My first experience with racing games came via the alien-looking three-pronged controller of a Nintendo 64. My dad and I would play Mario Kart 64, and I’d tease him when he’d slip on bananas and bump into the wall. Fast forward a good number of years, and I’ve just handed Dad the controller for Forza Motorsport 7. He’s still bumping walls, in this case because he braked too late, overwhelmed the front tires on a Porsche 911 GT2 RS, and crashed hard enough to void the new production-car king of the ’Ring of both its side mirrors—plus its rear wing. Welcome to racing games in 2017.
FM7 running on Xbox One and Xbox One S is without doubt the best-looking game we’ve ever laid eyes on. The intricacies, detail, and (eventual) imperfections of the on-screen vehicles capture the glamour and grit of motorsports as no title has done before. Flecks of tire rubber accumulated on the front splitter of our car throughout a night race at Daytona. After five laps of the new Dubai Circuit of the Emirates, a 1945 Jeep Willys MB we chose for the task ended up with a near photorealistic layer of desert sand on its windshield, including portions that stayed put just outside the arc of its wiper blade. Playing from the cockpit view of a Corvette C7.R during an hour-long endurance race at Spa, we ignored FM7’s updated—and excellent—on-screen overlays, instead choosing to rely on the C7.R’s dash-mounted shift lights and console-displayed rearview camera. It’s that immersive, and it’s that detailed.
Speaking of visuals, there’s been some question as to whether you can play this game in 4K. You can do so on November 7 by picking up the shiny new Xbox One X that launches on that date, or you can experience Forza in 4K right now—if you happen to fall within a very small subset of players who own a Windows 10 PC fitted with an Nvidia GTX 1080, a top-shelf graphics processing unit, with a 4K display to go with it. But the GTX 1080 retails for $550, more than an Xbox One S and a new race wheel combined, so while Forza Motorsport 7 can run in 4K at launch, few players will see what visuals this game is fully capable of until November.
More Than Meets the Eye
What we found most impressive about the game experience was that the obsessive detail is maintained across its vast library of cars and tracks. There are more than 700 fully customizable and upgradable cars, as well as 32 tracks (including the previously downloadable-content-only Virginia International Raceway, home to our annual Lightning Lap track test) that offer more than 200 configurations at launch. To put that into perspective, Sony’s rival Gran Turismo franchise will launch a new title, Gran Turismo Sport, on October 17 with just over 150 cars playable on 19 tracks.
All of the realistic damage, precise detail, and aural bliss of FM7 shine through, whether the sun is shining or not. Forza 7 introduces a dynamic-weather mechanic, which vastly improves on the wet-weather driving in the previous game. In Forza 6, racing in the wet meant showing up to an already soaked track with the same standing water in the same places. While offering wet surfaces is a good—and fun—idea, no dynamic rain means things can start feeling stale pretty quickly. Not so in Forza Motorsport 7. Here, for example, a race can start with nothing more than ominous clouds looming overhead, and about halfway through your first lap a single raindrop will spatter on your windshield. By the end of that lap, the track can be experiencing a downpour, with puddles expanding and threatening to ruin a quick lap. Driving in the rain, when combined with FM7’s much improved sense of speed, is difficult and can be genuinely terrifying, a keen reminder that actual racing is challenging and dangerous.
For Drivers and Gamers Alike
As impressive as FM7 is as a technical exercise and simulator, it remains a game at heart—and a fun one at that. The new Forza Driver’s Cup career mode encourages stepping out of your vehicular comfort zone by competing in everything from prewar cars to 1000-hp racing semi trucks. Showcase events like passing challenges, car bowling on the Top Gear test track, and historical showcases break up what could become a slog of regular races. Rivals mode returns, pitting you against players around the world in autocross challenges, track days, and drifting events, shaving tenths every lap to climb higher in the rankings. Load times throughout the game can be disappointingly long, however, but that may change when playing on a PC or an Xbox One X.
Across all game modes, completing races nets credits that can be used to buy cars, upgrades, and prize crates that contain all sorts of goodies including new driver’s gear. FM7 allows you to customize your driver, donning anything from vintage race suits and goggles to a tuxedo. It’s a nice touch. So, too, is the new soundtrack full of pounding rock music, as opposed to the operatic stuff of previous games. Completing a challenging race has always made us feel like more like a rock star than a Hellenic god; it fits.
Forza Motorsport 7 is challenging, rewarding, immersive, and utterly gorgeous. It stands as a vast improvement over the game it replaces, and it kept us enthralled in the same way as when we were racing around the Mushroom Kingdom. Whether bombing through Rio in a 700-hp Meyers Manx or navigating a soaked VIR in this year’s Lightning Lap champion Mercedes-AMG GT R, FM7 has set a new bar. Now we wait to see how Gran Turismo Sport stacks up.