For years, Xbox owners have been a bit jealous on those with a PS2 in their living room. The reason of course being the Gran Turismo series of which GT4 is the latest title. It was therefore with a lot of attention that race lovers were looking at the development of Forza Motorsport. This didn’t only promise the same realistic gameplay but also a bunch of online possibilities and of course damage models.
Forza is a huge game. You get to play with 230 cars, and a fat 30 tracks, beautifully detailed and challenging, are sweating under the sun. The tracks deliver a nice combination of real ones (like Silverstone) with fictive roads and city ways. In some other games you get a bit more of course, but what’s done with these is more important!
And that’s where this game shows it’s a master. The race feeling you get is unlike anything seen before on Xbox. The cars feel unique in every way, the feeling of weight is present when accellerating and braking, curves need to be taken the right way, you need to take the placing of the engine into account and whatever upgade or change you do in your setup, you’ll notice it realistically while driving.
I can be short on the controls: the Xbox controller is perfectly used and the analogue shoulder buttons are ideal for speeding up and braking. With the right stick you can look around which comes in very handy when driving in a closed colonne. Only minor downpoint is the lack of Force Feedback, something that’s of course because the console doesn’t support it. This has been taken care of however and the shakers in the controllers are well-used.
Forza Motorsport offers something for everyone. Beginners can turn on traction control, stability management and ABS so that it’s easier to learn the tricks of racing. You can perfectly see and experience when these systems come into action so that you know when you’re crossing your car’s limits. On top of that there’s also the “suggested line” feature. A fantastic tool that shows on the road when you need to brake, throttle up, or down. This visual appearance adapts automatically and works very well, especially for gamers with less experience. In comparison with other systems this really has an added value. So added even that I recommend to turn it off after a while as otherwise you won’t be able to fully enjoy the depth of the game and because you’re not paying enough attention to the beautiful surroundings. Only at chicanes and measuring the largest braking distances the systems is wrong sometimes, but in the end these are mere details.
For the gearheads who love to drive without help you can of course turn everything off. Then you really get the feeling of what Forza is capable of. You’ll have to break, push the gas and take a turn very subtle. Each car will be a challenge and also the AI will bring sweat on your head. The way your opponent drives is very impressive. On the hardest difficulty they’re unforgiving and avenge themselves if you drive too aggressive. On top of that they’re not scared to bump into you and push you from the roda. Pilots in the AI-controlled cars are also conscient of you, they’ll block the fast lane when you want to pass and sometimes even stay close to you to gain some speed. Contrary to GT4 they also make realistic errors and yuo can’t ram them to get an easy turn. In other words: definitely one of the strongest points of this game although perfection hasn’t been found yet!
Linked to these intelligent opponents we can also name the Drivatar. This innovative element offers you the possibility to let AI complete races instead of you doing them yourself. The fantastic thing about this is that you need to train your virtual pilot by doing several courses in certain cars. Depending the way you do this (curves, braking, choosing line, etc) your pilot gets created. When you don’t feel like doing an endurance race you can have him do it in exchange for some credits. He’s finish the race and the result is depending on your own skills although you’re not the one driving. After a while you can of course do the training tracks again to improve your pilot! Although this part quite realistically clones your behavious, it isn’t perfect (one doesn’t take your knowledge of a track into account) and you need to make sure your trainings are good if you want it to be useable.
If you think you can improve your time by cutting corners or driving into a wall at top speed and win seconds that way, you’re wrong with Forza. First of all seconds will be added to your time if you get off track, cut parts or do things that aren’t allowed. Secondly there’s of course the damage model.
Although this is a bit of a disappointment on the visual part, this feature is a very nice and successful addition that makes sure the realism of the total experience gets enhanced. With a brute start, a not suitable gearhead will be damaged and by crashing you’ll damage things that will cost you your victory. In the career mode you’ll most probably just restart after a crash so that it’s especially online and in the other modes that you get the chance to break stuff. Going over the top with crashing won’t be happening though as things have remained modest and subtle, something that clearly fits with the game. Also this part is after all very realistic and simply unseen in a racegame up until now!
