It took a while, but Gran Turismo may have finally been shaken from its high horse. And it has taken long enough. GT has been virtually unopposed until now, except for a slight attempt by Konami with Enthusia and, predating that, a generally average - though commendable - effort on the part of Sega with Sega GT on Dreamcast (and GT 2002 on Xbox). Finally, Microsoft's entry to the racing sim genre is a strong contender for best racer. That contender is Forza Motorsport. Forza Motorsport, more than just a Turismo clone, is an amazingly solid and unique racer with great ideas and even better execution. In many ways, and for its many innovations, Forza is the best racing sim on any platform.
Placing the two side-by-side, one cannot help but make comparisons. GT's tracks look sharper, but grainier, while Forza's tracks look more washed-out or surreal. Forza uses bloom¯ effects all over which, at once, cause the game to look better and somewhat more unreal. It can be tossed up to preference, but I love the style of Forza. The tracks are more detailed and sprawling in Forza than in GT.
As far as game physics goes, Forza Motorsport is to Racing Simulators as Half-Life 2 is to First Person Shooters.¯
Of the tracks they share, Nurburgring Nordschleife in Forza feels like you're actually driving through a forested area; others, like Forza's New York, look extremely similar, except the buildings are sharper and loom heavily over your tiny car. While both games feature real-life imaginary, I find the tracks in Forza to stand out as more challenging and better built circuits. Every turn in Forza feels purposeful and challenging. This is due to the amazing physics engine (more on that later), but also to the variation of turns in tracks: sweepers, increasing and decreasing radii, hairpins, elbows.... Along with the standard circuit races, Forza also allows you to race Point to Point (P2P). P2P is a great addition to an already stellar lineup of tracks; you can race along a dimly lit freeway, or climb or descend Fujimi Kaido.
While Forza lacks any rally tracks, it hardly needs it. Forza is about street cars and race cars. It's heart lies in now how much of anything it does but that what it does do it does very well. For its sheer solidarity as a racer, Forza is miles ahead of the competition.
The tracks, of which there are a total of 31, are extremely varied and challenging, so you won't get bored. Couple that with a total of 233 cars and you'll be busy for quite a long while. One of the best things about Forza Motorsport is that it doesn't waste its time with mediocre automobiles. Forza boasts some amazing domestics, imports, and exotics from over 60 manufacturers. Sure, it doesn't have the enormous count of 50 tracks or 700+ cars as in GT4, but for a freshman effort in the sim department Microsoft Game Studios has done a bang-up job. Remember all those little useless cars in GT4? Remember racing in a Toyota Corolla for six hours in an attempt to get the car you really wanted? There's none of that in Forza; it keeps you loaded with cars that you'll actually want to drive. Ferrari, Porsche, TVR, Aston Martin¦there are many dream cars here along with the more recognizable cars. Maybe in the next installment we'll see more tracks and cars (I actually hope for more tracks than cars), but for now those given are more than acceptable.
The autos in Forza show an amazing amount of detail: real-time lighting, shadow, and real time reflection effects - that's right, no more fake reflections. The cars look amazing especially in high definition. Sharp and detailed, these cars glisten on the Xbox. From the taillights to the grill, bumps to creases, these cars are as detailed as they can be (until next generation). And when you can crash them you discover that the damage models are sophisticated and realistic, none of that crap damage from TOCA Race Driver 2. Often, I've been known to switch to the outside camera during online races and peek around my car to see it in motion, flapping bumper and all. And it is the disbelief of my friends I hear over the headset when I careen off the track and into a wall, maybe taking one of them with me. Uh, I got a phone call,¯ I lie. Sometimes it's better not to say you're caught up in automobile vanity.
The Career mode, which will eat up the most of your time, will take a good 80+ hours to complete (more if you, like me, spend an insane amount of time tuning). You start by choosing your region¯ which will dictate what kinds of cars will be available to you from the start, as well as which cars will unlock as you progress. Region is a great idea and works especially well online. The individual races are broken down into categories of difficulty (point to point, amateur, professional, endurance) and then certain requirements must be met in order to enter. The requirements can range anywhere from rear wheel drive¯ to any unmodified Porsche production model.¯ This type of race breakdown is nothing new, and, if anything, I was hoping that there would be more races overall. But in the career mode you don't get any time-trial races: that's in the Time Trial Mode. Forza keeps its presentation in a simple menu layout that, in the end, makes it more accessible than GT4.
