hep's Forza Motorsport (Xbox) review

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  • hep has written a total of 4 reviews. The last one was for DiRT

Ultimate Racing simulator for the Original Xbox

I’m sitting here in front of my TV, with the laptop on the coffee table, the 5.1 turned right up, a cold drink, and Forza Motorsport in my Xbox tray ready to write my review. A game I’ve been waiting for throughout the entire life of the Xbox. I sit back, turn the ignition, and dive into the game wondering where this ride is going to take me. 

Forza Motorsport is a racing simulator, saying that it’s a road-racing simulator. You won’t find any Rally modes in Forza Motorsport as the game hasn’t been designed with that in mind, after all we have Rallisport Challenge and Colin McRae Rally for that. This game is also not for arcade racing fans, so if you're keen on games like Burnout 3 or the current Need for Speed franchise, then this won’t be the cup of tea you're use to drinking. I can safely say however, that Forza Motorsport is what every true car enthusiast has been waiting for, a showroom where any car is yours to test-drive. It’s been well worth the wait.

Basically there are three main parts to Forza Motorsport, arcade racing, career mode and the multiplayer component. There are other modes including cone challenges, drag strips and time trials but the game focuses more on the three key components.
  

Arcade 

 
The arcade mode allows the player to jump straight into the driver's seat without any need to play through the career mode and build up their garage. In this mode you are provided with a set range of vehicles and tracks already available. As you progress through the arcade mode you'll unlock more tracks by being placed in one of the top three spots from the previous series. You will also have the opportunity to unlock some of the 230+ cars that can be found in the game, and each one you unlock becomes available in multiplayer and free run modes of the game as well, which makes for interesting Xbox Live battles. In total there are twelve series in the arcade mode, ending with the famous and all time favourite 21km Nurburgring Nordschieife circuit. 
 
There’s a range of car classes to choose from in this mode, as well as the ability to open up your garage to select one of the cars you have obtained from the career mode. In addition, the choice of vehicle you take from your own garage directly affects the line up of opponent vehicles you'll be competing against. The question you'll ask yourself is, should you make your car the top of a particular class, or the bottom of another? A multitude of decisions will be made when tuning your cars in Forza. 
 
The arcade mode is really for the gamer who demands an instantly gratifying racing experience that's easy to pick up and play. It allows you to jump right in and test-drive most of the cars form the game and sample some of the circuit and point-to-point tracks Forza has to offer.

Career Mode 

 
The Career mode is what you would expect from a racing simulator; this is ultimately what Forza Motorsport is all about. You start of as nobody special with a small amount of cash, then you are given just enough money to purchase your first car and possibly a few small upgrades. It’s then up to you to enter some races, win some money, and build up your garage to look like your own showroom.  
 


 
The great thing about Forza is the level of detail they have placed into the career mode, which is evident when upgrading and modifying your vehicles, but it spans a lot further than that. When you first create a profile in Forza you have the option to choose your Home Region, from here you select either North America, Europe or Asia. This will have a significant impact in how your career will progress. Choosing a region determines the availability and cost of certain cars during the game. For example, choosing Asia as your home region will start you off with access to the Asian car market, which will more than likely leave you racing around in a Nissan Skyline GTR. Moreover, you will find that getting the opportunity to race an American Corvette is less likely to happen until the later stages of the game, the opposite happening if you were to start in the North American region. The rarer the car in your region also equates to larger transactions prices when buying or selling, and will result in bonus credits for racing in other events outside your home region. 
 
As you progress further you will need certain cars to race in certain events, and the cars must be of a certain class. In Forza there is a total of six classes. The main classes are D, C, B, A, S and R. There are also sub classes under R, these are GT, GTS and P1. I’ll let you play the game to figure out what each one means.   
 

Multiplayer 

 
Forza Motorsport offers split screen, system link and Xbox Live multiplayer modes. You can race up to eight players over Xbox Live and system link. 
 
The Xbox Live multiplayer mode also includes an online career mode. Here you will use cars from your own garage to race other people with the results going towards your own online career, earning you credits for your offline career where you can spend more on upgrades, new cars etc. 
 
When you start, you’re presented with a range of classes to race in that reflect the class of your vehicle, which is dependant on what car you’re currently driving and its upgrades. This is a great way to control the races you enter with set restrictions in place, testing the balance put into the car by the gamers. In regards to tuning and modifying your car, it’s going to be very interesting to see how people will set up different cars to be the top of a certain class, without raising it to the level of the next class. The game really tests user knowledge and understanding of balancing out car upgrades, keeping cars powerful yet without climbing into the class above. 
 

Xbox Live Features                              


What would be a great racing simulator without online features? Well fortunate enough Xbox users have the ability to take Forza Motorsport online over Xbox Live. When you first start the game you will notice the game attempts to log in to Xbox Live. Very much like Project Gotham 2, the game tracks your best lap times and uploads them to the leader boards. That’s not all, Microsoft Game Studios (MGS) have taken the next step with Forza and introduced new features that have yet to be seen.

