Forza Motorsport 7 One Year Later: The Biggest Racing Game (Still Needs Direction)

Forza Motorsport 7 launched October 2, 2017. With its open-world sibling Horizon 4 in the spotlight earning all sorts of praise, that seems like ages ago.

FM7 came at a strange time. Not only in the genre — sandwiched between Project CARS 2 (read its retrospective review here) and Gran Turismo Sport — but in the franchise itself. It followed 2015’s FM6, a critical return to form for the track-based series. But it also showed up when FH3 was still going strong, pulling in massive player numbers over a year out from release.

There was also the small matter of the game being a major showcase title for the Xbox One X, which wasn’t coming for another month.

With far and away the most content of the Big Three to launch in 2017, FM7 staked its place in the genre on having something for everyone. It was the more approachable title, the friendlier one. We’re going to look at how that reputation served it well, and how — in ways — it actually hurt Motorsport 7.

The P1 GTR remains one of the fastest of the 800 cars in FM7. Image courtesy of Demetrius 81.

What’s Changed Since Release

Had you asked this question back in spring, the answer would’ve been “not much”.

Don’t get us wrong, there were important updates to FM7 for the first six months of its life. Turn 10 sanded down a few of the rougher edges — mostly in the substantial One X prep patch — but generally speaking the biggest changes were the monthly car packs.

These packs solidified Forza’s car roster as the best in the business. While there was a surprising amount of offroaders (despite a lack of actual offroading in the game), Turn 10 mixed them with some highly desirable road and race cars. The very first pack introduced a racing Porsche, the Maserati 250F, and the modern Alfa Romeo Giulia QV.

December’s “Doritos Car Pack” introduced the oldest car ever in the franchise, the inimitable Bugatti Type 35, and the rarest of Porsches: an F1 car. Subaru 360, Lotus Elise GT1, Bugatti Chiron, Paul Newman’s 300ZX race car, a Honda Odyssey — the grab-bag approach to new additions highlighted the sheer variety the automotive world is capable of. Not all of the additions required cash either, with Porsches, Hyundais and IMSA race cars amongst the free additions.

It was summer where development took an unexpected positive turn. Company head honcho Alan Hartman penned a letter to the community explaining that Turn 10 was scrapping the divisive prize crate system. While it never cost players real money, it nonetheless rubbed many the wrong way. The last vestiges disappear next month, and Hartman confirmed micro-transactions would never appear in FM7 nor FH4.

The team buckled down, expanding the features of the game. In came track limits for August, a helpful light-up tool for players to learn what constitutes a clean lap. New drift upgrades offering up plenty of steering angle showed up at the same time. The following month introduced a deeper drag racing mode, and the ability to have online track days.

Instead of support drying up around the first anniversary, it seems the team is in it for the long haul. Chris Esaki said the team had “been given this great gift of time” in a recent monthly show, fuelling rumors that there’d be no new Forza title in 2019. Racing games — especially track-oriented ones — don’t necessarily need sequels the same way story-based titles do. If there’s another year (or more) of development in the tank for FM7, that can only mean good things for players.

The Giulia: just one example of how FM7’s car list is the best in the business. Image courtesy of MalibuClub.

What It Got Right

There’s no avoiding comparisons between Gran Turismo and Forza. It’s happened since Microsoft formed Turn 10, and the first Motorsport landed in 2005. So we say this with the knowledge of that: Forza Motorsport 7 is the best classic-GT-style game you can buy on current consoles.

Whereas Polyphony Digital shifted gears with GT Sport, focusing on the esport aspect, Turn 10 embraced the interactive encyclopedia approach. Or is that Car-RPG? CaRPG? We really need a locked-in name for the sub-genre.

Whatever you want to call it, FM7 nailed the almost Pokemon-style joy of collecting. Like a digital Jay Leno, you’d grow your garage to a massive level, and the diversity was as impressive as the number itself. The game prioritized collecting to the point that players progressed through tiers based on their garage. By encouraging them to buy more cars, FM7 also nudges players to try more rides.

Of the multi-discipline track-based games, it was also the only one to retain visual modifications on a major level alongside mechanical tinkering. Only Need for Speed betters the Forza series in terms of customization.

