With over 80 car manufacturers and hundreds of vehicles ranging from the obligatory excesses of the Bugatti Veyron to the stainless-steel DeLorian, Forza scratches a very deep itch for car collectors. Every few driver levels you’ll earn a new car that is almost immediately required in a racing series and with the constant stream of money coming in from just about everything you do, you can very quickly fill out your garage. Throw on top of that the Auction House where you can buy a world’s-best selection of player-made souped-up, painted and vinyl-ised vehicles and the game becomes a vehicular Pokemon. Just about every car-maker worth their salt is in here and with the ability to fine-tune and work every section of the vehicle over, gear-heads will lose themselves for days working on tunings to sell on the store. Given Turn 10’s reputation for regular and well-crafted DLC, you can easily expect another fifty cars on top of this in the months to come.
A racing game is nothing without a solid handling model and you’ll be pleased to read that Forza’s is… exceptional. Tyre physics have always been the enemy of racing developers, and it’s often this differing feeling of contact that can give each racer its own unique style. Turn 10 have nailed the sensation of rubber meeting road and give you an uncanny ability to read your cars intentions as your tyres melt around corners – in fact, so accomplished are the physics that this is the first console racing game I’ve ever played where I thought it would be better with a steering wheel.
The mounting of the engine, location of the drive-train and overall weight are transmitted beautifully, working cohesively together to ensure a strong focus on brake and throttle work so that if you plant it too hard when your car isn’t ready you’ll spend the next hundred meters fishtailing for recovery. In cases where you do completely lose it, you can still access the simple and smooth replay feature where with a press of the Y button the race moves backwards until you find a position you’re comfortable with starting from again. Initially this feature can seem quite cheap as it is essentially a ‘push-to-win’ button, but in a game where races can be 20 minutes long and the focus is on the driving experience, this feature is the difference between actually completing a race and not playing the game for a week while you cool off from the rage.
From the very first menu to the on-track action, Forza is visually spectacular. There’s no ‘premium’ nonsense like the vehicles in GT5, each car is modelled beautifully inside and out and you’ll find yourself changing view regularly mid-race just to enjoy your vehicle in all its aspects. Cockpit views are highly detailed and are the best way to experience what the game has to offer and in a game where every vehicle surface has a showroom shine, you can be distracted by a windowful of reflections and vehicular eye-candy. Car damage looks very good and you’ll get suitably roughed up the more contact that you make, although the rewind feature does highlight the ‘stick-on’ nature of contact damage.
Greater attention has also been paid this time around to the presentation of the environments. At the start of each race, whether a real world or fictional track, you’re given a top-down satellite view of the track with the course superimposed in white. This is strangely immersive as it gives you a small sense of location for each circuit that makes you feel a little more ‘there’. The background environments deliver the same feeling thanks to the very clever mapping of real photo-imagery across the horizons and this is particularly noticeable on the fantasy ‘Bernese Alps’ track, where the mountainous surroundings look stunningly real. There are, however, cracks through which you get a glimpse at how hard they’re pushing the 360’s ageing architecture; in-car shadows are noticeably aliased and the full-world rendering in the rear-view and side-mirrors can show traces of CPU-lag, but overall it’s a gorgeous game.
Sound effects are a mixed bag but fortunately all the important bits are spot on. Making contact with other vehicles sounds underdone, and either generates a dull clunk or a high-pitched screech which is exactly as it was in Forza 3. Given the attention paid to engine sounds it’s jarring that such a basic element isn’t given better treatment, and the in-game music is also atrocious and it won’t be long until you turn that grinding techno-trash off. The only soundtrack needed in Forza are the sounds of an engine and Turn 10 have got that part very, very right. While I haven’t performed a decibel-for-decibel comparison with their real-life counterparts, each vehicle has its own symphony of cylinders with muscle cars sounding muscly and city cars sounding like a lady farting. In particular, the 2010 Lexus LF-A, a car that Jeremy says “sounds like an F1 racer”, sounds exactly that and screams across the track with a frighteningly high-pitched shriek.
The biggest criticism that can be levelled at the entire Forza series has been the bullish AI and sadly, nothing has happened to change this. Computer controlled vehicles will slavishly adhere to their racing line and seem unaware of the fact that you’re on the track. You can place pressure on an AI car through drafting and cause it to veer into a sandbank but generally they’re slow, heavy obstacles that can force you to rewind again and again. Even in mixed-vehicle races the tiny Puegot’s and Abarth’s in front would not pull over as my turbo-charged Jaguar ate its way up the track behind them which seems frustratingly unfair. Barging your way through the pack (often as a result of the random grid-placements in each race), while hardly proper, is often rewarded by a win and thanks to the slot-car AI it can be difficult to discover the motivation to avoid contact and look for overtaking opportunities. The Forza series is as much a singleplayer game as it is an online racer, so it’s disappointing that the poor Forza 3 AI was copy/pasted across. Because of this, the thought of getting the ‘complete all races in first’ achievement fills me with dread about having to compete with the ridiculous AI, rather than the will to win.
While some online elements were made available during the test period, multiplayer was unfortunately not one of them – which is a real shame as the variety of online modes had my foot impulsively slamming down on an invisible accelerator. If you like multi-class races (and you really should), how does four classes of vehicles in the one race sound? Or if like me, you like to race in a more gentlemanly manner, how about a city car shootout with tuned E Class cars? You can try drifting (stock or RWD), drag racing, time attack, class-racing circuits, open races, user-created races, special revolving Turn 10 challenges or, most intriguingly of all, playground races with ‘Tag’, ‘Cat and Mouse’ and ‘Keep the It’; there’s a boggling variety of modes on offer.