For example, you have a car and it’s upgraded to be the ultimate speed machine with superchargers, better tyres, and weight reduction to name a few. You complete a perfect lap but you’re still a good 10 seconds off SpeedDemon99, your friend on Xbox Live. You can’t figure out how he’s pulling 10 seconds off your time with the same car. This is where Forza sets its online features away from the competition, not only does it let you download another gamer's replay to see how they took to the track, but it also offers the gamer the ability to download their complete car set-up.

Heading back into the garage, you then have the option to load their car set-up into your new finely tuned beast and then attempt to beat their time. This will result in your car being tuned exactly as he raced it with the same modifications that he applied to his vehicle. If you haven’t purchased all the parts he used however, you can opt to tune just those particular parts you have or to cancel the upgrade. This adds an exciting feature and one we have yet to see for Xbox Live users. Someone with great technical skills in setting the performance level and upgrades of a car will have to share his skills with the novice gamers over Xbox Live. This is a great feature for the community and will allow people who are just good racers to bring those lap times down with the aid of a car enthusiast’s technical knowledge.

The other noticeable feature for Xbox Live is the online Car Clubs. Groups can build their own clubs and their stats and information are then tracked as a group in different leader boards. Car clubs then get to race online in a car club challenge mode where clubs can battle it out in team racing to obtain bragging rights. The online car club can have up to 100 members in it and also adds another friends list allowing you to find other club members at any time while playing Forza Motorsport. A car club lets you set a team motto, description, and URL for other racers around the world to look up.

Now one of the features of every racing simulator I’ve played is the ability to buy and sell cars. You can still do all this in Forza as well as win cars, but now with the innovative gurus at Microsoft Game Studios, they have created an online Xbox Car Yard. What this means is you can create a online room, or simply join one already created solely for the purpose to buy and sell cars. This can come in handy if you’re after an American car for a good price that is too expensive to secure in the offline mode.

When hosting a room on Xbox Live, the user gets the opportunity to configure the room how he sees fit. Setting the number of laps, extent of damage, tyre/fuel wear, and maximum player/friend reserve spots to name the basic settings.

The ELO option (ranked or unranked) for a race can be turned on or off when hosting. The Forza ELO ranking system is based on a chess rating system used for the United States Chess Federation, not unlike the one used for Rainbow Six. It includes such variables as a player's rating, the probability of a win for each player, and the effects of a win or loss on a player's rating. However, I wasn't able to find extra information in the way what modifications and/or upgrades your opponents have made to their chosen vehicle before a race. This was a little disappointing considering you can challenge someone who has the same car as you but be completely outclassed without you realising beforehand.

A host can choose what game type he decides to host as well, and the type of race such as team racing or car club races. These include circuit racing around a track, or simply point-to-point racing. If he is in need of a new car, then he can simply host a Buy and Sell room and wait for potential shoppers to come and have a look at what he has to offer.


So What about the Gameplay!

  
Forza Motorsport is a game with as much depth as an Abyss. With each feature as good, and as compelling as the next, where does one begin? In order to test the gameplay and MGS's claim to realism, I drove some of the cars under certain conditions to see how it measures up.

I started with a simple one. On a hill, I rolled down from a handbrake stop, without using any assistance from the accelerator, and the thing I noticed with this was the fact that in different cars the roll speed would vary on the same hill depending on variables such as car weight, engine location and gearbox types. Not that this is important but every little bit of detail counts right? Will I slash seconds off my time wall riding or bouncing of walls in Forza, other racing simulators allow for cheap wins using these methods. How about using the bumper car method for cornering? Unlike another recently released racing simulator, this game will take mistakes considerably into your overall result, as well as common forms of shaving seconds such as cutting corners. Try to use a wall for your cornering advantage, this will take considerable speed away. I dropped a good five to ten seconds when trying to cut corners to my advantage, in some instances when the track is set out as a chicane it was less noticeable, but in places like Laguna Seca good luck trying to cut that track. It depended on variables such as ripple strips and the likes. As for the use of the bumper car method, well the AI in this game is a notch above any other I’ve seen in some time. Cars will back off and purposely block you, often they will not even give you the chance to do so. Many times it was hard for me to even attempt to pull these manoeuvres off. If I did try to push them to help me take a corner, it would often result in the car in front turning into me and causing a larger mess than I was intending, or taking him into the nearest wall with me. Time will tell more so when people start racing online.

The game's AI stands out in a way that you'll start to notice their behavioural patterns when racing. They don’t just play the role of seven other cars either; they are out to win and will take every opportunity to take you to school. I actually found some races in the career mode very challenging in the first few races of the game, and often came in second or third after some practise in the arcade mode. The AI will also try to avoid accidents, and if you have been spending the last few minutes in carnage mode they will remember and when they overlap you they will make sure to slow down and steer clear of you.

