Forza 7 has attracted considerable negative attention over its expanded use of loot boxes (called Prize Crates in the game), and in particular the yet-to-be-implemented option to buy those crates with real world currency. It is the poster-child of the continued efforts of the games industry seeking to exact as much money from consumers as possible.
Accordingly, the topic of loot boxes has dominated the critical discussion about Forza 7.
Here’s the thing: Forza 7 has much bigger and deeper problems than loot boxes.
I don’t like writing that. I’m a Forza fanboy. I’ve played every single Forza title and invested countless hours in the game. I’ve bought the limited editions, I’ve got the steel books, the car keys on my daily drive are on a Forza keychain that I got as a pack-in with Forza 3.
In my view Forza Horizon 3 was the best game of 2016 and the second best game of this generation (behind only Witcher 3).
Forza 7 is a backward step at a time when racing games and Xbox titles can ill afford to have them.
Forza 6 was a masterpiece. It corrected the lack of content in Forza 5 with a bevy of tracks and cars. More importantly it made strides capturing the spirit of racing through its presentation of the stories of motorsport. By making its career modes about the eras of racing, the game felt at times like that it was taking your through a journey of racing’s history. It wasn’t perfect but it managed to capture something about motorsport.
Like previous Forza games it walked a fine line between reverence and personality but each car and each race felt like it was part of broader narrative about the history of racing.
Forza 7 has done away with any pretense of telling racing’s great stories. Its structure has reverted back to the cliche of winning the Forza Cup, which must be accomplished by completing various series that have no connection with the format or structure of real-world racing. It is an approach used by so many other racing games like Gran Turismo, Project Cars and even Project Gotham; it’s lazy and uninteresting.
With their talents, passion and licences at their disposal, Turn 10 could have told stories about motorsport’s great rivalries. Ferrari vs Lamborghini, Mitsubishi vs Subaru, Dodge vs Corvette, Ford vs everyone.
Glimpses of this type of narrative were in Forza 6 (and especially in its Porsche and NASCAR expansions). Prior to races the player received a voice over that chronicled interesting facts. It was only used sparingly but it made Forza 6 feel rooted to a time and place.
Turn 10 equally could have taken the player on a journey to experience the culture of racing around the world. Sure, Forza 7 allows you to race a stock car or an Australian V8 supercar on any track, but it misses the opportunity to tell you something about that experience by being an interactive tour guide that shows the player why racing matters in these communities.
Forza 7 has the potential to craft stories about European Touring Cars, Indy, Japanese car culture and drag racing by portraying the eclectic, diverse and passionate world of racing. While it provides the sandbox, if it wants to celebrate motorsport it could be so much more.
I don’t know much about NASCAR but I know it is popular. As a racing fan, I want to understand NASCAR. Likewise I want the rest of the world to understand what V8 supercars mean to me as an Australian car enthusiast.
For the first time ever, racing trucks were available in the base game. Racing trucks are awesome! However, there is so little fanfare that their races are identical to a hot hatch race.
This is a lost opportunity. Forza 7 could have delved into the racing cultures, the way that sports games have told stories about the culture of the NBA or football (soccer).
While making the cars more difficult to obtain, somehow Forza 7 somehow distances itself further from car culture. I miss the British lady from Forza 6 who would tell me that this was ‘my’ 2015 Dodge Charger when I added it to my collection. It felt like I owned it. Now your car is just unceremoniously forms part of your garage as a progress bar showing your level of overall collection fills.
They could have doubled down on the car culture embraced by earlier games by leaning on the emotional links that people have with their cars or the shared history of following racing. In Australia one of the car insurance companies, taps into this really well with their television advertisements which tell the stories of cars and their owners. Instead, the player gets more information about sneakers in the NBA 2K games than the cars in Forza 7.
Options to customise cars are hidden behind layers of menus. The option to follow amazing paint job creators has become more difficult with every iteration.
Forza 7 already has many of the tools to convey these connections in a similar way through their auto-vista mode. However, the accompanying audio histories used in previous games to provide context have been scaled back.
Previously, I’ve dismissed the ‘sterile’ label leveled at the Forza games. With the latest iteration, I too am concerned that it has lost its enthusiasm for motorsport.
How can a game where you can dress your drivatar as a clown, or chef, or an astronaut somehow lack personality?
Racing in real life is loud, dirty and kinetic. Racing cars are always at the point where something could critically fail. Gearboxes and clutches grind and complain, exhausts spit and spray, and tyres lock up and smoke as brakes scream no more.
In the real-world engines wound to their maximum provide a pain-inducing cacophony, turbochargers pop and hiss while supercharges thunder.
At a race track it feels like the whole world is on fire. It is so cool.
No game has successfully captured this. This is not a function of the simulation. It is a function of the presentation and experience.
I had hopes after the E3 trailers that showed wiper blades shaking that gave a sense of the mechanics involved driving on the edge. This however was only part of the upgraded visuals that too often appear to mirror the serene super high definition landscape file footage used to sell televisions.
The tracks – while pretty – are, with the exception of Maple Valley and Dubai, the same as those that appeared in the complete versions of Forza 6. Tracks are to racing games as courses are to golf games. The more the better. While I couldn’t praise Forza 6’s roster enough, the lack of new additions in Forza 7 is disappointing. The new Dubai circuit might be better than the Bernese Alps but isn’t any fun to drive. It would be great to have tracks like Imola, Sepang, Shanghai or Interlagos. Or for that matter, the initiative taken by Project Cars 2 by including classic versions of Monza, Spa and Hockenheim.
There are no stakes to the racing in Forza 7. This is not a function of difficulty. In F1 2017, even with the safety net of the rewind feature, it feels like every race is meaningful – because it is. In Forza 7 every race is repeatable and disposable. You are simple on the racing treadmill, completing another generic race in a generic cup to enable your drivatar earn more XP and credits.
Here is where I will defend the loot boxes. They have become the only reason to engage with the treadmill. In the absence of having anything to say about car culture or racing, loot boxes are the only interesting thing in Forza.
Basically, the pursuit of loot boxes is now the only reason to race in Forza 7. That is sad.