It’s supposed to be a car culture simulator; a game in which designing liveries, bidding on vehicles in the auction house – which still has yet to be implemented – and taking photographs is equally integral to the core experience as the racing itself. Morphing into this all-encompassing automotive monstrosity over the past decade and some change, there’s been a bit of talk among series veterans that Forza Motorsport as a franchise always seems to wander further and further from the motorsport side of things with each passing rendition. Those who have been around for the long haul may recall the series once began as a simulation-oriented online racer – a natural progression beyond Project Gotham – but the surge of popularity and development of distinct communities encouraged Turn 10 accommodate the needs of those whom unironically believed racing was secondary in a racing game.
Unfortunately, these accommodations seemingly came at the expense of the overall online racing experience. It is for this reason that Forza Motorsport 7 both succeeds and fails simultaneously as a competitive racing platform, despite offering more cars, tracks, and private lobby options than one could ever possibly make use of within the game’s natural lifespan. Microsoft revolutionized the gaming industry with the launch of Xbox Live, introducing the average gamer to the idea of competing against others online as a normal part of your Saturday evening, yet Forza 7’s approach to online racing in some instances has gone backwards.
When it works, it’s pretty awesome – though there are limitations. When it doesn’t work, it’s very frustrating. And when you find out what’s missing compared to previous Forza games, it’s perplexing.
Turn 10 removed live spectating from Forza Motorsport 7. This means it’s no longer possible to monitor online races with live stewards, broadcast league events to the outside world, or in the case of drifting events, hold the event in the first place – you sort of need judges in spectating mode to do that. The eSports community spawned around Forza Motorsport 6, split pretty evenly between traditional circuit racing and drifting, is now almost non-existent because Turn 10 decided to leave out this otherwise essential feature present in the previous game. The Microsoft product page claims it exists, but at the moment it certainly doesn’t.
(Leagues aren’t operational at the time of this writing, either.)
For private online championships, this means there cannot be a race director issuing penalties manually over voice chat, or just generally watching over the field to ensure all is well. For larger-scale leagues, commentary or professional-style race broadcasts are now a thing of the past. For the hardcore drift communities, using Forza 7 to hold competitive online events with live judges – as is the norm in the online drifting community – isn’t possible, effectively forcing them to stick with the previous game.
There are people who will obviously counter this issue with “just buy a PC simulator and join one of their leagues instead.” That’s not the point; Forza Motorsport for many has offered more than enough cars, tracks, and a dynamic ecosystem in which many just don’t feel the need to look beyond what Turn 10 have built for Microsoft platforms. Just as they became comfortable with Forza as a competitive league platform, Turn 10 removed this functionality.
Turn 10 also removed the ability for the host of a session to arrange starting grids manually. Though you can still hold mock qualifying sessions by scoring a shorter heat race by fastest individual lap, and then having the main event grid ordered by results of the previous heat race, untimely disconnections, application failures, system crashes, or the inevitable opening lap carnage do-overs cannot be countered by a manual user override as they once were. Provided qualifying goes well, you have precisely one shot to start the race with a somewhat proper grid order, and that’s only if everything goes according to plan. Sim racers should know by now that this scenario is a rarity in league racing.
These two major omissions should give some much needed context to the bigger problems Forza currently faces; features integral to fostering a proper competitive scene have disappeared overnight, though you can now spend copious amounts of in-game currency on virtual slot machines in the hopes of acquiring more outfits for your action figure that dances in the menus. This isn’t to say running an online league is impossible in Forza Motorsport 7, you’re just very limited in scale; what functionality exists is more appropriate for a handful of like-minded enthusiasts than a hardcore championship among Forza’s elite.
So naturally, 4Chan started their own semi-private championship to see what could be done. I’m currently sitting second in points out of fifteen scored drivers, with just one win so far. These are my observations.
The rules are quite simple, though Forza Motorsport 7 thinks otherwise. You’re required to install a proper roll cage and equip a set of racing slicks, though how you get to the performance index of S800 agreed upon by series organizers is entirely up to your own experimentation. While in the process of building a car, Forza constantly whines that your ride doesn’t adhere to the respective homologation rules laid out by Turn 10, and the orange caution symbol becomes quite an annoying sight to see when it’s clear you’re creating something intended for private use.
Memory leak issues make designing a livery quite painful; there is talk of Forza painters still using the sixth game to create their designs, and then merely importing into Forza 7.
The lack of an open-ended offline hot lap mode – as seen in Forza 6, and absent in 7 – also rustles my jimmies just a bit; there’s no simple way to directly compare your practice times against fellow competitors in the days leading up to the event – we’ve instead been forced to write down our times on a Google document the old fashioned way. If you want to attack ghost cars of any sort, Turn 10 want you turning laps on their combinations with their rules packages; creativity is now stifled in favor of finite themed events. The problem here is that Rivals time trial events back in the day used to pay out quite well, giving you an extra incentive to keep practicing a track or chasing after a friend’s ghost – it would actively contribute to your financial stability, which in this year’s game actually matters. Unfortunately, deviating from the predetermined selection of time trial events to practice for an upcoming league race at your own leisure now accomplishes precisely nothing, when that’s not how it used to be.
