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Review: Forza Motorsport 7 (PC)

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  • Review: Forza Motorsport 7 (PC)

    A fantastic racing game from start to finish line.

    Over these past three decades, I have played a multitude of racing games. They have run the gamut from pure arcade style games like Rollcage, to the far more grounded NASCAR series on the PlayStation, and Project Gotham Racing on the Xbox 360. I have been happy to play games like the open-world racing playground that is Forza Horizon 3 and its more simulation oriented older brother, Forza Motorsport 7.

    And yet, I still don't even try to pretend like I'm some sort of an expert on racing, or on cars, and I am certainly not anywhere near an expert when it comes to the simulation aspect of racing games. I play them because they're just a fun, somewhat guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoy the fact that these games can still be enjoyable without having to tweak a multitude of settings like gear ratios, camber angles, or suspension stiffness. If the game can do that automatically on a race by race basis, I am totally cool with that. It is perhaps why I am enjoying Forza 7 as much as I am. Yes, the game is far more of a racing sim than the Horizon series. All of those little tweaks to how a car performs can be tweaked until your heart is content. However, the simple fact that you can still mostly just pick it up and play immediately is a strong testament to its versatility. It can easily appeal to the "casual" crowd like myself as much as it can appeal to the more die-hard racing sim fans that actually like to tweak and configure their rides.

    Turn10 knows how to make a good racing game and Forza Motorsport 7 is no exception. The game is packed with hundreds of cars, many of which most people will probably never add to their collection without dedicating tons of time. It features 32 different tracks with a multitude of variations that include time of day and weather changes. Progress can be made by doing almost anything. If you want to do a quick race, you can do so. If you want to progress through the handful of leagues and championship races, you can do that as well. Maybe you just want to quickly get your favorite car and take to some online races against friends or countless strangers. Race around in supped-up sports cars, or vans, or trucks, and just about every vehicle type in between. No, there are no motorcycles here, just cars of the four-wheeled variety, which is still plenty.

    A first for the series came when Forza Motorsport 7 was released on PC. It is the first time a Forza Motorsport game released day and date with the Xbox version of the game. It is also the second Forza Motorsport title to appear on the PC, not including last year's release of Forza Horizon 3. Regardless of which platform you choose to play the game on, it needs to be stated that Forza Motorsport 7 does a ton of things right. The car selection is there in force, the tracks are all faithfully recreated, and it certainly learned from the hiccups that marred the Forza Horizon 3 launch. The problems lie in a slight regression in the progression and unlock mechanics, but these were never a huge issue for me during my time playing. I can, however, see how these might be deal breakers for long time fans of the series.

    Within the first couple of hours of playing, Forza Motorsport 7 immediately offered a sample of what it brought to the table. I raced around in sedans, highly tuned Formula cars, a big rig (sans the attached trailer), and more. I knocked over bowling pins set up around a track, an event that had the clear ties to the over-the-top Top Gear show. I have leveled up. I have earned unlocks such as new cars and "rare" clothing options for my otherwise generic driver avatar.

    The best part about the game just throwing me into these scenarios is the fact that the game teaches you a variety of different racing techniques. The limo event gave me a good idea about how and when to go for a hand-brake drift. Other races taught me the value of breaking, cornering speeds, and the rest. Most of these techniques weren't really new to me, but if you never played a racing game before they are a fairly sufficient tool for easing you into the genre. It also does a good job of making it clear that while Forza Motorsport 7 shares the "Forza" name with Forza Horizon 3, they are both have a very different feel to them.

    Everything within the Forza 7 package comes together thanks to the game's Forza Driver's Club. This campaign is filled with a number of traditional racing events alongside some of the more "out there" events like the aforementioned limo bowling. Forza Driver's Club takes you all over the world thanks to a robust number of tracks, vehicle types, and race configurations. You can tweak each traditional race to your liking, such as increasing the race length to be more realistic or short enough that you can finish an event in just a few minutes. Doing well in this mode opens the doors to earning new cars every time you rank up. Earning more cars increases your collector score, which in turn unlocks even more events. It's a cycle that will keep you coming back for more. Good luck trying to earn every car in the game, however, as there are over 700 cars in the game. I'm not one of those collectors, nor am I necessarily a fan of being a completionist, so I was more than content with the rather meager collection I have managed to amass thus far.

    Most of the locations in the game are carried over from the previous Forza Motorsport titles. One of the new locations is Dubai. No matter which location you select, each race features a pseudo-dynamic weather system along with time of day visual differences. I say "pseudo-dynamic" weather because it's not actually real-time weather changes. These changes to the weather and time of day come from race progression, not from time elapsed. That means that longer races will see the weather change to rain around lap 10, then clear up and leave some beautifully blinding water puddles behind around lap 20. That's just a general example and not a specific one that applies broadly across all races. If you just sat at the start, you would never see the weather nor time of day change. I believe this has a lot to do with how Forza Motorsport 7 handles dynamic lighting and baked lighting effects. Most of the environmental lighting in the game is pre-calculated, making for a truly dynamic day-night cycle not really feasible. However, this technique also allows for greater performance on less powerful hardware. It's a trade-off, for sure, but not one that I really have an issue with. The lighting still looks great in motion and if you aren't really looking for it, it's not something that most people will actually notice while playing.

