Wave The Caution Flag
HIGH The core racing is still exceptional
LOW Spending two hours researching the in-game economy, only to have it change before the review runs.
WTF Making a racing game without Toyota is like making a Mario game without a fire flower
Driving sims are probably one of the most difficult kinds of games to iterate on. Technology came a long way in the last ten years, and game developers have gotten pretty good at making cars drive like cars. At this point, there are only so many press releases one can write about how braking in wet track conditions has been dramatically overhauled.
In the pre-release hype for Forza 7 for example, one of the ‘biggest’ new features PR people kept peddling was a camera view that removes the steering wheel from the cockpit to benefit (crazy) people with racing wheels — that isn’t exactly a huge innovation. Seeing the racing genre reach a plateau, there’s no way that Forza 7 is going to make anyone who didn’t like simulation racers before suddenly change their minds. People are either in or not, and for those who are in, Forza 7 does many things that actually might make them less enthused about the entire idea.
Forza 7 has the expansive-but-standard set of options one would expect from a driving game like this. Most of a player’s time will be spent in career mode, starting with a series of specialty races such as driving a one-of-a-kind Porsche in Dubai (the one on the game’s cover) only to return to the inevitability of buying a Honda Civic until the player builds enough credits to start collecting over 700 vehicles and driving them all over the planet.
Graphically, the cars look fantastic. The level of detail is unparalleled and the game has HDR color support, making those big blue skies jump off the screen. I don’t think I’ve seen a better-looking game on Xbox One, and it’ll look even better on an Xbox One X later this year.
There are 32 different tracks featuring everything from the sheer speed of Daytona to the complexities of the Nurburgring. The problem is that any Forza fan has already raced these tracks a thousand times before — only one of which is new to the series (Dubai) and they’ve all been used for the same sort of circuit races in other Forza career modes. There’s the Hot Hatch circuit, the Classic Supercar circuit, the American Muscle circuit, and so on. The game has dune buggies, side-by-side ATVs and other off-road vehicles, so how about adding a dirt track to mix it up? I’d personally love to see this engine used in a rally cross-style circuit, but we’re stuck with well-worn asphalt in Forza.
Unfortunately, while the driving feels fantastic, it’s far less interesting due to the new ‘homologation’ system which requires all cars in multiplayer and the career mode to be specifically spec’d to even out the playing field. This renders the extreme levels of car customization — a tentpole feature of the series — effectively moot. Once entered into a circuit, the car will be made the same as all the other cars racing. It can still be tweaked, but when the computer automatically sets it to maximum ability, why bother? For a series that did everything it could to differentiate itself from Gran Turismo, pulling this sort of move is both puzzling and frustrating.
I also dislike the change in presentation. The Forza games have always been classy. From the beautiful (if somewhat obtuse) menus to the distinct symphonic music that made me feel like James Bond in an high speed pursuit, it’s a series that always felt surprisingly… adult. Unfortunately, the devs decided to toss all that out, replacing the melodic tracks with some truly awful White Stripes knockoff band, adding a bro-tastic narrator, and the interface now acts like every other driving game. To me, Forza always had a style all its own that lent it credibility, and that’s been completely abandoned in this iteration.
Then there are the microtransactions. Loot crates are a huge part of this game. You can buy them with in-game credits (they’re also available for real-money purchase) and they include everything from cars to driver suits, bonus credits and mods which can be applied pre-race. As full disclosure, GameCritics was given a copy of the game and also provided with the $100 ultimate edition, which gives the player ‘VIP’ status and supplies bonus cars. In light of this review package, anyone evaluating this version of Forza is likely to have a warped view of the progression, as these perks dramatically improve a player’s trajectory via things like getting significantly more credits at the end of each race.
To illustrate, the player must purchase cars to increase their ranking and unlock new events, and the car collection level actually limits the cars available to drive. Certain cars can’t even be bought until the rank goes up. This creates an artificial length to the career arc, as most players will have to buy cars they don’t want or need to build up their rank. Immediately after launch (and after most reviews ran, of course) the team at Turn 10 churned out their annual ‘we’re sorry we tried to gouge you‘ community post and announced a massive increase in the amount of credits earned per race for VIP members, but the need to buy useless cars remains. They also threw in a few bonus cars and a million extra credits in an attempt to make good, so they’re acknowledging that this is a problem, but throwing fake money at the issue doesn’t fix it.
Nobody wins in this scenario. Turn 10 clearly knows better given the fact that they’ve sent some poor community manager out to clean up the same sort of mess with every release since Forza 5, regular players are forced to do things they probably don’t want to do in the context of the career mode while spending twice as long to do it if they’re not VIP, and anyone who spent one hundred dollars for the ultimate edition just had their investment diminished substantially.
I’m usually not one to get conspiratorial, but given Forza‘s track record, something very fishy is happening here. Microsoft knows this system is going to bother players, which may explain why in-game purchases are not currently available. Almost as if they’re waiting for every review to run before starting to ask for real money. Coincidence? My premium-level experience with the game combined with the ever-changing nature of the marketplace makes it nearly impossible for me to definitively say one way or another how the microtransactions impact Forza 7. Let the buyer beware on this one.
It truly bothers me that I had to spend half this review talking about loot crates and in-game economics. I would’ve much rather spent this space talking about the fantastic driving experience, the way the game can be tailored to any desired skill level with the bevy of options, the incredible car customization (when applicable), the beautiful graphics, the astounding attention to detail in the car models, and the sheer, unrelenting car-porn that Forza 7 provides. On the other hand, anyone who’s paid attention to this series already knows this — not much has changed, and the stuff that has changed like the VIP support, currency manipulation and the homologated career mode will leave longtime fans perplexed why this route was taken. Forza 7 is a fantastic driving title that can’t stop tripping over itself, and its majestic driving experience is overshadowed by a lack of new ideas and suspicious economic decisions.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on an HDR-supported Xbox One S on an HDR-supported HDTV. The game is also available on Windows 10, and supports cross-buy for digital. Approximately 17 hours of play were given to single player career mode and various multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains no objectionable content whatsoever. Any parent with a car-minded child should have zero issues picking this up.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no necessary audio cues, and the narration has subtitles. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls aren’t completely remappable, but instead offers 14 different presets.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
In search of a dramatic change of pace, he sold everything he had (including 950 videogames) and shipped off to Asia where he's taught English and lived in Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, and now China.
He still loves his games, priding himself in his varied taste and playing everything from Disgaea to Madden. After getting a taste of the glitz of Beijing last year working at a Chinese mobile game developer, Jarrod went back to teaching and currently works in Qitaihe, Heilongjiang provide where the weather is cold and the noodles are poppin'.
Jarrod used to write for sites like GamesRadar where he had the esteemed pleasure of reviewing Wii ports and PS Move launch games for peanuts. After a multi-year hiatus, he is happy to get back into reviews with GameCritics.
...He read the site as a kid, which should make Brad, Mike, and Daniel feel old as hell, considering he's almost 30.