Forza Motorsport Xbox detailed video game review – 9/10

★★★★★ ★★★★

This is the first racing game to match, and frequently surpass, Polyphony Digital’s astonishing “Gran Turismo” series. A single sentence comparison to “Gran Turismo 4” reveals that the feeling of driving is almost as good, the track design and artistry are less and “Forza” is just not as classy nor has it as many vehicles and tracks but the visual customisation, sense of car ownership, performance upgrades and artificial intelligence are on an entirely higher level. So while “Gran Turismo 4” probably remains the ‘ultimate driving simulator’ and it takes much longer to tire of it, “Forza Motorsport” is, in my opinion, the ultimate driving and racing simulator. An outstanding achievement.

Perhaps the best thing you can say about “Forza Motorsport” is that it is a generous game. I came to this from “Project Gotham Racing 2” which I described as a mean game (among other derisory comments).

Now when I call “Forza” generous I am not just talking about the amount of content on offer (though that is noteworthy in its breadth). No, it is generous in its attitude toward the player.

Forza lets the player decide how hard they want the game to be at any given time. Having trouble with a particular race in a particular car. Drop the AI difficulty a notch. Can’t quite handle a super-powerful car with the finesse and patience required? Turn on Stability Traction Management. A bit tired of racing? Get your Drivatar to do some races for you.

The various driving aids and difficulty levels all affect the amount of credits you get for completing a race but you aren’t punished harshly for choosing an easier ride. For instance, I did one race on Hard and it took me a while. I didn’t want to spend so much time on the other race on the same track (in the reverse direction) so dropped the AI to Easy. Hard reward? About 18,000 credits. Easy reward? About 14,000. Less, as it should be, but not so much less that it becomes dispiriting. Hard reward for winning? A Gold medal. Easy reward for winning? A Gold medal.

Also generous are the rewards for completing each event (these are made up of two or more races). You get a car for completing every event. This feels much more generous than simply giving you credits so you can buy your own car. It’s the difference between someone giving you money or something specific as a present. The specific gift always feels much nicer.

Another area of generosity is in the AI which consistently gives you a good convincing race. Easy isn’t too easy. Medium keeps you honest but gives you enough leeway to make a mistake. Hard is challenging with aggressive AI keeping significant pressure on for every corner on every lap.

The Rules of Forza

  • Thou shalt not touch the kerbs.
  • Gravel doesn’t slow you down and even if it does, it doesn’t slow the AI down.
  • Touching anything not track tarmac makes all your tyres lose grip and it always takes the same amount of time for grip to be restored no matter how fast you were going or how hard you hit or traversed the non-tarmac. This includes tarmac that is alongside the track.
  • Only you are affected by the laws of physics.
  • Traction control doesn’t stop your wheels spinning.
  • Anti-lock brakes are less effective than normal measured cadence braking, in fact, you still are better off cadence braking with anti-lock brakes enabled
  • If there is an AI car very close to the left side of your car, you cannot turn right!
  • AI cars will brake on a straight for no apparent reason.

As with all racing games, Forza has several bizarre rules that govern the differences between your experience and the AI experience. AI cars in racing games are generally not governed by the same physical forces that apply to your car and that is most definitely the case in Forza. The skill of managing AI in a game is how successfully this difference is masked.

On the negative side – that is, significant forces that affect your car but not an AI car – we have weight transference, tyre cohesion, traction control and anti-lock brakes. Oh, and damage. And tyre wear. Weight transference strongly affects your cars stability under acceleration, changing direction and riding kerbs. Traction control limits engine power when tyres are slipping and, as Forza only has an on-off setting for traction control, should virtually eliminate wheel-spin under acceleration. Anti-lock brakes perform thousands of cadence-braking operations per second providing maximum speed retardation and no loss of steering response. Damage affects car handling and acceleration and braking characteristics. Tyre wear means that most of the first lap is run on slightly less grippy tyres and that longer races see your most loaded tyres wearing out reducing grip and lateral performance.