Before telling a bit more about the different modes I’d like to say something about the tuning options. Visually you can do quite a lot thanks to several dozen shapes you can bend, enlarge, shrink and put on 100 different layers. With some investment of time a lot of users have painted quite a bunch of beautiful cars and they just love to show them off in the online mode.
Important are of course the possibilities you have to tweak the cars you’ve bought or earned in the career mode. You’ve got a before unknown amount of choices in engine options, bumpers, gears, breaks, and so on. As I said these all really do make a difference and when buying them you’ll immediately see what they do. If you really want to get to the bottom of things you can tweak the settings of your material. From gear ratios to hundred and one tweaks to spoiler, tire pressure, etc. Only with the buying of upgrades, painting your car and setting up your pieces you can already be busy for hours without even having raced for one second.
And that’s while there’s more than enough racing to do. You’ve got arcade and time trial modes, free run and of course off-line and online multiplayer. What I want to talk about is of course the Career Mode, the biggest part of the game and one that looks a lot like the same mode from GT4, despite the fact that you don’t need to get a driver’s license. You start your career by choosing a region (USA, Europe or Asia). Depending on your choice you’ll be able to buy certain cars sooner or later and some will also be more or less expensive.
You’ll need to complete races with a certain amount of rounds, point-to-point races and races between cones. After each one you do, you’ll receive a certain amount of credits depending on the spot you finished in and your difficulty setting. The more damage, the more credits will be taken off your final amount. Your total number of credits determine your level, and the more your level rises, the more events you unlock. Also you get discounts on certain parts as you raise your level. By fulfilling an event you then get again a new car. Of course you can also buy one with your money although you’ll need that to be able to get yourself some upgrades.
Career mode is very well done, races are constantly challenging (you won’t be able to just upgrade your car until you’re a lot better than the competition), cars nicely get unlocked in time, and there’s plenty of variation. On top of that, the menus are very intuitive and efficient and the loading times are nicely limited, especially when wanting to replay a race. Also handy is the fact that the qualification is done automatically depending on your car so that you win time and immediately have an idea on what your chances are in winning the race.
If you want more than offline racing, then you can go online and play against real life opponents. Through a very userfriendly system you can enjoy lagfree races that immensely increase the lifespan of this game and of course set the challenge again on a higher standard! I’m not going too deep into this part but be sure that this part is very well done, qua technical possibilities, settings, and most of all, level of addiction!
A review of course isn’t complete without some words on the graphics and sound. What immediately gets noticed is the environment in which you drive. The tarmac for instance is beautifully done thanks to perfect reflections. Sometimes you don’t even think you’re playing a game.
For the sceptist amongst us: even though there isn’t a lock on 60 frames per second, I’ve only seen one small itch during the dozens of hours I’ve been playing. Also the cars look nice and tight and as said, every visual upgrade is perfectly displayed in the game which makes everything even more impressing, especially online. Only minor downpoint are the reflections in the rear window of you car which is rendered in realtime but sometimes gets shown a little late.
The sound is also very strong. Engines of all cars are unique and very recognisable (the difference between an Impreza and a Ferrari is very obvious), changes on your turbo or gears can be heard and when in between different cars, you hear their engines roaring all around you. The squeeking of tires when loosing grip and the grind are equally nice portrayed. Quite weak is the built-in soundtrack from Junkie XL. The rock music is disappointing and you’ll quickly turn it off unless you’re a fan. But no need to worry, even here Forza has everything under control: you can put your favorite tracks on the Xbox and use them in the game, both in the menus as well as during the races. If that isn’t nice for the music fans amongst us !
Forza Motorsport is the best and most complete race experience on XBox and for me even on any console. There’s enough for the beginner up to the ultimate racing freak, the graphics are magnificent, the tuning possibilities detailed and on top of that also visually impressive, the online experience is unique and the damage model a must for all future racing games that want to call themselves “simulator”. The AI is very strong and the Drivatar looks like the beginning of a welcome innovation. If you haven’t got enough with the Career mode, the online races, and the other modes aren’t really your thing for a year of gaming, then I don’t know what is! Just buy it and if you don’t have an Xbox yet, get that Forza pack as FM is no less than the Nitro for your gaming experience!