    If you want to experience a far more "dynamic" lighting situation in Forza 7, then night races are where you will want to shift your attention to. Every headlight in the game casts real-time shadows across the environment. It's almost eerie at times knowing that a competitor is nearing from behind simply by observing the size of your own car's shadow in front of you.

    Wherever and whenever you race, there is one constant that carries over throughout: Racing in Forza Motorsport 7 is equal parts mastering a track as well as mastering a variety of cars. Learning how each car handles at speed, or on rain covered roads, are major factors that will impact if you win or wind up near the end of the pack. Gone are the days of selecting a car and mastering a set racing line. You could, if you wanted to, force the same track conditions and same cars time and time again, but that simply won't fly when progressing through the Driver's Club. Learning a track and learning the intricacies of your vehicle will be vitally important to those who are set on diving as deeply as possible into the simulation aspect of the title. Those who don't tweak as much may still want to know some of these minute details but they probably won't make or break the racing experience.

    Forza 7 allows the budding sim fan to ease into things with a number of driver-assists that can be enabled, disabled, or tailored to your liking. Some of these options include a friction assist, anti-lock brake systems, and even a customizable damage model. Obviously a more realistic damage model will lead to plenty of unfinished races if you think you can bump and grind your way to victory. Driving lines are also included. These show you the "optimal" racing line for each course in addition to showing when you are approaching a corner with too much speed. It is an invaluable teaching tool for those who don't yet know the tracks or know when they should slow down or accelerate through turns. Perhaps the biggest tool for new players is the rewind feature. Take a corner with too much speed and smack into the wall? Simply rewind time to before it all went wrong. As with most things, the sim fans will obviously disable this feature and just have to take their licks as they come. Is this the end all, be all of racing sims? No, absolutely not. There are tons of more nuanced racing simulators out there, especially on the PC. The problem with those games is that they are not nearly as friendly to those who haven't already taken the time to learn everything there is to learn about authentic driving experiences. Is Forza 7 far more of a simulation style racing title compared to say Forza Horizon 3? Absolutely.

    Forza Motorsport 7 still features a robust feature set for those who like to customize. Back again is the in-depth livery system. I suck at making liveries, so I leave that to the more talented individuals in the community. Thankfully, you can download a huge selection of liveries and paint jobs from creators all around the world. The search mechanic can be a bit unwieldy at times but it was never too difficult to find something that I thought looked cool. The game's photo mode is back. This is fairly standard now as far as the Forza series is concerned. Taking a snapshot in this mode does apply a bit of extra polish to the screenshots thanks to the ability to tweak various filters to get that "perfect" shot without the need for Photoshop. My only wish is that it was easier to retrieve these hot screenshots taken in photo mode. As it is, you need to upload the shots to the Forza Hub and retrieve them there. They don't seem to be saved locally.

    The big elephant in the room when it comes to Forza Motorsport 7 is the inclusion of Prize Crates. These crates can be purchased using in-game credits (CR) and come in a variety of flavors. They tend to reward you with things like new driver gear/outfits, new player badges, mods, and even cars. Obviously, you will get "better" gear in the more expensive crates, "better" being a totally subjective thing here. Mods, as it applies to this game, are just another way to say "race modifiers." If you apply mods to your next race, you have the opportunity to earn better rewards based on your performance. For example, there could be a mod that tasks you with doing well in a race with driving assists disabled. Do this and you can earn bonus CR. Each mod has a limited number of uses and once they're gone they're gone for good. That is, until you find more mods in your next Prize Crate purchase.

    This was the biggest issue fans had with this new RNG crate system. In previous games, it was possible to earn more CR simply by manually disabling driving assists and cranking up the overall difficulty. This has also been seen in the change to how VIP status changed in Forza 7. In the past, purchasing VIP granted a bevy of bonuses to the rewards earned for each and every race, typically in the form of double the CR payout. VIP for Forza 7 simply granted a handful of mods that ran out after 25 races. Now, mods are the only significant way to get these benefits. This sadly creates a situation where players will raise the difficult only to the point where they can still comfortably win races while earning a steady stream of CR. It doesn't push people to actually improve their skills. There's simply no incentive here to disable assists unless a totally RNG based, limited use mod drop wants you to do so.

    To their credit, Turn 10 did say that they are working on changing how the VIP system works for Forza 7. They plan to make it work as it did for the previous Forza titles, granting bonuses for each race regardless of the mods used. The studio also gave each VIP owner four Forza Edition cars and 1 million CR to make things up to those that plunked down the extra cash for the game.

