Forza 6

Forza 6 Impressions

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.

Comments

I wasn't sure I was going to continue past the first few paragraphs which had me on the verge of eye rolling. I'm glad I did.

Is there a way to turn Drivatar off?

Forza wants you to do things in a careful rhythm.

This paragraph is spot-on. Forza—particularly Fourza's little skill grading after every corner, pass, etc—really taught me how to drive on the limit and what that meant: the value of balancing acceleration and steering, and how to brake at the last moment to hit the apex with just the right amount of curb. It was a fantastic teacher.

And always utterly gorgeous, especially since Fthreeza's UI overhaul. I played Fourza the other day for the first time in months, and even though I haven't played Fiveza (but watched plenty of video), the cars still look absolutely stunning.

But it's not a motorsport game. And watching more racing over the last couple of years, I really want a motorsports game (and chose RaceRoom), because for all Forza offers, it doesn't do what it says on the tin. Where are the qualifications, penalties, flags, championships? It's a track day sim, which is great in itself since the driving feel is superlative, and given the breadth of cars you can track, from crapcans to hypercars. But it's not really racing. So that's made it easy for me to forego getting an Xbone and skipping the Forza series.

Also, I wasn't following the previews for Forzix, but was Dan Greenawalt once again repeating ad nauseam, "We want to turn gamers into car lovers and car lovers into gamers"? Cos that mantra got old quick about five years ago. And especially annoying to me since... it's true. Even though I've always played racing games, I never cared at all about actual cars until Forza came out (I didn't even know how to drive then, at 25). So even if I never play another Forza game, and I'm not itching to, the series will always have a special place in my heart.

Curse you, Greenawalt.

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.

This may be the best line written in anything anywhere anytime.

Nice write-up! Personally, still waiting on GT7...

I missed FM5 so drivatars are new for me and I already have a love/hate relationship with them.

It's cool racing against something other than the usual stock painted cars and seeing how other people have customized their wheels. I'm sure my designs will seem simple since I use a livery for my vehicles. It adds a level of immersion that was sorely needed.

On the other hand, drivatars are clearly broken. When that first turn pile up happens, the drivatars go into chaos mode and start ramming into each other as they all try to get lined back up at the same time. In the meantime, the leader of the pack is just leaving everyone in the dust. I can usually catch up to 2nd place but even with a lot of assists turned on the lead is usually too great and I have to settle for 2nd place. It is very frustrating.

I do like that you can turn on aggressiveness. I have always played these games aggressively and hated the ones that punished you for it. I don't mind having the AI controlled racers also playing aggressively. Makes things more interesting. It's good they let you turn it off in case you are not a 4 wheeled sociopath like me.

I've only checked out the demo so far and haven't played Forza since the third one. I've been pretty blown away by what I've seen up until now (especially the Indycar showcase - probably the most full-on sensation of speed that I've ever seen in a game) so it's a shame if the attraction wears off after a bit. But yeah, what I've experienced of Drivatar is a bit mixed - it's fun to race against your friends (even if it's artificial) but when everything turns into a demolition derby it's strange. That said, I tend to play with all the assists on and in a more arcade-y way, so it's probably less of a deal-breaker for me than a car aficionado...

Part of the issue is the number of cars on the track. In Forza 5, I found that by lowering the number of cars made for much better races, eliminating the usual first corner pile up. It showed that the Drivatar system could be much more enjoyable to race against than the usual procession of hive minded AI cars found in other games. Though this was only an option in Free Race mode.

I agree with the criticism that Drivatars wore out their welcome a while ago and are now purely a detriment to the game. I will also agree that the mod system is a bizarre addition that doesn't fit in with the rest of the game.

The rest of the comments about it not feeling right from the podcast and other more general things, I can't agree with. This is the best the driving model has ever been, and it plays incredibly well with the controller. Cars definitely all have their own characters. Can drive five different cars all in the same class and end up with five very different learning curves for figuring out how to throw them around the track because they all have different quirks and strengths.

Aphidicus wrote:

Part of the issue is the number of cars on the track.

This definitely exacerbates the Drivatar problem.

I've settled on dropping the difficulty back to just above average and turning off aggression and have given up on the idea of a clean race. I play bumper cars with the rest of them until I get out in front and then it more or less just becomes hot lap time.

Which is fine because I love just running laps and trying to learn the track better in the car I'm in and shave a second here or half a second there off my time.

But that initial lap trying to force your way through batches of cars that smash their brakes in places where they don't even need to touch them at all, it's definitely a problem. And it was a problem in the previous game.

The drivatar system has been varying degrees of awful for both games it's been in now. It needs to go.