One of the great strengths of the Forza franchise is that it doesn’t force players into a funnel. Sure, you could earn credits by racing, but that wasn’t the only way in FM7. Tuners and painters could make bank from other players using their work. There’s also the Auction House, where a savvy seller could easily grow their bank account.

FM7 was the first full Motorsport title to arrive on PC. It wasn’t going to trouble the hardcore established sim racing titles in terms of realism, but it did introduce this particular sub-genre — one with a huge lineup of cars — to a platform that needed it.

The other big strength of FM7 is its approachability. It’s still one of the best-optimized racing games for pad users. A wheel is well and good, but the majority of players will be sitting down with the default input device that came with their system. In addition, it offers a suite of driving aids to help drivers of all levels. But there’s a flip-side to all of this…

Rainy days. Image courtesy of torque99.

What It (Still) Gets Wrong

As we hinted about above with its PC release, FM7 is not the most realistic track racer out there. Its physics engine is mid-pack: it does some things quite well, but doesn’t trouble itself with the finer details.

Look, if the Horizon franchise didn’t exist, this would be less of an issue. But it does. Horizon 4 is a fantastic driving game because it’s really an open-world title that happens to star cars. It prioritizes fun above everything else, but as our interview with Ralph Fulton and Ben Penrose proved, it also has a surprising amount of simulation going on under the hood. It’s an excellent entry point to get people hooked on cars.

The issue is that, for Joe Gamer, there’s very little between the two titles. FM7 has the deeper physics engine, but we’re not talking leaps and bounds. It introduced dynamic weather to the formula, but there’s no real strategy to dealing with rain. There aren’t even wet tires — the game doesn’t capitalize on the main challenge inclement weather poses for drivers.

The other main area Motorsport 7 lags behind with is online racing. It’s easy to jump into, but after playing either of its main contemporaries, the lack of a driver rating system stands out. Griefers are rampant online, but even overlooking them, it’s impossible to know if you’re going to have genuine competition when travelling online. You could end up against a Forza RC pro, or little Tommy, who just got the game from his grandma yesterday for his birthday.

Like Project CARS 2, FM7 also suffered from an unfortunate bout of bad press right around launch. News of impending micro-transactions, in a year that saw talk of them hit a fevered pitch, put the brakes on the release hype train.

Another change that drew plenty of flak was making VIP perks consumable. In all previous Forzas, VIP status meant permanent credit boosts. Naturally this did not go over well, to the point the team reverted to the old style within a month of release. But the damage was done.

A relaxing Rio drive in one of the oldest cars in the game. Image courtesy of Pebb.

What’s Next?

The good news is that the future looks bright for Motorsport. Creative director Chris Esaki has been incredibly open about the team’s long-term plans in each Forza Monthly show. With 2019 increasingly looking like a year without a Forza launch, the motorsport team has a larger window to implement more new features.

Next on the docket is improved crash physics. The team showcased the latest work-in-progress on the last Forza Monthly, and the results are promising. There’s also a complete rethink of the force feedback system in the pipeline, which is sure to please the wheel users out there.

Turn 10 is still working on the much-needed Race Regulations system. This will finally re-introduce penalties for track cutting to the Forza franchise, which should vastly improve the online experience.

Esaki mentioned recently that the team has a timeline stretching two to three years in the future. There’s a lot more to discuss: we’ll have more on the future plans for FM7 later this week.

One thing that hasn’t really come up is the notion of expanding the car roster. In truth, it doesn’t need it: the full Forza Motorsport 7 car list is already 800-strong. There is another car pack on the way at some point — a free one for Car Pass holders — but FM7’s greatest asset over the competition is already that list.

From the sounds of it, Turn 10 is planning on adding some clear air between FM7 and FH4. Or in other words, really capitalizing on the “Motorsport” in the title. That spells good things for not only the continued lifespan of FM7, but also the potential for a Scarlett-launching Forza Motorsport 8 in 2020. The franchise seems revitalized under Esaki & Co’s watch, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the next twelve months hold.

Featured image courtesy of GTDNick72.

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