Exclusive to Xbox One
Release date: September 15, 2015
Some sequels redefine a series or a genre, radically enhancing the graphics, deconstructing and reconstructing the gameplay, adding features so ingenious that all succeeding games have no choice but to copy them. These are the games that become landmark titles – the colossi on the gaming landscape. Forza Motorsport 6 is not one of those games.
No, Turn 10's latest is more of a consolidation, enhancing and improving on what was already great about Forza 5, making recompense for its biggest failings and adding in a few new features to maintain pace with the latest console racers. The worst thing you can say about it is that it’s a little predictable, with a huge selection of cars but a rather linear career mode and only a handful of genuinely new tracks. Luckily, the new features make a difference, what was great before is even better and the evils of Forza 5 are a thing of the past. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough to make Forza Motorsport 6 the strongest console sim-style racer of the moment.
Let’s start with the headline features. In a way, adding night-time driving and wet weather simulation is merely playing catch-up with Project Cars and DriveClub, yet it has to be said that both features are particularly well handled. While I’d say that DriveClub does a better job with subtle night-time lighting, headlight effects and visibility – Forza 6 makes the road ahead awfully dim at times – there’s a real tension here to driving at night that makes the track seems thinner, corners sharper and speeds more terrifying. You may come to dread night events, but you’ll enjoy them.
The same goes for rain. Again, DriveClub does a better droplets on the windscreen effort, but Forza 6 wins out on the nerve-wracking feel of driving ludicrously fast in wet conditions. Not only do you have to deal with less grip and hideously slippery rumble strips, ready to tug you off the tarmac if you hit them badly, but seemingly innocuous bits of track become sprawling puddles, just ready to make you aquaplane if you hit them at an angle at high speed. While neither time of day nor weather conditions are dynamic – they’re clearly baked into specific single-player events – they genuinely add something new to Forza 6, giving it a distinct edge over Forza 5.
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New courses? Well, after the weak selection in Forza 5, Forza 6 brings us back to a decent number. There are now 26 locales in total, adding Daytona, Lime Rock Park, Watkins Glen, Brands Hatch and Daytona for the first time, along with complete rebuilds of a few old favourites plus a new city course set in Rio de Janeiro. The last is an absolute standout, with the most detailed architecture, magnificent vistas and vibrant colour of any Forza track to date, not to mention some fantastic sweeping corners and beautifully scenic straights. It’s the first track you’ll see and it’s destined to become as iconic as the Bernese Alps track was for Forza 4 or Prague for Forza 5. Incidentally, both those tracks make a return appearance in Forza 6, each looking even more dazzling than ever.
In terms of handling, you’ll find some folks championing Gran Turismo and others cheering Project Cars, but to my mind Forza hits the perfect balance of authenticity and mass-audience playability. You can drop the driving aids and get a satisfyingly demanding sim-style racer or whack everything on and have a more arcade feel, while if you want something in-between, Forza makes it easier than Project Cars to get what you’re looking for. There’s grit, weight and momentum to contend with, and a tangible feeling for how each car’s mass is shifting as you corner and the tyres struggle to retain their grip. You’re not glued to the road, yet you’re never thrown around willy-nilly or left feeling that car and track have separated for no discernible reason. When you spin out or off, it’s usually because you’ve done something daft.
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And what a selection of cars Forza 6 provides to do something daft in. From boy racer hot hatches like the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST or a 2006 Honda Civic Type-R to affordable sports cars, executive models, track toys and supercars, Forza 6’s 460-strong line-up has just about everything covered. As if the 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe and Lexus RC F weren’t enough, there’s room for next year’s Mazda MX-5 and Ford Shelby GT350R plus the 2017 Ford GT. Bar Gran Turismo 6, you’ll struggle to find a car collection that competes.
Better still, the goodies aren’t held out of reach. As you probably remember, Forza 5 came in for a lot of stick over the way that high-end cars took serious time and effort to get hold of – unless you were prepared to cough up extra for a DLC pack. If anything, Forza 6 goes too far the other way, hurling new models at you so frequently that a vintage Ferrari or Lamborghini Aventador soon becomes just another motor in the garage. Even the credits pour in so rapidly that you rarely find yourself struggling to afford a competitive ride. The downside of this is that Forza 6 never gives you the feeling that you’ve earned the fabulous collection in your garage, but we’d rather Turn 10 erred on the side of over-generous than on the side of money-grabbing and stingy.
