When it comes to driving sims on consoles, there’s only ever really the one option: Gran Turismo if you own a PlayStation, or Forza if you own an Xbox.
Well, that was at least until cross-platform Project Cars entered the fray, which is currently the only serious racing game on PlayStation 4. On Xbox One however, Forza still reigns supreme, and whilst development on the next Gran Turismo continues at its snail’s pace, lumbering towards the finish line like a sloth on Diazepam, the Xbox One’s second mainline Forza title, Forza 6, is here to steal “The Real Driving Simulator” crown. The good news is it quite possibly does, but only if you’re willing to put in the effort to make it so.
Adopting some of the more arcade-like traits from its open world brother Forza Horizon, whilst also introducing a few of its own, Forza 6 blurs the line between racing sim and arcade circuit racer like never before. In a way, this hurts the game; no doubt many long-term fans will be here for the dreamy collection of cars, bounteous assortment of detailed tracks and thoroughly refined driving model, viewing all the added bells and whistles included to “modify” the gameplay and reward the player for levelling up as unnecessary fluff. For the more casual gamer however, these will be welcome additions that make the game more exciting, and ultimately, more enjoyable.
So, what are these new additions? Firstly, Forza 6 incorporates the prize spin system from Forza Horizon 2, meaning that upon each level up and completion of a volume of events you get to stop a light on a board of prizes in order to win a reward. You can win anywhere between 10,000 credits to a supercar worth in excess of 1 million on these boards straight from your first level up, meaning that the chances are it won’t take long before you’ve built up a nice pile of cash or a garage containing a few highly desirable vehicles. The second major addition is the introduction of mods which come in three varieties, and equipping one of each enables you to change various gameplay elements. There are crew mods which improve your car’s performance in various ways, dare mods which adversely affect your car or force you to use a specific camera angle but award a bonus to your race winnings, and finally boost mods, which can only be used once but are able to provide a multitude of effects that boost your winnings, experience or car’s general performance. You don’t have to use the prize spin or mod system – they are not intrinsically linked to your progress in any way, bar some achievements requiring specific dare mods to be in use – but it’ll be hard not to be tempted by them thanks to the bonuses they provide.
Whilst the inclusion of the prize spin and the mods system may split the opinion of Forza fans, there’s one inclusion that I’m sure we’ll all agree is great: rain. For the first time, Forza allows you to race in the rain, and unlike most other games it’s not just for show either. The rain greatly affects how the vehicles behave, requiring you to rethink your approach to driving, especially when you are faced with puddles littering the road. In fact, the first time you race in the rain is quite revelatory when you hit a puddle at speed and then lose control of your car due to aquaplaning. To a lesser extent it’s also nice that night-time racing is also included, creating some tense races where your utmost level of concentration is required. However, there is one caveat to both the rain and night effects, which is that they are not available on all tracks. Disappointing maybe, but at least there are a sample of tracks here that offer these invaluable effects, and hopefully they’ll be available on all tracks in future instalments.
When you get past the bold new additions to the game, you find that this is the same trusty Forza of old; an accomplished racing game that offers a wide range of options, enabling you to tailor the experience to your own needs. Want to play it like a racing sim? Ignore the mods, turn the assists off, set the handling on simulation and crank up the AI. Just want to have fun? Leave the assists on, turn off the realistic damage and crank up the mods. It truly is up to you. The Drivatars are a bit of a pain no matter how you want to play it though: when they aren’t ramming you or slowing down way too much for corners, they’ll either be making silly mistakes or speeding off into the distance like they have nitrous. Granted, they’re based on other players’ racing habits, but sometimes they just make the racing feel a bit messy.
Like all Forza games before it, Forza 6 is not light on things to do. You’ve got the obligatory career mode, showcase events, online multiplayer, leagues, free mode and also a time trials-like rivals mode. Unfortunately, what many people may consider to be the “meat” of the game – the career mode – is a little disappointing.
Split into five volumes, each featuring three groups of events, the career mode just feels a little too restrictive, pointless, and unnecessarily dull. For me, the joy of a Forza career is building a bustling garage of cars, tuning them as necessary to enter events, and then using the winnings earned to think about my next car project. Forza 6, with its prize spin system handing out prizes with reckless abandon, means you rarely need to buy any new cars. Even worse, if you do need to buy any cars for an event, buying them from an event entry screen automatically tunes them up to the required performance level. Whilst some may like this streamlining, I found it detracted from the game, and trying to circumvent the issue by buying a car fit for a series outside of the career menu is more work than it should be, requiring you to remember which cars are viable and the power limit you need to adhere to. Besides that though, the career just doesn’t offer anything worthwhile other than a collection of humdrum races where you need to come third or better to proceed – there are no championships to enter, or races you actually need to win – and after a while it begins to feel a little stale.
Luckily, the lacklustre career mode doesn’t hurt the package too much, thanks to the other modes available being very solid indeed. The showcase events for example, offer an interesting selection of race scenarios such as passing challenges, one make races and one-on-one showdowns with The Stig, whist the rivals mode enables you to take on other racers’ times from around the world on all the available tracks, forcing you to fine tune your car to the Nth degree if you want to emerge victorious. If you want to set up a race to your own specifications offline, you can do that in free mode, but if you want real competition, you can take the game online and find an appropriate lobby. There really is something here for everyone, and as you earn experience and money for racing in all modes, you’re always making progress and a nice big pile of cash.
Overall, Forza 6 is currently the best racing game available on Xbox One, warts and all. Running at 1080p with noticeably improved visuals over Forza 5, all the while maintaining a solid 60fps, the actual racing is smooth, responsive and engaging, just like it should be. Yes, the career mode should have been better, and the Drivatars are often a cause for concern, but they’re a blip on an otherwise exceptional package. Forza 6 offers a staggering amount of beautifully created cars and tracks for you to do with as you please, and you’ll be hard pushed to not find a mode here that is able to devour a great deal of your time, whether you’re a hardcore racer or not.