Review by Reign Of Chaos

Reviewed: 08/15/05

*Insert Gran Turismo 4 comparison here*

I must send out my apologies right before I even start to write anything. What am I so sorry about? The Gran Turismo 4 comparisons. It is almost inevitable to make a few comparisons to the game that explored this type of racing game, or in simpler terms, "twas the big grand daddy of them all". Gran Turismo, the original, made quite a name for itself. Of course, just like every great game, it is almost necessary for other game developers to release copy cats of it. However, I could probably count the number of copy cats released for the Xbox on one hand. Unfortunately, I could probably count the number of GT games that surpassed the actual Gran Turismo games in terms of quality and fun with no hands at all. When the only decent showing on Xbox was Sega GT, I do believe it is time for a new champion.

So out comes Forza Motorsport. A very ambitious title that was hyped to no end. Living up to hype is one thing, but when we are talking about trying to dethrone the almighty Gran Turismo series, that is even more of an up hll battle to be had. So what is it? A flop? A success? Or perhaps, the new king in simulation racing? Is Forza Motorsport worth your time, or is Sega GT still your Xbox simulation racing king?

Audio and Visual: It is good, the cars look and sound like cars... what else is there to expect?

Let me get one thing out of the way. I am not exactly a huge gear head. I can identify my dream cars, I can point out different cars on the road, and I can casually talk about them amongst friends and strangers alike (because who doesn't like to talk to strangers randomly?). However, that is about it. I am not an expert on car sounds. I can tell when a car sounds powerful, and can make a distinction between two cars to the point where I can say "Those are different cars", but that is about it.

With that brutal confession out of the way, you have either dared to keep reading, or wrote me off as an idiot, and moved on to the next review. However, for the readers who dared to continue on with the review, here is my take. Yes, I am not an expert on car sounds, but even through my ignorance on cars, I can still point out the difference between a car that has been modified and one that has not. Fortunately, for Forza, cars that are modified will tend to sound more powerful than a car that has not been. This is a good thing, and adds to the realism. The cars do not all sound the same, which also plays an important role in adding to the realism. You can hear the engine struggling when you reach top speeds which is good, because if you overwork your engine, you suffer a damage penalty (more on that later). Generally, even for this fool's ears, I can still respect the amount of time put into this.

The sound department is not completely perfect, though, and one thing Forza did do quite similar to Gran Turismo 4 was the terrible soundtrack. Yes, I know that the soundtrack is not the reason you should buy either Gran Turismo 4 or Forza, but oh my. Basically, it contains a bunch of terrible instrumental metal covers, some recognizable (like Iron Man), some are not. It is like the developers went to a "High School: Battle of the Bands", chose the band that finished 39th out of 45 bands, and said "YOU! You must perform for our game's soundtrack." It really shows that they did not put effort into this category, which is admirable, but I still find the "hair metal" to be annoying background music, even if it is just that: background music. Fortunately, the game does sport custom soundtracks, so you can put either your rap collection, metal collection, classic rock collection, or hell, even your grind core collection on to your Xbox, and make your own soundtracks. That or listen to music that rivals EA Trax, you choose.

What about the graphics? I think it would be pretty important for a game like this to have accurate car models, and I am here to report that it does. Thank the heavens. Every car has been meticulously scaled to make for a realistic looking game, and each car boasts polygon's galore. The cars are very easy on the eyes, and are, in fact, very close to their real world counterparts. One thing that did strike this reviewer was the awesome reflections. Just looking at how the cars reflect light in the showroom is something that could dazzle you. It only gets better, too. The cars will reflect the scenery as you drive past it, making it almost hypnotic.

Another great feature about the graphics is that the framerate never drops below 30 FPS. The game looks great, and never takes a framerate plunge. Wonderful concept, huh? This is good, because the sense of speed never seems to gets lost because of an inconsistent framerate.

What about the race tracks, though? Even though I am not the biggest racing game fan, I can still realize the importance of having good environments to race in. Forza delivers in most areas, fortunately. A majority of the environments that you will race in are generally appealing to the eye. The other few, however, can be quite barren, and unappealing. Not so bad that it makes racing on certain tracks complete torture, but it is kind of odd how some tracks are breath taking (the cities, and mountain ranges), while a few are quite lacking in the visual department (Test Track Infield I and II). You will also recognize tracks from the Gran Turismo series, such as Laguna Seca Raceway.

