When the Xbox One X was officially unveiled a few months ago, Forza Motorsport 7 was adopted as the poster child of the console's capabilities. While other major Microsoft Studios titles were still promising enhancements for their launches in 2018, Microsoft's flagship racing franchise kicked off its E3 showcase with a slick trailer comprised of in-game 4K footage.
With the console's unveiling out of the way, the focus now lies of the games coming to the Xbox One X in the months ahead. The Forza series has played a huge part in marketing new Xbox One consoles in the past – most notably the Xbox One's initial launch back in 2013, where Forza Motorsport 5 took center stage. Four years later, the beautifully-crafted presentation of Forza still makes for a perfect way of showing the capabilities of the new hardware.
Earlier this month, we got the chance to get hands-on with Forza Motorsport 7, as a part of one of the world's biggest video game conventions, Gamescom 2017. Given free rein to choose between various cars and tracks, we had the opportunity to experience a significant snippet of what the final experience plans to offer. And while its hundreds of promised cars, dozens of tracks and gameplay tweaks are all enticing features, its visuals are where Forza Motorsport 7 truly transcends the competition.
The push for 4K
With the Xbox One X pushing games targeting 4K, one of the biggest improvements of Forza Motorsport 7 is its improved resolution on the console. Like recent installments of the franchise, the game aims to hit 1080p on original Xbox One hardware, but with the additional resources of Xbox One X, Forza Motorsport 7 is now able to hit a consistent native 4K.
Support for 4K adds an unmatched level of clarity to Forza Motorsport 7 – something that makes the game feel truly outstanding in comparison to previous titles. Following the resolution bump, gameplay feels continuously sharp and sleek and only helped by its seemingly consistent 60 frames per second (FPS) frame rate.
Between both the improved resolution and form of antialiasing used, this also reduces a noticeable issue that plagued previous Forza titles. When dealing with large, open environments, shimmering textures are now much less frequent – a jumpy visual blunder caused when objects are rendered at distance.
Due to the nature of their design, racing titles frequently hit much higher targets in both resolution and frame rate. While several upcoming games on the platform utilize checkerboarding techniques or dynamic resolutions to achieve 4K, Forza Motorsport 7 is one of the few games promising true Ultra HD at launch.
The potential of the full spectrum
Like many titles leveraging the additional processing capabilities of the Xbox One X, Forza Motorsport 7 will also support High Dynamic Range (HDR) on compatible consoles. While still not widely used right now, HDR allows content to display a wider gamut of on-screen colors, making for improved contrast across the board, which often results in a much more realistic and rich output.
While HDR was first introduced into the series last year with Forza Horizon 3, up until now I've been far from convinced by the technology. Sure, it's a great feature to have and adds a nice touch on visuals, but adoption across games isn't set to be truly revolutionary going forward.
However, as seen when being thrown into the mix alongside 4K resolution, HDR undeniably has potential within certain situations. When combined with the clarity of 4K on a high-end display, the difference remains memorable in Forza Motorsport 7, despite Microsoft's previous implementations of HDR failing to grab my interest. HDR might not be a groundbreaking feature when implemented standalone, although the culmination of these two enhancements blends harmoniously.
Pinpoint precision across the board
While the main leaps in Forza Motorsport 7's visuals come from the display technologies used, depth to tracks and their beastly machines are a result of how they're created. Speaking with Creative Director at Forza's creator studio Turn 10, Bill Giese, he explained that the level of detail seen in Forza can be attributed to the use of photogrammetry – a technique that maps high-resolution images into a digital 3D space. By collecting images of real-world locations and cars, in-game counterparts can be created with an unmatched level of accuracy and clarity, through a relatively manageable process.
Not only does this approach result in accurate and detailed textures on Xbox One X versions of the game, these will also be downscaled in use of standard Xbox One versions of the game. This isn't the first instance of photogrammetry being utilized in the Forza series (Microsoft went out of its way to highlight its inclusion in Forza Horizon 3), but with two platforms now capable of delivering 4K experiences, the effects should now be much more noticeable.
The introduction of dynamic weather, a flagship addition for Forza Motorsport 7, also adds another layer of dynamism and depth to the game's world. Turn 10 has continually driven home the diversity of the Forza 7 sandbox and extending this philosophy, dynamic conditions introduce ever-changing variables in both presentation and gameplay.
For now, the dynamic weather is limited mostly to rain and clouds in certain locations, meaning you'll only be seeing these weather patterns in suitable locations. However, even on more static tracks, you can see changing elements in the environments. Whether rainwater collecting on the surface of the Nürburgring, or sand drifting across the tarmac in Dubai, Forza Motorsport 7 still manages to inject vitality into its world through these smaller details.
The best of Xbox One X?
When the Xbox One launches this fall, the console's initial library of in-house titles will likely look rather sparse. However, Forza Motorsport 7 is a worthy launch title to propel the Xbox One X into the market, with some attractive visual enhancements on the hardware.
If you're planning to pick up an Xbox One X this fall, do yourself a favor and consider Forza Motorsport 7 (about $60) at launch. If like me, you may not be the biggest fan of the racing genre, but as a console mostly targeting visual enhancements, the game showcases what the hardware is truly capable of.
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