It seems like the Xbox finally has a simulation racer that can go up against Sony's own
Gran Turismo franchise. For almost four years now, Xbox owners have been wondering when they
would finally get a high quality racing sim, and now it's here. It does many things GT4 does, as well
as do things differently or bring in new things altogether. There are so many comparisons to go back and
forth on when going over Forza and GT4, and it's hard to actually narrow down which is actually better because they
both excell at doing individual things well. The one key element / deciding factor on which one is better would have to
be online play. Forza has it, GT4 doesn't. If that's important to you, then you basically know which sim is right for you.
But I've devised a different school of thought when it comes to comparing these games. Gran Turismo 4 is about collection,
and Forza Motorsport is about customization. In GT4, you have 600+ cars to play with and collect. As many have said,
it's Pokemon for adults. While Forza only has 1/3 of the cars GT4 has, you can personalize them much more so than you could in
GT4. Some cars will allow you to install after-market body mods, most cars will allow you to choose your own color and create
a look of your own through a decal editor (which could have been more extensive). A lot of what you can do in Forza is make things
your own, including the soundtrack. Both games are worth owning, but if you're still not convinced on picking up Forza Motorsport,
keep reading the review.
As I've said before, Forza Motorsport is very similar to GT4, but does things differently in some areas. The most important thing
to get out of the way is how does the game play and feel. I've played many other racing sim-like games, and they have rarely come
close to Polyphony Digital's attention to how a car behaves on the road. Sega GT 2002 came close, but I think Forza Motorsport
has finally shown Polyphony at it's own game. Each car has a different feel to it, and nearly all of them handle the way they should,
wether you like it or not. I think the only real problem is that some of the high-end sports cars seem a little touchier than they should be, but for the most part, Forza pretty much nailed down the simulation modelling, which gives the franchise much hope in the future when it moves on to the Xbox 360.
The accessabillity of Forza may vary person to person. Some may find it easy to get into, while others may find themselves
having a difficult time playing the game. Basically, the GT series follows that same train of thought. But Forza almost gives you
a crash course in driving rather than the license tests the GT games put you through. While they are somewhat of a pain in the
ass, the licnese tests in the Gran Turismo games do go over a lot on what you need to learn in order to win races. Forza handles
learning through a dynamic driving line during the race (I should note now that there are NO license tests to deal with in Forza),
which dictates wether you should gas, brake, or cruise by changing color. It's actually a good way to learn the driving lines of
each course, and serves as a nice learning aid, but for those expecting an extensive series of tests and lessons, forget it. The problem with the line, as far as I can see, is that it can be used as a crutch throughout the game. You incur no penalty for using it,
and you can use it for every race. But I guess it's similar to the downshift indicator I use in GT4 when you approach turns. At least here, if you do shut off the aid, you'll earn 15% more money in races.
That's the next thing I want to get into. In Forza, you're rewarded more for shutting off the driving line, incrasing the difficulty, and
turning off your driving aids, as well as use manual transmission. Depending on what you do turn off, you earn an extra percentage for doing so. That's something that could have been implemented in the Gran Turismo games to encourage gamers to
take a more challenging (and sometimes more realistic) approach to racing. Also, Forza features a "levling" system, in which your
level increases from the credits you earn. It's similar to what was done in Project Gotham Racing 2. Except here, you can unlock cars, and unlock discounts for parts you buy. Again, an incentive the GT games can pick up on. I feel that the more you drive, the more you should be rewarded. To a degree, GT4 does give you prize cars for reaching a certain percentage of completion, but I would love to get discounts on parts that I buy often.
Forza also offers more challenge than GT4 by offering vehicle damage and a tougher AI. I think another big draw for Forza would be vehicular damage, since you can't even do that in GT4. Damage is not only cosmetic, but it can also affect your car's performance. If you hit a wall or a car too hard, your steering will become affected, and start pulling you towards one direction. Your car may also slow down as well if you damage the gearbox, and if you increase the difficulty, you can possibly overheat your car. Racing fans have been waiting for damage in any of the Gran Turismo games, but it finally took Microsoft to step in and include it into their racing sim. Hopefully this gives Sony and Polyphony incentive to include car damage in the next GT game. As for the AI, people complained that it was to simplistic in GT4, and it pretty much was. In Forza, they're much more aggressive, and are not afraid to damage their cars in order to pass you. In a way, they're a little too wreckless in some cases. But they put up more of a fight than the opponents in GT4.
