here.
Another new feature of Forza Motorsport 7 is your Car Collection score. This is how the game gates off fancy cars early on in the game. Each car you buy or acquire through a showcase or leveling up improves your score. A common car like a Dodge Neon might not offer much, while the Local Motors Rally Fighter is going to give you a nice boost.
But again, this feels like it was designed for microtransactions.
When you level up, you get that choice of three things. If you skip over the car, you're limiting what you can buy and increasing your wait on being able to buy more advanced vehicles. If you skip over the driver gear, you're missing a chance to get another outfit for your driver. Either way, you're giving up something.
And choices are cool, when it doesn't feel like there's a gambling system hovering just behind you waiting to swoop in and try to help out.
And it really is a gamble. You might spend 150,000 credits on a lootbox, only to get a set of four mod cards you don't like. Or you could get a dope car.
In Forza Horizon, leveling up is this constant thing, and each level comes with a gamble. So you have this constant string of dice-roll-and-reward. Here, leveling up is much slower. Making money feels slower. It's not a drag, but it's not great. I'll admit that I tend to hoard money in Forza, but after a few of the poor dice rolls I had in the loot boxes I have puchased (using in-game credits), I just don't feel like spending more money on what's likely going to be a waste of cash and a disappointing prize.
It all feels very cynical. I feel like these new systems were built for microtransactions first and player fun second. The Car Collection score is just another little dopamine hit to make you feel special for buying a another car. Suddenly buying a Mini Cooper is a big event when it pushes you over onto Tier 3.
There's so much fun to have in Forza Motorsport 7. One-on-one races are exhilarating. Showcase races are a blast. The new Dubai track and the tracks returning from Forza Motorsport 4 feel great to drive on. Turn 10 is getting better and better at weather. I love playing Forza, and I can't wait to put this game inside my Xbox One X when it arrives and see just how much better it looks.
But that's all buried under so much junk that it's kind of hard to recommend the game. Why would anyone want to spend their time getting bashed around the track by other cars, wrestling to stay on the track, only to be constantly reminded that if they spend just a few dollars, they could have a new BMW or, better yet, a new outfit that they can only get as a gamble?
There's a good game here. Some of Turn 10's best work is in Forza Motorsport 7. But the team needs to go back to the drawing board for Forza Motorsport 8. I don't want to feel like a treasure goblin is whispering in my ear the whole time. I don't want to feel like doing laps is work. It shouldn't – I love doing laps in different cars. But it does.
I'm not sure if the prevalence of microtransactions is how Microsoft justifies continuing to publish the series, and that's what keeps Turn 10's lights on, or if it's just a cynical moneygrab that does little more than annoy me.
I want to tell you to dive into Forza Motorsport 7. I want to tell you to have fun. But bring a shovel – you're going to have to go digging.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a code by the publisher and played a significant portion of the campaign and other modes before writing this review.
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