For the longest time, the best racing simulation on the consoles has been Gran Turismo. I played the first, the second, and the third. I loved them all. I was excited to hear Gran Turismo 4 was coming… until last fall. I was at the Penny Arcade Expo, watching a kid play some random Xbox racing sim at the Microsoft Game Studios booth. It looked good, no doubt about it. The thing that caught my eye though was that his bumper was damaged and dangling from the back of his car. Damage had never been in Gran Turismo, and I loved this aspect in other racing games. The name of that racing sim was Forza. I went home after that and looked over the information available for it. On paper, it seemed to be everything I loved in Gran Turismo, plus a lot more. I played a demo of it at a local Gamestop. It must have impressed me enough, I bought an Xbox the day Forza shipped.
It doesn’t take long to realize the basic gameplay is almost identical to Gran Turismo. You have various events that require certain cars. You have many upgrades and options for tuning the cars to maximize their potential in these races. The similarity ends here though. In order to play future races in Gran Turismo, you were required to beat certain races to acquire a bigger license rating, but not in Forza. Instead your driver gets experience based on how much earnings he wins in a race, and future events are unlocked at higher levels. For instance, there are several races that require your driver to be level 10.
The first thing you do when you first play Forza is make a couple choices. In the beginning you must choose a home region(North America, Asia, Europe), which will dictate the prices and availability of cars and parts. This choice brings you to your next choice, which is deciding on your very first car. You have a little over $20,000, just enough to buy any starter car. Some of the starter cars are pretty bad, but some are actually pretty good. I chose Europe and could get an Audi TT. It’s no supercar, but at least it’s not a slow hatchback. They explain in the manual that some cars will be common everywhere, and thus will be cheap everywhere. Some cars are only common in certain regions, so they will be cheaper in that region and normal price everywhere else. Some cars are rare in all regions, and thus are more expensive than other cars. Along with other statistics of your car, you have a rarity rating. This rating improves when you get upgrades for the car. Your earnings at the end of each race also improves due to a bonus based on how rare your car is. You have to spend money to make money after all.
There is a highly adjustable difficulty system. The harder you make the game, the more earnings you will receive in each race. You may need to adjust settings for a balance of difficulty. For example, you can turn off the stability assistance to net a 10% increase in earnings, while taking off fuel/tire pit stops in endurance races for a net loss of 25% earnings. The better you get, the more challenging you may want to make it so that you can get that cash faster.
The usual tuning upgrades we have come to expect are in Forza, plus a lot more in the visual department. There are complete body kits to purchase, various spoilers that affect down force differently, window tint, wheels, and more. There is also the best editor ever in any racing sim for customizing your paint and creating decals. In Need For Speed: Underground you can customize about 4 layers on your car. Comparatively, in Forza you have 600 layers to work with.
If you choose to turn on simulation damage you’ll experience a whole new racing game. If you hit a wall head on, you may your headlights shattered or your bumper barely hanging on — depending on how hard you hit the wall. Smash in one of your fenders and your car might want to turn right all the time. You’ll also take a hit to your earnings at the end, as the repair bill is taken right out of whatever credits you may have earned.
Something Gran Turismo has always been lacking is multiplayer. In Forza, the developers went all out on it. You can race online via Xbox Live for credits that you can use in your single player career. The best part of playing Forza online is probably the ability to swap parts and cars with other people. This can be a cheaper way to get parts for your car or a way to get more money for a car you want to sell. The ELO ranking system is used to determine who races who online, so you never have to worry about being put up against much better race drivers. It takes in account many variables to determine who you should drive against, such as how much a win or lose could help or hurt you.
All is not perfect, there are a couple quirks with the game. Sometimes it seems I am touching another car even when I can see we aren’t touching. That is made worse by how badly this affects your driving. Barely touching another car or a wall seems to just spin your car out of control, something I’ve never seen happen so drastically in a race before. In a game like this, losing control means you lose the race. This has been a huge frustration for me. Another big frustration is, I never have enough money! I have to redo races I’ve already beaten just to make enough money to get a couple upgrades that might be enough for another car to win a race I haven’t done yet. Due to restrictions on races, I have to find some way to spread out $4000 in earnings across 5 cars, when a single part could cost more than that. I think higher earnings per race could help.
Is Forza a winner? Definitely. I think any Xbox user should grab this game if they haven’t already. It’s few frustrations are greatly outweighed by the reward of hours of fun gameplay.
RATING: 5 out of 5
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