The premier racing sim for Xbox consoles returns this fall with the latest installment of the Forza Motorsport series for Xbox One. I've been a longtime fan of the series (dating back to Forza 3 for the Xbox 360), so it's particularly interesting to watch how the series has evolved and branched over the years.
Forza Motorsport 7 promises to be the best looking, most accurate, most immersive entry in the franchise's history when it launches later this month. I was recently able to spend a fast-paced hour in Forza Motorsport 7's digital driver's seat at a preview event to find out what's new for this release.
4K 60fps HDR
Forza Motorsport 7 should scale and run smoothly on Xbox One and Xbox One S hardware, but the optimal gaming experience, I'm told, is on the Xbox One X console. The game was designed with the X in mind and is claimed to run in full 4K resolution at 60 frames per second in high dynamic range (HDR). I wasn't set up to confirm those claims nor am I one of CNET's TV reviewers, but the long-and-short of it is that this should be the best looking Forza title yet.
I was told that the build I played was essentially the final release version of the game played on Xbox One X hardware. I noticed a handful of hiccups and stutters here and there during my test, but the vast majority of my gameplay was buttery smooth and crisply rendered.
Load times were well hidden behind cinematics, menus and transitions during the campaign mode. So much so that I almost never noticed any sort of wait once I was ready to start driving. However, the Free Play modes are less linear and have less stagecraft to hide the loading, so I noticed seemingly longer load times in this mode. Still, after choosing a car and a track, I was up and running within a minute and change.
700 cars, 30 tracks
The two most important parts of any racing game are the cars and the courses. Forza 7 launches with 30 tracks to chose from including many longtime favorites and some new surprises. More impressive is its massive collection of over 700 vehicles, including "the largest collection of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches available in any racing game." All of those cars are now so-called ForzaVista cars, modeled in such high detail that you can open the doors, peer around the interior and get up-close and personal with the texture of the leather on the dashboard.
Of course, I went almost straight to the Mazda Miata (like I always do) during my hour-long test. But there is a wide range of vehicles and vehicle types to choose from including new classes, like racing trucks and ATVs, and more typical racing sim classes, like sports cars, supercars and various historic and modern race cars.
Forza 7 takes an interesting approach to how it gives you access to those 700 cars. During the campaign, you can't just hop in and buy the best car in the game. Rather, the vehicles are split into various tiers -- at first, you are only given access to the lower tier of cars, but each vehicle that is added to your collection adds to a higher garage score. Higher garage scores grant access to better cars.
Of course, there's also the ability to just skip all of that nonsense in the Free Play mode, which lets you do what you want to do.
A whole lot of shaking
Most racing sims treat cars like realistically rendered and simulated polygons that move around the course as one part.
Forza 7 goes a step further and acknowledges that real cars are a collection of various panels, parts and bits that are welded or bolted together and can shake, flex and rattle at slightly different rates. From the cockpit view, drivers can see the hood of an old muscle car shake in the wind as you approach top speed or the various bits of a racing truck's body rattle wildly when accelerating.
The camera shakes and bounces a bit as well, enhancing immersion. The camera changes are subtle and I almost didn't notice until I looked for it, but this small tweak enhances the feeling of speed.
It's not news that Turn 10 puts a lot of effort into making sure that the various engine sounds, collision noises and tire screeches are accurate to life, but I also noticed that there's now more attention placed on secondary sounds.
In the racing truck, for example, I was able to hear bits of gravel and dirt bouncing around in the wheel well. That's a ridiculous level of detail that'll probably be lost on you if you don't have a great audio setup. I'll definitely be playing with a good set of headphones on.
Weather that affects the way cars handle and perform on track has been a part of the Forza series for the last few installments, but Forza 7 adds a Dynamic Weather system that can change on the fly during the course of a race.
A race that starts bone dry could be hit by rain midway through, which reduces grip and visibility. With the rain comes puddles that expand and contract like they would in real life, adding a further challenge for racers. One particular race during the prologue that takes place in Dubai sees wind blowing sand across the course, which adds a slightly different traction challenge -- and just looks pretty cool.
Forza Horizon 3 was the first Forza title to allow the player to chose a different avatar for their driver. Forza Motorsport 7 takes that customization to a completely different level.
Once again, you can chose between a male or female driver model, but now you can choose between hundreds of custom Driver Gear. These are basically skins for the player's character that range from different color schemes, historic racing suits, automaker logos and novelty designs. I was especially digging the Día de Muertos skull-themed skin, but there are also skins that look like a highway patrol uniform or Halo's Spartan armor.
Skins are fun, because the driver can be seen more before and particularly after the race, where the avatars of the top three racers appear on a podium. You can unlock different Driver Gear skins by completing in-game challenges or leveling up your profile by winning races and earning in-game currency.
Ready, set, go!
When Forza Motorsport 7 launches, Xbox One and Windows 10 PC players will be able to race with or against each other through the Xbox Play Anywhere cross-play system. You can even bounce back and forth between PC and console with your synced profile. Simply purchase the game digitally and it'll unlock for all platforms.
A demo will be available for download on Sept. 19, on Xbox Live. Drivers who order the Ultimate Edition will get a headstart with early access to the full game on Sept. 29. Deluxe and Standard editions will unlock a few days later on Oct. 3.
The Deluxe Edition adds a Day One Car Pack with additional launch vehicles and Forza VIP membership (a stated $30 value total). The Ultimate Edition adds a "Forza Motorsport 7" Car Pass ($30 value) that's essentially a season pass for post-launch DLC cars in addition to the early access to the game.