Leaving the competition in its dust

Forza has become the Call of Duty of racing games. Every autumn for the past five years, a new entry in the franchise—counting the Horizon spin-offs—has been released. So, I was worried this year’s entry would simply be another mediocre improvement over the past couple of games, and that it might grow boring without the open-world gimmick or festival backdrop of Horizon. I was wrong. Just like how Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or any other annual franchise is sometimes able to overcome the limitations that inherently pop up from a 12-month release cycle and knock one out of the park, Forza Motorsport 6 similarly takes the series to new heights.

As soon as you start the game, you’ll be introduced to the first major change in Forza 6: its Career mode, which is broken up into two separate parts. The first is “Stories of Motorsport.” Here, Forza 6 takes it upon itself to explain how much racing touches our lives, while guiding us on a tour through the world’s greatest tracks and hottest automobiles. Beginning with street legal sports cars, Career moves through five separate volumes. In each, you’ll race through three different series comprised of four to six tracks before being allowed to advance to the next volume, which feature progressively more impressive and powerful cars.

A nice touch in helping to get the message across is the history you’re given of the cars you’re driving, why they appeal to people, and what to expect over the course of your circuit—all narrated by guest commentators ranging from Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and James May to winners of IndyCar or the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I came to look forward to the little tidbits of info each intro gave me before a race, like Watkins Glen holding the first pro race post-WWII in the US, or that the tower at Circuit of the Americas is 251-feet tall.

Stories is a great twist on Forza’s Career, and the loose narrative really helps pull you through the mode—especially when the same tracks start to repeat. For me, though, the real fun began with the second part of Career: the new Showcase events. Showcase events originally debuted in Horizon as special one-off races in ridiculous but fun scenarios where you’d race planes, trains, as well as automobiles.

In Forza 6, the Showcase events are actually 10 different series of themed challenges. Some, like those inspired by Top Gear, are more light-hearted, such as bowling with a Jaguar F-Type or racing against the “Digital Cousin” of the Stig. Others are more purely race driven, such as passing challenges or turning trials inspired by those you’d see at the Bondurant High Performance Driving school. There are even endurance challenges where you’re asked to go literally dozens of laps in one race. Similarly to Horizon’s showcases, each of these special challenges will put your skills to the test in ways that are anything but dull.

Forza 6 didn’t just focus on the single player when it came to changes, however. Multiplayer remains a big aspect of the game, and it starts by making the online experience a lot less intimidating for folks. While there will always be those in the online community who care more about crashing into other players than actual racing, Forza 6 is trying to help serious racers find better-quality races through a new online mode called Leagues.

Leagues run races over a period of time and will be broken down into a variety of car types. The more you race in a given league over the time period it’s open for, and the better you place, the more likely you are to win the league and get a nice payout of credits. The main difference between Leagues and traditional multiplayer is that everyone in these league races are ghosts. You are still racing live players, but the fear of an untimely collision costing you a pedestal position is gone. Leagues offer players a chance to still play other like-minded racing fans, but the competition falls squarely on how well you can or cannot drive, without affecting anyone else around you.

This is a brilliant move for Forza, and should only help the competition aspects of its online features. Leagues also shouldn’t affect the traditional multiplayer audience too much, as they’re locked into certain car types when created. Traditional multiplayer, meanwhile, will let you customize each individual race on the fly, still giving players a sense of freedom—even if all they want to do is see a BMW M3 T-bone a Corvette.

These changes to single- and multiplayer should add a lot of replayability to the game. But, they’re only one part of what makes this a great racing package. Forza 6 continues the series’ legacy of great driving physics and gorgeous graphics. Plus, the game is launching with 460 cars and 26 tracks on disc, far more than were available at release for Forza 5. Each race can now support 24 cars both in online and offline modes, making for some epic 24-player multiplayer League sessions—which I tested and saw working without any issue whatsoever. Of course, this was a week prior to the launch of Forza 6, so it’ll be interesting to see if everything holds up on day one.

The most impressive part about the gameplay now, though, has to be the night and rain aspects. Although both were introduced in Horizon 2, they’ve been revamped for Forza 6 in ways to make each track that supports them feel completely different in those variants. Puddles now accumulate on asphalt, forcing you to brave plowing through them or altering your course to steer clear, as hydroplaning is a legitimate concern. The gleam of headlights in your rearview mirror at night can become a distraction, with light sources acting dynamically in ways we’ve never seen from a racing game before. And different surfaces will react in distinctive ways to each one, as dirt becomes muddy in the rain, and track barriers may throw off unexpected glare depending on what angle your headlights catch them at. For those tracks where these new options are available, driving in the rain or at night keeps the experience feeling fresh, and makes each track variation feel like an entirely brand new course.

Not every track supports rain or night, however—and since many tracks are being carried over from Forza 5, you’re likely to get an unwelcome case of déjà vu with courses like Laguna Seca that remain entirely the same. Sure, some such as Rio have reverse versions, and it’s more realistic since not every track will run at night or in the rain, but it would’ve been nice to pull back on the sim a little and give every track at least one of those variations.

Speaking of toning down the sim, also returning is the bevy of assist options to help customize your racing experience, boosted with two major additions. First, you can now adjust Drivatar AI when racing offline. This means that if you don’t feel like facing particularly aggressive drivers, you can now dumb down the Drivatars so you have a more civil racing event.

The other major addition comes in the forms of Mods, which can be purchased as packs in the same way as you would new cars. Some Mods make the race more difficult, like lowering a car’s stats but rewarding you with more credits and XP at the end of a race. Others give cars boosts to stats or improve payouts. How you utilize them is up to you, and depends on what experience you’re looking for.

And while on the subject of credits, the final major change we see in Forza 6 this go around is with the game’s economy. There are no microtransactions at launch; whether or not this means they’ll be added later is another story, but at the very least, everything you get on day one is earnable in Forza 6. And with the Horizon 2 prize spinner coming over—now with a Press Your Luck game show flair instead of a slot machine motif—it’s easier than ever to earn credits, with huge bonuses coming your way when you level up both your driver and your car affinity. Admittedly, it still takes some time to grind for those really expensive, seven-digit price tag cars like a Bugatti Veyron or a Chevy IndyCar, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was in previous games.

By taking and improving on elements from the Horizon games, re-vitalizing the Career mode, introducing new modes like Leagues, and adding night and rain to the gameplay, Forza Motorsport 6 is without a doubt the best game the series has seen yet. If the franchise continues to grow and change at this rate, then it’ll be a welcome sight on the annual list of autumn game releases for years to come. For this season, though, Forza 6 is a must-play for all racing game fans.

Developer: Turn 10 Studios • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.15.15
9.5
Forza Motorsport 6 is a welcome shot in the arm for the series. Easily the best entry the franchise has produced, Forza 6 introduces tons of new online and offline gameplay that should make players want to stay in the driver’s seat for as long as possible this fall.
The Good Rain and night provide enough variation and new challenge to forget about the repetition in tracks. Superb graphics and physics.
The Bad Can still feel like a bit of a grind when saving up for the most expensive cars.
The Ugly Having someone other than a member of the Top Gear team introduce The Stig.
Forza Motorsport 6 is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.
Advertisements