Reviewed: June 5, 2005
Released: May 3, 2005
When it comes to game consoles each system seems to have their own signature titles that gamers can use to boast and taunt other system owners about. For PS2 owners, Gran Turismo has always been their trump card with it came to racing games. Thereís no denying that the racing genre is probably the most prolific genre there is no matter which system you want to argue, but no single game has ever come close to the complexity and all-encompassing content of Gran TurismoÖuntil now.
In side-by-side comparisons, GT4 still trounces Forza Motorsport in content, but as an Xbox-exclusive title, Forza manages to stake its claim as the ďGran Turismo of the XboxĒ and lead the entire pack of racing titles on that system.
We start with 230+ cars and all the obligatory paint schemes and aftermarket parts you could ever possibly imagine or want to put on these cars. After you tweak and tune your ride you can take them out on 31 tracks spread across the US, Asia, and Europe. And in a stunning move that finally puts Sonyís jewel to shame, you can play all of this online including the entire career mode against real live opponents.
Forza offers all the standard racing modes including Arcade, Career, Time Trials, Free Run, and Multiplayer. The online racing in Forza is insane with a solid 30-fps action and the ability to post scores on 1,400 different leader boards. Not only can you buy and sell cars online, upload and download ghost laps, and become part of the community by joining car clubs, you can actually play an entire career online racing against real racers who are obviously a lot more unpredictable than the computer.
One interesting feature, at least in theory, is the Drivatar, basically a Driving Avatar of yourself, an AI that you train and then, for a small fee, can use it to race on your behalf. Itís very similar to your standard sports games where you might have the computer simulate a game or an entire season based on statistical information, only in Forza you have much more direct control over how well your Drivatar performs.
The downside to the Drivatar is that you have to train it. It would have been so much nicer if the game had just monitored how I drive while playing normally then use those tactics for the Drivatar, but instead you have to go through several lessons, not unlike the licensing challenges in Gran Turismo, to teach the AI how you handle specific situations.
Ultimately, I found the Drivatar about as gimmicky as the B-spec mode in Gran Turismo. Sure, itís a novelty and something new to the genre, but it just never seemed worth it to me. The purpose of the Drivatar is to save you time by racing in races you donít want to participate in like those pesky endurance races, but it actually takes longer to train the AI than it would to race the race yourself, and chances are you will always perform better than the Drivatar no matter how much training you do.
As with any racing game the core is the career mode and this is where you will unlock the content for the rest of the game. In Forza you pick a starting area, which determines your initial car and track choices. As you progress through the career you earn race points for winning or placing high and these points become part of an underlying RPG experience whereby you actually level-up your career. With each new level comes new cars, tracks, races, and eventually countries. Youíll establish relations with various manufacturers that will give you discounts on cars and parts.
The entire career is massive and can take between 80-100 hours to complete. From the career menu you can access the garage where you have a wealth of options for customizing your car and adjusting individual parts with a stunning visual interface. Iíve played just about every racing game there is and this has one of the best garage GUIís Iíve seen.
You can also shop for cars, train your AI (Drivatar) or head to the race track where you have even more selections. You can race online, or participate in amateur, professional, or championship events. There are also point-to-point races and the grueling endurance challenges. Each of these race types offers bronze, silver, and gold medals, and it takes a gold medal to unlock any rewards.
Races and cars, and even the point system are grouped into classes determined by power, weight, and traction. Races are matched to cars of like classes, so it becomes quite a challenge to upgrade and tune your cars to their maximum potential without bumping them into the next higher class. Again, this is all very similar to the structure of Gran Turismo, but somehow Forza just makes it all much more intuitive.
For those of you in the tuner scene, you can trick out your ride with a variety of aftermarket parts to enhance the look of your car. Custom paint, decals, multi-layer vinyl, and body parts are just a few of the options you have to guarantee a ride that looks like no other. Even with all of these options, Forza is a mere shadow of what is possible in real tuner games like Need For Speed Underground 2 and Midnight Club 3. But unlike those ďarcadeĒ racers, the level of mechanical tuning you have over these cars is unprecedented.
The overall layout of Forza, the menus, the interface, is all very streamlined and intuitive. Actually, itís the best interface I have ever seen in a driving game and one that needs to be used as a template for all future racers. You can jump around menus quickly, often switching to a new menu without having to back out to previous ones. Popular options are repeated on screens for easy access and the music is continuous no matter what you do.
Itís also very simple to save and load custom settings for your cars and you have the ability to do so on a track-by-track basis. While this slick interface may only shave a few seconds off each decision, given the 100+ hour nature of the game it all adds up.