For you, weight transference is modeled quite convincingly with regard to instability. Your high-powered car is squirrely under acceleration and convincingly requires a delicate touch when attempting to change direction. However, the first rule of Forza is ‘Do not touch the kerbs.’ The second rule of Forza is ‘Do not touch the kerbs.’ Unlike all real racing drivers ever, you simply cannot afford to touch the kerbs. Bizarrely, it is better to have your right wheel on the grass-side of the kerb, than on the kerb itself. Weight transference is the reason why a car can lightly tap your rear quarter on the inside of a corner and send you spinning with ease.

Tyre cohesion refers to how much grip the tyre has on the surface of the track, principally, how fast you can go around corners and how hard you can accelerate and brake. In Forza, any touch from an AI car or graze of the barrier or touch of a kerb or any one tyre doesn’t have the full weight of the car on top of it and your car loses, seemingly, all cohesion. This means that in these instances you need to basically let go of all the car controls until cohesion returns, usually a split-second.

Traction control in Forza is fairly typical for this genre of game, that is, it doesn’t perform traction control. What it does do is flash a little light on the display. For example, traction control doesn’t work on grass or gravel. It doesn’t work if you’re doing under 30 or 40 mph. It does something on the start line but doesn’t do anything if you’ve just spun and are trying to get underway again. This means that your car requires delicate throttle control under acceleration. Telemetry from real racing cars shows that a driver in a car with traction control with generally use 100% throttle or nothing at all. You cannot do this in Forza.

Anti-lock brakes in Forza are also fairly typical for this genre of game, that is, anti-lock brakes make your car take longer to slow down than non-anti-lock brakes. And you still can’t steer. Again, the only real effect seems to be that the wheel animation continues and a little light appears on the display. The feeling while driving is that your brakes have locked and you consistently lose control of the car under braking and only get it back if you let go of the brake pedal. You can slow down more quickly by pressing and releasing the brake 2 or 3 times into a corner or by holding it at 90% than by holding the brake down. This is not true with regard to anti-lock brakes.

Damage has significant effects for you. Even light bumps and scrapes affect the performance of your car while medium to heavy impacts will affect the steering significantly. It is entirely possible to make your 200mph supercar struggle to hit 60mph and be unable to go in a straight line.

Tyre wear gives you a slightly slippy car for most of the first lap. On longer runs, the wear on loaded tyres becomes a significant factor in how you drive.

AI cars have no problems with any of these.

This becomes extremely significant when you get to the high-powered vehicles, especially those in Class S which are phenomenally powerful but not really true racing cars like those in the classes above that. In fact, the game’s AI and physics balancing sort-of falls apart from Class S onwards.

You will have to work twice as hard as an AI car. It’s not always rewarding.

Where Forza scores in this respect is in what it does to redress the balance. I had just previously played “Project Gotham Racing 2” and that game does nothing to address these issues. Forza does. This has the effect of adding genuine player race-craft to Forza. The racing in Forza has a convincing ebb and flow. A bit of luck and a bit of skill can give you victory in a well-matched race.

While an AI car cannot normally be spun when they should because of they do not appear to have weight transference modeled, going side-by-side with an AI car does cause them some trouble. Forza also gives them a disadvantage when attempting to change direction as they pass you making them more likely to need a dab of brakes to counteract some fake instability. This means that an AI car does not force his way by you (or through you) in that horribly unconvincing manner of most racing games (the PS2 “Gran Turismo’s” being notable examples of this). An AI car will work to overtake you and make you work to keep him behind.

Tyre cohesion is not compensated. This is most obvious if you attempt to push off an AI car squarely from behind. Your cohesion is so badly affected that if you attempt to brake you will remain stuck squarely in the AI’s boot yet his is affected so little that he will generally make the corner without any effort.

Traction control is not needed by the AI as they have consistently perfect throttle control but they can and do miss braking points.

Damage for AI appears to be visual only.

Tyre wear is faked by making the AI cars slower for lap 1 but they never appear to lose performance after that.

As racers the AI graze barriers and overtake one another via convincing moves. In circumstances where a player would be experiencing a loss of control for any one of the above physics-based reasons, the AI will generally receive a little dab of brake and / or a more wild than usual steering move to redress the balance.

Despite the seeming negativity of this detailed critique, to a large extent, the AI is a bit of a triumph and one of Forza’s most notable achievements. The unfairness inherit in this generation’s racing AI is significantly and clearly compensated for and means that the racing in Forza feels challenging but fair and convincing. The racing AI is also Forza’s most significant technical achievement over “Gran Turismo.”

