Review: Forza Motorsport (Microsoft Xbox)

Forza Motorsport
Developer: Microsoft Games Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 05/03/05

So yeah…this is a bit late isn’t it? Well, funny story. Microsoft sent the game to my name, but to Chris Pankonin’s address in Kansas. Chris was the old head of games who works for Huskervision now down there. And Chris got the game, told me it arrived, and promptly didn’t send it until about a week or two ago. Widro got it and sent it last week, and it arrived to my house on the evening of June 8th.

Now I do need to point something out. I’m not a racing gamer. If you ask me for racing games I like, I will say Pole Position. I will say Outrun. I will say Drag Strip by Activision on the Atari 2600. I will say the last good game I played in this genre was Need for Speed 2, where you could unlock a dinosaur or a school bus and send it hurtling to its demise off an Eurasian mountain. I will say Lucky and Wild in terms of arcade games. But that is about it. I do not like driving. I do not enjoy it at all. Maybe it is because I have lived in the four worst places on earth to drive: Philadelphia (where I spent too much time on the NJ turnpike and in NYC). Portland, where people seem to have forgotten what turn signals are and drive at 10 mph under the speed limit even on a nice day. London, where the average speed is 15pmh and thank bloody Christ they are looking at a pay per mile plan in England right now. And of course Minneapolis, which is filled with by far the worst drivers I have ever seen.

So needless to say, the driving genre of video games is one of my least favorite, right up there with Football (except Tecmo Bowl. Holy crap is that game awesome!) and First Person Shooters. Yuck to all three. So if I get one whiny email from some yahoo living his mommy’s basement who fritters away their free time on message boards and writes something like, “OMGWTF! Why R U reviewing this game! You know nothing about this genre. Fuck off and die choad!”, that person gets immortalized in with the Inside Pulse, “Will never see a vagina outside of porn” award. Because guess what? Microsoft asked ME to review this game. Not YOU. ME. If they are going to send me the game, then I have to review it. So either deal with the fact M$ asked a person who doesn’t like the genre to review it, or go back to debating what Final Fantasy characters you are going to make slash fan fic over next. I will freely admit this is not a genre I am an expert in and have no problems doing that. As well, this is one guy’s opinion. If I disagree with you, the world will not end. Cats will not sleep with dogs. Hamburgers will not eat people. Life goes on and no one should blood a blood vessel because someone doesn’t share the exact thought process you have.

That being said, I loathe platformers, and Psychonauts got an 8.0 out of me, so maybe you’ll just have to read on to see what I thought of the game, eh?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Forza Motorsport has 4 modes to speak of. First up is Arcade Mode. Arcade Mode is all about unlocking new cars and race tracks. In order to do this, you must get first to third place in each series of race tracks. There are only 8 cars on the track at time, so it sounds easier than it really is.

There are only three tracks unlocked at first, and about 70-75% of the cars as well. The rest you have to earn. I think it’s silly to have all three of the first tracks unlocked but none of the others. It would seem to make more sense to have the beginning of each set unlocked.

As well, I think it’s really dumb to have the only way you can unlock things is by getting in the top third of every race in the game. Maybe it’s from years of playing other games, but why not having something unlocked for doing a track so many times. Or logging so much time on the game. Or even a purchase program like F-Zero GX or Capcom vs. SNK for the Dreamcast had?

The second mode is Career Mode, and this was my favorite of the modes. You pick a region and this determines your entry level cards and the cost. You also have to amass a collection of cars as some races are determined by types, weight, power, etc. You can buy parts, form relationships with dealers and mechanics and manufacturers, and so on. It’s rather like a game of risk, but with cars, and no one dying via global warfare.

The third mode is Multiplayer, where you can have two people play via a split screen or you can throw a lan party with EIGHT Xbox’s connected. You can also play via Xbox live.

The Fourth Mode is Time Trial Mode. Time Trials are simply an attempt to run one lap with a specific car. The object is simply to get the best time you can. ‘Nuff Said.

Finally, we have Free Run. Free Run can be broken down into three sub-sections. You have Hot Lap (race around a track as often as you want with whatever you want), Autocross (Cones relays), and Point to Point (race from one point to another ala old school driving games.

In all we have a five modes, all of which are fine, but there’s nothing that we haven’t seen in pretty much every other racing game made for the last generation or two. It’s good, but there’s nothing super striking that makes me go “WOW! Something original or unique.”

I rarely play this genre, but even I can see it’s the same old, same old, but with a lot of cars and Xbox live capability. All of the modes are fun and enjoyable, but it doesn’t stand out from anything else in the genre.

Modes Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

My god, is this game beautiful. All of the cars look exactly like their real life counterparts. I drive a VW New Beetle Turbo, and so I played most of the game with that so I could compare it to the real thing, and I have to say, it seemed perfect from all angles. And there’s 230 or so cars in this game that are all of the same quality. Excellent!

