I have my gripes with the Forza Motorsport franchise. The previous installment was pleasant, but needed attention in many areas, areas which I had high hopes for with the release of Forza Motorsport 7 last week. The demo released in September gave me but the vaguest understanding of what the final game would be like, and now, with many hours of Full Frontal gameplay of Forza Motorsport 7 and its predecessors under my belt, I think I can speak from a position of authority on the game, one not found from easily-wowed game journalists who prattle on about graphics and the numerical roster of cars before dropping the game.
I'm not here to tell first-timers whether they will enjoy the game or not. The answer to that is yes. Slick presentation is something that Forza games do well, and this title meets the standards set by its predecessors. I'm writing this review for longtime players, who have seen the Forza franchise's peaks and troughs, and are undecided on whether this iteration is worth their $59.99 plus tax.
So, is Forza Motorsport 7 a worthwhile upgrade from 6? Almost, but there's enough lacking that rushing out to buy FM7 this very second may not be the best choice, especially for seasoned players for whom this isn't their first rodeo.
I'll proceed in the format used for my look back at FM6.
The game's introduction will bore any gamer who played the demo, because it simply is the demo, albeit cut down to a one-lap affair, for which I am grateful. The game permits adjustment of difficulty and assists earlier than FM6 did, which will come as a relief to veteran players who are raring to ditch automatic gear changes and the full racing line.
While my mother told me that if I had nothing nice to say, it was better to keep my trap shut, but that's not the job of a critic, and the Drivatar system once again provokes my ire, as I have discerned almost no improvement over FM6's flawed system, and if anything, the Drivatars seem worse than before. They are far more capable of providing close, competitive racing, as they seem more focused during side-to-side racing. Unfortunately, they have stagnated or worsened in ever other area, as they brake check, block, corner slowly, and sometimes, stick with an overtake or defense attempt for far too long, carrying themselves through the corner almost glued to your door.
Furthermore, the Drivatars often prove to be a strange brew of incompetency and beyond-human speed. Their corner entry and racing line tends to be on the tentative, fearful side, with braking on the apex of a corner commonplace on all difficulties, and it sometimes seems the Drivatars don't even fully open the throttle on straights at lower difficulties, something apparent even in the game's demo.
On "Unbeatable," despite an aggravatingly weak corner entry, they occasionally exit corners like a Saturn V rocket, which is my only guess as to how they can be unchallenging one race, and unbeatable the next. One Reddit user even noted that in Formula E cars, the fastest Drivatar beat the world-best lap record on one track by 1.66 seconds.
The explanation? Probably rubber-banding, a common programming shortcut for racing games in which the computer will artificially handicap the leading racers, and power up those bringing up the rear. It's part of the game mechanics in series like "Mario Kart," where the most powerful items are reserved for those in last place, but it has no place in a game like FM7, which knocks on the door of being a simulator.
Oh, and those track-crossing cuts I complained about in the demo? Present and accounted for in the final game. Expect to get close and personal with Drivatars all too often. You can't even avoid them by starting ahead of them, either, as the lack of a qualifying feature means that you have to start in 12th position, every time.
No, I'm not saying it's absent, but I am saying that it's barebones at best. Only six playlists are available at present, and none of them are open-class affairs, limited to five divisions of cars. No ghosted or multi-class playlists are live, and the Leagues button wears a "Coming Soon" tag. In my time playing, I have yet to see someone penalized for driving like a scumbag. Vote kicking is still not optimized, and there is still no in-game report feature.
Nowhere can I find the option to go for best-in-class times at one track in particular. Have you tuned any cars to 600 PI, the top of B-class, in the hopes of driving it as hard as you can for a top time on the Nürburgring or Indianapolis? No? Good, because it doesn't seem like traditional hot lapping—with the car of your choice on the track of your choice—even exists in FM7. There are only six options under the "Rivals" tab, all of which appear to be limited-time events. One of them is locked behind the $20 investment of VIP membership, which has been a disaster for Turn 10 so far, due to the changes made, with many players demanding a refund. While all buyers of VIP are being compensated, the changes made to VIP do not reflect well upon Turn 10.
I'll talk pluses first: Even rewinding in the last sector of a track in FM6 dirtied your next lap, whereas I have had no such issues so far in FM7. The problem of having an off-track excursion in the same sector dirtying your lap regardless of how many turns from the finish line you are persists, though, as does the unclear boundary between taking a healthy portion of curbing at the apex and outright corner-cutting. Fortunately, one aspect about curbing has seen notable improvement over FM6...
Don't get me wrong, hitting a curb wrong can still upset your car, just like in real life, but the overzealous speed bumps featured on many tracks in FM6 have been reduced to rumbly zones, worthy of your attention and respect, but not fear. Some tracks, like Brands Hatch, are still far from easy to drive at ten-tenths, but they won't punish you quite as cruelly for trying.
Racing in the rain is no longer an infuriating endeavor. Gone are the olympic swimming pools passed off as puddles. They're replaced by low-grip, but not instantly-upsetting patches of standing water. Silverstone, for example, which featured the Ganges flowing down the right hand side of its pit straight, now has but a brook trickling down the port side of the grid. Puddles don't do favors for your car's stability, but running through one isn't a death sentence for your race as it was before. Rain now rewards an adaptable driver, capable of changing his or her own lines and driving style, but doesn't punish players who don't have time to memorize the location and severity of every one of the game's puddles.