Skidmarks

There’s a lot of good in Forza but there is still some of those odd little design decisions and things that really shouldn’t be there. Thankfully, those things are less on this game than many.

The Championship Series promises you the reward of a car for finishing the championship in first place. Sadly, that doesn’t tell the whole story and I guarantee you a shock when it first happens. You spend a matter of hours running through the races, you finish first in the championship and… you don’t get your car. Why? I don’t know. I originally thought you had to finish on the podium in each race but an extremely long and difficult S Class Championship later blew that theory. Now because you don’t know this beforehand, it means you have to do the whole championship again. Every race. An insane decision.

This championship thing is the biggest significant problem with Forza which really tells you just how good the game is.

Want to tweak the set-up on your car before a race. No problem, it only takes half-a-dozen button presses to come all the way backwards out of your event, all the way up to the Career Mode menu, then all the way through to the Tune Car Setup menu. The game already offers the entirely useless ability to access your profile stats (% game complete, that sort of thing) from any menu using the black button. This black button should also allow access to the Your Garage menu where you can select, tune, upgrade and paint cars.

For some reason, the game seems to sign you out of Xbox Live rather more frequently than other games (I’ve never had it happen in another game ever) but to sign back in takes another half-a-dozen key-presses. This feels unnecessary because when you are signed in, the white button accesses the Xbox Live menu from inside any other menu. When you are signed out, why doesn’t the white button sign you in? Instead, it just disappears.

A more significant complaint comes with the decal customisation screen. The information bar about your decal placement is GIGANTIC and obscures the car you are working on. It only ever contains two numbers. Also, the car panel icon appears when editing a decal even though you cannot change the car panel at this time. This also obscures the car you are working on. This is most annoying when working on the bonnet.

All these niggles could have been removed in an afternoon.

Now for some more deep-rooted issues but it should be said that nothing adversely affects the playability or general excellence of the game.

Cars that you can’t paint all of, for example, the Ford Mustang. Or cars where part of the side as you look at it has to be painted using the roof panel.

You can’t also copy a paint job from similar cars to each other. For example you can’t copy a paint job from a 1970 Ford Mustang to a 1968 Ford Shelby Mustang even though they are very similarly shaped.

Another big moan (as mentioned above) is traction control and anti-lock brakes that don’t work in any way reminiscent of their real-life counterparts. This is common to simulation games. As is the theory that manual gear changes are faster and smoother than auto gear changes. As is the inability to manually change gear if you select auto gears. Automatic gearboxes in real cars, especially expensive ones, can generally have their automatically chosen gears overridden and auto-gear changes take exactly the same amount of time as manual ones because it’s the same gearbox.

These are choices made because of the bizarre insistence that these games are more realistic without any assistance. Yet if they drove a Formula One racing car they would have traction control, automatic gears and automatic clutches. If they drove a World Rally Car they would have anti-lock brakes, traction control and semi-automatic gears with an optional manual override.

Games are not about realism. They need to simulate the feeling of driving amazing cars at breakneck speeds around the scenery. Claimed accuracy in physics models is just a beginning of that. Forza is generally reasonably convincing as far as driving with all four tyres firmly on tarmac is concerned but it is a largely clinical game without character or style. The only time Forza gets across the feeling of driving cars to their limit and the danger and knife-edge challenge of this is on the Nurburgring Nordschleife track.

Graphics

Forza is odd graphically because there is an undefinable something missing from them. I have no idea what.

The cars are sufficiently detailed to look good when racing. They move about convincingly. They can, of course, be painted using the outstanding visual car customisation options in the game. While the resolution and fidelity of your artwork while racing looks like half that in the showroom, it still looks fine as it goes whizzing by. The sense of ‘that’s my car’ is Forza’s strongest aspect and that is tied in with the graphics. The car also features some spark effects and a bit of bodywork with fall off here and there in accidents.

The tracks are also detailed with lots of convincing scenery. There are some nice colour choices aswell with Maple Valley Raceway and, particularly, the Nurburgring Nordscheife being graced by the autumn glow of orange and brown leaves. There is nice scenery at all the original tracks with mountains, castles and tunnels all present.

