We should point out that at the point of writing this review we're the only multiformat website to review Forza Motorsport, one of the most anticipated Xbox racing games ever. With Brendan giving a modest 7.5 to Gran Turismo 4 last month there is a chance for Forza Motorsport to take first place (Has everyone forgotten Project Gotham Racing 2? Who cares if it's arcadey? - Ed.).
After intially being scheduled to be out last year, we're finally treated to Forza Motorsport nearly half way through 2005. Our early impressions of the game were not very impressive, with the game lacking polish and sense of speed. However, six months down the track PALGN has got a copy of the final code that Xbox gamers will be rushing to buy next week. So, has Gran Turismo 4 been dethroned? Is this the beginning of a championship franchise, or is Forza another Gran Turismo clone that ultimately fails?
Forza Motorsport was unveiled last year at E3 and is developed by Microsoft. The last flagship racing by Microsoft was Project Gotham Racing 2 which was released in November, 2003. It has been a long wait, but finally Xbox owners have their own simulation game. While Project Gotham Racing 2 is more of an arcade game, Forza Motorsport is leans towards sim territory.
There are five modes in Forza Motorsport which are selectable from the beginning. These include arcade, multiplayer, time trial, free run and the huge career mode. The arcade mode is a simple quick fix mode, where you can choose a track and a car and you're on your way. There are some really powerful cars available from the outset, but winning races will unlock other cars and tracks, including the famour Nurburgring and even a track based on the Blue Mountains.
The multiplayer modes are pretty self explanatory, but gamers can play split screen, or Forza Motorsport even supports system link. Being a Microsoft developed game, it should come as no shock that the game is Xbox Live compatible. Microsoft haven't spared on the Xbox Live features, and so scoreboards and all kinds of racing types are selectable straight away. Just like Project Gotham Racing 2, Forza Motorsport is brilliant fun in multiplayer. Xbox Live testing is tough at the moment due to there being no players, but we can't wait to try it out. The time trial mode is just a novel inclusion that might not be ever visited, and the free run option is good for a quick, no pressure race. However, the true highlight of the game is really the career mode.
PALGN is willing to bet that gamers will spend 90% of their single player time in the career mode. Upon launching the career mode, players are asked to select their home region, out of Asia, Europe and North America. The home region affects the availability, starting cost and rarity of the cars in your career. In Europe, for example, players start with 23,000 credits and a list of six possible cars to purchase, such as the Audi TT Coupe 3.2 quattro.
There is no world map in the career menu and races can feel a little linear, as all options are selected from a career menu. The garade in career mode is really extensive, with upgrades able to be purchased, as well as trivial items, such as decals. All of the options in the game are broken down into small menus which can sometimes become a bit fiddly.
When we first loaded up the career mode, we thought it only featured six races, but, upon further inspection, there are over fifty events to race in. Each level of racing needs to be unlocked, which can make the game feel a bit restrictive. Winning races will unlock more credits, which can then be used to purchase over 230 cars from 60 manufacturers throughout career mode - more than enough.
One of the unique features of Forza Motorsport is the drivatar technology. This option allows you to train your AI drivatars to use the same driving techniques you do, so they race for you in competition. It is a very similar concept to Gran Turismo 4's B-Spec mode, except better thanks to better strategy and actually entertaining gameplay.
So, how is the game play? Well, we're pleased to report that it is greatly improved on the code we saw six months ago. The game really does feel fast and realistic. One of the big differences between Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo 4 is that Forza Motorsport actually features a damage model. After the hype regarding the damage model, we really did expect it to be a bit better. The damage is very similar to Project Gotham Racing 2, except the damage does affect the cars a lot more realistically. We would have loved to have seen bonnets and tires flying off after a head-on collision, but we might have to go play V8 Supercars 2 for that entertainment.
One of the unique features of Forza Motorsport is the completely adjustable difficulty level. By adjusting certain settings such as damage, anti lock braking and AI difficulty, players can win or lose more credits in races. This is a really simple concept to grasp, that works really well by rewarding the more skilled players, without making the beginners feel alienated.
Forza Motorsport really does feel like a simulation game, the deveopers have done a brilliant job in making every car feel individual and authentic. We are really surprised how far the game has come since our initial impressions six months ago.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Forza Motorsport and some of the hype has been about the graphics. Unfortunately the game isn't as graphically brilliant as we had hoped. That is not to say that the game doesn't look good, it is still one of the better looking racing games on the Xbox. The lighting is really well detailed and the tracks are very extensive. A lot of attention has been paid to the main stars of the show -the cars, obviously - and they look really lifelike, with shadows of passing buildings are viewable from the side of the car. The attention to detail really is incredible.
We've always gone on about how Microsoft should take advantage of the custom soundtrack feature of the Xbox, and it seems like they have finally taken note, incorporating custom soundtrack support in the game. The default music is really good as well with a rock theme, which is rather appropriate. Microsoft have worked well to ensure the game sounds just as authentic as it feels and all the engine noises sound great.
Forza Motorsport is a game that will last a ridiculously long amount of time. We personally shudder to think of how long it would take to complete the entire game, it would take at least fifty hours and this isn't including the Xbox Live features. The career mode is extremely long and purchasing all 231 cars would take a forever.
Forza Motorsport manages to succeed in doing what other games have tried to do for years - to beat Gran Turismo at its own game. However, the game still has a few flaws which could have bumped it up to a score of 9 or even 10. The menus are awfully fiddly, and feel much more linear than they should. There is also no rally mode and the game pyschics do take a while to get used too.
Also, in comparison to Gran Turismo 4 there are not as many tracks or cars, but the game still has the potential to last a really long time. The damage is a bit of a disappointment and we would have liked to have seen more, but it is better than none.
The multiplayer modes are brilliant and really add to the game - playing online should be a dream and the game play is very addictive once the game gets going. Regardless of whether or not you were disappointed by GT4, if you like racing games, then pick this up.