In the past, Microsoft’s flagship driving franchise resembled the giant Seattle-based company itself – while technically impressive, it lacked soul and was rather too squeaky-clean. But two recent spin-off games, Forza Horizon and Forza Horizon 2, showed promising signs of improvement: they were created by a British developer, Playground Games, which injected a small but noticeable dose of British humour, irreverence and anarchy. Those efforts clearly weren’t in vain, because they have rubbed off on the main franchise – and as a result, Forza 6 is vastly better than its predecessors.
That technical excellence is, if anything, even more pronounced in Forza 6. It looks simply jaw-dropping, with near-photorealistic graphics and incredibly evocative lighting (indeed, the game shows off by setting some races at night, under virtual lights). More unexpectedly, the handling is spot-on. The cars in previous Forzas, despite developer Turn 10’s protestations that it went so far as to model things like tyre deformation under cornering, felt all wrong – as though they were hovering an inch or so above the track, and the arcade-style car-handling model in Forza Horizons 1 and 2 suffered from the same affliction. However, that fundamental deal-breaker has been spectacularly eliminated from Forza 6, so you can now feel a vast amount of difference between, say, four-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive cars.
Put that realistic handling together with amazing visuals, and you get a racing game which is up there with the very best we’ve seen. Most notably the newest and best contender, Project Cars, which upped the benchmark earlier this year. Perhaps Forza 6 doesn’t quite give you as much handling feedback as Project Cars, but there’s no doubt that it looks even better, so this time around, it has finally acquired the gameplay credentials to match its massive marketing budget.
Format-wise, Forza 6 sticks to the tried and tested. You start off with a small but useful variety of cars in your garage, enabling you to choose between, say, a front-wheel drive hot-hatchback or a rear-wheel drive coupe, and as long as you keep placing in the top three in each race of the first series, you unlock another series of races, and so on. The race series are split up into five “Volumes”, which take you from hot hatches up to exotica like Indycars and endurance racers.
You also soon gain access to Showcases, which mix things like passing challenges with the likes of endurance racing and taking on Top Gear’s Stig (the now ex-presenters of Top Gear all feature in voiceover). Again, those are quirky and show how the franchise has finally loosened up. Other cute touches abound, such as wacky paint-jobs: you can participate in races, for instance, in a Mitsubishi Evo IX painted in the distinctive colours of the Derbyshire Constabulary.
One welcome addition which has been purloined from the Forza Horizon games is the ability to take a Prize Spin whenever you level up, which either awards you a wad of cash to spend on cars or a car that would otherwise be well out of your price-range. And Forza 6 has one big new concept of its own: Mods. You can cash in the money you win from racing to buy packs of them and, as the name suggests, they give you perks, such as a percentage increase in grip or braking, or a boost to the amount of XP you earn. There are two types of Mods: ones which apply permanently (of which type you’re only allowed to apply one at a time) and single-shot Mods that expire after a race. They come in pretty handy when, say, you’re racing a car which is a tad under-braked, so have to brake earlier than your rivals. And you can upgrade every part of your car, Gran Turismo-style, although that can sometimes leave your car ineligible for whatever race series you’re participating in.
Online, Forza 6 is impressively fuss-free, with a comprehensive list of race-types (including drifting and drag-racing) that you can jump into with minimal effort, and for those who generally find racing against humans intimidating, there’s a special online mode which turns collisions off, so you can effectively drive through ghost-versions of your race rivals. And you can set up leagues with your mates very easily.
Career mode progresses beautifully, with a nicely crafted difficulty curve, plus early access to some of the world’s best race-tracks, including Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, Daytona and the Top Gear test track; there are also plenty of city tracks, which don’t all conform to the twisty-street-racing blueprint, and are amazing to behold. Each race series tends to flit around the world, in a bid to mix up the types of tracks you encounter.
Forza 6 also makes use of its now familiar Drivatar technology, which apes the driving styles of real people who play the game. You can tinker with the difficulty level of the AI drivers (if you crank it up, you earn more XP), and the game also lets you rewind in offline mode, although again you can turn that off and pocket an XP boost.
If we were to make one criticism, it would be that it’s still possible when racing to brake by driving into the side of other cars, although only when you have damage set to cosmetic only – again, you can up your possible XP winnings by turning damage on. Forzas of yore have received criticism for lacking proper damage models, but that is no longer the case in Forza 6.
Forza 6 has everything: the looks, the cars, the tracks, realistic handling, customisability and a great variety of slick and solid online racing. In comparison with Project Cars, it lacks only the latter’s whiff of grease and impression of grittiness. But it definitely constitutes a major source of bragging rights for Xbox One owners, with no hint of when Polyphony Digital’s Kazunori Yamauchi may finally unveil the next Gran Turismo. An absolute must-buy if you own an Xbox One.