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Meanwhile, Turn 10 has fixed one of our other Forza 5 bugbears: the over-aggressive and unpredictable Drivatar AI. On paper, capturing a whole load of data about how players drive and using it to virtualise them for the offline, single-player game was a great idea. Not only do you avoid the rather monotonous, funeral procession AI that’s long been the downfall of Gran Turismo, but you end up racing against people you care about beating. However, Forza 5’s initial Drivatar AI only revealed that most players drove like total gits, transforming many races into side-smashing, rear-shunting bloodbaths.
Forza 6 seems to have worked the edges of. The AI still takes risks – and occasionally bad ones – and the initial lap can still feel like supercar dodgems, but the AI is rarely as mindless or aggressive as before. While we haven’t see the end of SUVs spinning sideways as you’re trying to corner or suspiciously speedy last-moment overtaking, you’ll generally find that the best Drivatars provide a real and exciting challenge, while the rest won’t get in the way while you’re trying to pass them. The Drivatar AI is also pretty customisable. If you find you’re zooming to first then winning easily, taking it up a notch will give you a more satisfying race. The opposite applies if you’re struggling and need an easier time. You can even turn off the more dangerous manoeuvres, taking side-swipes and shunts off the menu.
This is all good stuff, and Forza 6 delivers when it comes to thrilling, competitive high-speed racing, particularly when you move up to the track toys, supercars and hypercars. Everything runs beautifully at 1080p, 60fps, and the cumulative effect of the superbly-modelled cars, realistic surfaces and gorgeous lighting makes for a stunning-looking game. Sure, we can argue all day about what’s pre-baked and what’s real-time and dynamic, but if you have working eyeballs, you pretty much have to admit that Forza 6 looks amazing.
Still, we have to moan about something, and this time that comes down to two things. Firstly, Turn 10 has never been able to resist surrounding its racing with an awful lot of petrol-head pomp, and with Forza 6 it has gone overboard. If the overbearing tutorials and the score don’t get you then the endless cinematics and over-reverent voiceovers definitely will. The music might be spot-on for a Christopher Nolan movie where someone’s about to unravel the secrets of the universe while saving the world from destruction, but it’s a bit OTT for an Alfa Romeo doing a circuit around Brands Hatch. Meanwhile, something weird seems to have happened with the old Top Gear tie-in stuff, where the old track and the Stig challenges remain, along with Messrs May and Hammond (now credited as Automotive Journalists) but all traces of Clarkson have been surgically removed. We all know the reasons why, but it’s a shame that the stitches are still showing.
Secondly, the structure is a bit on the restrictive side, not to mention slightly dull. With Forza 5 we complained that Turn 10 had ditched the World Tour and gone for a category-based approach, but now we get a career structured around five volumes of ‘Stories of Motorsport’, each one comprising several series of events across a specific set of tracks. On the plus side, you’re free to choose which type of car you drive, so you can tackle one series with, say, executive sports cars or rugged SUVs, but that’s really where the choice ends. Still, the series are broken up by a stream of unlockable showcase events, often giving you a chance to preview the track toys and hypercars you’ll be driving later. These do enough to stop Forza 6 from becoming a grind.
Long-time fans might also note how much the business of buying, upgrading and customising cars has been shifted to the background. You can still buy new cars and upgrade them manually, picking parts from a bewildering selection, but the game actively encourages you to let it handle all that nasty garage stuff. Instead, there’s more emphasis on a new system of Mod cards, some playable once for a specific race, others applying until you remove them from your ‘hand’. These may give you boosts to grip, speed or handling, or may work as a challenge, giving you extra credits if you play from the cockpit view or without driving aids. In any case, they slightly spoil Forza 6’s sense of authenticity, and don’t really seem to add much to the game.
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There’s multiplayer, of course, with both asynchronous ghost car racing in the Rivals mode and live online racing through a series of lobbies. There are specific lobbies for different car classes, drag and drift racing and a tag/it-style game, though with servers mostly unpopulated before launch, we’ll have to come back with an update to cover the experience properly. We'll amend the review and score to reflect this when we do.
One day Turn 10 will match the sublime handling and magnificent visuals of Forza 5 and 6 with a perfected Drivatar AI and a structure worthy of holding it all together. That version of Forza might well be the best console sim-style racer ever made and a real landmark racing game. Right now, though, we’ll have to settle for the best sim-style racer out right now. Forza Motorsports 6 isn’t perfect or revolutionary, but it’s great all the same.
While too conservative to be an all-time racing classic, Forza 6 puts the driving franchise firmly back on track. The fantastic visuals, excellent handling and fearsome drivatar AI make for spectacular, satisfying racing, with a new dimension added by the night-time and wet weather events. Rivals have their strengths in authentic motorsports (Project Cars) and simple, exhilarating racing (DriveClub), but Forza is more consistent and delivers the most satisfying all-round racer.