Since 2005, the Forza Motorsport brand has actually espoused a fair amount of varied complexion. At its inception, another first party racing franchise was already burning rubber on the “OG” Xbox. Project Gotham Racing started as a launch title for the console in November of 2001 and produced inviting driving mechanics just a tick on the arcade side. Forza was tuned more “sim” as a direct competitor to Sony’s Gran Turismo. In the year’s since, PGR has retired, leaving the Microsoft driving program solely to the team at Turn 10. Forza “proper” is on a 24 month development cycle, with the more fun loving Horizon brand astutely bridging the even years. The Playground Games led sub-series has been elevated way past “stop gap” status and is becoming a critic and consumer darling, observing the outstanding meta score of 2016’s Horizon 3. Forza 6 was also spectacular, with adjustments to key gameplay elements which really illuminated what’s possible on the One. This time, the approach seems to be centered on the love for cars and ways to express said proclivity.
From the start, you’ll chose either a lady or gentleman as the fire suited representation of your FM7 Drivatar. There aren’t extensive customization options, as the person perpetually dons a full racing “get up,” helmet included. But more flashy outfit choices are made available as you unlock items during play progression. The largest facet of this release is Forza Driver’s Cup. Replacing Stories of Motorsport from FM6 as the primary single player excursion, it borrows elements from both franchise flavors. Sectioned into six levels (Seeker, Breakout, Evolution, Domination, Masters, and the Cup), you’ll find a selection of varying choices, each affording a certain number of Series Points upon completion. The required amount of points to unlock the next rung increase as you go, so be prepared for many hours behind the thumbstick to capture all six trophies.
Each race batch proliferates a vehicular theme, ranging from jalopy E class to expert level X distinction. Trophy Trucks feature converted pickups like Dodge Rams and one of my favorite Forza cars, the rally inspired MINI X-RAID. Bust out that sporty Volkswagen Golf for Hot Hatch. Grip the wood grain of a BMW X5 in Modern SUV. Even trade paint in a set of contests featuring Mercedes-Benz “lorry” semis. Have a favorite whip you really want to turn n’ burn in? Picking the “Open” series adjusts the races accorded your current car. Showcase Events are making a return. As in past releases, these setup unique challenges highlighting a particular machine. Face off against Ken Block in matching Ford Focus GYMKHANA editions. Pass a certain amount of slower cars with the Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid. Grind for 23 laps at the world famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps using a competition spec Corvette C7. While Showcases don’t offer the same amount of Series Points as regular races, they do award the piloted car upon completion, which is a great way to help rank up a new system.
Along with the usual Driver level, FM7 introduces Car Collection. Each of the 700+ vehicles is assigned a certain designation within five Tiers (Common, Uncommon, Rare, Super Rare, and Legendary). Purchasing/collecting new toys for the garage garners points; said points increase this level, eventually unlocking access to the next group of cars. Sometimes, “restrictive” elements in games can do much to moderate pacing and increase longevity; if such a construct is needed in Forza will take some time to evaluate. As of now, it hasn’t been a hindrance. I’m still in grind gear when it comes to knocking out Driver’s Cup events and testing out other modes. When I’ve accumulated a decent amount of Credit scratch and want something really crazy, will I be cross with the fact that I have the “cash,” but haven’t ascended to a high enough tier? Such a scenario remains to be seen. At any rate, it seems Turn 10 has further incentivized competition.
Offline Free Play and online Multiplayer also provide avenues to get points and earn unlocks. Each time Driver and Car Collection levels are upped, you’re given the option of nifty prizes like Credits, driver suits, and discounted/free cars. Speaking of prizes, Prize Crates award a random assortment of goodies when purchased, including Mod cards used for functions like adding restrictions or increasing payouts to applied events. Thankfully, you can sell any unwanted cards. Reverting back to the top of the paragraph, Free Play grants a full customization slate to create races on any of the game’s 32 tracks. All FM6 locations return, as do a few from franchise past like Mugello and Suzuka. Free Play is a great way to test out prospective buys and tunes/upgrades, of which offers the same after market parts and adjustment options as two years ago. Something with tweaked brake force or gear ratios can really set itself apart on the track, so I’m pleased to see this return. Xbox LIVErs interested in taking the fray worldwide can hop on to the online lobbies and participate in tilts with up to 24 players. Similar to Driver’s Cup, there are suggested Event listings which set class rules, the number of races, tracks being visited, and the like. Of course, you can create a lobby and setup contests with bespoke parameters. If you’ve played Forza online before, you know it can be really fun or infuriating depending on the cast of characters. Matches where everyone is “respectful” in terms of maintaining line integrity and displaying moderate aggression are awesome. Far too often, though, sequences devolve into full demolition derbies that equate to one or two peeps swerving away unscathed and checking out on everyone else. I understand there isn’t much Turn 10 can do to play the role of referee, but it does limit the value of what is otherwise a brilliantly crafted MP structure.
For FM6, I raved about the highlighted changes in gameplay. Race conditions got a face lift with placing a heightened emphasis on rain and night. Above perfunctory eye candy, you would have to change the way you engaged with the track. Easy in/out of the apex and tidy through the straights is a must to keep from washing off a wet surface. A lack of imbued brightness made depth perception an additional challenge, creating a sense of elevated anxiety when setting up passes or cutting a corner to gain a speed advantage. FM7 applies the same mechanics and takes a logical next step with inclement weather. When precipitation is in the forecast, the drops begin to fall at some point during the course of the race, producing changing track conditions on-the-fly. Making adjustments to tire pressure before the event now gives pause; do I keep it low and take advantage of sticky asphalt in the early going or increase the PSI to setup for the latter portion? Rain/dark systems felt like a revolution two years ago. Admittedly, after having dozens of hours in Forza 6 to learn the best ways to handle them, I’m in less awe. Doesn’t devalue their inclusion, but they seem more routine.
Helpful additions to the HUD also appear. The proximity tickers included in an update for FM6 return with a “CAUTION AHEAD” warning if a wreck happens in front of you. In tandem, they are incredibly helpful when trying to protect a lead against real folks and AI Drivatars. Yes, Drivatars are back in full force. CPU racers are based on profiles of real Forza players, emulating their tendencies and practices. Disabling the Limit Aggression option in Drivatar difficulty makes jockeying in corner battles more realistic, as they will initiate contact in order to protect their position. I’ll offer one tip I learned the hard way: don’t skirt against tire barriers. It seems as if they’re a little more “magnetic” this time around, as tapping a bumper turns into a full-on spin out.
Racing games of recent console generations MUST have resplendent presentation. Forza has consistently delivered big time in this area, and FM7 holds serve. Car models are as detailed as ever with on-point collision detection. That “sense” of acceleration is ostentatious once again, with perhaps a skosh more camera jostle in high intensity moments. Audio is banging! I heard added programming would be focused in this category during development, and the efforts are well received. Growls, zings, burbles, whooshes, and hums commingle to grand scale cacophony. The symphony of speed is indeed harmonious as it is chaotic, which isn’t lost on this installment.
Make no mistake, this is a very good game and takes a rightful place among its Forza brethren. However, I’m not quite as enthralled or captivated after my play test as I was with Forza 6. Largely, I think that’s due to those bits of gameplay that felt brand new in 2015 aren’t as shiny now. FM7 plays wonderfully, but I’m not getting a refreshed notion. Also in recent days, much has been made of some monetization decisions that aren’t going over very well with the Xbox owning public. VIP reward have been nerfed and Prize Crates introduce yet another cash grab opportunity for Microsoft. How MS responds in the coming days/weeks could do much to allay concerns. For now, it’s a bit of a dent on an otherwise high level racer.