It must be difficult to innovate within the somewhat limited confines of certain game genres, such as racing games. Once you've decided on your approach (sim or arcade) and primary automotive focus (off road/rally or tracks), there is a relatively small set of variables to tweak. Like Madden, the Forza series has settled into annual installments, either of the main Motorsport games or the now-excellent Horizon spinoffs. As a result, the games change rather incrementally, and this is true of Forza 7, which does not feel like a radical departure from 2015's Forza 6. Toss that caveat aside, though, and you're left with what is perhaps the most generous and best-looking racing game on the market.
The recent Forza games have clearly made a case for the automobile-as-fetish-object, with a downright lascivious attention to every curve, reflection, texture, and detail, coupled with a rather self-congratulatory swagger about it all. Each of the game's 700+ cars and trucks (minus a few companies, especially Toyota and Tesla) looks amazing even on a vanilla Xbox One.
This time around, even more attention has been paid to changing weather and lighting conditions, all of which are breathtakingly realistic almost to the point of distraction. I suppose that, in 2017, we shouldn't be impressed by rain in a videogame, but the way the drops feather on the windshield or the wipers flutter in the wind or the sun gradually rises during a race are truly immersive.
Driving -- in my case, with a controller, not a wheel -- has been tuned a bit, but still feels perfectly adequate with just enough haptic feedback and audio cues to allow for excellent control. There seems to be a little more weight to the vehicles and for whatever reason, the engine and road sounds really stood out in their variety and excellent post-processing.
Once again, Forza's Drivatar AI opponents return and, once again, these represent a wide range of racing styles that change as the game's online population changes and grows. Like absolutely everything about the Forza experience, from driving assists to Drivatar difficulty, there are endless ways to adjust and shape how one plays the game.
Beautiful cars and tracks and great handling are at the core of any successful racer but the design around the edges is also important, and Forza 7 has made some changes that might represent a lateral move at best. Fundamentally, racing earns credits which are used to buy additional cars and limited-use perks. Collecting ever more powerful or exotic cars increases the player's Collector rank, which opens up the ability to buy even rarer cars. Credits can be used to buy loot crates which contain various perks, cars, and gear. Unfortunately, many of the cars are of limited utility outside of specific race types and the Collector progression metagame forces the player to spend hard-earned credits on sometimes unwanted vehicles. Happily there are no microtransactions -- yet -- but if previous installments are any indicator, they will be coming.
With over 30 tracks, hundreds of impressively rendered cars, and a robust and option-rich single player campaign (not to mention endless single, one-off races), Forza 7 has to represent the current apex of the racing sim. While it isn't a decisive leap forward from Forza 6, neither is it a step back. The cars just get better looking, the handling more precise, and the overall experience more comprehensive and immersive. I can't wait to try it on the Xbox One X.