As a few of our readers have pointed out, there are no shortage of options when it comes to creating your own custom lobby – save for the integral ones, such as the ability to spectate a race and manually order the grid. No, not every track features dynamic weather and time of day settings, but what is available is still equally impressive. Cloud cover and precipitation can fluctuate throughout an event, providing racers with an experience that accomplishes the same end goal as the more complex simulators such as rFactor 2 and Project CARS 2, though there isn’t a dynamic driving line to speak of. When you’re actually in the race, I find Forza’s weather effects very difficult to complain about; it doesn’t really matter that it’s not “truly dynamic.” What matters is that it’s raining, it looks good, the vehicle handling is believable, and everyone is struggling with the adverse conditions.
The biggest problem we’ve run into, is that the rooms aren’t very stable, and just getting a race off requires some patience. We’ve had to eradicate qualifying sessions and start races with 100% random grids because certain people were randomly booted from the session or became stuck in the lobby. Drivers have been placed into races only to discover massive chunks of the track failed to render – a common problem with Forza 7 so far – or in one instance (today), their controller inputs were permanently stuck and caused them to do a 180-degree turn when the lights went out. 80% of participants do not report any problems over the course of the evening, but in a league race, you want 100% of participants to at least take the green flag – justifying several restarts in order to get to that point. Right now, this is proving to be difficult.
Person A gets kicked from the lobby and has to be re-invited. Person B fails to load into the race and we have to start a new room. Person C’s application randomly closed on him and now tells him the servers are offline, so he’s got to restart his PC. The game sits at the loading screen for seven minutes, and finally puts us all in the race when the host backs out of his own lobby – so obviously that too requires an extra five minutes of configuration.
By this time, we’re thirty minutes behind schedule.
Thankfully, the netcode holds up it’s end of the bargain, and this is partially why people are so keen on make something out of Forza as a league platform – wheel to wheel racing is really, really good. And this is also why there has been so much outrage at Turn 10’s botched launch from all sides of the community; Forza 7 performs great when firing on all cylinders, it just takes a while to get there. You can race guys absurdly close without a care in the world as to what direction the netcode will throw you in, and energy upon contact with another car is transferred in a very fluid, predictable manner.
Two talented drivers can knock each other around with various light taps and shunts to free up some attacking space, never once worrying that the game will interpret their aggressive driving as a malicious assault on the receiving vehicle. It’s like a hybrid between Assetto Corsa’s sense of weight when making contact between cars, but the manner in which it’s transferred mimics what you see in iRacing; you can get away with a lot before someone is sideways beyond recovery.
With bad drivers, it’s going to be a clusterfuck, but the same could be said of any simulator. What matters here is that in a league format with like-minded players, Forza’s netcode is arguably it’s biggest strength. This is one of the few driving games on the market where you can stick a fender inside a gap that’s inches away from closing, with complete confidence that it won’t ruin either of your races.
From a sim racer’s perspective, the most prominent challenge one must overcome when playing Forza in a semi-competitive manner would be the way the game handles car upgrading and tuning. Everything you’ve learned throughout your time on PC sims effectively goes out the window here, as Forza’s automotive sandbox skews and distorts the playing field in ways that are otherwise extremely difficult for the average sim racer to comprehend. Most PC-oriented guys are familiar with the concept of downloading a mod or jumping into a class of car featured in the vanilla game where all of the entries are for the most part balanced within a second or so. This doesn’t really happen in Forza; the meta-game is first determining what the best cars are for any given rules package laid out by a series organizer, determining exactly what upgrades to apply, and then tuning them in Forza’s rather unconventional garage area.
You can be a great driver, and yet be anywhere from four to six seconds off pace because you made bad decisions before you even got to the race track. It’s interesting when some dare to call Forza a “casual racer” for “console kiddies”, because I certainly wouldn’t deem the above to be casual. This is more thinking and planning than I’ve ever had to do as a sim racer.
Downforce is measured in pounds, not clicks. Brake bias is backwards. Some cars are just generally better without rear wings and front splitters. Locked differentials are preferable regardless of what you’re driving. For next weeks’ race, I’ve discovered selecting Sport tires rather than slicks, and paying careful attention to my car’s overall weight, warrants a two second advantage – otherwise impossible to make up at the Daytona Road Course. Guys have shown up with one thousand horsepower Mazda Miata’s that can’t turn and still completely decimated the field with tires that were a lap away from utterly melting off. For the more traditional sim racers, it’s very difficult to digest what’s occurring on the screen, and why.
However, when everything goes according to plan and there are four vastly different cars all within a second of each other, that’s when the magic of Forza Motorsport comes to fruition, and it’s why a lot of people still continue to support this franchise. We will probably never have a Formula One simulator that allows us to design our own car from the ground up and embark upon a technological arms race against our friends, but Forza Motorsport’s sandbox gets pretty close to the same idea.
The problem is, right now Turn 10 have stifled it’s growth. As an online platform, Forza Motorsport 7 is great fun – and a little bit frustrating due to some bugs – when played in private against a group of like-minded individuals who are all on the same wave length in terms of what they want from a hole-in-the-wall online league. Yet in jacking the intensity up a notch, Turn 10 have suspiciously removed integral functionalities that would allow this multi-platform racer to continue fostering it’s own online ecosystem.
Hardcore sim racers may not like Forza Motorsport or what it represents, but there are a large portion of gamers who absolutely do, and were quite happy with the way Forza Motorsport 6 was progressing further and further into that realm by the end of it’s status as the primary Forza title. With this new release, Turn 10 left all of this genuinely great stuff on the cutting room floor. In their places? A virtual slot machine, an emphasis on car classes people never really asked for, avatar dress-up, lame pre-order bonuses, and a chunk of the game’s cars hidden away as rewards that some people might not ever obtain.
Only time will tell if this will be rectified for the better.