While Turn 10 would undoubtedly assert that each Forza iteration is of paramount importance to the developer, the stakes are notably higher this year. Nearly four years after the launch of the PlayStation 4, Polyphony’s Gran Turismo series – Forza’s key rival in the console racing genre – finally has a current-generation offering of their own with Gran Turismo Sport, which is set to debut in October.

Since Forza Motorsport 5’s launch alongside the Xbox One in 2013, the franchise has gone more or less uncontested in this space, with only PC ports of hardcore sim-style racers like Project Cars and Assetto Corsa offering racing enthusiasts viable alternatives on Microsoft’s console.

While the Forza series has always featured a fairly eclectic mix of rides to choose from, with 700 vehicles on the roster in FM7, nearly any kind of four-wheel fanatic is covered here.

Not only does that dynamic change this year with the imminent launch of GT Sport, Forza Motorsport 7 will also serve as a launch title for the new 4K-enabled Xbox One X, so the game is also something of a technical showcase for Microsoft’s new high end hardware as well.

Interestingly, the launch of the new Forza title comes more than a month prior to the Xbox One X hitting store shelves, so those of us getting our hands on the game now experience it through the lens of the standard Xbox One. Turns out that’s not such a bad thing either though, as Forza Motorsport 7 is, without, question, the most ambitious racing title from the developer to date.

Under The Hood

With the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon series trading off releases year-to-year not unlike the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, it’s been tough not to see each entry as an incremental improvement over the previous title rather than an exhaustive overhaul. Forza Motorsport titles have gained the technical enhancements first introduced in Forza Horizon titles and vice versa chronologically, and while that has provided a tangible improvement to the overall experience with each release, this formula has been starting to show its age.

With this year's title as part of the launch lineup for the 4K-enabled Xbox One X console, the graphical improvements go well beyond just a new coat of paint.

Though the specific tweaks aren’t explicitly stated, it’s clear that the game engine of Forza Motorsport 7 has undergone more than a nip and tuck procedure since FM6. While a massive overhaul of the game’s overall menu layout and aesthetic bolster this sense of “newness”, there’s also quite a bit of polish applied to the actual in-game presentation, and much of it seems to be focused on creating a more immersive, life-live environment.

Along with more visual fidelity, contextual camera movement and audio are implemented here to not only make the racing feel more authentic, but to minimize distraction from what’s going on in front of you while racing. While weather effects and night time racing first made their debut in Forza Motorsport 6, here they’re now dynamic, providing opportunity for weather and lighting conditions to change from lap to lap within a single race, in turn adding another level of depth to the action.

More than 30 different tracks – both real and fictional – will be available at launch. With the various configurations available among them, players will have more than 200 different course layouts to master.

The Forza franchise has never been particularly stingy with the car count and track list, but here they’ve really gone the extra mile, providing no less than 700 cars to choose from (including Porsches, which were previously only available through downloadable content) as well as more than 200 different configurations among 32 different racing environments.

Offroad events make a return here as well, with trophy trucks and Global Rallycross cars providing drivers with a chance to compete where the pavement ends.

Although there’s only one totally new track – Dubai Hafeet Mountain Pass – essentially all of the favorites from past Forza installments make a return here, including Virginia International Raceway, which was previously only available as part of the Porsche Expansion Pack for FM6.

While Forza Motorsport is billed as more of a racing simulator rather than an arcade-style driving game, there are a number of features built into the title that are designed to ease the learning curve for newcomers to the series, including a new “friction assist” setting which makes puddles and off-track surfaces more forgiving. As in previous installments, all of these driver assists can be disabled if the player wishes to do so.

Behind The Wheel

Even veterans of the Forza series will have a bit of a learning curve to contend with, as Forza Motorsport 7 introduces a totally reworked campaign mode dubbed the the Forza Driver’s Cup Challenge. Like in previous installments, the Driver’s Cup provides a format for drivers to progress through the ranks in various championships, gaining experience points, credits, and cars along the way.

But there are some twists on that formula this time around, like the homologation rules which add a significant level of depth and strategy to car setup based on the restrictions they add to the mix. The idea here is to prevent players from gravitating toward vehicles and setups that essentially serve as class loopholes because they significantly outperform the rest of their field for one reason or another. While it’s certainly a welcome feature, its implementation could be improved, as it’s not always immediately clear what the homologation rules might be for a particular championship.

Among the unlockable items in the game's campaign mode is an array of race gear, like the spooky balaclava seen in the image on the right.

Several times I setup a car for what I had thought were the restrictions for a particular championship only to discover the car was still not in compliance for an unspecified reason, and you’re informed by the game’s insistence on setting up your car for the series for you, which essentially negates any previous setup you might’ve done. What brakes are on your car now? It’s anyone’s guess after the game forces its own recipe for the class on your car.

Fortunately you can undo these changes after the fact (and before the race begins), but the process seems clunky and we often wasted credits on parts we weren’t interested in using simply to get to the point of establishing what the homologation rules were for a particular championship we wanted to enter.

Car setup qualms aside, there’s little doubt that the racing in the Forza series has never looked or sounded better than it does here. Dramatic shifts in weather within a four-lap race might not be particularly life-like but they do keep the racing lively, and Forza’s cloud-based Drivatar system continues to offer some of the most human-like AI competition out there.

The 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS serves as Forza Motorsport 7’s cover car, which is serendipitous since it was just announced a few days ago that this 700hp 911 recently broke the production car lap record around the Nurburgring. The latest top-dog 911 did the deed in 6:47.3, nearly five seconds faster than the previous record of 6.52.01, which was set earlier this year by the Lamborghini Huracán Performante.

FM7 also keeps things fresh through a rewards system that includes Prize Crates. These crates can contain anything from Mods that can bolster your winnings based on your on-track performance to cars, race gear, and other unlockable items. Of course if you get tired of competing solo, Forza Motorsport 7 also offers a fully fleshed-out multiplayer mode, which includes both online racing as well as Rivals competitions that allow players to attempt to beat established lap times by other players, as well as split-screen modes for competition within the same living room.

More than forty different Ferrari models will be available in the game, including the FXX K and 458 Italia GTE racers you see here.

A few of game features will not be enabled at launch – namely Auction House, #Forzathon events, and Leagues. “Players looking for those features will see the “Coming Soon” notice by the features in the game menus,” Turn 10 said in a statement leading up to the release.

“As our community of players grows in the weeks after launch, we will be enabling those features in game.” But in the meantime, there’s certainly no shortage of other things to do in the world of Forza Motorsport 7.

Though this entry doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it does serve as the most substantial refresh of the franchise since FM5 launched alongside the Xbox One. Beyond the wealth of content, gameplay tweaks and the aesthetic improvements, those upgrading to the Xbox One X will surely see significant enhancements beyond what’s showcased here on the standard Xbox One (along with shorter loading times), and we’d be surprised if that doesn’t make FM7 one of the best looking racing games currently available anywhere.