As for customising one's vehicle, this game is the enthusiast's dream. All the normal things are in the game with the ability to buy new wheels and tyres, change springs, or simply bolt on a supercharger or Turbo system. The three areas of upgrades are Engine and Power, Appearance and Aero, and Chassis and Drivetrain. Other things you will be able to do are change tyre pressure, modify your ride height, adjust camber settings, change window tint colour, fit body-kits, or even perform an engine conversion. Performing an engine conversion is a test of your workshop skills. The game allows you to transfer an engine from another car from the same manufacturer. Be careful, any upgrades to the old engine will not be brought across to the next engine and an engine conversion may not always be the right decision. One annoying aspect I found here was with wheel selection, it would have been better sorted by manufacturer, as it is a little tedious scrolling through them to find the one you want. Also don’t forget adding a bodykit will effect wind drag and can result in greater wind resistance, and possibly worse speeds than you intended.

Changing the look of your car can keep you entertained for hours. Adding decals to your car, or painting it will really set your car apart from the rest, causing jealousy amongst your friends once they see your work of art. This can be done to any car you’re in, at any time, and is completely credit free which is a bonus. That means the look of your car can change basically as soon as you get it. Available logos include many top market brands like Momo, NOS, PIAA and Pirelli to name a few. There are also plain shapes and numbering that you can use to stamp your race number on the bonnet of the car. Some extra decals consist of a specific set for your car, for example, car manufacturer logos as well as Xbox and Forza Motorsport decals. If you have ever seen the Xbox cars driving around Sydney, then you could imagine what my Xbox Pontiac GTO looks like in Forza.

With the decals, the system allows one hundred layers per section of the car, and has the option to mirror the other side of the car in an instant so it doesn't look odd in relation. There are six areas to cover with decals - left and right side, the top of the car, front and rear bumpers, and your wing. When painting your vehicle you can choose to paint your side-mirrors, bonnet, and wing a separate colour from the body of the car, yet again a nice touch for those guys who represent the “All show – No Go” motto. That’s until you install the new fridge into the front of it.

The handling in the game is true to life. As mentioned previously, if you try to play this game throwing the car sideways into a corner like a true arcade racer, it will often end up in disaster. Depending on your upgrades and set-up, the game will take to the road just like a real car would. The car will react to your driving style, and driving a smooth line will decrease the likelihood of sliding around corners by applying adequate grip. Try to apply more force on the tyres and the tyres will begin to slide. One of the highlights of the game is the technology and innovative game design. You honestly feel that you are behind the wheel of a real car and the level of immersion is unbelievable. I could only imagine what it’s going to be like with the Fanatec Steering wheel.

Some of the things you will notice when driving are the gauges on the tachometer. You have a rev limiter, e-brake, and draft indicator. The draft indicator is useful, as it will let you know when you’re taking advantage of reduced air pressure, commonly referred to as slipstream in relation to the car in front of you. It will also illuminate when the car behind you is taking advantage of your slipstream. Other on screen displays consist of a damage state indicator that can be brought up using the white button on the controller, as well as the tyre heat indicator. Using the tyre heat indicator, I could look at specific situations and decide on how to tackle certain cornering manoeuvres. If the tyres were too cold I knew my grip would be less effective.

Replays also play an important role in the game, and a powerful tool for analysing race performance. While watching the replay you can analyse tyre load and grip, camber, speed, and differential problems, all shown if you choose to see it as the replay is in motion. This is definitely for the hardcore car enthusiast.

At the beginning of every race you are presented with the loading screen, while the game is preparing for the race it simulates qualifying based on your car's variable factors, so there's no need to race those qualifying races in Forza. Once the screen loads you are then presented with the option to start the race, change your entire set-up, or load the Drivatar. What is the Drivatar you ask?

The Drivatar technology is a form of learning AI for Forza Motorsport. After a series of specially designed lessons, the game learns your style of racing, and emulates your driving patterns and techniques. I was very surprised at how this technology performed, it drove exactly like me. I was amazed at how well it emulated my driving habits. I even compared replays and found it to be watching almost the same race when I tested it with the same circuit. You can then get the Drivatar to race for you in races where you would like to sit back and watch, which might come in handy for those long endurance races. If you think your Drivatar is your driving saviour in Forza and doesn’t come with any disadvantages to you, then guess again. A fee to use your AI driver will be deducted after each and every race he competes in for you, sort of like a paycheck. As your driving style improves you can go back and teach your Drivatar to improve with you by taking him through more Drivatar lessons.

The difficulty of the game set-up plays an important role as well. Increasing difficulty increases the possible earnings made after a race. Turning off such assistants as ABS, TCS, fuel, and tyre wear and the suggested racing line will add percentage gain to your race credits. Therefore the greater the difficulty the greater the rewards will be.