The AI in Forza is deadly serious, especially in the Professional race events. The computer has no qualms about bumping into you or knocking you clean off the track. There is a bit of rubber band mentality but only in extreme cases. If you wipe out early in the race you have a very good chance of catching up with a bit of clean driving. Conversely, if you have a half-lap lead on the rest of the pack donít be surprised to spot a few cars sneaking up on your six as you cross the finish line. The AI is tweaked to keep things exciting without actually seeming like itís cheating.
Forza delivers a great physics engine and an overall impressive sensation of speed, especially from the bumper cam, my personal favorite view. Things get a bit swimmy and the controls loosen up when you switch to a third-person view. The cars all have a realistic weight and feel to them and they each perform just like you would expect from their design.
There is an impressive damage model that not only alters the exterior of the car but also affects the handling and performance. You canít blow an engine or flip the car but you can beat it up pretty bad. Your tires also build up heat and lose their traction over time. You can also tweak the damage model in the options, choosing from three different settings. Itís just an added level of realism and a good way to keep you from driving as recklessly as you would in GT4 where there are minor (if any) penalties for collisions.
Finally, we need to touch on control. The Xbox doesnít have the luxury of the Logitech Driving Force Pro, arguably the finest console racing wheel on the planet, so we are left with other offerings from Mad Catz and Fanatec; both fine wheels but not even in the same class as Logitech. Surprisingly enough, the game played extremely well with a gamepad, offering a precise level of steering and the triggers delivered a good range of acceleration and braking. It ďfeltĒ more real playing with a wheel, but I had more fun just playing with the gamepad.
The first thing to talk about with the graphics is the overall presentation that starts with the very first menu. Well, actually it starts with the fantastic opening movie, but unfortunately that has no resemblance to the graphics that wait for you in the game. All of the menus, and the entire interface for that matter, are totally polished, both in look and function. You can navigate the menus freely and they are wonderful to look at.
Once in the game you are treated to a great hi-def 480p flicker free image with no jaggies that looks fantastic but pales in comparison to the 1080i mode of GT4. Of course, if you donít have an HDTV then none of this matters and the game just looks great.
The overall artistic style of the game is a bit unique but it does an excellent job of recreating reality with a surrealistic flare. The car models donít feature as many polygons as required to keeps things looking smooth and rounded, so things get a bit blocky depending on the type of car. They do have a wonderful reflective quality about them with real-time environmental reflections.
The tracks themselves are almost like video that has been run through some kind of Photoshop filter to make them look artsy. While the tracks literally pop off the screen with bump-mapped asphalt, the backgrounds, trees, and especially the people are merely cardboard cutouts placed in your peripheral vision to occupy the space. Your focus should be on the track and the other cars anyway. If you want to sightsee there is a mode for that in GT4.
There are a few noteworthy tracks including the ones set in New York City. These are very similar to the ones found in GT4 so there was some room for direct comparison. The level of detail and animated backgrounds and special lighting effects were outstanding in the Big Apple.
You have a good selection of views to race from with the bumper cam offering up the best sensation of speed and the chase view giving you the ultimate in track awareness. The game runs at a solid 30fps regardless of the view or whether you are playing online or off. Even with a full pack of cars, moderately complex background scenery, lighting, and particle effects like sparks, the game never falters.
The sound effects in Forza are excellent with true-to-life engine noises and other sounds like tires squealing and the crunching of metal. The sounds are suitable altered based on the camera view you are using and there is excellent use of the Dolby 5.1 mix to surround you in the sounds of racing.
The music selection for Forza is pretty awful. Anyone who likes this music probably isnít the type to play this game. Thankfully, you can use your own ripped music and in a long overdue turn of events, you can listen to your musical selections uninterrupted as you go from game to menu to setup screens and back to game. I was getting so sick and tired of restarting races and getting a new song or restarting the same song over with those other racing games.
The career mode of Forza can take anywhere from 80-100 hours to complete depending on how skilled a driver you are. There are three regions to explore with more than 30 tracks and 230 cars. Unlocking them all could take several months of solid play. This is the largest Xbox racer since RalliSport Challenge 2.
The online component is solid with fluid framerate and a fantastic community that features car clubs, online marketplace, and a full online career mode. Plus, with 1,400 leader boards, youíll have your work cut out for you just getting your gamer tag on every one of them, let alone anywhere near the top.
Finally, Xbox owners have something to fire back at PS2 gamers when they start boasting about Gran Turismo 4. And if they start touting numbers like 700 cars and 50 tracks you can come back with online play, real-time car damage, exterior car modifications, custom soundtracks, and one of the best career modes in the racing genre.
Forza Motorsport might not have the most but it has a little bit of everything and it accomplishes everything it set out to do with flying colors. No other Xbox racing game can touch it on the Xbox and only GT4 is worthy of being mentioned in the same review as competition for your racing dollar. If you love racing and you own an Xbox then Forza needs a permanent parking place in your gaming library.