The one thing Forza's tracks have over the competition is that no matter how barren the environments are, they all seem more real. Games such as Gran Turismo use beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds, but they just do not look as real as they could be. Fortunately, for Forza, though the environments are hardly interactive, they have life to them.

Could the graphics have been better? In short, yes. But to call this game's graphics "bad" would be uncalled for. Forza is a beautiful game that sports a variety of little touches that makes the game come to life.

Gameplay Driving exotic cars... totally rad!

So we have come to the meat of the game. First the cars. There is plenty of cars to choose from. Many will ask "But wait, Gran Turismo 4 has almost 3 times the amount of cars as Forza. Does that make Gran Turismo the better game for racer enthusiasts?" No, stop asking. Yes, Gran Turismo offers many cars (over 650, to be exact), but Forza's selection is not too shabby. Not once during my uncountable amount of hours that I have plugged into Forza did I feel that my selection on what to drive was limited. Not once did I feel the need to drive a huge pick up truck, the Ford Model T, or hell, even Jay Leno's Tank Car. Not to cheap shot Gran Turismo and its excellent selection of new and classic cars, but many cars are there for pure novelty. Forza also contains quite a few filler cars, to be honest, but it also does not contain nearly as much as Gran Turismo. Honestly, do you really need any more than 230 cars to satisfy your gaming needs? After 300 it becomes almost a novelty rather than a crucial part of the gameplay. There are plenty of cars to collect, do not worry.

So you do not know a damn thing about cars, and think you are going to have trouble picking out cars based on how well you think they will drive? Fear not, the car purchase options are excellent. For those car terminology deficient, there are plenty of options that will assist you. So you do not have a clue what horsepower is? Well, you can navigate through the easy intuitive ratings system. Say it with me now: "It... has a 10 in cornering which means it turns... g-g... good... The other car has a 2, which means it is... b... bad." Very good. See? Not too hard, now is it? I could so much as say that menus and options for car selection are very intuitive, even for car-idiots such as myself. There is even a little search engine where you enter anything from the model, to the class, to even the weight of the car to find the right car for that certain race.

The unlockables are what will keep you coming back from more. Here is how it works: Forza works on a level system. As you earn more "credits" (cash), your level will advance. As you get to the higher levels, it will require you to earn even more credits for you to advance level. For example, it might take you 10,000 credits to advance to the next level earlier in the game, but it will take you nearly 10 to 15 times that much to advance to the next level later in the game. Fortunately, as you level up, you open up new events and races, and new cars. As you unlock new races, your earnings will increase, as well as the number of laps and skill required to complete the race.

Speaking of difficulty, if it is one thing that Forza can be commended for, it is that it really is a new-user-friendly game. To start off, there are plenty of options that will make Forza either easier or harder for the player. One such option is that for the newer, less skilled users, you have a line of arrows that guide you around corners, telling you when to let off the gas or to hit the break. This will help you get used to some of the tracks, and can be turned off at any time. There plenty of other options that can be turned on and off, such as the level of damage your car will take during the races, whether it be limited, letting you get away with more stuff, or more, making you watch how you race more carefully instead of being reckless. This all makes for a game that does not just throw you into the heat of the action and makes you adjust, but more lets you take baby steps into the world of Forza

The damage is something that the Gran Turismo series has never offered. I am here to say that it was implemented near perfectly in Forza. With damage on, I cannot get away with most of the stuff I could in Gran Turismo 4 such as crashing into cars, or using them as a wall to hit corners easier. You just cannot do this in this game. If you hit a car, two things might happen. If it is a very minor hit, you will not damage your car, but you will receive a time penalty for the lap. If you do hit the car too hard, you will damage the body of your car. What is the incentive to drive cleaner? Well, for one, if you wreck up your car too much, you will affect how the car drives, such as steering. Hit a wall at 100 miles per hour, and you can bet your butt that you will not be finishing the race in first place, maybe not at all. There is also a damage penalty that come out of your earnings to fix the car. This makes your driving skill improve over time, and makes you drive the "right" way.

