Forza Horizon has spent a long time to become a fan favorite. The Forza Horizon racing series of video games have become one of the biggest racing game franchises in the entire industry. WIth the most recent Forza Horizon 4, has the game surpassed it’s progenitor, Forza Motorsport?
Racing fans all over the world rejoice. The official “only game series worth playing on Xbox” has just dropped its newest iteration, Forza Horizon 4. This is the relaxed, more open world format of the game that can be custom tailored to your play style, from arcade racer to hardcore simulator. I haven’t reviewed the game yet but I am confident it is the best racing game ever made. But we’ll have to wait for the review on that.
We are here to talk about loot boxes. They are a sticking point in the gaming industry that has recently left gamers with a bad taste in their mouths. It’s easy to say EA was the straw that broke the camel’s back with their disastrous issues brought up by Dice’s Star Wars Battlefront II. It made national headlines to the point where non-gaming outlets were covering the issue. It inspired several developers to actively patch out the aspect in their games. It even got a country to outlaw it.
Now, Microsoft has been walking on thin ice in regards to this for quite some time. The more recent games in the Forza franchise featured an alternative currency you can buy with real money. This alternative currency could be used to buy cars. But they took a step too far with Forza Motorsport 7, in which you could earn “prize crates”. These prize crates were filled with cars, in-game currency, and challenge cards. The challenge cards were interesting, in that they just offered you a bonus bounty if you complete certain conditions during a race. For example, placing in 5th or better, or making 3 perfect turns would net you some more coin.
But the Forza Horizon Wheelspin is present in all four titles in the series. The only difference is you can’t really purchase spins, outside of using perk tokens in later titles. But, still, it is basically a slot machine that has different prizes you can win. The fourth installment expanded on the items you can win. On top of cars and money, they added cosmetics for your avatar, car horns, and emotes. Yes, emotes. However, something else changed with this version. That alternative currency is gone, completely removed from the game. You can’t buy cars with real money anymore, and you certainly can’t buy the wheel spins or the new SUPER wheelspins. You win one item for wheelspins and three items for super wheelspins. The only microtransaction outside of expansion packs is the treasure map, which reveals all of the secrets on your map for just $3.
So what makes a loot box a loot box? Overwatch may not have been the first, but it did codify the concept of loot boxes. The list of items you can win from crates are icons, skins, emotes, sprays, voice lines, victory poses, highlight intros, and loot. So, cosmetics and some currency. But you can pay to get a whole bunch of these, and you get 4 items per box. And one “rare” item is guaranteed in every box, with rare being the second tier of swag, sporting blue. After that, you have purple for epic loot and orange for legendary loot. MANY games that feature “loot” in general, box or no box, use this color-coded system and verbiage for their items. In Forza Horizon 4, that most certainly is the case, the names and colors are the same.
You only win one loot box from leveling up in Overwatch, with some exceptions for certain events and standards. In Horizon 4, the game practically throws wheelspins at you. Level up? Wheelspin. Do a couple stunts? Wheelspin. Buy a house? Wheelspin. Paint a car? Wheelspin. Take some photos? Wheelspin. Buy a few cars? Wheelspin. Get a couple perk points? Wheelspin. I could stop here but I’m going to keep going anyway. Win a few races? Wheelspin. Lose a few races? Wheelspin. Complete a championship? Wheelspin. Drive around doing absolutely nothing? Wheelspin. Participate in a live event? Wheelspin! EXIST? WHEELSPIN! DON’T EXIST? WHEELSPIN!
I swear I could not go more than 15 minutes without getting at least one or two wheelspins. That may be because I bought the ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the game and got some generous boosts to start, but even afterward, I just kept getting more and more. It actually got annoying and broke up the pace of the game. Thankfully, you don’t have to sit through a whole wheelspin animation, which is only about 5-7 seconds, not much at all. But even then you can skip that animation, get your prize, and be on your merry way.
So, what’s different about the Horizon 4 wheelspin again? Let’s review. You cannot purchase them with real money. The alternate currency system is not present. You get them all the time. Basic wheelspins will always get you either a car or more money. Super wheelspins will get you 3 of anything else. You do not get unfair advantages in multiplayer for wheelspins. You don’t get cards that change the conditions of earning more. Every spin is a winner (unless you get 10,000CR, that’s pretty lame).
It feels a lot more like the game is using these prizes to encourage you for playing the game. You can and will play the game regardless of the wheel spins. Yet as you play, the game is constantly rewarding you pretty much just for playing it. You may feel appreciated by the game as you continue to get gift after gift after gift. You may feel far more appreciated than you ever felt possible with this inclusion. Despite the “slot machine” appearance, it feels a lot more like you are just being given some free things, instead of gambling. Because of these reasons, I assert that the Horizon Wheelspin is neither a loot box nor a form of gambling. On top of that, I appreciate Microsoft’s nerve to decide not to include alternative currency this time around. I hope this game along with others continues with that mindset for the foreseeable future.
Developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft, Forza Motorsport 7 is actually the tenth entry in the Forza franchise. It’s hard to imagine that a mere racing game can serve as a tentpole in terms of being platform exclusive, but when you’re working for Porsche automobiles and you decide that the best way to announce your new car is to showcase it during a video game announcement in LA, you are talking about some very serious prestige.
It’s a strange situation this game is in. Here, I have a game that is certified to run in 4K at 60fps, but that’s on a console that isn’t out yet. Playing this game on my original Xbox One almost feels like playing a preview build in that regard. “Hey, this game is going to blow your mind…. In November!” the game nonverbally taunts. But it shows in little details too. If you go back to when gaming transitioned from SD to HD, a lot of games meant for HD didn’t show up that well on your old SD monitor. This was especially true with fonts and icons often being hard to read between those generations of video. It’s the same for this game; there are definitely some holdovers from what’s supposed to be 4K that make the video seem a little bit off. With all that said, it still looks good above all else. I’ll add an asterisk here as I’d like to see just how good the graphics are when the Xbox One X drops.
So yeah, racing games don’t have a story, so for this section, you heavily lean on incentives to progress. In most games, it’s plot. In racing games, it’s encouragement to be the best. This doesn’t always work so well for Forza. The game made a brilliant opening impression by having you race through three specially tailored racing experiences before jumping into the campaign. It’s back to regular old championship trophies to make your way to the end. Problem is, sometimes if you don’t win every match you will find yourself participating in a championship you don’t really want to do but you have to complete just to progress. Even if all you need is 50 points, you have to finish the championship to progress. The variety of challenges is decent, but sometimes I think Forza should just make a sort of “tour de force” of specially prepared races, more than just three, to cruise through before jumping into championships. It’s also odd that the progression system seems to be built on building your car collection instead of winning races.
Like every other Forza game, special attention has been taken to make every car you ride sound like the the way it should sound in real life. The audio changes based on being in the cockpit or outside, like it should. Collisions sound like they should and are more visceral than ever. The generic rock music that plays between races is just okay, but to be honest, it’s sort of a welcome change. As much as I love the 5+ EDM radio stations in the Horizon series, this game’s music is refreshing. Not that the soundtrack matters a whole lot when you’re actually racing. This is a racing sim, the roar of the engine should keep you going just fine.
There are several nags here and there. The difficulty slider for the “drivatars” seems to be a little unbalanced. I am not the only person who seems to be experiencing wide jumps in difficulty in what should basically just be marginal changes with each tick up on the scale. I found the best pairing I’ve gotten so far is “Above Average,” which is one tick above the normal difficulty. Yet in Horizon 3 I could get away with 3 ticks up and go all the way to “Pro.” I’m not sure if this is a balance issue or maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve played a racing sim, considering I skipped Motorsport 6. Still, although frustrating, the challenge of the game is all the more rewarding when you do click with a car you recently purchased to race with. Then there’s the “free race” mode which was needlessly confusing to set up and was very restrictive. Not allowing you to play with other cars you want to just take on a test drive isn’t really a feature. For once I actually dabbled in the “rivals” mode, a series of time sensitive special races and had a bit more fun with that.
This game has quite a few killjoys. There’s the now infamous “Prize Crate” issue wherein they want you to spend your hard–earned money on randomized loot boxes instead of buying cars, but they also expect you to buy more cars to level up your car collection status anyway. That also gets in the way of things, because buying a car is no fun at all. In prior games, you’d get a good look at each and every car available to purchase. Here in Forza 7, the the car buying screen looks like a messy stamp collection you have to rifle through. The small font and small thumbnails for the cars don’t help. Neither do the random locks on certain cars that can only be unlocked after completing an unspecified milestone. The aforementioned bit about having to play a championship you don’t want to in order to progress really is less than ideal. Even with all the gripes I have, I do keep coming back to the game. The game is so well made, it’s just weird how your progress is impeded by some questionable design choices. But even after all of that, there were still dozens of moments where I was on the edge of my seat, engaged in the race, and may or may not have damaged my right trigger in the process.
Forza Motorsport 7 continues to express the pedigree the game has, yet it’s got a handful of issues that are too big to ignore. Though I didn’t personally have any problems at all with the Prize Crates, the decision to put it in is baffling considering it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of impact on the game. Turn 10 has done better than this in the past. I’m not angry, just a bit disappointed. Perhaps Gran Turismo Sport will steal back the spotlight? We’ll find out later this month.