In Forza Motorsport 7, the familiarity of driving your favorite cars on beloved tracks goes hand in hand with the joys of discovery. It's about owning sporty cars priced just out of reach in real life, whether that's a Mazda RX-8 or an Infinity Q60. There's exhilaration in taking those sweet rides down roads you've visited countless times and still finding something new around familiar bends. And whether you're preoccupied with a pack of assertive Drivatars or fiercer real-life competitors, Forza 7--much like the other installments in developer Turn 10's mainline racing series--is decidedly abundant in different ways to compete.
The first thing you'll notice about Forza 7 is that it strips away the often amusing glorification and ostentatiousness of motorsport that decorated the series' last few games. Granted, I loved the dulcet voice over of Jeremy Clarkson when he dispensed with insight and trivia on cars and courses. Forza 7 relies less on wooing you with superficial spectacles and instead lets the cars and courses speak for themselves. This break from the ceremonious aspects of motorsport is a welcome one, especially when all you want to do is race.
The career mode alone--dubbed Forza Driver's Cup--encourages you to get down to business in a wide array of competitions spread across six championship series. Since you don't need to enter all the races to win the cup, you're offered the flexibility to compete with the types of cars you're most used to. That said, the opening races effectively remind you of Forza 7's vehicle variety, encouraging you to play outside your comfort zone. You can spend a dozen hours beelining for the cup, or more than double that if you want to get first in every race. There's no clear theme to distinguish one series over another, but it's easy to go along with Turn 10's seemingly arbitrary playlists of tournaments, given the wide variety of cars and courses lining your journey.
Even after you've raised the final trophy in the Forza Driver's Cup, the quest to build a respectable collection of cars goes on. As always, the draw of browsing the hundreds of cars in Forza is the tease of purchasing a new model like the 2017 Nissan GT-R or scratching that nostalgic itch with a Pacer X from the now-defunct American Motors Corporation. And while the recent withdrawal of Lexus and Toyota production models from racing games leaves a void in this robust roster, Turn 10 helps cushion the blow with a hearty selection of Porsches, a manufacturer that was missing from the launch version of Forza 6.
Competition takes many forms in Forza 7. The friends-as-AI Drivatars return as a pleasing alternative to age-old CPU racing behaviors like rubber banding. Online you'll find, more often than not, disorderly strangers who are as impolite as they are careless. Your best hope of winning is placing near the front of the starting grid. The alternative is, of course, participating in a private race, provided you can convince other friends and Forza players--ideally enough to fill a 24-car grid--to play fair and do their best at avoiding crashes. For the least chaotic approach to measuring and comparing greatness, Rivals presents a host of tough yet worthwhile asynchronous contests where you attempt to beat other players' lap times. Unfortunately, the traditional Forza outlets of aggression like zombie or tag are not available in the launch version of Forza 7. The same goes for Forzathon and Leagues modes, unique timed events that enhance the replay value of Forza Motorsport 6 and Forza Horizon 3.
Like many Forza Motorsports before it, Forza 7's greatest strength is its diversity of driving experiences, which says something for a series that relies mostly on circuit races, rather than adding point-to-point and off-road competition. The challenge of weaving a Mini Cooper through traffic at 45 miles per hour can be as thrilling as navigating your way through the various slopes and dips in Dubai Circuit of the Emirates. These moments are made all the more rewarding thanks to the 122 finely detailed and authentic track configurations spread across its 32 locations.
The last couple Forza Motorsports, along with Forza 7, are engrossing due to their true-to-life tracks and how surrounding environments are enhanced by changes in weather and time of day. Yet whereas Forza 6 had a premade rain condition for select tracks, Forza 7 has an impressive 16 variations of inclimate weather like thunderclouds and summer drizzle. Road Atlanta on an overcast day can exude the secluded quaintness of a course in the U.K. like the Top Gear Test Track. Suzuka--one of the oldest circuits in video games, dating back to Pole Position II--has never looked as good as when it's accentuated by the sun as it breaks through clouds during an early morning race. The ability to set multiple changing weather states in a single match further adds character to these riveting tours. The right combination of car and weather conditions can give you a newfound appreciation for a track you've raced on hundreds of times in other games.
What has always set Forza Motorsport apart from other racing sims is the depth of its newcomer-friendly accessibility options. Forza 7 continues this tradition with an array of adjustable assists and difficulty settings. Naturally, many of Forza 7's challenges arise when you've tweaked your settings just right so first place wins are hard fought. And with the return of mod cards--originally introduced in Forza Motorsport 6--you can self-impose other performance incentives for greater rewards. It's mildly gratifying to receive bonus currency for great passing or cornering even if the game didn't notice you shoved a couple cars when executing these supposedly graceful maneuvers.
Mods are unlocked as part of Forza 7's blind card system, known as Prize Crates. These packs evenly mix practical items like cars and mods with cosmetic goods such as badges and driver outfits. When you spend most of the game encased in a car's cockpit, these detailed jumpsuits and helmets might seem like throwaway gear, but when you see your decorated driver in a convertible or the pre-race menu, envy blooms. After opening a dozen packs, I felt like I broke even, feeling elation when spending little to win a rare car, as well as heartbreak for buying the most expensive crate and ending up with only common items. While cars are now organized by loot-inspired rarity--based on their price ranges--you can still buy cars no matter the rarity without relying on the uncertainty of chance with the Prize Crates. And it should be added that having access to the Ultimate Edition gave me a VIP mod that doubled my earned XP over five races. While this perk temporarily accelerated my progression, it did not impact the quality of my overall experience.
By the time I had logged a couple dozen hours in Forza 7, the confluence of environmental and driving realism unexpectedly inspired me to recreate real-life racing events like the famous 1996 Zanardi pass at Laguna Seca. These are the kinds of experiments that Forza 7 inspires, thanks in part to the game's variety and flexibility. Even with an imperfect roster and a selection of modes that doesn't compare to the comprehensiveness of Forza 6 at launch, Forza Motorsport 7 is still a feature-rich and competition-diverse bundle of racing events that keep you coming back for more. The ability to control the weather to create rich, painterly cloudy backdrops goes a long way in making up for the lack of zombie modes and the Toyota MR2.