The sense of speed feels accurate if not exactly visceral. The street circuits (New York, Rio De Janeiro and Pacific Shipyards) never feel as terrifying as they should when you are hurtling at 150mph toward a right-angle corner. Only Nürburgring Nordschleife manages to connect on that visceral level with regard to speed.

One brilliant detail worth mentioning is that when you scrape the barrier you leave some of your paint on it. The paintwork degradation also looks really good. By the end of an action-packed race, you’ll have scrapes and scuffs all over your car.

But what is missing? The graphics are never eye-catching. But why? I cannot answer that question.

Audio

Audio is a mixed bag and depends greatly on which car you are using. Forza is one of those racing games which insists that you can hardly hear your own engine in a lot of cars yet your competitors cars (frequently the same car) have absolutely terrifying levels of sound. Perhaps most bizarrely, the game doesn’t feature 5.1 surround sound. On my system which is working fine with other Xbox titles there is an occasional bit of broken ambient sound from the centre speaker and I don’t detect much effort from the subwoofer. Essentially, Forza presents a quadrophonic sound stage.

When you get a car where you can hear your own engine noise, Forza is good. You can hear all sorts of interesting details in the engine and exhaust tones and it is highly convincing.

The surround stage seems skewed toward other cars and you cannot adjust the volume of your competitors to correct the imbalance. “Sega GT Online”, “Project Gotham Racing” and “Project Gotham Racing 2” played with perfect surround balance on the same system as this but Forza has competitor sound effects which are significantly louder than your own. That said, this imbalance does produce the splendid side-effect of generating supreme pressure when defending. A track that would hold no fear while zooming around on your own suddenly becomes a nightmare of missed braking points and apexes when the AI are all over you with their deafening exhaust notes coming at you for every angle.

The crash and scraping sound effects are also off-puttingly loud. You will frequently think that someone has hit you up the rear only for you to check your rear and side views and discover that it is two AI cars bumping 100 yards behind you.

The race music is irritating and winds you up. Fortunately, it can be turned off or replaced with your own custom soundtrack. Great feature. The menu music is good and will only start to get on your nerves after painting your car for twenty hours.

Tracks

The most obvious shortcoming of “Forza Motorsport” is an entirely unnecessary lack of tracks. You will drives scores of different cars but the selection of tracks feel repetitive fast. Why was this unnecessary? Only two of the nine fictional tracks is available to race in reverse direction. If Blue Mountains Raceway and Test Track Infield can be raced in reverse, why not the others?

Outside of this the fictional tracks come in for strong commendation. They are all challenging, convincing and full of extremely interesting corner combinations. They also tend to be very good to race around as they all have bogey corners and a superhero corners, that is, corners which you can never seem to get right and corners which you drive so brilliantly you wonder why you don’t become a real-life race driver.

The real tracks (six plus two short layouts) are all nicely modeled and fairly recognisable. It is disappointing to see the tracks not have their corners named. They are simply numbered. This sticks out even more because when you train your Drivatar, you are given a rating through each corner on the circuit. As it is, this might read something like “Constant Radius 100%” but saying “Copse 100%” or “Carousel 100%” is far more satisfying and would assist with teaching track knowledge. Instead of thinking that you need to improve on ‘that’ corner, you could improve on ‘Copse’ or ‘Broadway and 48th’. It should be acknowledged at this point that some tracks such as Road Atlanta don’t have corner names and some tracks only have some corner names (for example, Road America).

The tracks in the game are listed in length order followed by the three Test Track layouts then the Point-to-Point layouts. This is the order they appear on the Free Run menu.

Maple Valley Raceway Short 1.15mi (original)

Shortest track in the game and probably the first one you’ll race on and a good introduction. It’s an attractive, fun and challenging track.

This keeps the hardest corner from its big brother, a quick left-hander after the very long right-hander of the first corner. It’s difficult because your car is still unsettled from exiting the first corner and because the corner is entirely blind. By the time you know you’ve got the line wrong, you know you’ll definitely be going off in a short while and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you get the line right, the corner is frequently flat-out. It’s a great corner and very satisfying to get right every time you do so.

