If Vanessa Williams sang 'Save the best for last' about Microsoft, it would be about this game.
When Microsoft launched its own console there was no doubt they knew they had to compete with Gran Turismo. That game put the original Playstation on the map and shot to the best racing game ever made very quickly after release. With Gran Turismo 4 just behind us, Microsoft took the risk and delayed the game until after GT4 to get it right rather than try and beat it to shelf to get the dollars. This seems to have paid off because although Forza has no where near the game modes and extras of GT4, it has a very solid driving engine. Polyphony should be watching their back.
Forza Motorsport is divided into two main sections; career and arcade mode and really this is not a surprise. However it is when you move deeper into the game you realise just how much care and love the developers have put into the game. The arcade mode is fairly along the lines of what you would expect. You choose a car from a car class and progressively work through series of tracks to unlock more. The interesting thing is you can choose the high powered cars right off the bat, so rather than having to toil through hours and hours of the career mode you can pick something such as the Enzo as your first car. I can guarantee you'll leave the track within about ten seconds, but you can do it. This is the way to unlock the tracks, with career mode only being used to unlock some of the cars.
The career mode is where things really get interesting. Although for the most part it follows GT's style there is a few major improvements that make you wonder what exactly Polyphony was doing to not come up with it themselves. The first being is you choose from one of three locations to base your career; Japan, America or Europe. Depending on where you choose depends on how much cars are. If you live in Europe and want a car from Japan you have to pay more than if you live in Japan. The only way to change locations is to start again, so it is enforced heavily. Another thing which really stands out about the career mode is the multiple difficulty levels. The game encourages you to turn off anti-lock braking, traction control etc by offering more money for those who win without aids. This allows those who want an easy game to have one but win less money and those who want a challenge to do so and be rewarded appropriately.
The actual game itself is incredibly impressive. Although initial impressions may be that of a simulation version of Project Gotham Racing, the physics engine goes far beyond that. This is the first game where in our opinion chasing down cars is a lot more fun than leading a race. The cars are all individual and handle completely different even if they are from the same class. You can take an Enzo for a spin and be comfortable, then hop into the Koeniggsegg and be completely out of your element. The sense of speed is fantastic especially in the higher powered cars and there is a lot more to do than race around tracks such as point to point races and of course time attack. In the time attack mode all tracks are unlocked straight away giving you the opportunity to try a lot of game modes out.
One criticism which may be leveled at the game is that it is too easy to get going. This really is Gran Turismo for newbies. You don't have to sell cars to gain more as the game gives you quite a lot of cars for winning easy races. Also modifying D1 cars to A4 can have you winning races in no time. D1 and A4 are categories based on the power of the car. I actually think this is what makes Forza such an excellent game. You don't have to play for hours to get what you want, you don't have to be a mechanic to know how a car works and modify it, you just need to play the game well. GT purists will turn their nose up at it, but Forza is suited to the more casual gamer. Another is that it only has 200 cars. The thing about Forza is, you will want to drive every one of the 200 cars as they are fun to drive and not in for novelty or car manufacturers request.
In terms of tracks on offer Microsoft has left nothing to chance by licensing some of the world's best tracks as well as creating some fantastic fictional ones. The big thing about this is that the tracks which also feature in GT4 seem quite different in terms of handling in Forza. Whether it's the different cars or the way the tracks constructed, they feel more enjoyable to drive. Moving through chicanes in the cars gives you the sense of diving left and right at high speed much better than other racers. However by far the best track is once again the Nurburgring. GT4 had an absolutely stunning version but Microsoft has taken it to the next level. This is what the Nurburgring actually looks like in real life with all the buildings (including BMW's test centre), lots of trees and it feels like a forest. Driving it for the first time was hard because unlike PGR2 and GT4, the different look makes the track feel completely different. Other tracks include Tsukaba, Laguna Seca and as mentioned, some fictional tracks.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. Initially we thought GT looked better but having played the game for a while we're undecided. There are times when Forza is close to photorealism (well as close as you're going to get till next-gen) and others where it feels a bit too much like a game. The cars are definitely weaker than GT4 in looks but they still look superb and rather, it is the actual tracks really stand out. For instance, Silverstone looks like the F1 track to an insane degree. The cars engines are also extremely well done. The Enzo engine will definitely have you wanting more, and no two cars sound the same.
Forza Motorsport really is the complete racing game. GT4 may have offered more modes such as photo but Forza is all about the racing and it shows in a big way. Forza Motorsport probably won't sell as much as GT4 but it deserves to and could easily be not only Xbox racing game of the year, but Racing game of the year period.