The events in Forza are arranged similar to those found in Gran Turismo 4. You'll find the typical drive-train class races, classic car races, one-make races and even some VS. races which put one make against another (like the Impreza WRX against the Evolution). But Forza also breaks down cars into certain classes, including D, C, B, A, S, and R-GT. D is the lowest while the P1 class is the highest. You'll find these "class" races in just about every level of competition. How you get to that is soley based on what you do to your car. In GT4, you can basically buy a car, load it up with high performance parts and smoke the competition. It works a little differently here. Each car is in a certain class when it is "stock" (example: the Opel Speedster is a class B4 car when it's stock). When you add parts, you may make it increase a level. Sometimes it stays within the original class (like moving from C3 to C1), and other times you can jump one or two classes (going from B2 to an S4). So planning is essential when you want to use a certain car for a certain class. The good thing, though, is if your car does jump a class, you can use the car in the new class it's in,
and it's beneficial for certain cars (like the Impreza or the Boxster). One thing you can't do is reach the GT, GTR or P1 classes (which make up the R-GT class) on your own. Those cars have to be bought or won. While there is some depth and planning involved in the race events, I would have liked to have seen more of them. I think there could have been more single-make races, and a rally mode would have been a more-than-welcome inclusion.
One more thing about the gameplay that I amost forgot to include was the Drivitar. In the beginning, I thought that the Drivitar was something that computer opponents used against you, but it's completly different from that. The Drivitar is similar to the B-Spec mode in GT4, except here you train the comupter driver to drive how you would. There are many elements that the Drivitar picks up on, such as convex curves, hairpins and chicanes. The better you drive, the better your Drivitar will perform on the road. How the computer performs is up to you. After you train your CPU driver, you can use it on pretty much any race you want. Here's the catch: the Drivitar takes 75% of what you win for the race. It's not like the B-Spec mode where you can win it all. Also, you can't dictate on how aggressive the Drivitar should drive during the race like you can in the B-Spec mode of GT4. It's a nice inclusion, but if the driver is going to take most of the winnings, I would rather just drive myself.
Now on to the visuals of the game. I'm kind of at odds on how to feel about the look of Forza Motorsport. I thought that this would
be superior to GT4, and I found it to be almost similar. Yes, there are great lighting effects and bloom lighting out the ass in this game, as well as bump-mapping. But like one editor at IGN wrote, "Gran Turismo 4 looks more photo-realistic", and after comparing the two, I agree. While the texture quality is lower in GT4, the high-poly cars and the detail that went into them, coupled with the photo-realistic look does make the game look a little more realsitic than Forza. It's not that Forza looks bad, I think that perhaps the developers should have muted the color palate a bit. In comparision, Forza looks more vivid and vibrant than GT4. In a way, it looks a little more like Burnout 3 than GT4. While the cars look fine, I wish there was a little more detail to them. They seem a little flat compared to the car models in GT4. Plus, some of the beveling is way too anglar, and many of the cars could have used more polygons. My theory is on the cars, though, that they're lower in poly count due to the damage modeling. Again, look at Burnout 3. While cars seem cruder than they do here, and probably have even fewer polys, look at the damage modelling. So overall, the cars are "fine", but not exceptional. And the framerate is running at 30 FPS, rather than the 60 in GT4. While there is no real discrepency over the framerate here, it just doesn't seem as smooth as GT4. Basically, it's a lot like PGR 2's. As a whole, the visuals aren't bad, and certainly look like an Xbox title. But while the texture quality here is better (just compare the New York courses in both games), the color palate seems to vivid to be seen as photo-realistic.
The audio portion is a mix of good sound effects with awful music. The sound effects are pretty much on par with Gran Turismo 4's, but the engines do sound different when compared against each other. I'm not sure who has the more accurate engine noises, because if you were to compare certain cars, such as the RX-7, they sound completely different in each game. But, each car does sound different, and it seems accurate enough not to complain, although I'm kind of curious why the RX-7 has a higher pitch here than it did in GT4. The music, sucks. Usually the music Junkie XL does is pretty good, at least in other games. Here, it's bad. Cheesy ass rock just really doesn't fit the bill. At least there's the custom soundtrack feature, which should be switched on when you first begin playing.
Forza Motorsport is Microsoft's answer to Sony's Gran Turismo series. It does much of what Sony's game does, and even adds elements of it's own to make it feel different from GT4. The big draw here is the online play over Xbox Live, which features thousands of scoreboards, as well as gameplay and other unique features. Sony really dropped the ball when they decided to cut online play out of GT4, and Microsoft really siezes that oppertunity here. But the offline play is just as good, and the level of customization you can do on your car is much more than what you get in GT4 (I wish the decal editor had more options and text, but I can see why text was not included, with F-bombs racing around Xbox LIVE). This is a strong new franchise for Microsoft to help them over in the next generation, and may be the one game they need to take Sony on in the next gen race.