Forza 7 opens with a demo that takes you through a sand-swept track in Dubai, with the new Porsche 911 GT2 — a car announced at E3 — sliding around from corner to corner under your control. It's fun. It's fun without being too hard, it's fun without being too easy. The driving dynamics are a little bit arcade, a little bit sim. And that's the newest Forza game in a nutshell — not too cold, not too hot. Just right.
What Is It?
Forza 7 is the latest game in what is now a properly long-running series. It's the seventh installment and features a full 700 cars (some are variants of a base, but whatever, 700 cars), all of which you can drive across 32 different tracks around the world (some are fictional, most are not). But the big difference on the surface between previous Forza titles and this is that there's more of a focus on your driver character, letting you buy bling — helmets and race suits — to kit them out in. But frippery to the side, this is as realistic as Forza has ever been.
Driving a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500 around the short Nurburgring circuit, in the driving rain, is the perfect demonstration of Forza 7's physics. They're phenomenally good for a game of its calibre — you have to keep reminding yourself that Forza Motorsport 7did not set out to be a simulation racer, less iRacing and Project CARS and more Forza Horizon 3 — albeit mostly on race tracks and not public roads. Grip on a wet track changes massively; in a powerful car you're constantly scrabbling for any kind of traction even as you wind through the gears, and in the rain there's a constant sense that if you overwhelm any of the four corners you'll just end up spinning out at speed. Four-wheel drifting around a rainy corner at 160km/h and holding it feels goood.
Straight out of the box, from the opening sequence into the first track, any vaguely experienced racing game enthusiast — and I'm not saying I'm any good, I'm just a guy with a car — won't be happy with the way that Forza 7 feels. The automatic braking assist is very enthusiastic in making sure you can take any line you want into a corner, and that makes it feel very very safe. It's understandable. It's a low barrier to entry, for those that might not have played a racing game before. But if you want a bit of action and actual enjoyment, you'll want to dial back the assists a lot — definitely no steering assist or braking assist, at the very least.
But once you've turned those off, it's good. More than that, though, Forza works across Xbox One and PC and saves your progress between the two, and those true-to-life-enough physics lend themselves just as happily to the hardcore racer — maybe a 4K PC gamer with a racing wheel setup — as they do to the casual couch gamer or the regular player who prefers an Xbox controller. I gave it a blast using a Thrustmaster wheel and my usual set of assists, and it felt just right — just as right as it did on a controller — with the added benefit of tactile shift paddles and the fine-tuning of a force feedback wheel. And, of course, you're driving with a wheel. Like, y'know, actual driving.
The sensation of force feedback in Forza 7 feels more true-to-life than previous titles, too — for me, the jump between even Horizon 3's combo of dirt and sand and tarmac and the varied tarmac of 7 feels genuine. Maybe it's placebo, I don't know, but when you're flying around Suzuka at speed in a Ferrari you can feel the sensation of ripple strips more truly than before, and you can feel and hear when you've lost traction on a wet slick of track or when you dip your tyres off into the dirt or gravel. The sound in Forza 7 is just something else — I don't recommend you play it when you've got family around, because you'll want it up loud.
As someone that doesn't really game online that much, the single-player Forza Driver's Cup has been my destination of choice so far. It's a relatively straightforward series of races and championships that slowly but surely test your skills on different vehicles — hot hatches, racing trucks, supercars, Aussie utes, full-on Formula 1 cars and concept track-only beasts — and over different tracks in different conditions. It doesn't have the variety of an open-world game like Forza Horizon 3's random encounters and point-to-point races, but if you're up for some circuit racing without being a complete iRacing anorak, I can't really think of a better holistic driving experience than this new game.
Should You Buy It?
Apart from a short time at E3 and a short time at a local preview event, I haven't had a proper opportunity to play Forza 7 on the Xbox One X yet, And since the new console has a hell of a lot more power than the original Xbone or the One S, it looks better in several small but important ways. Unless you're one of the very select few with their 4K60-capable gaming PC hooked up to their 4K HDR TV, you're going to want a Xbox One X to enjoy Forza 7 to its fullest.
There's one big caveat with Forza 7, though. In previous games, you could turn off assists to get extra credits for completing each race, and it worked effectively for boosting a seasoned player's progression through the game — buying different cars and different tuning upgrades for those cars. In Forza 7, that's gone, replaced with mod cards that can be applied a limited number of times. It's a small thing that slows progression, smacks of 'pay to win', and feels like a genuine step back.
Forza's physics have always tended towards an arcadey feel rather than the most lifelike simulation racing you could ever experience — iRacing, Project CARS 2, and the like. Forza 7brings that feel closer to reality, but not too close. It's still fun for the weekend warrior, the one that wants to turn most of the assists off but that keeps ABS and stability control enabled to actually enjoy diving a little too deep into the corners before saving everything and pulling off a sick drift. And that's what I've wanted in a racing game for a long time.
It's also not the quickest game to jump straight into for a quick racing sesh, which blunts the appeal only slightly. Even on my unreasonably powerful home gaming PC, load times are sometimes painfully long. But it looks incredible once it's loaded, and there's something to be said for that. Whether you're playing on a £250 Xbox One S or a £2,000 4K-ready computer, frame rates are impressively high — they're locked to 60fps on console, but even with Ultra graphics and 4K resolution on PC I didn't notice any obvious frame drops or jitter.
It's also a big game, and it'll take time to sink my teeth into — these are only my first impressions from a couple of weekends and weeknights racing. Progression is slow and there's a dauntingly massive amount of cars to unlock, and the Driver's Cup is going to take me weeks to finish. But in the actual racing, I can't find fault — it just feels right. It feels like the racing game I've been looking for for a long time, on controller and racing wheel alike. Time will tell whether it dethrones the classics — Daytona, the original Project CARS, even Mario Kart 64 — as one of my all-time favourites. But it's already up there in the top 5.
Gizmodo Australia is gobbling up the news in a different timezone, so check them out if you need another Giz fix.