Review by Demon27248
A Tremendous Failure Both as a Racing Sim and an Enjoyable Game Alike
Back in the year 2005, before Forza became a flagship series for Microsoft, the original Forza Motorsport was released to critical and commercial success. Looking back, it's difficult to see why. It's even more difficult to see where Forza succeeded that Microsoft's other racing series PGR and RalliSport Challenge failed. Forza is neither a realistic racing sim, nor a fun racing game by any means, and it fell far short of other racing sims available at the time like Gran Turismo 4 or rFactor. Now I should note I have not played the rest of the entries in the Forza series yet, so I can't comment on how they compare to the original, but fans of the series I've spoken to who started with a game other than the first one have told me that Forza Motorsport 1 is anywhere between no where near as good to downright rubbish, so it's good to know that I'm not alone in my views.
Forza was basically billed as a Gran Turismo alternative where you could customise your cars and play online. On paper, it sounds like a gearhead's dream come true, and while that might be true for the car customisation part, having some of the richest customisation features available in a game at the time, the actual racing itself is a disaster.
Where to start then? Like Gran Turismo (and unlike rFactor), Forza targets a wider audience than the hardcore racing sim fanbase. As such, the game was catered towards the general crowd in various ways. Music by default plays over the races for example: a feature uncommon to racing sims, but common to most other types of racing games. The soundtrack is abysmal in and of itself so you'll probably want to turn it off anyway. The driving mechanics were also made more forgiving than your typical sim. Forza notably adds a virtual racing line in addition to the already easy handling which shows you the fastest way to drive around each track and lets you know when you're going too fast by gradually turning from green to red. You can of course disable this if you don't like it, but it seems like the game was designed for you to play with it on at all times, rather than just as something to ease beginners into it before eventually turning it off.
Herein lies Forza's greatest issue. I'm not someone who's a hardcore driving or racing sim enthusiast, but just someone who casually enjoys the genre. Forza's target audience perhaps. The enjoyment the casual audience derives from most genres of sims is the thrill of learning how everything works, trial and error, practicing to get better, and laughing at all the screw-ups made along the way. I find this true whether I'm playing a racing sim like Assetto Corsa; flight sim, like il-2 Sturmovik; or simulation games for just about any type of vehicle or machine out there. It's supposed to be a difficult genre, not one where you can just jump in and kick ass like a kart racer, but it's a genre where it can be enjoyable to fail and do badly at the game. As Gran Turismo has shown, there are ways of making simulation games more accessible to the general player base without trivialising the mechanics, and Forza has not learned. Forza has destroyed the core simulation experience because it doesn't understand why Gran Turismo was fun, and offered a boring substitute in its place. I wouldn't have had an issue with the un-sim-like and unrealistic gameplay if it were actually fun. ToCA Race Driver 3 by contrast did offer a fun arcade mode (dubbed 'simulation' in contrast to the 'pro-simulation' sim mode) as its default mode of play which let players experience the excitement of professional racing without the difficult driving mechanics that came with it.
In Forza, there is virtually no way for you to screw up through normal driving on the race track unless you go to fast and go off it, which isn't normally possible to do so long as you listen to the race line and know that red means brake. Believe me, I've tried many times to go into an uncontrollable skid or spin out for the experiment, all to no avail. As soon as you touch the handbrake however, your car pretty much breaks and goes out of control, no matter the speed you're driving, or the angle you're turning at. The game might as well call the A button the malfunction button because that what it seems to do. In short, the handbrake doesn't work realistically, and this makes proper handbrake drifting straight up impossible.
So the game doesn't want you to drift because drifting's commonly associated with arcade racers, and Forza wants to just avoid that can of worms? Ok, that's all fine and dandy. But if you turn off your assists before the race, lightly tap the brake and turn hard, then hammer the gas, you'll find that you'll now have access to a PGR style drift mechanic that has absolutely no downsides. Hell, controlling this is even more trivial than in PGR 2. It boggles the mind why this exists, and the only explanation I can come up with is that the developers just didn't care about how the game played with assists off and did a bare minimum amount of testing.
Another bizarre feature is how when you're driving with automatic transmission, you do not shift from neutral to first gear at the start of a race until your RPM maxes out. This is made worse by the fact the HUD gives you no visual indication of when you're in neutral as it will always say you're in first gear when you're parked. So if you don't rev your tires at the start line in anticipation of the GO signal, you're going to be at a disadvantage, when you really shouldn't be in a racing sim. The shift from neutral to drive is performed manually in real life, but as the game wishes to do this automatically for you, it really should do it as soon as you hit the accelerator.
