“Every driver has a story to tell. Of their first race, their first race car,” says the narrator during Forza Motorsport 7’s sparklingly cut intro movie flashing across the screen. “Drivers will talk about their victories, their losses and their journey,” she continues. “Here is the starting point for racing dreams, where aspiring drivers begin forging their own legacy.”
Such is the promise of this latest entry into a franchise now 12 years of existence. Forza 7 is a sharper, more elegant racer than series developer and originator Turn 10 Studios has ever let off the grid; every pixel is crossed, every sound effect dotted.
Like its predecessors, though, it’s missing the romance associated with the cars and the racing it portrays. This is a technical endeavour, one that prioritises structure over joy. Here is the starting point for racing dreams, so long as your dreams match those of Forza 7.
The rigidity of its offering reduces your journey to a game of connecting the dots. It’s a case of freedom promised and freedom lost, with your racing career and even which cars you’re allowed to own and drive segmented and neatly boxed in such a way as to force you to jump through hoops to progress. The sensation is one of being stuck in big government bureaucracy, not being allowed to apply for benefit C-9 until you’ve satisfied the requirements of B7-A1.
If you fell in love with cars because of the thrill of the open road or the corrupted, sweetly evil smell of gasoline then you’re not going to see your preferred form of vehicular appreciation represented here. This is a much more business-like undertaking.
Nowhere is this felt more strongly than in the concept of car collecting, Forza 7’s means of fencing off and drip-feeding you the contents of its garage. Cars are bundled into tiers that are unlocked by gaining points… points that are earned by acquiring cars. It’s a system that’s as convoluted and it is restrictive.
The concept forces you to think about certain cars as being more desirable than others, with the most worthy positioned at the top collecting tier. Certain cars are more desirable than others, that is true, but determining which should be allowed to be a personal decision. I don’t want Forza 7 to dictate which cars I should lust over and which I should see as stepping-stones to get to the real deal.
Car collecting as presented here feels like a way to force players to test vehicles they might otherwise shun. Such a concept infantilises you, removing any sense of the self-determination you like to think you have as an adult.
If you came here wanting to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari F40, for example, then you’re going to have to wait because it’s part of the highest collector tier. The fact that a car you love is arbitrarily locked away from you from the outset makes the resultant effort you put into accessing it feel more like work than play.
Career mode is similarly structured, with different tiers of competition hosting a range of events. Complete enough of events in one tier to unlock the next and move towards the finale: The Forza Driver’s Cup Challenge. Each tier includes a range of different disciplines – from hatchback racing to open-wheelers, trucks to supercars – so there’s no sense of continuity between them.
You complete a seemingly arbitrary range of events in one tier and move on to the next set. You’re not focused on a goal of becoming the greatest driver in a set discipline or style; you’re simply choosing random races each tier. As with car collecting, the structure of the career feels more like a way of artificially slowing down your progress than a way of empowering you as a driver.
Showcase events pop up throughout your racing career and offer some of the passion that the rest of the game lacks. These elicit an emotional reaction thanks to their inclusion of pro racer digital doppelgangers, their appreciation and promotion of automobile history and/or for their sheer silliness.
Unfortunately, showcases are used as a means to breakup the predictable nature of the career mode as opposed to being celebrated in their own right. They feel like the talented, neglected child who, with better parenting, would have become a maestro.
The strict enforcement of the career and car ownership structure is a shame because the driving itself is good and represents one of the better examples of how to translate a steering wheel and paddles onto a control pad; the Xbox One pad’s analogue sticks and shoulder buttons providing good feedback and the kind of detailed input required to set the best lap times.
Tracks, cars and weather effects are all of best-in-class quality, too, with their being genuine visual diversity within every race you entry. If you’re looking for accuracy of visual design then what’s here is not going to disappoint.
However, Forza has always been good in these areas and the continuation of that comes as expected rather than hoped for. The heart and soul of racing, and driving in general, remains lost.
Thanks to the overbearingly mechanical quality of the whole package, any beauty here ultimately comes across as the kind readily associated with airbrushed models or perfectly uniform genetically modified fruit. The kind of beauty that’s impersonal, aloof, manufactured. The kind of beauty that is produced rather than created.
This dedication to providing an atmosphere of rigid technical perfection over emotional embellishment gives the whole experience a detached gloss that is accessible but difficult to be charmed by. All of the rough edges associated with the speed and excitement of racing have have been smoothed away, leaving behind something so strikingly clean and polished that your affections have nothing to grip and cling onto.
In other words, it’s the racing game edition of an iPhonecommercial or, I presume, a sex robot: technically impressive but emotionally vacuous. Once the primary senses have been satisfied, there’s little left for the mind to enjoy.
Turn 10 has made good on its desire to give us something precisely crafted and aesthetically recognisable as mirroring reality, and from such a perspective Forza 7 is undoubtedly a critical success. Here’s hoping Forza 8 strives to connect with our emotional love of cars, not just our technical one.