Sometimes when I’m playing Forza Motorsport, I’ll just sit and do laps on a course. I’ll pick a car, a track, and just roll out in Rivals mode, doing tens of laps in a sitting. It might sound boring, but I end up sort of exploring the track. I find new ways to approach different corners, see how different types of cars work on the same track. There are always new experiences waiting be found if you know where to look.
That’s how I feel going back to the series when it hits every other year. It’s still a racing game, and many of the same cars and tracks make up the bulk of the bytes on the disc, but there are always new experiences to be found.
Forza Motorsport 5 was the very definition of the mixed bag cliché. There was an incredible core game that showed off the power of Microsoft’s then-new console and played better than any previous version of the series had to date, but it was wrapped up in a lackluster car and track list with a spartan menu system polluted with microtransactions. As we come back around the track this year, my hope is that franchise developer Turn 10 found a new approach to a couple of those and a few new features to boot.
Weather the storm
Right out of the box, Forza Motorsport 6 resolves the two biggest complaints that accompanied 2013’s entry by bringing the track count up to 26 and the car count up over 450. None of these cars or tracks are pulled over from the Xbox 360 games, either. If they were in those, they’ve been rebuilt from the ground up, laser scanned, remodeled and everything else you can imagine.
The biggest new features, though, are the addition of some track conditions we haven’t yet seen in a Forza Motorsport title — rain and night racing. Forza Horizon has used these in the past, but these are a first for the main series and the changes they bring to the game are more than just visual.
Forza Motorsport never does anything halfway. It’s all about the details.
Forza Motorsport 6 is no different. Rain brings huge changes to the game. It’s not dynamic — you’ll select (or have selected for you in the case of career mode) whether to have rain or not.
The weather effects are, first off, gorgeous. They feel very real from the get-go whether you’re driving from the behind the car or from a cockpit view. In the chase camera view, rain hits the camera and streams off as if the camera were in the game with a curved lens. Inside the car, though, windshield wipers are on full speed and rain accumulates on the glass, moving in time with your cornering.
More importantly, though, it has a big impact on the way you’ll play a track. Huge puddles accumulate across the track, sometimes on one side of a sharp bend, other times stretching across the width of a straightaway. Hydroplaning is a real danger, and tracks felt completely different when they were covered in water because of this. The best line for a corner might now be the absolute last line you’d want to take, or stretches of road that were low stress before might require full concentration.
The rain also helps show off the Xbox One’s controller and the additional motors inside that give us the impulse triggers. As with Forza Motorsport 5, it feels like Microsoft designed the Xbox One controller with the series in mind. The controller is always telling me how my wheels are doing on the road, and hitting a puddle with just my right wheels gave one side of the controller an entirely different feel.
Even night driving is different. Not only is it harder to see in some poorly-lit sections of the track, but the temperature of the asphalt is entirely different at night, meaning your tires will respond to it differently. Braking requires more forethought and care.
These new effects are apparently pushing the Xbox One to its limit, though, at least as they currently exist. The game runs at 1080p and 60fps throughout without a problem, rain, shine, or darkness, with 24 cars on the track (compared to 16 in Forza Motorsport 5 and 12 in previous versions), but if you jump into the game’s split-screen mode, suddenly the night and rain options disappear, suggesting that drawing the unique dynamic lighting and simulating the water that come with those new conditions is a bit too much for the system to do twice over on the same screen.
Of the game’s 26 tracks, 10 are new, are a mix of real-world tracks and tracks based on real-world locations. New real-world tracks like Brands Hatch, Daytona International Speedway and Circuit of the Americas add some great variety in both visuals and track design. Turn 10 has a knack for designing tracks, though, as tracks like Rio de Janeiro and the Bernese Alps were some of my favorites.
Just regular sized transactions this time
While the small car and track list of the previous Forza Motorsport were frustrating on their own, the way the game handled micro transactions made them feel downright insulting. Not only were we getting a game with less of everything than its predecessor, but the game was begging us for money left and right. Not just for car packs, but to unlock cars without having to play the game and even to level up quicker. It was gross. Turn 10 listened and kicked up the game’s cash flow, making the micro transaction options feel truly optional without actually going in and removing them from the game.
With Forza Motorsport 6, though, things are better than ever. I looked hard to find a way to spend my hard-earned cash on something other than downloadable car packs and couldn’t find one. Nowhere is there a button to level faster, purchase a car with real money, or anything like that.
One of the game’s new features, Mods, looked like it was ripe for this kind of exploitation, and even that is pleasantly free of such things.
When I say Mods, though, I’m not talking about swapping in mufflers, swapping engines, and dropping in a new spoiler, though.
Each time you start a race in Forza Motorsport 6‘s overhauled career mode, you’ll have an option along the side to add Mods to your race. These are sort of a deck of digital cards that change something about the race. Boost cards are one-time cards that can kick up your cash or experience, turn off collision for the first lap, and things like that. Crew cards will give you a small edge, like some extra grip or lower weight. Dare mods are probably the most interesting, though. They will force you to use a certain camera, cut into your braking power, or maybe even turn off the suggested braking line in return for an extra cash bonus.
