Forza Motorsport was developed and published by Microsoft Game Studios. After a long development period and several delays, the game is finally on the shelves. and boy was it worth the wait.
Forza Motorsport is a racing simulator. For those who don't know, it isn't an arcade racer (though there are arcade-y elements) so you won't win points for slides or tricks. And there are no pedestrians to maim while avoiding police. This is a racing sim for those who like racing on tracks.
Forza Motorsport starts off with the player choosing the nationality of car manufacturer. This will be the country of origin for the duration of the game and parts and cars from that region are cheapest. You aren't limited to cars from that region, but others will be more expensive. In addition, cars won in races will be of that national origin.
Forza Motorsport has a whopping 250 cars to choose from, most of them requiring the player to unlock them by winning races and circuits. Additionally, cars can be bought or sold providing the player a never-ending choice of automobiles to drive.
The difficulty of Forza Motorsport starts off easy. The first few races are simple and the payoff is big. This allows you to get money (credit) quickly so you can start tweaking and upgrading right away. Cool. But as the game progresses, so does the difficulty and to win, you'll need to really fine-tune your car. You can tweak settings such as gearing ratio, but also buy upgrades from different spoilers to exhaust systems to turbo blah blah blah. For the non-car folk like me, it tells you what each upgrade will do for your acceleration, speed, and horsepower as well as the overall rarity of the car. But throwing upgrades on without care can result in you overpowering your car from a strong D class to a weak C class. This is where the tweakers will be in hog heaven. The challenge is to eek out every last little drop of power and still remain in the class you want. And then go on Live and brag about it.
The control scheme should be familiar to anyone used to playing racers. The triggers are stop and go. And the buttons are shift, e-brake and reverse. Pretty basic stuff.
The credits system of Forza Motorsport is particularly well-done. Setting different difficulties and using driving aids such as ABS will result in fewer awards at the end of the race. Additionally, there is a green optimal line of arrows that tells the player where to drive. But it doesn't stop there: it turns red if the player is going too fast to make the turn. Turning this line off will give the player more credits for winning the race. There are several other settings which make the game accessible to newbies such as ABS and traction control. Luckily these can all be turned off for the enjoyment of the gearheads. The big hit to your credits will be the damage your car takes in the race. Come out clean and you won't be deducted credits for repairs. Hit the wall a few times and you'll pay in the end.
Of note is Forza Motorsport's excellent physics engine. Much care was taken to get the physics absolutely right. And you can definitely feel it on the road. This goes hand-hand with the tweaking and upgrading. The player can adjust every little thing in the game from differentials to brake pads to spoilers. I'm not a car person, so the fact that all of these things were clearly explained was a huge benefit. I may not know what it means to redo the gear ratios, but I do know what better acceleration and top speed are. Kudos to the team for not making me feel like an idiot.
Once tweaked, you can perform a test drive to see if your changes made a difference. And usually individual changes are subtle, but when layered, they make a huge difference in the performance of your car. Gearheads will be in heaven.
Along with the roughly 250 cars, there are dozens of tracks ranging from real-life race courses to imaginary ones set in fun places such as New York. There are multiple lap races and point-to-point. As the player advances, the sim gets more realistic and actually has you race in exhibitions with 20 laps. This is where your drivatar comes in handy. For the sacrifice of winning much less credits, you can train a drivatar to race for you. This may seem like cheating, but it isn't because the drivatar is only as good as you are. It learns how you handle corners, etc and drives accordingly.
The AI in the game is rather good. As you advance, so do the skill levels of your opponents. In the end when driving Formula 1 cars, they even have the ability to get behind you and use your drag to slingshot around you. You won't find crash-em-up AI in this game. Instead, they take careful pains not to smash into you. Of course, if you hit them too many times or get in their way, they will nudge or rear-end you. But like in real racing, crashing your car is a zero sum game. No one wins the race while smashed into the exhaust pipe of another car, so they've programmed the AI to drive smart and avoid all-out collisions. They have a maddening way of hitting you just right on your rear wheels to send you spinning into a railing without doing any damage to themselves. But that's what you get for trying to block them in!
The graphics of Forza Motorsport are fantastic. If you thought eh cars in Gotham were good, the cars in Forza Motorsport are even better. While still not able to completely destroy a car, putting the settings on Simulation damage will bang it up pretty good as well as make driving it more difficult. Lightly scrape it across a barrier and only light scratches appear. the textures are detailed and sharp.
As well, the tracks are beautifully done from the trees to the pylons that go flying as I hit them. The spectators move and cheer and the buildings are rich and detailed. There is no pop-in and the frame rate never lags. In all, the graphics are gorgeous, something I would expect from a next-gen console. And the sense of speed! Hop in a formula 1 car and cruise through Pacific Shipyard at top speed and I guarantee you'll be sweating from the rush at the end - assuming you make it!
Of note is the ability to not only tweak the physics of the car, but also the appearance. There is a custom body paint shop with a full spectrum of colors and dozens of decals that can be placed anywhere. Believe it or not, each car can have up to 100 layers of decals. There are an infinite number of customizations you can do and all of them are supported over Live. Amazing.
Obviously much care was taken in getting the cars sounds correct. Each car has a distinct sound and rev of the engines. It seems that no sounds were ever re-used. From the squeal of the engines to the smashing of the pylons to the tires on the different road materials, the audio production is top notch.
The music of Forza Motorsport is typical racing stuff. Fast beats and heavy guitars abound. If this isn't your cup of tea, then take advantage of the support for custom soundtracks. Burn your own CD's to the Xbox and you can select the playlist in the settings.
Ah yes, the icing on the cake. Forza Motorsport has tremendous support for Live play. When you first sign in to a race, you'll see the leader boards showing the top 5 players for that track in that car class. If you place in the top 5, your ghost and gamertag will automagically upload. You can choose to race other ghosts or play people live.
Additionally, Forza Motorsport supports Live 3.0 features including clans, renamed Car clubs. This allows you to race against other clans, share credits, trade, etc. Rumor has it that you'll be able to sell cars online to other players. I did not see this feature at the time of writing. We'll have to see once there are more people with the game.
As an aside, Microsoft has implemented a great way to thwart griefers. If some jerk decides to turn around and go the wrong way to smash into everyone head-on, he will turn into a ghost and other players can fly right through him. Yes!
Live is where Forza Motorsport really shines. Buy it for the customization and the campaign. But the multiplayer will give it legs.
Parents Should know...
Forza Motorsport is rated E for Everyone by the ESRB and that rating is well deserved. There is obviously no sex or language and there is no way to destroy a car. Safe for drivers of all ages, licensed or not.
Forza Motorsport is a must-own for fans of racing games. Be prepared for hard-core tweaking and modifying, but don't be scared off if you're not a gearhead. Readily accessible for all types of players.
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