Rev your engine too high and your engine can wear, your top speed lessen, and sparkplugs misfire.¯
Usually when you're done with the single player, you have the option of taking your cars online. But instead of waiting, just hop online and work on your single player stats there. Forza gives the option to play the single player game online by earning money and cars. While you can't actually race in the events of the single player career, you can get into races of all sorts with people who share the same passions you do. You'll level up, earn cash, and cars in much the same way as offline, but, of course, you won't have to deal with any AI drivers. If you're not playing Forza online, the game is still great, but you're missing out.
The AI is smart, but not brilliant. All in all, it's better than GT4's AI, hands down. The AI racers will brake for you to avoid crashes, swerve around, take the inside line, and attempt to pass as cleanly as possible. And they do a very good job overall. Sometimes there is contact (sometimes a little too much), but I see it as the AI actually being aggressive and not just driving their line. While the AI drivers are good, there's nothing quite like the thrill of actually racing a real person.
While it can be said that Gran Turismo is the king of car collecting (with about 700 different cars) Forza Motorsport is undoubtedly the king of car customization. Where Gran Turismo has yet to tread, Forza ventures without fear. In Forza Motorsport, you can customize your ride to the nth degree - slapping on upgrades (as in Gran Turismo) to tune your car's tire pressure, stiffness, gear ratio, differential, alignment, and more. One greatly useful tool is the benchmark tool, which will tell you your 0-60, 0-100, 100-0, 60-0, your top speed, and your lateral Gs. You can tune in the menu or tune on the track. Thank Gates that you can take your car on the test track and tune as you go as the affects will be immediately apparent. I hate to jump back out to a menu every time I want to get my car tuned properly. Luckily, customizing your tuning in Forza is easy and addicting. MGS takes customization even further by giving you the ability to place up to 100 layers of decals on each side of your car. So when Microsoft say, you are what you race,¯ they're not kidding. If you want to show off your ride, just jump online and show someone. You can put your cars on display for a room to see, or trade them, if you're so inclined.
With all the options given, you may end up emotionally attached to your car. Giving you that kind of emotional attachment to a virtual vehicle is not simple and Microsoft went the extra mile to make sure their customization options are vast enough, yet simple enough, for everyone. Every decal that Forza gives can be stretched and twisted to the user's specifications. So even if you can't find that perfect shape, you should be able to create it out of crude geometric figures.
The physics engine is simply awesome, and the best reason to purchase Forza. Simply, the cars handle better than anything GT4 has to offer. Weight, traction, gravity, gear ratio, terrain, engine placement, drivetrain, horsepower, torque, wear, weather. These and more affect how your car handles and will handle ten laps later. As your car loses gas, it loses weight. As your car's tires wear they warm and get slick. If you hit something, your car may not function properly. Lock sides with an opponent and your steering will lock up. Rev your engine too high and your engine can be damaged, your top speed lessen, and sparkplugs misfire. Finally, you cannot ram a car's side and slingshot around a corner. Cars behave correctly. Microsoft Game Studios has taken exquisite care in designing a physics engine that, until now, has only been dreamed of in a racing game. As far as game physics goes, Forza Motorsport is to Racing Simulators as Half-Life 2 is to First Person Shooters .
As an example how amazing the physics engine is, I took my Subaru STI (in the game) and tried tuning it for the S3 class. The car has tons of get-up-and-go, but cannot stop and its turning is poor. I searched online for real STI tuning statistics and entered them into Forza Motorsport. Immediately I felt a change for the better in my car's handling and control.
The sound in Forza Motorsport leaves something to be desired. Though mixed by Junkie XL, there is nothing to redeem in remixed 80's hair metal. It's fine for the intro music, but we need something else - something not annoying. The sound effects are good, though sound far too canned. Crashes sound too loud but you can turn them down. The skids are alright, if not terribly realistic, but to redeem that the engine sounds are generally good and change depending on whether you're in or outside the car. Listening to the turbo or supercharger rev up is quite satisfying. And any sparkplug misfires can be heard if you've done enough damage to the car.
Forza is just too massive to be explained in a simple review. The title has taken chances and come up relatively unscathed. I have a few problems with the game: some career races are insanely hard, much of the music sucks, and there could have been more tracks. Still, you can upload your customized soundtracks to Forza so that alleviates nearly all the pain caused by Microsoft's soundtrack.
In the end we have an amazing game that has done something other racing games have ignored: it innovates. Microsoft has achieved something no other company has done in the racing genre since 1998: it has topped Gran Turismo.