Polygon's review copy of Forza Motorsport 7 arrived just a few hours before the embargo. I spent most of yesterday playing — and enjoying — the game, which hails from a long line of Microsoft racing games, developed by Turn 10.
I want to offer some initial impressions, which I'll likely augment in the days ahead, once I get deeper into the game today, and once I play some multiplayer.
First Impressions: September 28, 2017
It's curious to be reviewing Forza 7 on Xbox One, given that this is such an important game for the launch of Xbox One X, which arrives in November. Down the years, console launches have often been accompanied by ballyhooed driving games, from Street Racer (Atari 2600) to Ridge Racer (PlayStation) to Project Gotham Racing (Xbox).
The Xbox One X is being touted by Microsoft as the most powerful console ever built, and Forza 7 is one of the games presented as evidence.
Some weeks ago, I attended a press event and played the Xbox One X version for a few hours. And while that version really is very beautiful — it helped to sell me on buying the new console — there's nothing shabby about the Xbox One effort.
It's a lovely game that shows off moody skies, shining asphalt, gleaming cars and a wide variety of landscapes, from the sands of Dubai to the streets of Prague.
It was only in 2015’s Forza Motorsport 6 that Turn 10 decided to add rain and night driving to its hitherto scripted courses. Now, the game offers changeable conditions, during races. Puddles collect on the road. Sandstorms drift across my driving line.
I began one race on a fine autumn day, but by the second lap, I was coping with driving rain. Watching how AI drivers struggled with the new conditions was almost as much fun as amending my braking strategy.
Another race began at night, but ended at dawn, which I found aesthetically satisfying. The skies are as much the stars of this game as the cars.
Given that a lot of players will spend many hours perfecting turns and corners, playing the same courses again and again, this is a welcome addition of variety.
There are 30 locations, many of which offer very different driving challenges, from the maddening twists and turns of Long Beach to the more formal, sedate courses, like Silverstone. I am already developing my favorites, but it's too early to commit.
The conceit of Forza 6 was a campaign mode called "Stories of Motorsport," which walked the player through different types of vehicles from a selection of eras. It was an interesting approach, but it often felt restrictive.
Forza 7 is a little looser. Once again, I work my way through a series of levels, called "Championships." Each one offers a fistful of "series" based on car types. By winning each championship, I approach the big prize, The Forza Driver's Cup Challenge.
The first level includes historic muscle cars, big trucks and "hot hatchbacks." I began with the latter, choosing a 2012 Mini Cooper as my opening car. After four races, I came in second on the podium. In the next series, I drove a lovely old Camaro and came in first. (At this point I was playing in the easiest mode.)
As usual with Forza games, there's a complicated system of prizes and income. These prompt me to carry on racing, while also setting up gates so I have to earn content such as new cars and new challenges.
I earn money, which I can spend on new cars. I earn XP, which rewards new cars. I earn points for expanding my selection of cars, which then unlocks new types of cars.
At first, my choices were limited. I could only play the car types available in the first level. Even when I moved up to the second level, I found that some events were closed to me, because I hadn't bought or earned enough cars. This feels like a brake on my ability to choose the experience I want, though it's not insurmountable.
The single-player campaign also offers one-off events called "showcases," which offer up cash and cars. I fought a one-on-one race with a professional driver, as well as throwing a limo around an airfield, knocking down giant bowling pins.
As I enter the third championship (of six) I'm beginning to feel like the game is opening up and giving me more options. The challenges are also increasing in difficulty, which is something we really ought to talk about.
I began playing Forza 7 with all the assists turned on. This means that there's a full driving line, help with steering, automatic gear changing, automatic braking and limited damage. My cars always felt a lot faster on the straight than my rivals, so it was pretty easy to come in first on most races.
But that's no fun, so I began to slough off the assists, one by one. I started losing but I also started having a lot more fun, so much so that I turned pretty much all of them off. (I'm keeping rewind — which allows me to rub out catastrophic cornering, and try again — for now.)
This is where the game shifts from arcade knockabout to a more serious simulation. The ability to barge through a crowd of cars is gone. Prangs become problematic. Corners need to be taken with serious care. Drifting takes a lot more precision.
I tried one race in an old-fashioned open-top racing car, and it was merry hell to handle, which is pretty much what I'd expect from those beasts in real life. Different cars handle in vastly different ways. Dedicated players can fill their boots finding the right car for the right occasion, from a selection of 700.
There's a lot of customization available, allowing me to tweak my car just before a race, or to buy upgrades for just about every part.
Mods are also available. These come out of crates, which are bought for in-game cash. Some might offer double XP for certain achievements. They can be selected like cards. The crates also dole out cars and outfits for the drivers. I imagine these will come in handy as I approach the finish line, and am looking to maximize my efforts. I haven't seen any sign of them being offered for real money, but I’ll keep an eye on that.
