More evolution than revolution but Microsoft's crown jewel continues to shine.
The tick to the Forza Horizon tock, this year is a Forza Motorsport year. That means for 2017 we're heading back to the comfort and confines of the race track. Forza Motorsport 7 is here, and it's absolutely superb. As if there was any doubt it would be.
We're now entering the third incarnation of Forza Motorsport on Xbox One, with 2015's 10-year anniversary bringing Forza 6 and a leap far beyond anything Turn 10 had ever done before. This year, Forza 7 becomes the 4K poster child of Microsoft's Xbox One X, the most powerful console ever made, as well as becoming the first full Forza Motorsport title to launch on the PC with Xbox Play Anywhere.
Forza 7 isn't a revolution. But it's the most complete racer you'll find on the Xbox One.
This review is being conducted with an early access copy of Forza Motorsport 7 Ultimate Edition provided by Microsoft on Xbox One. At the time of writing, there are parts of the game which aren't available, and these are detailed in the body of the review.
It's a cliche to say that this year's game is the biggest and best Forza to date, but it's true. You expect it to be true, but what you're getting is still something to boggle the mind.
Top of the list there are 700 cars to race and 30 circuits with multiple layouts. These range from real-world iconic locations like Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, to fictitious layouts like Rio de Janeiro and Dubai. The latter of those is all new for Forza 7, while Mugello and Maple Valley make a return from pre-Xbox One Forza days. The rest are tracks you'll have raced in Forza 6, though not exactly as you remember. Different weather effects can now be played on more circuits, likewise with nighttime racing.
Dynamic weather in Forza 7 makes for an incredibly atmospheric experience.
The weather is also dynamic in Forza 7. Its predecessor introduced water for the first time, but now the weather changes throughout the course of a race. You can start on a dry track, encounter torrential rain, and end with clear skies and puddles on the racing line. Equally, night time slowly turns to dawn, and while the passage of time isn't entirely accurate, the atmosphere very much is. Mist will drift across the tarmac, sand will fluster in the breeze, and the low sun in the sky will produce some quite breathtaking effects.
Forza 7 is also introducing a human element to proceedings. No longer are you an invisible racing driver, you are a real person with real racing gear that can be customized as you progress, unlocking new threads. And just like in the real racing world, you can be a male or female driver.
There's also an all-new category of vehicle this year: Racing trucks. These behemoths are a world away from some of the most impressive race cars in the world, but have their own presence and attraction. Trucks require a very different approach to racing, as tracks suddenly become narrower, there's a lot more body roll, and ultimately, you have to try stopping a very large, very heavy vehicle that can go 130mph.
If you're new to Forza – welcome – I think you're going to like it here. If you're a veteran, you'll feel right at home behind the wheel the instant you first turn the game on. The ForzaTech engine that powers both this and the Horizon series is one of the triumphs of developing for the Xbox One, built from the ground up to be optimized for the hardware on offer. And then Turn 10 went and did the same for the PC.
You get a solid 1080p60 on the Xbox One, and a promised 4K60 on the Xbox One X. Ooh boy.
On the Xbox One that means 1080p resolution and a rock solid 60 FPS. During my time with Forza 7, it has been nothing but business as usual. No hiccups, no tearing, no obvious frame rate drops. Just slick racing action throughout. Xbox One S owners also get HDR support, as does Windows 10.
In November, when the Xbox One X launches, Forza 7 will be patched to push the visuals to 4K resolution while still maintaining 60 FPS as well as a host of other visual details. We're already salivating. The detail in this game is exquisite.
Forza 7 retains the same style all its predecessors have: gorgeous visuals with accurate circuits and car models. The dynamic weather is the icing on the cake. All 700 cars in this game are meticulously recreated in digital form, and they all deform in some way, too. Damage can be limited to just visuals or changed to actual damage to suit your own tastes. But even with scuffed doors, each car is uniquely attractive.
This is a racer designed for hardcore veterans and newcomers alike.
The circuits look largely the same as they did in Forza 6. Some details here and there may stand out, but on the whole, there's very little to report. There was nothing wrong with any of the circuits in Forza 6, so it's not as if it's a bad thing. What does differ a little is the water on the circuit during a rainstorm. In Forza 7 there seems to be less massive puddles of standing water, rather a more consistent coating of fluid with the occasional lake.
One of Forza Motorsport's biggest strengths is being attractive to racing fans of all levels. The handling is fairly realistic, but without being as daunting to newcomers and more casual players as something like Project Cars 2.
There are still a wide array of assists that are designed to help ease beginners into the game, and a particularly good one is the friction assist. This will make wet tracks and off-road excursions more forgiving, so again, if you're new, you can ease into proceedings without experiencing a tank slapper every 15 seconds.
For the more technical minded racers, Forza still offers a range of tuning options to fettle a car and get the most performance from it. Again, it's not as techy as something like Project Cars. But overall Forza strikes the best balance of features for the most people. It's still a game, after all. It needs to be fun to play whether you're a first-time driver or an old pro.
Part of that fun is taking on Drivatars. These representations of real-life players are a Forza staple, and while they haven't really advanced, the choice of how aggressive you want them to be is welcome. If you turn it up, your competitors will block and weave and do anything they can to stop you passing.
