Forza Motorsport 6 Review (Xbox One)
The rains at Sebring International Raceway have been coming down hard throughout the day, and there's no sign they'll be letting up before the green flag drops. The wiper can barely keep the windshield clear enough to see beyond the edge of the hood, but this race is happening no matter what. The asphalt and concrete, slick beneath the rubber tires, is treacherous even at the lowest gears. Then come the puddles. If you're quick, you can avoid them. If you're too quick, you can't. Before there's time to react, both driver and car are embraced in a futile dance with physics as they careen all the way off the track and into the tire barricade. You're no longer competition; you're a warning from Mother Nature. Be wary, racers, for the same fate awaits you if you don't respect the elements.
For ten years, Forza Motorsport has defined racing on Microsoft's consoles. Turn 10 Studios returns for this anniversary with more of everything; more tracks, more cars, more modes, more races and more players. There's little that Turn 10 has spared when it comes to Forza Motorsport 6, and the developer has again tuned, tweaked and improved on one of the best racing franchises of all time. That's especially evident with the inclusions of changing environmental conditions like rain and nighttime racing, which add a new and welcome layer of depth to the more standard roadways we've been down before.
Rain changes the game completely. Though it's not available on every track, nor is it dynamic, wetting the roads turns already challenging courses into white-knuckle races from start to finish. Turn 10 meticulously researched the effects of rain on handful of courses to recreate them as exactly as possible in-game. That means that where there is a puddle on Nürburgring in real life, there is one equally as large and deep when you play on the rainy version of Nürburgring. The 3D modeled pools of water are as treacherous as any number of ill-tempered Drivatar, and can turn your race sour in an instant. While the controller will shake and lock up appropriately, hydroplaning has actually never been more fun. That's because in real life, hydroplaning is terrifying at normal speeds, let alone in excess of 100 MPH.
You'll also have to combat the slickened roads, to which Turn 10 has paid equal attention. All the different surfaces rendered in game, from concrete and asphalt to dirt and other runoff areas, react differently to wetness. If you've ever driven in the rain before, you know that you lose traction with your tires in a standard automobile, but this is especially true of cars that are tuned specifically for racing. You might try to race a course as if it were dry, but you'll end up slip-sliding off the beaten path and into a welcoming wall in no time. It definitely takes some getting used to, especially if you've already gotten the hang of a particular course in the daylight.
Even though the sledding might be tougher in the rain, at least you can still mostly see where you're going. Nighttime racing adds some terror to the mix, particularly if you're out on a track like Le Mans where there aren't additional lights beyond your car's. And may the gods help you if you accidentally picked a car that doesn't have headlights, or you crashed and popped yours. Even with the racing line assist turned on, it's nearly impossible to complete a lap that way. You could have a course memorized back to front, but when the lights go down, and the shadows creep from every corner, can you really be sure that corner is where you thought it was? Night races aren't quite as impressive visually as rain races, but they do make for an interesting change of pace during the course of Forza's single-player mode, or for the occasional multiplayer event.
When playing alone in Forza, you'll be spending your time with the Stories of Motorsport, which are collections of races based on the evolution of racing around the globe. Doing well there will also unlock Showcase Events, which are special one-off challenges like endurance races, one-on-one matches against the Stig, or even a race where you'll be in the most modern incarnation of a manufacturer family, and you'll have to best your predecessors in a handicapped lap. Both modes are enjoyable and deep, offering some great variety and mixing up win conditions enough to keep you on your toes.
Drivatars also return as your competition, with the benefit of learning from previous Xbox One Forza titles, too. Like previous versions of the learning AI, the more the humans behind them race, the better they become. They still do drive like jerks a lot of the time if you're friends with a lot of casual racers, so you should still expect a lot of rubbing during any given race.
Where the solo play takes a turn for the better is in the inclusion of Forza Horizon 2's spin system. Each time you level up, you're granted a spin in the prize grid, which offers nine different random outcomes (one of which is really great) every single time. It's a quick and easy way to build up your garage, as well as earning more credits without having to grind out races you've already mastered. The deeper you go, the less frequently the spins will come, but by that point, you should theoretically be earning enough credits to fill pick up new cars and upgrades on your own anyway.
In addition to building up your arsenal of autos, credits can also be used to purchase Mod Packs. Jumping in on the collectible cards so prevalent in other sports games, Forza Motorsport 6 incorporates its own version through bonus "mods" you can apply before any offline race. There are three different types available--Boost, Dare and Crew. Boosts offer an incentive for performance (perfect passes or turns, etc.) for a brief duration; Dares challenge you with restrictions (no HUD, cockpit cam only, etc.) for a bigger payday if you win; Crew improves your car with better grip or braking, with some tailored to specific tracks. You can have three Boosts active at once, but only one each of Dare and Crew at any given time.
Mod Packs can only be purchased with in-game credit, though there are increasingly better packs that cost more than the basic packs. Very few game makers get the collectible card pack right, and the idea that paying a premium (of virtual cash, never real money) should earn you more rares is a bit of an annoyance. You can earn packs from your leveling spins, too, but for the most part you'll have to drop at least 12,000 credits to get a few to build out your collection. You can always sell them back to if you want for a little bit of that cash back, but almost all of them are worth holding onto for use eventually.
Multiplayer gets a boost with the expansion to 24 racers at a time, and if you thought single-player races against Drivatars were chaotic, you haven't seen anything yet. The familiar fare returns (standard races, Virus, special events), but the new draw is Leagues, which allows you to race against similarly-skilled players in a series of events for all the glory. It's another way Forza is taking some notice from its major sport brethren, and is a welcome addition provided you can find the time in your schedule to get your race in on time. If you like the thrill of the race, but can't quite make any headway against the stiff competition, you will be able to spectate in-game. The benefit there over watching a stream of the race is that you'll get all the cinematic presentation Turn 10's so carefully honed over the years instead of being locked onto just one driver.
That presentation is still as sharp as ever, and that's thanks to the new ForzaTech engine in place. Developed in conjunction with Playground Studios, ForzaTech somehow brings even more detail into the fold with laser precision. Cars have always looked tremendous in Forza, but there's such an intricacy to all 460 vehicles in this entry it's hard to see how any improvements could be made in the future. Then again, we thought the same thing of Forza Motorsport 5, and here we are.
There's a shocking difference between the feel of the vehicles as well, with the jump from the opening vehicles in the career to some visible in Showcase and online that it's disorienting at times. Accompanying the relentless 60fps visual display that assaults your eyes with vibrancy is the outstanding sound design. If you pay close attention to your surround system, you get a true sense of the track's and car's personalities. The best sounds come in cockpit view though, as the rumble of the engine gives the foundation an appropriate heft. If you're in an open-wheeled car, the wind and road all factor in as well, providing one of the truest senses of "being there" we've ever felt.
Turn 10 has again delivered one of the ultimate racers of the modern era, and continues to establish itself as a leading developer in the racing arena. Forza Motorsport 6 is a spectacular machine that makes perfect use of all its components. It incorporates familiar elements with those that may have seemed superfluous, but only serve to solidify this franchise as a frontrunner in the genre. Packed with content, modes and customizability, Forza Motorsport 6 is a grand evolution of a decade's worth of racing under the Microsoft banner.
This review is based on a download of Forza Motorsport 6 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.