    Mods weren't the only thing found in Prize Crates, however. Crates also include cosmetics that can alter your driver's avatar. Turn 10 makes use of gear quality tiers often seen in MMOs for this cosmetic gear. Near the bottom are more pedestrian driving outfits that are nothing more than slightly recolored helmets and driving suits. The more rare outfits such as "astronaut" or "Day of the Dead" ensembles are more visually diverse. The thing is, all of these suits are just random drops from leveling up or opening up crates. If you wanted to race with your favorite car manufacturer proudly shown across your chest, you just have to keep rolling those dice. I'm not someone that takes particular offense to this for one simple reason: You rarely ever see your avatar.

    You begin the game by selecting whether you want a male or a female avatar and you give them a name. After that, they're really only seen in short celebration scenes at the end of each race. You may also catch a glimpse of them during replays or if you pop into the game's photo mode. Besides that? They don't matter. In some games, they make sense. In games like this with how they're implemented? Maybe not so much. Naturally, it would be nice if players could just directly purchase the items they want using in-game currency instead of leaving it all up to chance. This is something that could be said about any game that makes use of RNG fueled loot crates.

    The other, much smaller elephant in the Forza Motorsport 7 room is the fact that Gran Turismo Sport has come out since release. I do not own Gran Turismo Sport but I did have a chance to try out the time-limited demo ahead of its release. Without getting too deep into it, I will try to make a quick comparison of the two games here. Forza 7 has the definite edge when it comes to the number of cars and tracks variations available. The flip side to this is the fact that since Gran Turismo feature fewer cars, they are often just a bit more detailed than their Forza counterparts. This mainly applies to the interior of cars. While Forza is no slouch, the nod still has to go to Gran Turismo here. Gran Turismo features dynamic lighting at the cost of less than stellar quality shadows when compared to Forza.

    A large number of trackside trees in Forza are nothing more than two texture planes that cross in the middle. Gran Turismo features trees that are a bit more "dense" at the cost of a noticeable shimmering effect in motion. In Forza 7, fans in the stands are mainly 2D textures with a sprinkling of an animated 3D model to simulate some degree of liveliness to the crowd. Gran Turismo Sport, on the other hand, features very crude looking 3D models with a few 2D elements thrown in. Of course, things like the look of the audience or the number of polygons or planes in trees will not be noticed when you're zooming along at speed.

    In more general terms, I think that the lighting is gorgeous in both games, even if their developers approached their look in very different ways. There isn't a "right" or a "wrong" look to the lighting between the two games, it's just different. I think that both games have pros and cons as far as the cars and environmental details are concerned. Both games feature accurately recreated tracks and in cases where the same track is included in both games, the differences are again mainly down to cosmetic choices made by the developers. Gran Turismo absolutely gets the nod as far as individual car detail is concerned. It also gets the nod as far as the replay system is concerned. However, my overall nod goes towards Forza Motorsport 7. I like that Forza features far more cars and far more track variations than the competition. In addition, Forza 7 also allows me to race in rainy weather, something that Gran Turismo Sport just doesn't have (yet). While we're busy comparing racing games, I just need to quickly say that 2014's Driveclub still holds the crown for having the best looking "rain on a windshield" effect.

    In the end, I just found Gran Turismo's presentation to just be a bit too sterile for my liking. It lacked the pizazz and presentation stylings that made Forza feel more inviting to a more casual racing fan like myself. If you would like a professional take on the differences between the two games, Digital Foundry has a comprehensive comparison between Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport.

    When it comes right down to it, both games are great. Both games have their pros and cons. You simply cannot go wrong with either one.

    One final note here: I played only the PC version of Forza Motorsport 7. I would like to make the claim that at release the game performed far better than Forza Horizon 3 did at release. I would like to make that claim, but I cannot since my entire hardware setup has changed since Horizon 3 launched. So yes, Forza 7 runs great for me. It defaulted to 4K resolution with all graphical settings cranked up. I saw no performance issues and can only assume that it maintained a stable 60FPS as overlays are a bit finicky with UWP titles. I have encountered no micro-stutter that many others have claimed to experience with the game. I've been playing the game on an i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR-2666 RAM, and a GTX 1080 Ti. Performance issues can be caused by any number of variables. I am simply stating that I encountered no notable issues during my play sessions.

    Really, the only significant issues I have with Forza Motorsport 7 are the RNG loot boxes and the use of mods in order to earn more CR. It creates situations where players are simply grinding out easy races just to snag more credits to buy their next RNG filled crate. As mentioned, Turn 10 is at least working on how the VIP system works for Forza Motorsport 7. I can only hope that the mod system is done away with completely for the next iteration of the franchise. I much prefer the system that constantly rewards players for disabling assists and cranking up the difficulty. Other than that, Forza Motorsport 7 is a fantastic racing title. It has a broad appeal that all but the super diehard "I can tell when a screw is a quarter turn too tight" sim fans will love.


    Additional Information
    Forza Motorsport 7 (Developed by Turn 10 Studios, Published by Microsoft)
    Starting at $59.99 (USD) for Windows 10 and the Xbox One for the Forza Motorsport 7 Standard Edition. Additional bundles include the Deluxe Edition at $79.99 and the Ultimate Edition at $99.99.
    Rated E for Everyone
    Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1703 (CU, not FCU)
    This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

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