If you're a fan of big-budget racers, 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year: New versions of the two biggest driving game franchises in the business are set for relesase over the next twelve months, and they both sound like they could be winners for different reasons.
Although it hasn't been officially announced as of yet, Forza Motorsport 7's development was confirmed back in November when Thomas Jackermeier, CEO of steering wheel manufacturer Fanatec, said on the company's forums that he was having a meeting with Turn 10 to discuss wheel support for both Xbox One and PC versions of the game. The news was hardly surprising, however: Forza Motorsport games have been a regular-as-clockwork, bi-yearly calendar fixture since the series debuted back in 2005.
What I'm interested to see is what this year's version will deliver. It's the third Forza Motorsport game of this generation – and the fifth Forza game if you count the Horizon iterations of the series – meaning that Turn 10 has an enormous amount of development experience to bring to the table. Not only that, but Forza Motorsport 6 provides a significant platform to build out from. The game features more than 460 cars, and 26 tracks (with around 100 variations) that I think is fairly safe to assume will be ported over to the latest iteration of the game. That should result in one of the biggest entries in the series yet in terms of pure content.
There is a question mark hanging over the inclusion of Volkswagen vehicles, however. The famous German marque was conspicuously absent from Forza Horizon 3, and it's currently unknown whether Turn 10 and Microsoft will be able to restore the VW license for Forza Motorsport 7. In an official update, Brian Ekberg did say, "Naturally, there are tons of VW fans here at Turn 10 and Playground Games and we’re as disappointed to share this update as our fans are to hear it. We hope to be able to restore VW to Forza games in the future." That's definitely encouraging to hear, so maybe we might yet see the return of the likes of the Golf GTI and Beetle to the series.
Wet weather driving was introduced in Forza Motorsport 6, along with night races, and both those modes provided an enjoyable challenge to racers. One aspect that did disappoint some fans, however, is that the conditions aren't dynamic. I'm wondering whether that might be one of the headline features of Forza Motorsport 7. Other racing games feature changeable conditions, and the Forza Horizon series has variable lighting, so perhaps this time out we will finally see the introduction of dynamic weather and lighting? Being able to do things like drive Le Mans through the night and into the morning would certainly be a neat addition to the game, adding an extra layer of realism that would help the series further evolve its racing experience.
Something else I'd personally really like to see is the addition of Rallycross. Forza Motorsport 6 articulates different surface types very well indeed, and I'd love to see that taken to the next level with a few mixed-surface dirt and tarmac tracks. The game already features plenty of cars capable of running Rallycross circuits, and with the addition of a few more, this could open up a whole new type of racing for the series. However, I think its appeal is probably a little too narrow for Forza's broad audience, and it would be difficult shoehorning in a whole new racing type into the otherwise tarmac-focused game, so this is mostly wishful thinking on my part.
Last year, Forza Horizon 3 introduced a number of bodykits that enabled you to modify certain cars into racers, hill climbers, and hot rods, and I'm hoping that they'll make the jump to Forza Motorsport 7. Playing around with different configurations of cars is a lot of fun, and I think that having the chance to race them on the track would be great – especially some of the more unusual cars. It just adds a little more depth and interest to car customization beyond the usual wings and wheels that the game normally offers.
I think Forza Motorsport 7's biggest potential challenge is over-familiarity. It needs to bring something new to its career mode to ensure that the game maintains interest, and doesn't just follow on from Forza Motorsport 6. I really enjoyed the Showcase events and would love to see more of those. They help mix up the action by requiring you drive specific cars in objective-oriented events, potentially putting you outside your comfort zone as you slip behind the wheel of a vehicle that you might otherwise never drive. They also challenge your skills in different ways, such as having you pass a certain number of opponents within an allotted time limit, race a car without any modifications, or knock down objects placed on the track. For me, they're a nice change of pace from the otherwise-straightforward racing presented in Career mode.
Whatever new features it might ultimately bring, I predict Forza Motorsport 7 will be the biggest and most comprehensive entry in the series so far – larger than Forza Motorsport 4, which featured around 500 cars and 26 tracks. No doubt it'll pack the usual array of options, such as photo mode, car livery customization, auction houses, Leagues, and Rivals modes, and that should really help the game hit new heights in terms of its scope and scale.
Comparatively, Gran Turismo Sport is going to be a much more modest affair. It's the first current-generation entry for the series: Developer Polyphony has rebuilt the game from the ground up specifically for PS4, and there are no assets being used from prior games, as has been the case with previous Gran Turismo titles. When I spoke to Polyphony boss Kazunori Yamauchi at E3 last year, he said, "You can think of GT1-6 as the first age or first era of Gran Turismo. From this title on you can actually call it a brand new era because of the level of innovation and level of technology that's going into it."
Because it's essentially an all-new game, the number of cars and tracks is fairly low compared to previous iterations. There will be around 140 cars, and 19 tracks with 27 variations. That's comparable to the very first Gran Turismo game, which features the same number of cars, but only 11 tracks with 22 variations. Some Gran Turismo fans might be disappointed by those figures, but the good news is that there seems to be a focus on quality, rather than quantity: The cars in the game are all "super premium," meaning they have been meticulously modeled and rendered both inside and out to look pretty much photo-realistic.
An aspect of the game that sounds really interesting to me is its FIA-sanctioned racing. These online championships are similar to the GT Academy events, and enable players to compete with one another in a series of competitions that will eventually be broadcast worldwide as an eSport. A nice touch is that players will be able to use Gran Turismo Sport as a training tool to learn racing etiquette and behavior, making the FIA racing a little more accessible than the GT Academy. Not only that, but in some regions, players will even be able to use the game's training mode to earn a real-life FIA racing license, assuming they can hit the goals required to do so.
For those not so interested in the competitive multiplayer scene, Gran Turismo Sport will feature 117 offline single-player events in its campaign mode. It's currently unknown whether these are all just straightforward races, or will also include the more unusual driving challenges that we've seen in prior Gran Turismo games, but my guessing is that since the game doubles as a race training program, there will indeed be some unconventional events to participate in.
Other features include a very comprehensive photo mode called Scenes, which enables the player to position cars in over 1000 different locations that contain both light and spatial information, and an all-new livery editor that can be used to create custom car designs, which can then be shared online. It sounds very similar to what the Forza motorsport series has offered for years, so it's good to see Gran Turismo finally catching up.
So far, Gran Turismo Sport is looking very promising. The demo I played at E3 last year was excellent, and felt like an evolutionary step forward for the series. It looked and sounded superb, and the handling felt precise and planted, with a touch more finesse and definition than Gran Turismo 6. Not a huge step forward, it must be said, but definitely an improvement you could see and feel.
Currently, neither games have a release date, although it's very likely that Forza Motorsport 7 will appear this fall – October would be my bet. Gran Turismo Sport was supposed to launch in November of last year, but was delayed into 2017 so that Polyphony could continue to work on it. Perhaps it'll appear before the summer, but to be blunt, it's anyone's guess at this point.
I'm just really interested to see how both racers will ultimately compare. What's clear is that Forza Motorsport 7 will be the one to beat. It has all the makings of a epic racing game with a vast number of cars and tracks – and that's something that will be impossible for Gran Turismo Sport to match. However, Polyphony's game has its FIA-sanctioned facets, which sound very intriguing indeed. Couple that with its race-training mode and sprawling campaign, and it sounds like it'll be able to hold its own against Turn 10's title in terms of its racing content.
Needless to say, we'll be covering both games in depth as and when we get more information.