For taking the experience up another couple of notches, Forza 7 has full racing wheel support on both console and PC.
It's worth giving a quick nod to the audio experience, too. Each of those 700 cars will have its own unique engine note, reproduced with the utmost accuracy. There is also background music, but with a couple of options to customize it.
You can have it on or off, or you can set it to dynamic and music will play as if through loudspeakers in the grandstands around each track. This is the one to go for, by the way. You get the atmosphere and a sting to the eardrums from the glorious sounds of each car you get in.
At the time of writing, multiplayer is a no-go. The only people playing the game are a handful of reviewers, so the lobbies aren't exactly bursting at the seams.
This is possibly the best single player mode yet.
What we do know is that it's a very familiar Forza multiplayer experience. Leagues will be unlocked at a future date, but there will also be hoppers for jumping into multiplayer races based on cars, event type, and abilities. There's also a split-screen mode for couch competitive play.
We'll update the review with some actual feedback on the multiplayer once the general public gets in and there's a bit more life.
The single-player mode is perhaps the best it's ever been in a Forza Motorsport title. You're no longer just grinding through series, unlocking a new part of the 'story.' The Forza Drivers Cup is an actual championship and your progress through it is entirely dependent on your performances in each and every race.
The Drivers Cup is made up of six individual championships which in turn are made up of a combination of race series and showcase events. Each race and showcase rewards you with series points based on how well you finish.
You need to achieve a certain number of series points to unlock the next championship. Suddenly, settling for third might mean you miss out and have to complete another entire series.
This may still sound a little grindy, but it adds a much-needed competitive boost to the single-player mode. The fastest way to win the Forza Drivers Cup is to push for the win in each race. If you don't, you have more racing to do, even if a single race gets you the series points you need.
There's the usual XP for leveling yourself up as you go through the game, and as ever when you hit a new level you're rewarded. What's different here, and better, is that instead of being randomly chosen by the game, you get to choose yourself from three options. These will usually be a car for free or a discounted price, a new set of overalls or some free in-game credits.
You can't just go in and buy the best cars right away.
What's new for Forza 7 is your collector level. Even if you amass a ridiculous store of credits early on, you won't be able to go and buy the most expensive, exotic cars in the game straight away. Buying cars gives you a separate XP for your collector level, and the cars are split between five of them.
Each car has a different XP value, and only when you reach a new level can you buy cars on it. Your collector level is also shown next to your gamertag when other players see you in multiplayer or your drivatar.
OH NO, IT HAS LOOT CRATES!
My exact reaction. After all, the first thought here is microtransactions. Thankfully, I was hasty, and at least for now it seems there is no upsell.
You buy them with in-game credits, and if you don't have enough, you simply get a polite message telling you so. No coercion to go to the Microsoft Store and spend real money, just a polite reminder you're too poor and to go back and win some more dough.
To get you going, there's a good chance returning players will just get a whole bunch of crates for free. VIP members get three special crates to open with higher quality content, and if you're a Forza veteran, you'll be rewarded for your loyalty with a raft of freebies.
Forza veterans are rewarded for their loyalty with free stuff.
But what's actually inside the crates? You get mods. Lots and lots of mods.
Mods can be a game changer since some alter the performance of your car in the race. Others reward you with an extra bounty for achieving certain things, or in the case of some of the VIP ones, you get double credits just for showing up. It's not always making your life easier, though, as some of the rewards come for challenging yourself and making a race harder.
Early on, in particular, using credit boosting mods is a great way to bump your Forza bank balance and give you a better chance to get that ride you really want. A pro tip as well is to install the Forza Hub app on your Xbox One or Windows 10 PC. It's not enabled yet, but every so often just for logging into it, you'll get free credits from the developer. Free credits are the best credits.
At the very top, I wrote that this is evolution, not revolution. Some might fear that sets a bad tone, but the truth is the polar opposite. Forza 6 was the big step up the series needed on the current generation consoles, and to expect the same leap again would be short-sighted.
The truth is that yes, Forza 7 is an evolution of Forza 6. But Forza 6 was virtually faultless. Forza 7 is bigger, the single-player mode is more engaging to play, and the dynamic weather alone adds an entirely new dimension to the gameplay. It has hundreds of more cars than two years ago. Hundreds.
Nothing that makes Forza great has been left out. This is still the most complete racing game on Xbox. It's got something for all abilities, enough content to keep you going for a long old time and it's so stunning to look at, it massages your eyeballs every time you play.
There's more to come, too. The Xbox One X launches on November 7 and that very same day this game will get a patch to add improved textures and a resolution bump to 4K while maintaining 60 FPS. Multiplayer will soon start to fill out, the auction house will be back again soon, as will Forzathon challenges, a feature that debuted in Forza Horizon 3 in 2016.
If we expect it to be another two years at least before the next Forza Motorsport, there's no danger of running out of things to do in that time. This game is enormous and is a deserving poster child for what can be achieved on Xbox One hardware.
Forza Motorsport 7 is available to Ultimate Edition buyers for $99.99 from September 29, 2017. The regular edition is available from October 3 from $59.99.