As quite a ‘seasoned’ gamer, there are a few franchises that have a special place in my heart. The Halo series will always be my first love. It is what introduced me to both the Xbox platform and sold me on Xbox Live. Gears of War is the first (and, so far, only) franchise that I have ever played competitively so it will always have a special place in my heart. However, the franchise that I have put the most time into this generation and that I look forward to, probably more than any other, is the Forza games. Despite playing a huge variety of games, I have put more than 450 hours into Forza games on Xbox One. I have over 130 hours invested into Forza Motorsport 7 alone. I adore the franchise and love the variety of the Motorsport and Horizon entries.
History of Forza
I remember being a little dubious when Microsoft announced the original Forza Motorsport game for the first Xbox. It was clearly just a way to counter Sony’s Gran Turismo series. Xbox already had the superb Project Gotham Racing series, so why did it need another racing franchise? When the game came out, I understood how different it was from PGR and also that Microsoft and Turn 10 weren’t playing around. This first game in the series received critical acclaim and solid sales. It came out the same year as Gran Turismo 4 and actually has a higher Metacritic score than its more famous competitor. It was on the Xbox 360 that Forza cemented its place as one of the heavy hitters in the world of racing games. Forza Motorsport 2-4 all improved on their predecessor both in terms of visuals, gameplay, and community engagement. Microsoft then tried to shake up the formula a little by introducing Forza Horizon. A more arcade racer than the hardcore simulation racer that the Motorsport games were, Horizon brought more fans to the franchise. On Xbox One, Forza has cemented itself as the premier racing game franchise. Forza Motorsport 5-7 and Forza Horizon 2-3 (with the fourth entry arriving later this year) have all received glowing reviews and maintain a fiercely loyal player-base.
So, what is it about Forza that sets itself apart from the competition?
The thing that was always spouted by Gran Turismo fans was that it had the most realistic handling model around. While I would probably argue that the award for most realistic handling model in a racer actually goes to Project CARS, I think the best handling model belongs to Forza. The physics are flawless, allowing you great and consistent control of your vehicle. The way you can transfer the weight of the vehicle to aid cornering is done so well. You also have to admire how they have nailed the feel of different vehicles. While any racing game worth their salt can make a muscle car feel differently to an SUV or a hypercar, Forza manages to make each car in a similar category feel like its own thing. They have also managed to maintain this across two very different type of racing games. The Motorsport games still have their simulation style handling. The way they have tweaked it for Horizon to be more accessible but still have that Forza feel is nothing short of miraculous.
I would go as far as saying that not only are the Forza games among the best-looking games around, but I would argue that Forza Motorsport 7 is the most visually impressive console game ever. The 4K presentation running at a super smooth 60 frames per second is nothing short of incredible. The HDR visuals just place a dollop of luscious buttercream and a perfect cherry on top of an already superb cake. The realistic look of the sky is nothing short of witchcraft. I have often played the game without any sort of HUD just so that I can admire how good the game looks and to truly get lost in the majesty of its visuals. The puddles on the ground appear so spot on that you can almost feel the spray as you drive through them. Turn 10 have really outdone themselves in creating such a beautiful game.
The AI opponents in a racer can really make or break a game. Most games have such uniform AI through their AI opponents that you end up with a perfect line of cars doing exactly the same thing. There’s very little variation or character displayed by any of them. The Forza Drivatar system is pure genius. It takes note of how you drive your car and then puts that into other people’s games. This means that in your game you are racing approximations of how other people on your friends list (as well as a few random others) drive. This means you get a lot more of a realistic racing experience. Some cars make mistakes, driving off track etc. Others take slightly different lines around the circuit. It’s a much more natural racing experience and helps to sell the realism of each event.
Turn 10 Studios have taken the Forza franchise to the pole position of the racing games genre. After bursting onto the scene in 2005 they have refined, perfected, improved, and continually innovated to make Forza what it is today. The physics are great. The visuals can be genuinely jaw-dropping. The racing is exciting and exhilarating. With the addition of the Horizon series to the mix, they have added a more accessible way to enjoy the franchise. This is an intellectual property that has been handled really sensibly and been allowed to grow into the behemoth that it now is. Halo and Gears of War may be the superstars of the Xbox platform, but Forza is just as valuable a jewel in Microsoft’s crown. We salute you Forza and look forward to many more games, years, and hours of playing the king of racing games.
What’s your favourite entry in the Forza franchise? Is there a racing series that you prefer? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.