Finally, something that's intimately tied to a good racing sim is the presence of good collision and damage mechanics, as well as vehicle physics. Racing sims aren't about crashing, but when you do crash, it needs to be strong, impactful. I'd compare this to the necessity of making getting shot at feel satisfying in an FPS. It's something you want to avoid but something that needs a lot of attention too as getting shot at is half the game, and shooting paper cut-outs isn't nearly as fun. In a racing sim, driving mechanics are always significantly less fun if crashes can just be brushed off. NASCAR Heat 2002, an Xbox launch title, set the bar very high as mistakes on the track can send cars flying into the stadium with massive, glorious puffs of smoke and splendid SFX to go with it. You can probably already guess that in Forza, bumping into other cars feels like nothing. The devs did not want there to be consequences to it due to how easy it was to occur during a race, as they believed having the cars spin out and crash would alienate the casual player base. Boy were they wrong. There foe wasn't difficulty, it was boredom. It's boring shrugging off a car crash like it was nothing. The cars feel like they have absolutely no weight to them whatsoever. I can't imagine the racing holding anyone's attention for more than a few minutes due to how mild it all feels.
While the actual online multiplayer mode on the defunct Xbox Live service is no longer available, the game has a system link mode that offers the exact same thing, and you can naturally tunnel this online so you don't need to get people on your real LAN. It's hard to imagine a racing game with bad driving being redeemed by the multiplayer mode and Forza's certainly doesn't. In fact, I wouldn't hesitate to label it broken. This is because the racing line is a client setting rather than a host setting. While Forza does let you restrict car classes, the difference in performance between the best and worst cars in each class is massive, and the best ones you all need to unlock. Custom tuning can raise performance well above and beyond what you'd expect out of the class too. This isn't too much of an issue as you can enforce honour rules during races. i.e. x car only or no custom tuning, and you'd know if people aren't abiding by them and kick them. This isn't true for the race line. It's impossible to know whether someone has theirs on or off as there's no indication of it. Thus unless you're playing with friends who you trust, you just can't play with the line off as you'll be at a massive disadvantage. The reason the race line is not a host setting is probably, as I've mentioned before, the fact that the developers intended for you to play with it on at all times rather than it just being a beginner's tool to learn the game.
Controls are largely standard-fare for Xbox racers. The triggers accelerate and brake, and the left stick steers, gear change on the buttons. There are several alternative button configs you can choose from, but Forza does not let you adjust the steering sensitivity. This is absolutely unacceptable in a simulation racing game and comparable to an FPS that doesn't let you adjust the aiming sensitivity. Worse yet, Forza was clearly designed for you to bank all the way left and right on the analog stick to turn like a kart racer as they probably figured most people were going to be playing it like that (think casual audience target). Coming from playing racing sims with near to max steering sensitivity on analog sticks, Forza just feels dreadful. You have zero fine control of your car since your driver moves the wheel at snails pace as if they were second guessing all your inputs. Worse yet, when I plugged in a racing wheel, it was the exact same thing. Unresponsive, extremely low sensitivity steering. As you can't bank the wheel from side to side as fast as an analog stick, like the game expects you to, the wheel makes the game much harder to play. Again, this is something you would expect from a kart racer. It's utterly unacceptable for Forza.
Visuals and Audio:
The graphics is Forza are good for the most part. The game has some nice lighting and crisp, real time shadows. This does come with a cost though. Unlike most racing games, Forza is unfortunately locked at 30fps. There are a few drops below this here and there but it's a rare occurrence and usually only happens during pile-ups. The texture work is actually quite nice. The tarmac looks nice and rough. There are skid marks on the tracks accumulated over the years and you can leave your own too. It's basically all you'd expect from a high production value first party title.
The audio on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. The cars sound alright but engine effects can be a bit on the weak side. Collisions however sound awful. It's almost as if the devs recorded a wooden spoon hitting a tin can to use as the effect. The soundtrack is one of the worst I've seen in any racing game. It's filled with bad instrumental covers of southern rock songs like Iron Man by Black Sabbath that play on a loop in both the menu and the races. There's a small selection of tracks, and in general, you're probably gonna want to either disable the music or replace it with your own, which you can thankfully do as the game supports Xbox soundtracks.
As the saying goes, good graphics don't make a good game, and that's incredibly true with Forza. Forza is by far the worst simulation racer I have played on the Original Xbox and one of the worst racing games in general. The massive library of hundreds of vehicles and rich customisation features are worthless without a good racing component underneath. I can't imagine a world where hardcore racing sim enthusiasts wouldn't have just dismissed Forza outright at launch in favour of something like rFactor. With games like Assetto Corsa and iRacing out nowadays, there is no reason for that crowd to even give Forza a look. For the causal audience, other games available on the Xbox like ToCA Race Driver 3's pro-sim mode, and NASCAR Heat 2002 are much better in every way. The Gran Turismo games which Forza sought to compete with absolutely knock it out of the park. Forza Motorsport is a terrible game that I cannot recommend to anyone. Even if you're a series veteran interested with its roots, just steer clear... after your driver takes 2 seconds wondering if you actually meant to tilt the analog stick left to steer clear.
Final Score - 2/10
Product Release: Forza Motorsport (EU, 05/13/05)
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