The tracks are beautiful as well. Actual race tracks look like what you’d see on TV. The outdoors are very picaresque and feels wonderful.

Before this, I thought F-Zero GX was the most visually beautiful racing game I’d ever seen. But that was for bright wonderful colours and the mixing of science fiction and imagination into the genre. Forza Motorsport surpasses Sega’s game, and does so through reality. That’s impressive.

One of my favorite things is the game shows real time damage. When a car smashed me into a railing I could see the paint on that side of my car completely scraped off. And the damage looked realistic to boot!

If you’re looking for a game to visually awe you, this is it. The line between gaming and reality blurs here.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

Forza Motorsport has an amazing soundtrack. The first time I loaded it into my Xbox, I was greeted by Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Well, sans words of course. The entire score for the game is made up primarily of classic songs that are easily recognizable by all.

The in-game music is great too. It’s subtle and adds to the game but without being distracting, which is very important considering you’re drive a vehicle at speeds over 100MPH.

The sound effects are excellent as well. When two cars collide, it’s sound like an actual wreck. When you slam on your breaks to make a proper turn, the squeal and sound of rubber burning into the street is just that. Overall, Forza Motorsport’s design team did everything perfect here. Wonderful job.

I can’t find a single thing to nitpick in this game. Every sound, from the tracks that comprise the musical aspect to hearing my car plow through a pile of cones because I misjudged the severity of the turn, this is one of the game’s high points.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Eh. You know, I have to say, playing Forza does not feel like driving a car. Like I said before, the car I used for most of the game was the VW New Beetle Turbo. It’s what I have in real life. I’ve taken the real thing up to speeds of 120 mph, so I know what it feels like handling that, even on really tight turns. Let me say that although Microsoft Game Studios got the look right, it didn’t feel at all like my actual experience with the real vehicle.

In the game, the Beetle’s brakes were off. I’d brake in the same way that I do in real life to make a turn properly, and it just didn’t jibe. Even with the steering wheel controller. Same too with the actually steering of the car. In Forza Motorsport, you really have crank the car via the Analog stick or the wheel harder than you do in real life. The real Beetle’s a lot smoother to control, but in the game if you try that same level of control, you will crash into things. A LOT. Dissapointing.

I noticed the same problem with a lot of cars in this game. I even asked Yeager, who had a chance to play this game if the controls felt off to him before I started this review. He agreed. A second opinion confirming my own is all I need to know that Forza Motorsport is like a lot of games this generation: Really pretty, but the controls are just not up to the level of work they put into the visuals.

So yes, the game looks real, but it certainly doesn’t feel real. Other nitpicks include the fact I will smash into an opposing car in a kamikaze attempt to take them out so I can pass them, and the computer controlled car acts as if a fly hit, but if I get even tapped by the opponent, I will spin out of control manically. Very annoying.

On the other hand, it is fun to break hard when a car is directly behind you to watch the carnage. However, I’ve never seen a car in this game be completely wiped out, which considering some of the things I’d do to an opponent, that just doesn’t seem right.

But there’s damage in this game, something Gran Turismo 4 didn’t have. So it gets more points in the realism category.

Overall, the game doesn’t play BAD. Once you get used to the controls for each individual car, you’ll be a decent driver. There are sometimes where you’ll swear you hit your breaks or turned sharper than the game shows, but that’s part of a lot of games in this genre. I’ve played racing games with better controls, but Forza Motorsport is still better than average. It IS a game you play for looks and sound more than actual gameplay though. Keep that in mind.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 6/10

5. Replayability

With 230 or so cars, and quite a few tracks to race on, and several car classes, you can replay the same track about a dozen times, and it will always feel SLIGHTLY different. There’s a ton of modes, an the Xbox Live/LAN aspect adds a great deal of replay value.

In the end, as we will see in the next category, the mast majority of this game depends of rote memorization, so the more you play, the less fun playing against the computer will be as it always plays the same. Not so for your human opponents, even if you play against them several times. So if you don’t have friends that enjoy racing games, or you don’t have Xbox live, the replay value on this will be significantly lower for you.

Even without human interaction, it will take you quite some time to unlock ever car and heck, even to TRY every car. Even once your attention span for this game has dried up, there will still probably be things you haven’t done or unlocked.

Even with only a few modes and limited tracks, it’s amazing how much they crammed into this game.

Replayability Rating: 8/10

6. Balance

Forza is a hard game under you realize one tiny little thing. MEMORIZE THE TRACK. Don’t play to win your first or second time on a new track. If you pull it off, good! More power to you, but if not, memorize the track, where the turns are, how sharp the turns are, and how hard to break. The computer AI will not change. So it’s a matter of finding the right car for you, and then using that rote memorization to its’ maximum potential.