There is so much more to this game, but I’ve decided to leave it here so you can experience all the little details yourself. I’ve had fun playing this and look forward to racing online in full rooms soon. I congratulate MGS on producing such a mind-blowing title and introducing new and innovative ideas with never before seen technology. A must buy for any car enthusiast, and a game you should show to those friends of yours who are convinced another racing simulator is the king, trust me I know, I own both of them and I know which one will be staying in the garage. 

Graphics


What can I say, Forza has won the “Show 'n Shine” competition, the graphics are beautiful, the cars look like they just came off the show-floor, the damage looks great, and the road texture look more realistic then any car game I’ve played. Carbon fibre looks like carbon fibre and glass looks so clean that the poor insects won’t know what hit them. The frame rate in Forza is so solid and never drops, even at heated corners with eight cars competing for the perfect line. In smoke hazed situations the game continues to push the Xbox to the limits. Finer details are a nice touch with brake callipers heating up and decals being well presented. The lighting effects react to the car's paint jobs and reflections off buildings. I truly believe the potential of the Xbox has only recently been discovered and this is evident when playing games as beautiful as Forza.

Sound


Junkie XL composed and produced the soundtrack for Forza Motorsport. The game features remixes of classic rock songs by ZZ Top, The Edgar Winter Group, and Black Sabbath to name a few. The in game music compliments the game so well and is ideal for Forza. If you’re not happy with the guitar instrumentals then you can load your own custom soundtracks.

Engine sounds, tyre screeching, and environmental sounds are all implemented extremely well. They can all be adjusted in the options so the game allows for the perfect sound for your racing experience. This game is well complimented by a surround sound Dolby set-up and sounds like birds, the wind blowing by at high speeds, and crowds chanting can be heard while racing around your favourite tracks. The cars also sound like the real thing and will change pitch based on engine upgrades to reflect any changes made.

Conclusion


What can I say, this is arguably the best driving simulator on the Xbox. A clear winner for racer of the year! As I stated before they have only really recently discovered the potential of the Xbox. If this is an indication in what to expect in the future then I’m drooling already. This will be one of the best racers ever to make its way on the original Xbox.

If they were to improve on anything in future versions of Forza, I would like to see the introduction of some more weather variables such as rain. Wind even plays a significant role in this game and I would have loved to see what they could have done with rain. Especially adding weather conditions to the multiplayer modes.

Things that could be done on the next generation would be to have the introduction of tyre walls being dispersed everywhere after a collision, and the inclusion of tyre marks from skidding left on the road surface for the duration of the race. Some next generation features that would be great to see is the inclusion of debris and sand being sprayed onto the tracks, which changes the road's surface and conditions. Another addition could be dust clouds that are swept up after a car has headed into the sandpit, playing a more impacting effect. Again, these are things that are more possible on a next generation system rather then the current console, hence why they don’t reflect Forza's score.

The introduction of a Rally mode to offer the complete package might be something that fans would like to see in the future. Saying that, this game was not designed to be a rally game, so it also has no bearing on the final score, just my own personal observation. The only other thing that seems to be very unclear at the moment is the availability of downloadable content. I couldn’t find the option in any menu, but the website clearly states there will be new cars and tracks in the future. This is something to look into after it is released this May, possibly an auto-update style of downloadable content.

This game offers many hours of fun for every car-loving gamer, and with the ability to race online, it should keep you satisfied for the many months to come.
 

SUMMARY

Gameplay


Superb handling, responsive controls, and plenty to do for the car enthusiast. Just remember that this is a simulator, so expect the cars to respond accordingly. The game handles great online with the limited playtime I’ve had, and it has plenty of game modes to keep you coming back for more.

Audio/Visuals


Eye candy at its best, this game wins the “Show n Shine” category without a doubt. No slowdown what so ever and it runs as smooth as a babies bottom. Forza also wins the “This Car Cranked All Show” sound category, the soundtrack is a great mix of classic rock and the addition of customised soundtracks and sound options make this a clear winner.

Multiplayer


Split screen, system link, and Xbox Live play are all in here. With the addition of an Xbox Live online career, the multiplayer should keep you and your friends active for some time. Car Club racing and team racing challenges will be a lot of fun online as well, which should create some interesting races for clans online. The addition of the online “Buy and Sell” is a great new feature that has yet to be seen and I can’t wait to experiment with it more.

Replay Value


The addition of racing on Xbox Live will keep you playing Forza for a long time. The cars are well balanced and each one has a purpose to be in the game. Unlike other simulators, you’re not flooded with a multitude of useless cars, just to boast a massive total. A huge career mode as well as the addition of taking it online is a huge bonus. Customising the look of your car will also keep you entertained for hours.
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