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Another year, another Forza release for an Xbox console.
For over a decade, Turn 10's Forza Motorsport series of games have been a topic of intense debate in the sim racing community. One question is consistently asked: Why don't Microsoft release these games on PC to go head to head with the best sims available on the market? A game with such a large variety of cars and tracks would be a sales hit among PC racing sim fans, with potentially little impact on the millions of sales gathered on Xbox due to a significant casual audience that both Forza and it's PlayStation equivalent Gran Turismo have.
Today, I'm attempting to answer this question with an in-depth review of the latest release in the Forza series, Forza Motorsport 6 for the Xbox One. This review is going to be conducted as if it were a PC racing sim, with an emphasis on wheel support, physics and handling, multiplayer features and everything else that a sim racer wants to know about a new sim, with little compromise being had for any shortcomings Forza 6 may have.
Graphics, Sound and Presentation
From the outset, Forza 6 screams production values. Everything about the way the game is presented to you is a result of a large development studio with millions of dollars of funding behind them, and it shows. The opening cinematic does a fantastic job of firing you up to get into a car and go racing, and the menus are slick, functional and look outstanding. There is no sim on the PC that can compete with this. Returning features include the large amount of custom liveries created by the community that can be downloaded to cars in the game in a matter of moments, and also the large amount of custom setups that can be bought using in-game credits from people selling them.
However, when we get to the track, some of the cracks begin to appear. Most of the options available in the menus are still available to be tweaked on track, except for one major omission: wheel and controller settings. There is very little more frustrating early in the Forza 6 experience than constantly needing to wait through loading screens while you reload races when tweaking force feedback settings. It's a problem Project CARS shares, but on a lesser degree as at least there were some FFB settings that could be adjusted on track in that game.
On the graphical side of things, Turn 10 have aimed for a 1080p 60 frames per second image, and this framerate is rock solid, with no frame drops noted at any point during my time with the game. It is impressive considering this holds up even with a maximum 24 cars on track (an eight car increase on Forza 5's max) in wet weather conditions, which, along with night races, make their series debut in Forza 6. This is impressive considering Project CARS often drops to 30 frames per second in similar conditions on the console versions of the game.
Of course, this aim for a smooth experience with a high resolution on a console with the equivalent power of a mid spec gaming PC from 3 years ago has taken it's toll on some aspect of the image quality. Reflections and mirrors are noticeably low resolution and update at only 30 frames per second. Aliasing and jagged edges appear often as well, with the post-process based anti-aliasing solution only working in certain situations.
However, the image quality in general has still notably improved from Forza 5, and for PC sim racers who are still accepting of decade-old graphics for gMotor-based sims, the graphics in Forza 6 will still impress.
Turn 10 have been known to hire some amazing sound designers for previous Forza games, and the sound design in Forza 6 is no exception. The car sounds are fantastic and outside of a few outliers, the cars sound very close to how you would expect in the real world. Just be sure to turn off in-race music as soon as you access the options in the game, as while the music now has more variation rather than the single track orchestral piece from Forza 5, there is no substitute for the sounds of a roaring engine that many of us sim racers immensely enjoy.
Cars, Tracks and Weather
Content is one of the key aspects as to why the Forza games are so popular among revheads, and Forza 6 delivers this in spades. The car roster in Forza 6 has ballooned out to a stunning 460 cars. While the true car number is most definitely lower due to Forza's sneaky method of including different liveries of the exact same car as a separate entry in the car list, there is no doubting that very few games can match the sheer variety of cars available in Forza 6. Everything from budget hatchbacks to Formula 1 cars occupy a place in Forza 6, many of which are rarities not seen in most sims. It also has the single largest collection of antique Ferrari's I've ever seen in a racing game, with attention to detail that is stunning to experience. However sadly this Forza game does not feature Porsche at this time, who have made appearances in other Forza games in the past.
Turn 10 have also addressed one of the major criticisms of Forza 5, the low track count. From the outset there are 26 different track locations to pick from, a major improvement on the 14 available at Forza 5's launch. The track selection features fan favourites Spa, Bathurst and Silverstone in addition to endurance race stalwarts the Nurburgring and Le Mans. The Top Gear test track also remains a part of the roster allowing you to compare hotlap times to The Stig, while Indianapolis and Daytona have been included to satisfy oval racing fans as well.