Once you keep this in mind, you’ll breeze through most of the game. Unless of course you don’t have the hand-eye co-ordination you need for this game.

The AI never seems to learn or improve and often making a ghost car of your own from previous races will be the best way to challenge yourself when no one else is around. I went from wondering how I was starting first but finishing 6th to staying at the head of the pack the whole time.

For newbies, the game does help you out by giving you a green line through the track to follow and it also warns you when a steep curve is coming so you know to break. That’s a nice touch.

There’s no real challenge to the game aside from learning the controls and memorizing the map. If you’re looking for anything that might flew your finger muscles, go on Live or invite some friends over. Otherwise, it’s just meh here.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

To be honest I can’t think of anything new and highly original about this game. Wow, it’s got a lot of cars. Okay, so do a lot of games. Wow, it has a career mode. So do a lot of games. It has multiplayer mode. So do a lot of games. It’s got Xbox Live capability. So does every racing game on the Xbox.

It has 230 or so cars? Well, that’s a plus. Your cars take damage. That’s something Gran Turismo doesn’t do. That’s a plus.

All you really do in this game is race. And race some more. And then you race a little bit more. There’s nothing that truly makes the game stand out. There’s no real innovation or anything I haven’t seen done before in other games of this genre. That doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it…bland.

This is probably Forza Motorsport’s biggest flaw. And it is aspects like this that make me wonder how the hell this game is averaging a 9.3 at Game Rankings. Because it’s nowhere that jaw dropping of game. Unless people are only grading on graphics, and sadly, a lot of people do nowadays.

Originality: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

Well, this isn’t my genre. But the truth is, I had a lot of fun with the preview build Microsoft sent me and my preview commentary that I wrote two months ago reflects that.

However I read that and I find myself saying, “Did I really have that much fun with it?” Maybe I burned myself out on the game from how much time I spent on the preview version? Or maybe I was just disappointed nothing seemed different from then to the final copy I’m reviewing now. Maybe it was even the boredom of having to unlock and replay things again.

Either way, this DOES show that the addictiveness of the game fades fast. It’s fun at first, especially to look at and listen to. But after a while, you realize there is nothing new or amazing here, and that FM is JUST another Racing game.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s got a decent amount of fun. But you will get bored with the game long before you do everything you can in it.

Addictiveness: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

I know several gamers that enjoy racing games. But they seem to prefer the arcade style racings like Midnight Club or F-Zero. I know FM and GT are mega-selling games, but in the end, they’re just generic racing games. However, I’ve never understood the appeal of the genre. I can’t fathom paying 50$ for this game, even though it IS good, simply because of the repetition and blandness of it.

But people like cars. People like to race. And although there are better racing games out there, they are also more arcade-like. FM feels a lot more realistic in tone and styling than other games, and that may be what fans of this genre are looking for right now.

I think the hardcore fanatics of this genre will appreciate it for what it is. But they will also list other games as their preference. I think for people like myself who either rarely play or enjoy racing games, this will be something they could enjoy as a rental or if a friend brings it over, but not for full price and not something that would ever be a permanent addition to their gaming library.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

There’s a lot to unlock in FM, and if you’re the type of gamer that has to “Catch ’em All,” you’re going to be busy for a while. The modes in FM are also enjoyable but sparse compared to games in other genres. I had a lot of fun with Career Mode, especially when a manufacturer I made friends with just gave me a car for free! Why can’t that happen in real life, eh?

There’s a lot here in this game, even though it really doesn’t feel like it. The Xbox Live and LAN modes give you a chance to race against friends and people from all over the continent. That’s always a plus.

In all, there’s a good amount of extra. Again, nothing mind-blowing or outstanding or anything that really makes this game come into its own, but there’s a lot here and it deserves praise for that at least.

Miscellaneous: 7/10

The Scores
Modes: 6
Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Gameplay/Control: 6
Replayability: 8
Balance: 6
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 6
Appeal Factor: 6
Miscellaneous: 7
Overall Score: 6.8
Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Forza Motorsport is a good game, even if it is one lacking any real innovation or originality. It’s beautiful to behold, has a great soundtrack, and isn’t a very hard game. All of these aspects should appeal to the non racing gamer. The are some noticeable flaws like the AI and the controls in some circumstances, but in the end these quibbles are minor. I wouldn’t recommend it as a purchase, simply because, from my limited experience with racing games, there are better out there. If you’re wondering, the last racing game I reviewed was F-Zero GX back in September of 2003 and it got a 7.0 as well. I have to say I do prefer F-Zero’s story mode and the feel of it more than I did this. Although, FM is prettier and is more realistic. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying PLAYING Forza Motorsport, but I think it has a very distinct audience in terms of who would feel comfortable paying FIFTY DOLLARS for this.