My first foray into the world of Forza Motorsport was the fourth installment of the franchise: Forza Motorsport 4. I wasn’t a car buff growing up; the only racing games I had played beforehand were several ‘Need for Speed’ games and Mario Kart. Thus, Forza was a deep and sudden dive into the world of automobile collection, appreciation and simulation-like racing. I quickly found a lot to love about the games. Turn 10 Studios has a history of delivering high-quality racing games with tight controls, graphics, and sound design. Stepping back into the franchise, it seemed like I had a lot of reasons to be excited.
Forza is a racing game that puts a high emphasis on empowering the player. Your character is an up and coming driver, racing your way through lesser-known cups, all the way up to the most prestigious world cup. All the while you can collect, win and customise over seven hundred cars. You gain experience and currency after every race, making sure the process of racing is not only satisfying from a gameplay perspective but rewarded in the game as well.
Turn 10 Studios doesn’t waste time by throwing you into a gauntlet of story missions and dramatic events to build up tensions and a reason to race. The reason you’re there is as clear as day – you want to drive beautiful cars in as many beautiful locations as you can. Forza abandons a substantial plot in favor of efficiency. The game will appeal to anybody who wants to get as close as they can to the feeling of driving a supercar without shelling out hundreds of thousands of pounds – and the game does an excellent job of convincing you that you’re in that car. The interior design of each vehicle is so detailed that I almost felt a pang of regret driving in first person view. Each engine has a unique hum; each car turns and breaks differently. With so many vehicles in the game, I was skeptical about whether or not they would all feel worth trying. However, every single car I used felt different and had a unique traction I had to learn. Mastering these vehicles was a big part of the appeal for me – the game forces you to switch up your car type pretty regularly, so there was always an adjustment period.
Driving feels gratifying. However, the default settings of the game leave a lot to be desired. Forza lets you heavily customise the car controls and other external factors to make it easier or more challenging to navigate a track. There is an ‘optimal’ line that you can follow while racing, which warns you of any problematic turns that are coming up, and what the best way and speed to approach them is. The settings also include an option to have the car automatically slow down for you when the track demands it. The game starts up with all of these settings activated – I recommend turning them off as quickly as possible. Racing feels far more satisfying when you’re perfecting difficult turns unassisted. Also, pressing the gas when other cars are breaking is a huge part of winning – the auto break setting disallows you the ability to do so, making the races harder than they need to be. Once your settings are tweaked, and you find a perfect difficulty, it’s straightforward to slip into a pleasing rhythm of learning new maps and collecting new cars.
Forza is a game that’s very easy to pick up and have a good time with quickly. The high-quality sound design makes racing an immediately immersive experience. It doesn’t take long to get used to a new car and begin winning races. After a while, playing the game becomes almost meditative in how focused the player has to be with some of the maps and turns. There is a ‘pocket’ that the player can sink into where they are pulling off perfect turns left and right, and optimising how fast they can go. Being notified that you beat your last laps time is continuously satisfying even twenty hours played. After you finish a lengthy campaign collecting currency and cars, the game urges you into an extensive multiplayer where you can jump into a variety of race-types and classes against other players for more experience and currency to purchase cars.
Forza 7’s visual fidelity is its ace in the hole. There are up to thirty-two maps based off of real-world locations and tracks. Rain reflects and sheens on the road, gorgeous weather effects change the feeling of an area entirely, and certain car types are better suited for specific maps. That is largely the appeal of Forza, it’s game-feel, and it’s progression. However, there are a few issues that hold the game back, hiccups that make some aspects of Forza 7 inferior even to some of the franchises older releases – notably the UI.
The older Forza games had a distinctly ‘comfortable’ feel to them. Forza Motorsport 7, however, can feel busy and hectic. The main menu is littered with features that are ‘coming soon,’ taking up space and giving the game a distinctly unfinished feeling on release. The way the pre-race menu is handled can feel unintuitive at first. Loading times take a little too long. Engine tinkering and car specification changing can be accessed from here, but the player isn’t given a tutorial explaining what does what. It’s reasonable to complete the game without feeling a need to tinker with your car. The game assumes you understand it’s systems by assuming you’ve played the games before – stepping into the game after not following the franchise for a few releases felt a lot like stepping into an event that had already been going on for a while.
The most egregious issue is the way currency gets handled – and by extension, how the campaign becomes a grind. When I first entered the single player world cup mode, I was surprised how many sets of races the game had laid out for me. A single cup usually consists of ten smaller cups, each consisting of four to five races that take anywhere from three to ten minutes each, and usually one or two gimmick races at the end of the cup – something fun like running a limousine into bowling pins. There are seven world cups, each one increasing in difficulty and race amount. That means over three hundred races at an average of five minutes or more, a total of twenty-four hours worth of racing to get to the end of the single-player mode (give or take a few endurance races, which can take up to an hour to complete). This all sounds great in practice, that’s a lot of content after all. However the game requires you to have a suitable car for each type of race, and doesn’t give you a default one so that you’re minimally able to compete – instead, you have to purchase one with credits. This is fine, except the amount credits you get for completing a single race is so low that I often found myself skipping races and coming back to them when I had the money.
The currency has always been a part of Forza, saving up money to get better cars is a part of the experience – however I’ve never been ”too broke to race” until playing this game. The system feels like it has been designed around the microtransactions introduced. A big part of the reward system is the ‘mod’ feature – which allows you to buy loot boxes which either contain random cars, or race modifiers that give you extra currency and experience for racing with certain limitations or goals; like never leaving the track or racing without the automatic brake system. The entire microtransaction system feels counterproductive to the game, adding little regarding content, and instead dangling the hope of getting an exotic car in a loot box in front of the player like a carrot. Sure, you could save up 1,400,000 for that high-end car you’ve always wanted in real life by doing races for about 12,000 each – or you could spend some real life money on some loot boxes and maybe get lucky.
I usually don’t mind microtransactions in games so long as it doesn’t directly hinder my experience – the entire system seems tuned in a way that encourages the player at every turn to try and take a risk on a loot box. Currency comes slow and steady, ensuring the player will ‘eventually’ get to their goal of their dream garage, but only if they are prepared for many long hours of grinding.
Multiplayer can be a real treat, depending on the lobby you get put into. Most players you will be racing against are using a steering wheel and pedal controller, which is by far the superior way of playing the game. Multiplayer allows you to set up or join a race of any kind on any map, using any car. There is something for whatever mood you’re in – you can turn your Forza experience into a truck only experience if that’s your taste. There’s a lot to do here, and the game’s economy encourages you to jump on, have a couple of fun games on multiplayer and wrack up some points. The only issue I came across was that many of the games against players quickly devolved into twelve car pile-ups at the beginning of the match – making it nearly impossible to win in some cases. Frustrating, but not the games fault.
There were some peaks and valleys, but mostly, I had a good time with Forza Motorsport 7. Unfortunately, the way microtransactions, experience, and currency are handled can make this game feel very Activision-esque at times. It’s easy to feel overloaded in this game – at any moment there are numerous bars you’re trying to fill, numbers you’re trying to reach, and quotas you’re trying to hit. Ultimately the game ‘feels’ great, but some design decisions hold it back from being amazing. However, if you can look past those issues, what you’ll find is a very beautifully created realistic racing game, with an obviously high amount of work and love put into its cars and environments. There is a good amount of fun to be had for all gamers here, not just gamers who are into the racing genre. Forza does well to emulate the satisfying feeling of driving an incredible car. I only wish the game stopped trying to sell itself to me after I already purchased it and took it easy on the grind.