There are some driving games so convincing and enthralling that, after an intense play session, you find yourself instinctively straight-lining the local mini roundabout in order to nestle into the slipstream of a septuagenarian’s Toyota Aygo during your weekend supermarket run. Forza Motorsport 7 is now one of those games.
Presumably conscious that key aspects of its franchise have been lapped by rivals Gran Turismo and Project Cars, developer Turn 10 has built carefully on the well-received Forza 6: 700-plus vehicles, 32 racing locations, endless racing conditions due to the new dynamic weather system – these stats are just the start of it.
More important is the team’s exacting attention to detail and the technical ability to deliver ever more nuanced 1080p visuals locked at 60 frames per second. Even on a standard Xbox One there’s a solidity to Forza 7’s visuals that few games manage. And despite the increased number of vehicles not translating into meaningful new racing categories (truck racing is one exception, entertaining to the point of encouraging anyone ideologically opposed to this barbaric practice to at least reassess their moral stance), the game is deliberately structured to deliver a more dynamic single-player experience than past Forzas have managed.
The core offline career is a substantial offering split across six championship tiers of increased difficulty and commitment, with a satisfying variety of racing series in each. Initially at least, you may pick and choose your way through the more exciting options while amassing the necessary points to unlock the next tier. So you can, for instance, bypass the hot hatch event and launch into historic F1 racing instead – aquaplaning in a ‘60s Brabham BT24 at triple-digit speeds yet still keeping four wheels on a soaked and ever-changing Monza track is as exhilarating as you’d imagine.
Or perhaps you jump into the driving seat of a zippy Polaris RZR all-terrain vehicle on a four-race jaunt. If that sounds too frivolous, you get a meaty endurance option early on in the form of a 24-lap run at the supreme Spa-Francorchamps. That’s the best part of an hour spent in the thrilling-but-demanding company of Belgium’s premium circuit.
As things get tougher, you’ll likely run out of funds to buy required machinery and will resort to visiting past events in order to boost your purchasing power. Race results mean in-game credits and XP, both of which tie into the acquisition of new vehicles (the latter via ‘level up’ rewards), which in turn opens up the ability to enter a wider range of racing categories.
So far, so déjà vu. However, screeching into this recognisable set-up comes the introduction of loot boxes. Called Prize Crates here and currently acquired with in-game currency (though real-world purchase options are expected), these vary in cost and reveal items ranging from limited-use Mod cards (to boost XP gain now that there’s sadly no bonus XP earned from toning down the finely tuned driving assists) to driver avatar race suits (360-odd are available), to top end “Legendary” cars.
We’ll sidestep the psychology of gambling discussion for now, but the loot box mechanic is sewn into the fabric of FM7 more neatly than Maserati upholstery and, indeed, relying on Mod cards to accelerate your credit and XP growth becomes necessary for those wishing to fast-track their progress through the campaign. But it’s an inclusion that will prove divisive.
At least there will be fewer arguments in relation to the handling dynamics. They may lack refinement, but even if you can’t “feel” your tyres warm up in Turn 10’s game, the model here remains an unquestionable accomplishment within the realm of console driving mechanics. You can still trail brake a Ferrari 288 GTO into corners, balancing your Pirellis on the absolute edge of adhesion, make the apex and power out wide, a reassuring rumble from the kerb sending that muscly 1980s Pininfarina bodywork on its way to conquer the next curve, and do so with every element of that process beautifully communicated via force feedback wheel or – key given the intended demographic – regular gamepad. Seven iterations means Forza knows its audience inside out, and ensures that the experience on offer proves delightful regardless of a player’s level or controller set-up.
And regardless of vehicle driven, too. Whether in a puny BMW Isetta or a classic 1970 Camaro, the mighty McLaren MP4-4 or a preposterous Porsche 918, there’s rarely a moment of dubious car behaviour on show – some achievement, given the variety available. You can argue the vans, SUVs, off-roaders feel like odd inclusions in a purely track-based experience but it’s a small concession in a vast lineup that spans hot hatches, sports cars, hyper-cars, muscle, hot rods, tuners, rally, touring, GT, Le Mans prototypes, Formula E, F1 (classic and modern), IndyCar, Nascar and more.
Another strength comes from the online component. Better than most, Forza Motorsport’s multiplayer element has consistently displayed carbon fibre-like dependability with superior matchmaking, and here again you can rely on stable racing within a very active community – for the most part united in fun but fair competition (at least in these early days) and fuelled by the series’ considerable customisation options. (A local splitscreen option is offered, incidentally.)
At the time of writing, Forza 6’s competitive Leagues and Forzathon (challenge-based events taken from Forza Horizon 3) options remain locked but they’ll be welcome substance on to an already proven package – FM7 online works solidly, seamlessly, from launch.
One particularly studious move that may yet have greatest impact in multiplayer is the introduction of homologated events. On the face of it, limiting cars to race within their performance category band may seem counter to the tuning excesses of past Forzas, but in practice it has the effect of delivering atypically balanced competition – several hours spent in the company of homologated strangers can attest to this.
The ability to partake in like-minded competition by venturing online is particularly precious because the single-player AI will disappoint. The series’ favoured Drivatar approach – AI competition supposedly formed from real player driving data – makes great marketing blurb, but in practice it rarely reflects believable on-track behaviour. There’s often a general lack of race craft and personality evident, and an over-aggressive response to car-v-car situations seems the result of clumsy number crunching rather than a more excusable virtual win-at-all-costs passion.
Still, there’s no denying Turn 10’s commitment to its franchise. You can pick on the AI and you can lament the lack of new circuits at launch: the return of Maple Valley is very welcome and the fast, rhythmic nature of the new Dubai track delivers great online racing but otherwise it’s a selection Forza players will be overly familiar with. You can find alternatives with a greater variety of race disciplines, deeper driving dynamics, or a broader implementation of time of day and weather. And you can certainly question the wisdom of shoehorning the loot-box mechanic in.
What you can’t do is ignore another confident and accomplished Forza Motorsport experience. This is a rare example of racing fun for the masses and the maestros, one that’s expertly engineered and polished to a level that would make a Concours d’Elegance winner envious. It may make some controversial design choices, but in terms of the on-track experience, it’s the FM series’ most engaging drive yet.
Microsoft; PC/Xbox One (version tested); £45; Pegi rating: 3+
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