Thin_J wrote:

I agree with the criticism that Drivatars wore out their welcome a while ago and are now purely a detriment to the game. I will also agree that the mod system is a bizarre addition that doesn't fit in with the rest of the game.

The rest of the comments about it not feeling right from the podcast and other more general things, I can't agree with. This is the best the driving model has ever been, and it plays incredibly well with the controller. Cars definitely all have their own characters. Can drive five different cars all in the same class and end up with five very different learning curves for figuring out how to throw them around the track because they all have different quirks and strengths.

Aphidicus wrote:

Part of the issue is the number of cars on the track.

This definitely exacerbates the Drivatar problem.

I've settled on dropping the difficulty back to just above average and turning off aggression and have given up on the idea of a clean race. I play bumper cars with the rest of them until I get out in front and then it more or less just becomes hot lap time.

Which is fine because I love just running laps and trying to learn the track better in the car I'm in and shave a second here or half a second there off my time.

But that initial lap trying to force your way through batches of cars that smash their brakes in places where they don't even need to touch them at all, it's definitely a problem. And it was a problem in the previous game.

The drivatar system has been varying degrees of awful for both games it's been in now. It needs to go.

This has been pretty spot on with the few hours I have put into it as well. The driving feels fantastic especially after playing Project Cars with a controller. While the 24 players might be a bit much for single player, it's incredibly fun online (especially if you have a group that you are racing with).

I actually enjoy the slick surfaces with puddles too. They add a bit more strategy and change racing lines to a track you might be used to.

So far Forza 6 is the best Forza I've played on the XBox One.

Ok, less tongue-in-cheek.

I can't disagree with ThinJ, the driving model is still great. Forza has always been one of the better "sim" racers out there. I have never been able to get into Gran Turismo. What it considered "real" felt just outright unforgiving. I've driven cars at high speed before. I know what it's like to push beyond what is safe, push just a little bit more, and I have spun a car out of control (as a stupid teenager). The GT series always came across as "If you dare go past the limits we set, if you don't follow that braking line perfectly, if you bump another car, your ass meets the wall"

I liked Forza because you can push the limits. The braking line is just a suggestion. You push too hard? Well that's on you.

You can tailor the game to be challenging. When I started with Forza I think I had all assists on. When that got boring, I started turning stuff off. When I was still needing some assists but the races got too easy, I turned up the driver difficulty. You can just keep iteratively bumping things up and turning stuff off so the game never gets boring.

Which is why I hate that drivatars are so broken. I would really like to increase the difficulty but even now it still lets whoever is in front of the pack on the first turn completely dominate the race.

I love the idea of 24 cars on the track. It's fun when it works. They need to fix the AI nonsense. There has been a few races where the 2nd place car is on my heels and we are about to lap the back of the track and that is a tense moment. I love those moments.

The whole Mods thing is dumb but I am finding the more I play the more I like the "Spin" idea instead of the old trophy cars. Also, making DLC cars free for the person who bought them seems fair. I was ok paying in-game credits for them as it feels a little "pay 2 win" otherwise, but at the same time I am finding I don't mind that I have instant access while my kids do not.

I'm enjoying it, but it's not the peak of the series and that's too bad. I'll still take it over whatever is considered the best Gran Turismo game and any other "sim" racer but we've had better and it's hard to forget that sometimes.

Thanks for the write up. Though I did play Forza 5 because it was the new hotness, and I've always had an obsession for driving games, my interest in it did wane after getting perhaps half way through the career mode. The spastic AI driveatars and the punishing requirement for precision (which I couldn't rectify easily with the 360 full wheel or speed wheel setup on my new console) left me in a place where I was redoing races over and over again to get a level of perfection, just to move on to yet another race of similar requirement. Then with online play, the theme seemed to be: "get a big vehicle and ram everyone else out of your way", not actual finesse.

I do love the car orgy and obvious pandering to gear heads in the Forza main games. Having the Top Gear staff involved in the car description bits of F5 did keep me interested to hear what they would say next. However I found much more game play enjoyment with the Forza Horizon series. After getting Horizon 2 on the Xbone, I discovered that I didn't really go back to play F5 unless there was a need to play split screen with someone at my house.

Given the write ups here, and my experiences with F5 in the past, I'm likely going to give Forza 6 a pass (unless Microsoft tempts me too horribly with a Black Friday sale, which is how I ended up with several games for half of full retail, oops). Though I'll miss the orgasmic visuals and being part of the conversation, it's sounding more like "same as before + 1". This has led me historically to skip about every other Forza title. Almost like the constant churn of Madden or FIFA. Forza 6: the game I want but will end up not playing.