The remainder of the track consists of a hairpin which seems to have a number of ways through it and is a great place to regain a position that you may have lost through the previous corner.

Tsukuba Circuit 1.29mi (real)

I really don’t like this circuit in Forza. I can never get the first corner right and I feel like I never get a rhythm.

Layout-wise, the track doesn’t have any really satisfying or particularly interesting corners or aspects. The track also has a definite speed limit as driving the proper fast cars around it is frustrating with little satisfaction.

Technically, it’s a fair representation but it feels much narrower than it does in other games. It does successfully convey the fact that the track is not in a green area of Japan.

Silverstone Circuit Short 1.64mi (real)

Silverstone’s short circuit is, frankly, horrible. This is the Silverstone National layout that takes away all the interesting corners and fun overtaking opportunities that were present in Silverstone’s former short circuit Silverstone International. Forza’s representation is fair though it is annoying to see Silverstone permanently bathed in grey skies. The Xbox’s visual style is marked by a lack of clarity and having a bland circuit bathed in grey doesn’t help.

Road Atlanta Short 1.77mi (real)

I like this track, partly because it leaves out the corner I am absolutely rubbish at on the full version. The corners that are left are fun and challenging.

Alpine Ring 2.21mi (original)

Surprised at the official length for this track as it feels and looks much longer. As with all the original tracks, the layout and corners are terrific; consistently interesting and challenging. This is a good track. The track remains fun with both slow and fast cars. However, it can be frustrating with the wrong setup.

Design-wise, this is quite good though it does make the frequent video game mistake regarding mountains. They forget that mountains are HUGE. Mountainous, in fact. Here, the mountains are a couple of big hills with snow on top. Design-wise, and this applies to movies aswell by the way, large objects need to not to fit on the screen in order to convey their enormity. For the classic example of this, consider Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and how he makes his alien mothership and Devil’s Mountain feel big. For a video game example, see the El Capitan track in “Gran Turismo 4”.

Oddly, the corner flow of this track feels reminiscent of Midfield Raceway in “Gran Turismo 4”. Perhaps that’s just me.

This circuit suffers a little from the problem that blights the Blue Mountain Raceway where the AI are not affected by weight transference and lack of grip but you are. However, the balance is more finely tuned here and for every corner on which the AI is demonstrably better there is another which returns you the favour.

There are two corner sequences that are particularly enjoyable.

The fourth and fifth corner complexes are treated as one. The fourth corner complex sees a fast left-hander over a rise and is fun and challenging. There is great satisfaction is nailing that one perfectly. This leads directly into a fast uphill chicane that ends in another left-hander as the track flattens out. You can straight-line the chicane if you get the line perfect. It requires an accurate exit from the previous corner and considerable commitment as you start turning in earlier than is surely wise. If you get this corner complex right, you can drag yourself right back into a race you may have been losing.

The other corner sequence is the final one which is a fast left-right kink down a short slope. While much harder to get wrong than the previous sequence, it is no less satisfying as you land on the start-finish straight with potentially much more speed than your AI foes. If you get through it without bottoming out (i.e., no scraping noises) you can award yourself an extra helping of smugness.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 2.24mi (real)

Laguna Seca is one of the greatest and hardest tracks in the world. It has a genuine contender for best corner in the world in the shape of the insane Corkscrew and continues to be an extremely popular racing venue for international-class championships such as Moto GP and Champ Car.

So why is it that the joys of this track haven’t been captured in a video game. “Forza Motorsport” adds itself to the list of games that don’t do this circuit justice. In “Forza” this is just a hard track but it’s not satisfying or exhilirating when you get it right. Just a bit surprising. Now this is probably just me but braking and turn-in points seem to move on a lap-by-lap basis (not just from lap 1 to 2 as your tyres warm up).

Most disappointingly, yet again The Corkscrew corner isn’t amazing. In real life this is a ridiculously steep drop, it should feel almost like a leap of faith every time you turn into it, as if the world is dropping away beneath you.