They didn’t massively change the way I played the game, but the right set of mods can result in a pretty substantial cash boost that might make saving up for a particular car that much easier.
These would’ve been, like I said, ripe for micro transaction exploitation. The cards come in packs that sell for various amounts of credits, anywhere from 25,000 credits to 300,000. But that’s it. Just credits. The tokens from the last couple Forza games are gone entirely from what I could tell, even in this case.
If there was any one feature I’d want to see a developer go back in time on, it was this one. The lack of micro transactions feels like a blast from the past in the best possible way.
Choose a career
The Forza series has always been about freedom to play the game how you like, but with the 2013 entry’s career mode, there was maybe a bit too much freedom. No matter what I did, I felt like I wasn’t making a meaningful dent. Just chipping random pieces off a huge monster without anything to show for it. I ended up spending most of my time in Rivals mode as a result.
This time around, though, we get a much more directed career mode, but it’s still infused with the theme of freedom throughout, with a focus on variety.
Now, career mode is split up into five volumes, each with three chapters. Each volume is meant to focus on a different type of car — affordable sports cars, dreamy super cars, on up through highly engineered Indy and Prototype cars.
Each chapter is a playlist of four or six tracks all fitting in a certain theme — rain, hills, long straightaways, and things like that — meant to show off some aspect of the cars in that volume.
At each chapter, you’ll pick a subtype of cars, each of which has a spoken introduction from Top Gear hosts James May and Richard Hammond.
There’s linear progression, sure, but you’ll always have a wide variety of cars to pick from, and I appreciated the sort of tour through the different types of cars the career mode took me on, working up to those terrifying Indy cars. New car types like the Australian V8 Supercars and the electric Formula E racers made for nice changes of pace as I progressed through the chapters.
Forza Motorsport 6 also pulls a couple elements from Forza Horizon 2, the same way Horizon 2 did from Motorsport 5.
As you level up, each level comes with a prize spin, where you’ll be able to win anything from a few credits or a small mod pack up to a cool million bucks or an incredibly expensive car. As I progressed, this slowly built up my garage, ensuring that I almost always had something appropriate for the next chapter without being forced to buy something unless I really had a particular car in mind. This comes in especially handy in the later chapters where cars are climbing into the six and seven digits and picking one up can cut into your cash reserves pretty significantly.
Also pulled from Horizon are showcases. These unlock as you finish races in career mode and level up, and the pace at which they unlock does a great job of breaking up the repetition of laps in similar cars. There were always more showcase options to give me variety, and the only showcase mode I really didn’t delve into was the multi-hour endurance races that asked you to lay down as many as 300 miles of rubber on a single track. Other showcase modes, though, pit you against The Stig’s Digital Cousin (yet another of the continued, though significantly downplayed integration of Top Gear) have you running races against a group of identical cars, or passing as many cars as you can in a couple laps, among others.
My biggest gripe with the career mode lies at the very beginning, though. If you’ve played the demo, you know what I mean. Once you get logged in, you’ll be dropped into an introductory race behind the wheel of the cover car, the 2017 Ford GT. If you’ve played Forza games before, the game will even welcome you back at the end of the race, calling you a veteran. That’s where the veteran treatment stops, though, as the pleasant female voice walks you through the game’s different features at a snail’s pace, pushing you through a few introductory races to introduce the features one at a time. It’s the same content as in the demo, and it’s equally unskippable. Things open up after that, but it’s always frustrating to sit down to a game and find yourself stuck behind an hour of tutorial before you can even really get to the game’s menu system.
New ways to play with your friends
Technical issues prevented me from checking out Forza Motorsport 6‘s multiplayer functionality. If it’s wildly broken or mindblowingly new and fresh, I’ll update this review once multiplayer goes live in a normal environment, but there are a couple aspects of the game’s social and multiplayer elements worth calling out in the meantime.
Drivatars are back, for better or worse. They still bunch up in the first couple corners of each race, like some kind of Benny Hill scene, but once you get past that they do seem better than ever. One new option lets you crank down the Drivatar aggression without turning down the skill level, though, so if you like an intense race without all the paint trading, that’s now an option.
New to the multiplayer mode this time around is the League mode. This mode features scheduled races that pair you with drivers of similar skill and aggression and let you climb ranks into better and better leagues. If you’re the type who goes back to Forza Motorsport for months on end, this should give you plenty to do to keep the game fresh.
Whether you were unhappy with Forza Motorsport 5 or not, whether you’re a veteran or new to the series, this is the Forza Motorsport you’ve been waiting for. Weather effects and new tracks make for new scenery. New cars and modes mix up gameplay. A lack of micro transactions is a refreshing step backward.
If you like fast cars — any kind of fast cars — then Forza Motorsport 6 is where you need to be.
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Forza Motorsport 6 for the Xbox One from the publisher. We played about 35 hours of the game before writing this review.