Attention to detail on all of the tracks is excellent, and all of them provide a sense of lively atmosphere that no other racing sim can match, with my favourite being the smoke drifting from trackside cook-offs occurring in the fan viewing areas of Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen. Despite all this, the best looking tracks of Forza 6 are still the fantasy location tracks, with Rio de Janeiro being included in Forza 6 to accompany the Bernese Alps and Prague locations. Many of the real tracks are apparently laserscanned, however it is hard to tell due to the force feedback system used in Forza 6 not being informative enough to notice minute changes of the road surface (more on this later in the review). Another neat attention to detail is the ability for track-side objects to be damaged during races. Track-side barriers will be lined with the paint of cars that have rubbed against them and tyres will come loose and fly off the barriers if cars come into contact with them.
Much has been made of the two long awaited inclusions to Forza 6, night racing and wet weather racing. Sadly, their implementation is lacking. Wet weather only features on circuits that often experience rain in the real world, and night racing can only be done on tracks that have featured night racing in the past. In both cases this means a large degree of the tracks available in the game can not have either wet weather or night racing, which seems limiting compared to the free control you have in Project CARS. These conditions are also fixed, so the dynamic time of day and weather systems found in pCARS are not able to be replicated in Forza 6. In addition to this, wet weather and night races can not be combined at once, meaning the ultimate driving challenge, driving at night in the rain, can not even be attempted in Forza 6.
This is a major disappointment not because of the night racing, which is very similar to other sims that feature this, but due to the wet weather, which is by far one of the most detailed implementations featured in a racing sim to date. This is all down to the implementation of puddles on the track surface, formed in places where puddles tend to form on the circuits in the rain in the real world. The location of these puddles are often on the racing line of the track, meaning driving around the puddles to avoid losses of grip and aquaplaning finally need to be applied, something that no racing sim to my knowledge has ever been able to achieve in the past.
Questions will be raised on whether these large puddles are realistic, as in many motorsports these track conditions would border on unsafe and undriveable. However, as we are playing racing sims with the danger of driving in these conditions being completely absent, the challenge involved in these conditions is very welcoming to experience.
Controllers, Wheels and Force Feedback
Forza 6 will primarily be played by most on a controller, and I can safely say that the gamepad controls still continue to be clear leader in providing an experience that makes all the cars fun to drive, while still keeping some of the characteristics that make each car unique. Special credit must also be given to the Xbox One controller in this situation, which contain comfortable, precise triggers that also include separate rumble motors, providing more feedback about the grip of the car than many other gamepads can provide.
As for wheels, Forza 6 supports all of the very few Xbox One-compatible wheels available on the market, including the popular Thrustmaster TX and the newly released Logitech G920 Driving Force (which was used for this review) wheels. Forza 6 also includes H-shifter support on all wheels that have them, and this works as you would expect on any sim.
However, the way the game plays on a wheel is the start of Forza 6's downfall.
First of all, the default settings provided for wheels in Forza 6 are terrible. The default axis assignments have unnecessarily large amounts of deadzone applied, which require immediate tweaking in the settings menus. Force feedback is turned to the maximum by default and this also is very poorly thought out as these settings provide a wheel weight that would be in line with driving a 18-wheeler without any power steering. The wheel weight is too strong and clips any sort of nuanced effects out of the signal, and in my experience even when running the force feedback at even 30% strength, there is very little feel for the car outside of it's weight shifting.
The problems with the force feedback don't stop there. Despite the wheel being used, Forza 6 has a massive centre axis force feedback deadzone that cannot be dialed out at all. It makes any wheel feel like a G27, which is known for having deadzone issues in many games. (The G920 features a significantly reduced deadzone, so it is not the wheel at fault here before you begin to wonder that.)
Another poor omission is the lack of soft locks and auto-adjusting degrees of rotation per car. The degrees of rotation setting applied in the menus is the rotation all the cars in the game will use, no matter their real world steering locks and ratios. With Forza 6's car roster being so varied, this poses a major problem. While the recommended 540 degree setting works well with many of the GT and touring cars, it is too high for open wheelers and too low for most road cars. Considering so many other modern sims have implemented automatic steering rotation settings, this archaic method is frustrating to use. There is no way to adjust the lock or ratios in the setup menus either, which allowed gMotor sims without automatic rotation detection to still be playable on those using wheels set above 540 degrees of rotation.
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