Presumably, this and all the real circuits are modeled using clever laser and satellite technology brought together by Tefal-headed boffins who ensure that every grain of sand is in place. Frankly, they should only use that as a starting point and then go to the landmark corners of legend and make them feel special. It is common knowledge that video game representations (and television presentation) flatten tracks visually. If that means that The Corkscrew has to come at the end of a 900ft hill instead of a 300ft one then so be it. Moments like this should be breathtaking not irritating or underwhelming. A racing game that captures the essence of a track as well as providing a technical representation of it will be a special one indeed. That said, not even “Gran Turismo” did Laguna Seca justice so it’s certainly a billion times harder to achieve than me moaning about it in a few sentences.

Tokyo Circuit 2.25mi (original circuit, real setting)

This is a really good street circuit but it does become extremely hard not to make a single mistake when you race at Class S and above. This is tremendous fun to drive for the Class D to A cars.

This features a number of fast changes of direction with no room for error and a couple of areas where your car goes light over a crest. With the faster cars of Class S and above, this gives the AI a significant stability advantage as they have no problems with these areas. This is most painfully obvious at the far hairpin where you have to rely largely on luck to get through without getting tagged or monstrously out-braked by an AI car.

To counteract this, Tokyo Circuit is the easiest track to keep cars behind you because it is so narrow.

Sunset Peninsula Speedway 2.50mi (original)

Ovals are always deceptively simple and this fictional track is no exception. It looks like one big corner but with the really fast cars a delicate touch is required, especially to get back on to the start-finish straight without losing control of the car.

This track is shaped like the famous Daytona Raceway with two corners at each end linked by a straight on one side and a large curve on the other.

The environmental sound effects are ear-catching with the crowd noise eerily disappearing around the back curve before you drive back into the stadium section. I hope this is the sort of atmospheric and smartly used sound effect that is built upon in the sequel.

Road Atlanta 2.54mi (real)

Though this includes a corner at which I am useless (turn 7) this is a fun track thanks to the first sequence on the track starting at turn 2, going through The Esses and finishing at turn five. I am brilliant at these turns in comparison to the AI which makes up for my deficiencies at turn 7 but they are also challenging, interesting and fun to drive through lap after lap. The 10B turn which exits over a big hump in the track is also very difficult.

Sunset Peninsula Infield 2.77mi (original)

Another great original track which a terrific ebb and flow between the performance of your car the AI cars. Turn 1 is all yours but the final S-bend is all theirs. I like racing on this track a lot but you do need a car which is well set-up otherwise you won’t have much fun as the AI cars bash their way past you.

Maple Valley Raceway 2.98mi (original)

Terrific original track with a whole load of interesting corners and yumps and bumps. Though this is basically a twisty circuit it, surprisingly, manages to cater for every car class in the game without trouble. It’s challenging and fun to drive from the slowest car to the fastest car.

Scenery-wise, this is also a nice track with the autumnal theme done very well and at no time do the rises and camber changes on the track come as a surprise.

The AI have significant advantages on one or two of the corners (especially the furthest 180 corner) but you can be brave and straight-line other corners which they are more cautious around. Long races around here are particularly good as you definitely have a chance of regaining the lead if you lose it.

Blue Mountains Raceway 3.10mi (original)

An attractive track clearly modeled on the legendary insanity of the Bathurst Mount Panorama street circuit this is a nightmare to race though, like all the original tracks, challenging and satisfying to drive. The layout sees a couple of very long straights with a tiny start-finish straight at one end and a very hilly, very twisty, very lengthy section at the other.

The reason for the disparity in fun is the AI which isn’t tuned correctly. As noted elsewhere, AI has no problem with situations that cause your car to suffer a lose of traction and stability. As most of the time on this track consists of highly challenging and technical corners over crests and kerbs, your car is in a constant state of instability for a lot of the lap. The AI is not and will simply drive past you at these sections through gaps of any size. Their overtaking maneuvre will not cause them any trouble getting back on the racing line either.

Unfortunately, my largely useless Drivatar is also rubbish at this track as he always goes off on the corner at which I am the best, the fast kink down the final straight. I nearly always have to drop the difficulty and / or make sure I have a much more capable car than the opposition in order to win at this track.

