There aren’t a lot of games these days that can drag me to the keyboard to draft a review or impressions article, but a new entry in the Forza series is a no-brainer for me. I have a soft spot for the series and for car enthusiast games in general, and you need to know that I’m simply predisposed to love Forza 6. It’s the kind of game that gets me to circle a date on a calendar – the kind of game that can actually drag me into a local Best Buy to pick up a physical copy, just because I like the ceremony of it. It’s a game I want to unwrap from its plastic, that I want to peel off sticker seals from the case of, a game where I want to hear and feel the soft crack of its case as I first open it.
On installing and running the game, there was everything I was hoping for. Forza 6 opens with a video that conveys the very thing that sets the series apart for me: an almost fawning and nostalgic love of all things motorsports. This isn’t a game obsessed with a single brand, or flippant about the details, or myopically trapped in a single decade, or reckless in choosing its garage. This is a curated game where a car exists in the game because that car is a thing that someone, somewhere, fell in love with. It’s a game that wants you to drive a fifteen-year-old Golf GTI – because you need to know that hatchbacks can be great cars too – as much as it wants you in the newest Lambo or behind the wheel of a GT.
Your first race finds you on the streets of Rio De Janeiro surrounded by Paganis, Ferraris and Aston Martins, and even as you come around the first sweeping bend and the surf crashes against the retaining wall – as you slice under multi-colored flags festooned above the street, beneath the Cristo Redentor, standing with arms stretched in beneficence to the sprawling city below – you will be hard pressed not to be beguiled by the incredible visual detail and complexity. Then comes a race in the rain – a new addition to the series, along with night driving – and Forza offers this challenge with a grace, beauty and realism simply unrivaled in console racers. I genuinely lost a race because I wanted to stop and just appreciate the way the water was puddling in the mud along the side of the road where grass met asphalt.
And for a few hours you will, as I have been wont to do, wax poetic on the beauty, the elegance, the grace, the love, the emotion and the pure obsession with the artistry that can be achieved with carbon fiber and internal combustion. Style oozes out of every moment of Forza 6.
I mention all of this because it’s around this point, some five or six hours in, that something unexpected and distressing happens. If you’re like me, even in the moment that you’re ogling the way the dust billows at the edge of the road just off the sharp, final left-hand corner of Laguna Seca, you might suddenly realize that you’re not actually having as much fun as you had hoped. You might, in this weird and uncomfortable moment, suddenly realize that you wish you were actually playing Forza 4, which is still safe in my heart as the greatest racing game ever made.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to pull the rug out from under everything and say that Forza 6 isn’t a good game. What I’m saying is that Forza 6 is, in fact, a pretty good game. It’s just not an exceptional one – at least not when it comes right down to the actual game part.
For me, there are two big problems with Forza, and they are ones that have been slowly culminating for a while now. The first is that, as far as I can tell, it is virtually impossible to have a race in Forza 6 without there being a twelve-car pile-up in the first corner. For the last dozen races I’ve been obsessively trying to avoid wrapping my car around the rear bumper of some Ford Focus or BMW M3, and for those dozen races – and every single race since the very first time I plowed my GT into the rear-end of some Italian supercar while Christ the Redeemer watched on in horror – I have failed surviving that first turn. Even if I manage to negotiate some sliver of room without adding a ragged V of body damage into my hood among the seething crisis that is turn 1, without fail a car behind me will slam into my tail lights like we’re in a bumper-car stall.
This has long been an issue with the series, but Forza 6 seems like the worst offender yet in presenting you a pristine creation of elegant engineering, lovingly showing you it rolling gracefully to its spot on the line, and then hurling it into a blender of metal and tire only to come out the other side a rolling hunk of dents and scratches.
To me, at the heart of this issue is the Drivatar concept introduced in Forza 5, which is quickly outstaying its welcome. The Drivatar replaced the basic AI models from previous versions, with a system that learned how individual players drove and then injected those models into other players games. The result is radical unpredictability on the race track (which is fine in concept, but not in practice) and a tendency for AI drivers to interpret the models as consistently aggressive and careless.
I’m sure my Drivatar is no better should it appear with in your dash around the Nordschleife or Silverstone, because I’m trapped in my own world of aggressive drivers and as a result I’m constantly finding myself in fender benders at every turn. This the game surely interprets as an expressed preference for me to run into other cars.
No, game. I don’t like doing that. I don’t.
Compounding the issue is that the simulation feels a lot less forgiving this time around, and the cars just feel unusually squirrely, particularly in changes in elevation and when they even think about touching grass. I should point out that I tend to play with a lot of the assists off. My setup only leaves on ABS and TCS (which I grudgingly turned back on), and I play with manual transmission. I assume if I conceded further ground and just put the damn thing on easy mode the car would begin to obey more, but that’s not how I play the game. I’m expecting challenge to be associated with turning off these assists, but the game’s threshold of forgiveness for even slight missteps has been significantly trimmed.
Forza wants you to do things in a careful rhythm. It doesn’t want you to just hit the gas, it wants you to ease into the gas, holding it at the very edge of disaster not only at the start of the race but out of every corner, into every straightaway and through every chicane. It wants you to control turns both sharp and sweeping by gradually easing the steering into the turn, and it wants you to balance a careful braking threshold at an ever shifting and modulating sweet spot somewhere between not pressing the brake button at all and pressing it all the way down. Forza wants you to think of your triggers on your controllers not as binary, but to genuinely use the full breadth of analog values that can be conveyed. And to be fair, the game does an exceptional job of communicating what’s happening on the road through the Xbox One controller.
The problem is that what’s usually happening on the road is OH MY GOD YOU’RE SPINNING INTO THE WALL AGAIN!
I assume that a lot of these problems begin to disappear when you have a $500 wheel, pedals and a shifter set up, which I do not. If you do, then I probably don’t need to tell you to buy Forza 6, because you spent all that money on your setup, so you’re probably way ahead of the game. But in case you didn’t and you do have that kind of rig, go buy Forza 6. It was made for you.
There are some additions to Forza 6 I do like. For example, earning credits and cars is a lot easier, and they’ve added some random rewards to every level that give you a boost in cash, to your garage or some additional mods. It makes progression feel a lot smoother.
On the point of mods, this is another new addition that allows you to spend your hard-earned in-game credits on a pack of cards that give you either one-time benefits, ongoing boosts to your car, or a dare you can complete to earn bonus credits or experience. I’m kind of ambivalent on the whole mod thing, because it feels thematically out of place to have such a game-y component in such an obsessive sim, and it’s the kind of thing I can see being abused in the future as an ongoing monetization component.
I don’t really know how to summarize Forza 6 and my experience with it so far. It may be the most beautiful game I’ve ever played, and it’s clearly in love with its subject matter. I’m spending a lot more time these days playing on Rivals mode, which allows you to compete against the ghost or time of other players, as opposed to the career races, primarily because I just don’t want to deal with the game’s Drivatars anymore, but liking that a game has multiple play options because some of them are so insufferable probably isn’t a great sign.
I’m an unabashed Forza fan, and I do intend to keep plugging away at it, because in the moments where the game shines, it’s wonderful. It’s just that those moments don’t come around as often as they did in previous iterations. In the end, Forza 6 is just a really good game.
Which is kinda disappointing.