Another important aspect of making Forza its own game instead of just a "GT4 clone" is that the cars have AI. One thing that was missing in Gran Turismo 4 was that the cars would just drive in a perfect line, never reacting to the way YOU drove, and just drove the way they were programmed to. Say good bye to that, and say hello to ruthless, back stabbing AI fueled cars. Forza offers some great AI. Not only will they spin out if they try to hit a corner to quickly, but they will also try to take you out, as well. I have seen where AI opponents would ram me in the back as I was taking a corner or tried to make me spin out. They are ruthless, and the difficulty can be adjusted to make the game even harder. There a few hiccups such as the AI breaking at odd moments, but none that make the game seem less challenging or make these the AI seem like a bunch of push overs.

All of these features can be altered to make the game even more difficult. The nice incentive to turning these features on or tweaking them is that the more difficult you make the game, the more earnings you will get. So you turn off the guide line (the line of arrows, as mentioned before), you get 15% more earnings at the end of each race. If you turn off more features, you might get 30%, and so on. So there is an incentive to turn off these features instead of just leaving them on.

So what about the controls? They vary. Just like in real life, different cars control different from each other (good concept). Some cars will handle like a dream, while others will handle like a nightmare that was directed by Ed Wood... Well, maybe not that bad, but still pretty bad. Going back to the ratings system offered by the car purchasing screen, you can find out how each car will handle based on the ratings it gets. Even if you "accidentally bought that cool looking car that actually drives like pure crap", you can still modify it so that it not only takes corners better, but also adds horsepower to the car, and maybe even adds to the rarity bonus.

"Rarity bonus, what is that?" One really cool thing about Forza is that you can make your cars super rare by either visual upgrades or engine upgrades. At the end of each race, not only will you get a difficulty bonus, but you will also get a rarity bonus that will increase as the car you drive becomes more "special". The rarer your car is, the higher the earnings you will get.

Speaking of visual upgrades, another neat thing about Forza is that you can make your car not only more powerful, but you can also make it look different, too. You can do everything from adding to the front end, right down to different decals that will make your car look like just another ad placement for different car parts. Change the car's color, the sky is the limit on how much you can modify the look of your car.

Are you worried that this game is just yet another racing sim where you beef up your car to the point where no other car can touch it? Fortunately, Forza adds a variety of different racing types so that the game just does not turn into a "upgrade your car to no end". There are a lot of class and model specific races where you will have to improve your driving skills in order to complete. Many races require that you use stock models with no upgrades, making it just you and your skills to win the race instead of the thousands of credits you threw into upgrading the car. These are some of my favorite races, because you are facing cars that are equally as fast as you are, so it is twice as satisfying when you complete the race 3 seconds ahead of them.

All in all, Forza offers some of the deepest, most complex racing in the market today. Like said, the best part is that you do not have to "adjust" to the game's difficulty, and you can build your skills as slow or fast as you want with all the tweaks you can add to difficulty. The game offers the same sense of collecting that its competitors such as Gran Turismo offer, but also adds to it with some great gameplay. I do not think it completely surpasses Gran Turismo, but damn, does it come close.

Replay Value: Do you even need to ask?

Well, just like any racing simulation like this, replay value is always high. You will spend countless hours (and I mean hours) trying to unlock all the events, and cars. You start off with nothing, one car in your garage, but 40 hours later, you are level 30, and you still have a whole mess load to unlock. If you get sick of the career mode, there is also an Arcade mode in which you can unlock different courses to race on.

If the collecting part of the game does not interest you, the leveling system will. You will have a constant incentive to keep leveling up and up to unlock that next event. Once you unlock the level 30 events, you will want to unlock the level 35 events. Then the level 40 events. The game has that "just one more level and I will turn it off" appeal, but I know the truth; You are an addict.

Forza offers an online capability that I am sad to say I have not been able to give much of a chance. The online mode offers racing clubs, as well as shops to buy customized cars that other Xbox Live users have made. Earn credits that you can use online and off through Xbox Live.

Rent or Buy

I do not think you can the whole "Forza Experience" with just a 5 day rental. This game will take you countless hours to unlock everything. There is definitely enough substance to warrant a purchase here. Plenty of gameplay, plenty of replay. Definite buy, if you are into games like Gran Turismo.

Closing Comments

If I were forced to choose between Forza and Gran Turismo, I would not be able to choose. This means a lot figuring I am a die hard GT fan. Like said, there has been a few GT games, but none have ever come this close to dethroning one of my favorite series as much as Forza. Forza Motorsport is an incredible experience, and is a near perfect way to kill a week, a month, maybe even a year. It is one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had with a racer, better yet, an Xbox game.

9/10

Rating: 9

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