The struggle against the AI is a big shame as the track itself is good. It should be noted here that the only games with representations of the Mount Panorama circuit have also tended to struggle unsuccessfully with AI balance turning what should be the triumphant pinnacle of the game into a dreaded difficulty spike. While it may be a game-ending spike in other titles, Forza benefits from the superb ability to adjust difficult at any time and I am most grateful.

Blue Mountains Raceway II 3.10mi (original)

As frustrating I find this track the right way around, I find it twice as much the wrong way around. This is, by far, my least favourite track. However, I am glad that the reverse track is available. Only Test Track Infield is also reversed.

A reversed version of a track, even a familiar track, is always surprisingly different. With this track, some of the corners become easier but two of the corners, in particular, becomes much harder. These are the two corners at the end of the straights. The first is entering the twisty walled section and the other is onto the start-finish straight. For some reason I just cannot work out how to get around these corners fast. I either brake way too early and way too late. I cannot replicate the computer line for the first corner especially.

My Drivatar is a bit more useful with this layout than the normal direction and I frequently get him to drive me through this track.

Rio De Janeiro Circuit 3.13mi (original circuit, real setting)

This is a hard track and with hard AI frequently frustrating. However, I do like it. Partly because it’s got a tunnel but mainly because it is an interesting and challenging layout.

The AI has a significant advantage as they do not have weight transference to take into account and so many of the braking zones are no problem for them and a significant challenge for you.

The track features at least three areas where you need to brake after exiting or while going through a high-speed corner. While these corners deliver a noticeable advantage to the AI, they are still fun and very satisfying to nail at speed.

It’s also nice to see challenging elevation change on a street circuit. It only happens once but the hill is festooned with difficult corners and is, oh so sweet, when you get it right.

Silverstone Circuit 3.19mi (real)

A bland representation of a fast challenging circuit that never really nails the smooth sweeping nature of the best corners. This one also seems to be impossible for the Drivatar to tackle as, despite specifically training him in several cars on this circuit, he always falls off at Abbey.

New York Circuit 3.90mi (original circuit, real setting)

Entirely satisfactory street circuit. The layout is depressingly ordinary but there’s not much they can do with the right-angle New York streets to make them interesting. “Project Gotham Racing” got around this by brilliantly setting their track in Central Park.

Presentation-wise, the neon has no pop and the track doesn’t look as striking as it should. Also, the buildings just don’t seem tall enough.

AI frequently seems to have a speed and grip advantage exiting the final corner that translates to a speed advantage down the gigantic start-finish straight. The rest of the circuit provides plenty of overtaking opportunities. While a wall is never far away, you cannot muscle an AI car into one in a side-by-side battle.

Road America 4.00mi (real)

Road America is probably America’s best all-round purpose-built circuit. It has lots of fun different corners, some fast, some medium-fast, none slow. It also has three mammoth straights (two of which aren’t exactly straight: the Moraine Sweep under Sargento Bridge and the brilliantly named Kettle Bottoms) which allows you to get any car up to maximum velocity.

Forza’s representation is not entirely convincing as it seems a lot more yellow than I remember it off television.

The AI are normally pretty tough around here as they are way better at braking at the end of the Moraine Sweep and don’t lose grip zipping around the Carousel. While you get time back almost everywhere else, especially at turn 7, Kink and turn 13, the nature of making mistakes at the Carousel is normally race-ending.

Nürburgring Norschleife 13.04mi (real)

Best track in the game and my favourite rendition of the famed mentalist racing arena in the sixth generation consoles.

This is, in part, because of the inspired design decision to paint the ‘ring in autumnal splendour. The makes the ‘ring the best-looking track in the game and the only one that doesn’t have that niggling ‘something missing’ feeling.

Also I suspect this track has benefited from the largest amount of playability fine-tuning. Despite it containing an insane number of different corners which affect the stability of your car (i.e., over the top of crests and in the middle of braking points for other corners), this track remains entirely possible to drive and be competitive with the AI. Unlike Blue Mountains Raceway where the disparity between the two leads to frustrating and irritating race experiences, driving the ‘ring is an edge-of-the-seat joy.

One particularly fun race was a two-lapper (yay!) and saw me leading quite comfortably for about half-a-lap before relinquishing the lead to a hard-charging AI. The loss of momentum and rhythm saw me lose another place but I avoided getting disheartened. Some sweet driving saw me retake second and then, several minutes later, first with an immensely satisfying pass around the outside of a medium high speed corner. It was then ebb and flow until the end of the race. Great fun. Great track and the definite highlight of Forza Motorsport.

