OK, I’ll start by saying this: I love this game. Does that make this review biased? No, and I’ll explain why later. Furthermore, I’ll also tell you that I’m a huge fan of racing simulations—I was first in line for the first Gran Turismo, and I’ve never looked back. I’ll also state for the record that I’m a car freak. Not just an aficionado, like some of the kids you’ll see who think the Nissan Skyline is the best car on the planet (I will admit that I do love Skylines, though). My last job was Shop Manager at a Subaru performance shop, and I’ve been to SEMA in Vegas a few times. I’ve also done my share of racing on quite a few different tracks, and I’ve built some pretty amazing cars.
I’m done patting myself on the back now, but the point I was getting at is that I know my shit. I know the history, design, physics, and passion that is automobiles. Now that my credibility on the subject is out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this bad boy.
Starting Forza is actually kind of intimidating; you’re charged with not only starting a campaign on a shoestring budget, but also doing well enough to get some pocket money and, more importantly, sponsorship. Luckily, if you’re not a racing prodigy, Microsoft has come to you aid with some helpful tools such as ABS brakes, stability control (to keep your amateur ass from fish-tailing around the track), and many others.
The most helpful of all these is the “racing line”, a term used by many drivers and racers. Ostensibly, the racing line is the route around the track that allows you to carry the most amount of speed possible. I’m not going to get too technical about this, because I’m not here to teach you how to be an effective race car driver and tell you all about the apex, turn-ins, late braking, and other tricks of the trade. Suffice it to say, the racing line can help anyone who’s new or even unfamiliar with a new track be competitive. And they’ve done it in a very simple but effective way—you simply drive on arrows, and they change colors based on the input you’ll need to implement. Green means step on it, yellow means coast, and red means start hitting the brakes, speedy.
There are a number of cars at your disposal, but you can’t just save up and buy them all; many of the choice ones need to be unlocked by winning races. The amount of cars isn’t as much as in Gran Turismo 4, but there also aren’t a lot of filler cars (like the Dodge Stratus—no offense to you Stratus owners, but that car has no business on a track, unless you got lost taking your kids to a soccer game). Microsoft (with its unlimited resources) was able to obtain some licenses for really great cars that weren’t available on the competition. Ferrari being the most notable, but also smaller firms like Koenigsegg (if you don’t know, you need to).
The level of play starts out innocent enough as you get your feet wet and move out of your parents’ basement. Then you’re forced to bike 100 miles a day just to stay in fighting trim. Fear not: As your competition gets stronger, so does your stable of bankruptcy-inducing cars.
I could talk more about how the game plays out, but it takes second stage to the almost-perfect physics engine employed here. The Xbox has a significant power advantage over the PS2 and uses that to its advantage by sampling motion over four times faster and more often than the GT4 competition. This leaves you with cars that feel and perform identically to their real-life model.
I think one of my favorite small features is the engine swap function. If you have a car that you love but it just wasn’t offered with the engine you so rightly believe it deserved, in many cases you can swap in another more powerful engine from the same maker. This can make for some interesting sleeper cars. The amount of top-level race cars is also the most I’ve seen; from the Toyota GT-One to the Ferrari 333sp, the choices are only limited to your ability to pilot them.
What else is there to really say about this game, except I can’t wait to see what’s next? Simply put, it’s the most comprehensive racing simulation game on the market today, and it’s almost two years old! The kids can have their Need for Speed 17: Street-Racing Pedestrian Killers; I’ll take my Forza and settle it on the track.