Forza Motorsport first arrived on the original Xbox back in 2005, with Microsoft hoping that Turn 10 Studios’ racing simulator could take on the Sony-exclusive behemoth, Gran Turismo. Although it didn’t set the world alight, it did find an audience and, with the release of the Xbox 360 and eventually Forza’s first sequel, that audience began to grow quickly.
Forza Motorsport 5 was the first to hit the Xbox One, a launch title that showed off the console’s graphical capabilities and introduced the new Drivatar AI system. This analysed how other players drove and converted it into AI proxies, effectively making it feel like you were always racing against your friends and other players even in Career mode. There were flaws in the system, especially as it would also recreate the aggression of other players and could result in some frustratingly unfriendly races. Overall, however, Drivatars created some of the most realistically human AI in any racing game.
Now, a little over ten years after it all started, Turn 10 returns with its sixth instalment in Microsoft’s now flagship series.
Forza Motorsport 6 opens with a rather pretentious video introduction that asks us, “why do we race?” There’s plenty of black and white, slow motion and long shots of scenery – not entirely unlike commercials for cars, though I question whether that was intentional or not – and we’re also treated to a tutorial drive of the cover car: the new Ford GT. Actually, “tutorial drive” is stretching the truth a little, as the player is forced to follow the suggested racing line whilst watching the car essentially drive itself.
Luckily this is a mercifully short tutorial race and we’re soon offered our first car choice, before jumping into the career proper. Players that have signed up to the Forza Rewards programme online, or are just returning from previous games, are treated to various freebies too, from monetary bonuses to free cars. Once you’ve chosen your first car and racing series, we begin to see the improvements made to the car handling in Forza 6. Being able to take part in a practice session before most races (unavailable in some special events) also helps players to learn not only the track’s layout, but how their chosen car handles, which is especially useful in the new wet weather and night races.
Wet weather really does change how the game plays, with the introduction of the much touted 3D puddles that cause havoc if you’re not prepared for them or hit them at an awkward angle. The depth of each puddle is felt as you pass through them, causing a loss of grip that can send you spinning into a barrier or across the grass at the side of the track, if you’re not careful. Wet weather isn’t exactly a radical new feature in a racing game, but as a first for their main series, Turn 10 has created a realistic simulation of racing in the rain. Night racing doesn’t quite change the game quite as much, but the reduced visibility and the colder track affecting the temperature and resulting grip of tyres, it does offer a surprisingly different experience from standard racing.
The overall handling still suffers from overly heavy cars, even with some of the lightweight vehicles not feeling as manoeuvrable as they should. However, this doesn’t stop Forza 6 from being the most controllable game in the series. Even with all assists switched off, drifts can be caught before they turn into spins, wheelspin can be controlled more easily and it generally feels like a more player-friendly experience than any other racing sim. This is aided by the return of the rewind function, allowing players to erase mistakes (in single player) with a simple press of the Y button. Once a point in time is selected to resume the race, you can avoid missing the braking point for that corner, or undo the aggressive collision that dropped you to last place. Without restricting use of this feature, Turn 10 ensures that everyone can learn from mistakes and enjoy the game.
Another great idea is the inclusion of Showcase events in career mode. These group together special events in which you can participate, from returning Passing events (pass a set number of slower vehicles within the given number of laps) and Top Gear events, to specialist races in supercars on a set track – possibly even at night. These events are optional, so your career mode can flow freely if you want or you can earn a few extra credits and get the chance to drive your dream car much earlier than usual.
At the heart of Forza Motorsport 6 is the improved Drivatar AI that debuted in Forza 5. Races are generally more fun as a result of the reduction in aggression, which can be toned down further via the options menu, and AI racers feel like they carry the personality of their respective owners. This makes for an even more realistic AI than the last game, though it isn’t without flaw.
You start every race in the middle of the pack but this means you’re at the mercy of the player-informed AI as they bump around the first lap, all clumped together and knocking each other around. This is still quite true to life, but it sometimes results in the front two or three cars pulling out a lead that is just too far ahead to catch. This doesn’t happen often but when it does, it feels quite cheap and frustrating. One thing that does still happen often, is the AI struggling with narrow circuits. The Long Beach track in particular brings noticeable problems, as other racers crash into the walls and each other throughout the entire race – they struggle to negotiate corners entirely at times too, driving into tyre barriers, then reversing and hitting the exact same barrier again as the AI tries to get back to the track.
If you fancy your chances against actual human opponents, the multiplayer aspect is easy to get into and the servers are robust. Lag is rarely an issue and finding races is as simple as selecting a car class. This automatically enters you into a lobby and you can select a corresponding car from your garage, even allowing you to upgrade lower class cars in order to meet the racing specs of the current lobby.
If you aren’t a fan of online gaming and fancy a quick race outside of career mode, Free Play has you covered. With all 26 locations unlocked from the start, most with at least two track layouts, plus a choice of day, night or wet weather races, the level of choice is a huge improvement over its predecessor. It doesn’t restrict you on cars either. You can opt to select a car from your garage in order to earn experience points (XP) and cash for career mode, or simply ‘rent’ any car in the game for free at the expense of being able to earn XP. Earning XP throughout any mode will increase your driver level, with each level offering you a spin of the prize wheel – this will result in a bonus of either a new car (with grand prizes sometimes offering the fastest motors in the game), in-game money or a pack of Mod cards.
Mods are a great addition to the series, giving you various boosts depending on the style of card. There are three types of Mod: Crew, Dare and Boost. Crew cards offer permanent increases to grip, or even decreases in weight; Dare cards offer permanent rewards each race as long as you fulfil the requirements, usually something like switching off assists or being restricted to a certain in-game camera; and Boost cards are one-off bonuses for things like perfect passes, or sometimes moving you forward a place on the starting grid.
Only one of each Mod can be equipped at any one time, and packs of random cards can be purchased via the Mod menu (using in-game credits. Thankfully there are no microtransactions this time around), but can offer significant bonuses per race. Handy if you’re saving for a particular car or upgrade.
Upgrades and car customisation return once more to the franchise, offering the ability to customise your car inside and out. Being able to create a livery for your car is something for which the Forza series is renowned, as you paint individual parts of the car however you wish and add decals in order to create realistic racing liveries or, if you have the particular artistic expertise, whatever design you want. Designs are also available to download from the community, meaning you can have almost any design you want as long as someone has made it – and chances are someone has made it.
No matter the design you choose, each car is stunningly rendered. The detail is exquisite, from the interior to the brake pads, and even to the rain streaking down the sides of your car, Forza 6’s vehicles look better than anything else on console. The environments aren’t neglected either, with tracks looking photo-realistic and packed with incidental details such as Laguna Seca’s gravel traps sending dust blowing across the track. Wet weather in particular looks gorgeous as the rain lashes down and plumes of spray erupt from each car’s spinning wheels. Factor in these stunning visuals and the 24-car grids, and the rock solid 60 frames-per-second framerate becomes all the more impressive, but it does come at the expense of some rather hefty loading times.
No matter how good you are at racing games, there really is something for everyone in Forza Motorsport 6. With the sheer level of customisation in the handling and gameplay, coupled with the rewind feature, anyone can learn the game’s mechanics and find enjoyment aplenty. For fans of racing sims and/or of the Forza series, the streamlined career mode and the improved handling make the game an essential purchase.
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