Each segment of the ‘ring is also great fun, thrilling and highly satisfying.

Nürburgring South 3.10mi (real)

Nürburgring West 3.10mi (real)

Nürburgring North 3.10mi (real)

Nürburgring East 3.70mi (real)

Test Track Infield 4.78mi (fictional)

According to me, the best race track in the world needs a castle and a tunnel. This track has a castle so is off to a great start. You can’t always race opponents on this kind of track in racing games so it’s nice to see that this hosts full races.

The track is very lengthy but surprisingly memorable. Because it has so many corners you might expect them all to merge into one but no. There is almost every kind of corner here from the tightest hairpins to the fastest kinks and even a corner or two where you can take a huge amount of kerb to gain valuable extra time. Also thanks to the massive selection of corners and corner complexes there are a large number of corners which you will be terrible at and a large number which you will be amazing at. This gives the racing a real ebb and flow which is terrific. Surprisingly, this is a great track to race around with well-matched opponents and quickly became one of my favourites.

Test Track Infield II 4.78mi (fictional)

Good to see a reverse track available. While some of the repeated exercise sections of the track are almost identical in reverse, most of the track feels completely different.

Test Track Oval 4.97mi (fictional)

This is for top-speed action. There is no braking required for even the fastest cars in the game while, for those in identical cars, the endless drafting is great fun. The mammoth straights and simple cornering mean that it is an online favourite for those who like to chat while racing but only enter these races if you have a Ferrari Enzo or something else that does 230mph while going around corners.

Pacific Shipyards 4.05mi (original)

Pacific Shipyards II 4.05mi (original)

Fujimi Kaido Down Hill A 3.83mi (original)

Fujimi Kaido Down Hill B 2.87mi (original)

Fujimi Kaido Down Hill (original)

Fujimi Kaido Hill Climb A 2.87mi (original)

Fujimi Kaido Hill Climb B 3.83mi (original)

Fujimi Kaido Hill Climb (original)

Customisation

The most fun, unique and satisfying element that Forza Motorsport brings to the table is the visual car customisation. You can spend hours and hours tweaking and playing with all the different decals and vinyls. Even if you are less than artistic like myself, you can create pleasing designs. For the talented, the results are limited only by imagination, time and hard work and the car designs that can be produced can be breathtaking.

The following are my customised cars, the inspirations behind them and the little tricks and foibles I hit upon along the way. They have all been posted as separate posts which are listed under the tag “Forza Motorsport“. There are lots of pictures of each car aswell (you can check out my “Forza Motorsport” Flickr page).

  • Hover over a picture to find out what the car is called.
  • Click a picture to go to the post for that custom paint job.

Replays

Replays are better than most racing games which tend to be drearily unwatchable. Typical to the genre is the ability for the auto-view changer to frequently hide your amazing overtake or supreme slide with the wrong view. Also typical is a complete change of view controls during replays for absolutely no obvious reason.

Where Forza scores is that it does make your car look great with a generous amount of lengthy close-ups of your car. This is even more satisfying when you’ve decorated your car. The real point of a replay is make your driving look amazing (best examples of this are Geoff Crammond’s “Grand Prix” series, the first and second “Gran Turismo” games, “Vanishing Point” and “Driving Emotion Type S”) and while Forza doesn’t do that, it does do the next best thing and make your car look great. Forza has some very nice camera moves to show off your car.

One particularly noteworthy camera move is on the Nürburgring as you are coming onto the big straight. It starts by looking at a cool castle in the distance and pans over to the track as the car go whooshing by. Great shot, most rewarding. Shame it’s the only one in the game.

Conclusion

Despite the high 9/10 rating, this isn’t a perfect game but it’s shortcomings when compared to the visuals, presentation, tracks and feel of driving in “Gran Turismo 4” are counteracted by the overall accessibility, successful implementation of damage-modeling and standard-setting AI opponents, visual car customisation and online features.

6 thoughts on “Forza Motorsport Xbox detailed video game review – 9/10

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