The custom weather options will allow for plenty of variety in race scenarios, as players can decide how much downpour they want, and when. Choose from drizzle, fog, or a forty day flood at your leisure, and transfer between them as you see fit. Rain isn't available on all tracks, sadly, but those it is compatible with are spruced up nicely.
At present, racing freely between car divisions is allowed only in Free Play, and not in any of the Forza Driver's Cup events, or online races outside of private matches. As stated above, this feature is even missing from the Rivals part of the game. Why Turn 10 seems to have discarded one of the elements of Forza—the ability for people to race a variety of their favorite, custom-tuned cars against each other, made fair by the PI system—is beyond me. It bodes poorly for the future of the franchise, and whether or not there are plans in the pipeline to rectify this is unclear.
There is also the fact that the game tries to sell you a package of parts when you buy a car, in order to meet the car's division restrictions, often resulting in a mediocre car with no real strengths to speak of. Players are better off skipping the parts and building their own cars with parts of their choice, but even then, options are limited due to restrictions on tire compound, width and horsepower ratings.
I criticized FM6 for its lack of attention after release by Turn 10, citing the unkempt Forza TV and Forza Gallery features, which went almost totally ignored after FM6 launched. So far, Forza Gallery has received a fair amount of care, with the most recent "Turn 10 Picks" screenshot dating from the 5th, though it looks as if Forza TV has not gotten the same treatment, laying empty at the time of this article. While the Auction House has not yet been opened, I cannot imagine Turn 10 delaying this feature for longer than a couple weeks after release. Forzathon, too, has yet to debut for FM7, but considering the schedule on which the feature debuted in "Forza Horizon 3," we have a couple weeks at most until the first event begins.
So, what about the driving as a whole?
I had my reservations after playing the demo, noting the reduced feedback about the front tires communicated through the controller, but after spending more time with FM7, I think the game's physics and driving have been altered for the better, in spite of the altered feedback.
I've also discovered that steering speed is sometimes scaled to car speed, resulting in a lightning-quick steering rack at low speeds, and slower turning at high speeds.
I have mixed feelings on it so far, as it makes corners taken at a crawl, such as some found on Long Beach and Yas Marina, far easier than in previous titles, but at the same time, I have found some of the game's fastest corners tricky to take flat-out when they were a piece of cake before, simply due to a glacial turn-in.
There's also the problem of correcting a slide at low speeds, like when you're hit from the rear by an impatient twelve year old, who can't understand why you're slowing down for a hairpin instead of using the wall as a springboard. It becomes twitchy in some situations, and not sensitive enough in others.
I'm not sure if it's down to improved physics, or just the game's new "simulation" camera movements, but the driving experience, I think, is easily two rungs above that of FM6. Combine the physics, better weather dynamics, improved curbing, and the expanded roster of 32 racetracks, and I think you've got something rare: A racing game wherein the core gameplay is markedly better than any of its six predecessors.
And the rest of the game?
That doesn't mean that I can recommend "Forza Motorsport 7" to franchise veterans without reservations, however. While Turn 10 Studios has succeeded in improving much of what's great about the series already, efforts in some other areas have resulted in them falling flat on their face. Neglecting the series' existing class system in favor of a restrictive division system has not worked well at all, and the mistakes made with VIP membership make Turn 10 look greedy.
There are plenty of other controversial changes made to FM7 I haven't covered yet, either. Prize crates, though they can only be bought with in-game credits (and not real money), make the game feel like a free-to-play game, rife with gambling. The odds of getting good stuff from the crates are far from favorable, too, with one reddit user reporting a 4.6 percent chance of a "legendary" car over a sample size of 500 crates.
Some readers who haven't picked up FM7 may be wondering what a legendary car is, and that gives me a chance to talk about the game's collector level system, something I overall feel negatively about. Based on how many cars you own, and how expensive the cars you own are, you are assigned a collector level, dictating the cars you are allowed to purchase. I didn't take kindly to this at all, as I had hoped to enter the game, save up credits to buy the Renault R.S.17 Formula 1 car, and purchase it for myself.
Instead, because the R.S.17 is limited to players with a collector level of 5 or higher, I was forced to stuff my garage with cars I don't care about just to be allowed to buy the car, which in turn made it so that once I reached level 5, I wasn't able to afford it anyway. Why? Because the only ways to earn additional credits are turning the Drivatar difficulty up, and the use of expendable mods. Turning off assists no longer boosts your credit income, the way it did in past Forza games, so nearly assist-free me no longer gets the bonuses I'm used to. I suppose I should be careful what I wish for, because I found FM6 to have too fast a progression system, and now that I'm earning at a glacial pace of around 30,000 per race (mods included), I'm kinda regretting my wish to see the game's progression slowed.
There is enough right with FM7 that it deserves praise for what it has improved upon. Likewise, there is also enough wrong at present that I cannot recommend the game to diehard fans still on the fence about buying this iteration of the "Forza Motorsport" franchise. Given some time, I think Turn 10 Studios can (and maybe, will) do some things to change how I—and others—feel about the game, and when they do, I will follow up with a reappraisal, one a few weeks, maybe some months down the road.
My money has been spent, though, so I will do my best to continue enjoying Forza Motorsport 7, in spite of its shortcomings. In time, I may recommend others open their wallets too, but for now, hold off. Let Turn 10 Studios determine with their post-launch patches and support whether their latest title is deserving of your dosh.
It's now up to Turn 10 to decide whether to heed the criticisms of myself and others, or to ignore them, and stay the course. The inside line is theirs now.