There's an awful lot here to be curious about. Forza 7 is stacked with options and modes. I'm only just getting started.
Racing games can be a tad simplistic. Accelerate, brake, turn. But that's at the core of their appeal. It's just driving and driving is fun, especially in a gorgeous car, on a famous track in some exotic location.
Turn 10 has become highly proficient in taking this basic mechanic and turning it into a full on fantasy, of conquest, of acquisition, of personalization.
Playing Forza 7, I've enjoyed many little moments of satisfaction and pleasure, and I expect to find more, as I unlock more of the game, and get stuck into split-screen and online racing modes. I’ll have more impressions of the game tomorrow.
Update and Score: October 4, 2017
It's now been five days since I started playing Forza Motorsport 7. All my positive impressions after the first day (above) feel confirmed by the extra time I've put into the game.
Forza 7 looks great, it feels just right as a driving game, and it offers a ton of things to do. I have some minor issues with the gating system, and I have concerns about the game's microtransactions plans. But these do not get in the way of a tightly constructed racing simulation that also doubles as a fun arcade game.
In the last few days, I managed to play some multiplayer. Pre-release, the servers were not heavily populated, but there were a few games on offer that were intense and competitive.
The user interface is broadly similar to Forza 6. At this early stage, there are a limited number of multiplayer entry points, mostly based on car types, but that will increase once the game is launched. Old favorites, like "virus," a kind of tag game with cars, will return.
The lobby system works perfectly well, as do the races themselves, assuming you enjoy the wonderful chaos of multiplayer racing. There's always at least one person who's only interested in colliding into other players, and that can turn into a fun little contest in its own right. But the best drivers tend to consistently win. Turn 10 has obviously done something right.
I've also wormed my way deep into the single-player campaign, which offers a broad selection of vehicle types. It's a fantastic feeling to go from, say, meaty SUVs to waifish Formula Fords. This isn't just a matter of contrast. Driving styles change significantly from one series to the next. SUVs demand hard acceleration and hard braking, while Formula Ford is more about lightness of touch, and maximizing acceleration, while using brakes as little as possible.
One of my favorite moments was racing a Formula Ford at Hockenheim in driving rain, visibility down to a few yards, and everyone skidding around like ducks on an ice pond.
Forza 7 is all about personal taste. It offers something for everyone. My taste leans toward vintage and classic cars. I got to enjoy driving a souped-up 1970 Ford Cortina through the ineffably lovely streets of Rio. I drove a 1981 Ford Fiesta over the Alps. I threw a 1955 Porsche Spyder along the boulevards of Prague. All handled themselves admirably, but I also got a kick from the scenery, even on the umpeenth time of seeing.
The six championships that lead up to the Forza Drivers Cup are split into various series. I didn't need to play them all to win the trophy. I didn't even have to win that many races. Points are awarded for just about everything, so even a bad player will get through this game, eventually. Obviously, winning and judicious use of point-boosting mods offer a much faster route.
The leveling system still bothers me. I can qualify for certain races, but if I don't have enough money to buy a car, I can't compete. Some races demand that I reach a certain level, based on the number of cars I own.
Given that cars generally cost money, these two things work at odds with one another. I was forced to spend time playing series that did not excite me as much as the ones I was saving up to play.
Turn 10 wants to ensure that I don't get my dessert before I eat my greens — and it does work as an incentive to keep playing and improving — but still, I want what I want, and I want it now.
The loot crates are also a concern. Right now, it’s a fun little bonus system that allows me to gamble my money on gaining cool stuff, as well as mods that can boost my income, and so make the "investment" worthwhile. But it's been made clear by Microsoft that this will soon turn into a microtransaction system using real money. Turn 10 wants us to believe that this is all about "choice," but it feels a lot more cynical than that. I'm concerned that this will corrupt the game's economy. It's something I plan to watch carefully.
More positively, Turn 10 has designed Forza 7 with an eye to differing skill levels. The assist system really does allow me to get into the detail of where I need help, and where I don't.
In the early games, I played with assists on, just to get a feel for the tracks. Now that they're almost all off, I'm learning the intimate secrets of the best tracks and taking advantage of them.
I've come to love some of those tracks, but I'm generally happy to play them all. The only exceptions are the straightforward loops, which are dull, especially against AI cars that are not as fast on the straight as my cars.
This is a game for everyone who loves racing. It offers every helping hand to those who want to just thrown themselves around bends, while allowing die-hards to tinker with their rides, and really feel like they are there.
There's been a lot of talk about how Forza 7 looks lovely, and how it will look even lovelier on the Xbox One X. For sure, it's genuinely a marvel, the way the sun shines, how clouds dramatically change the sky's hue. But this is also a feat of technology, of creating a racing simulation that offers a genuine palette of very different cars and driving styles across a broad selection of tracks. Forza 7 is a very fine racing game.
Forza 7 was reviewed using a “retail” Xbox One download code provided by Microsoft. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.