Love it or hate it, the release of a new entry in the Gran Turismo series always feels like an event. In contrast, and try as it may, developer Turn 10's Forza Motorsport franchise for Xbox consoles has never garnered the same level of attention.
I think part of that hype stems from series heritage: Gran Turismo is almost 20 years old, and has been an esteemed notch in Sony's exclusive first party line-up since the days of the original PlayStation, whereas the first Forza came out in 2005. Saturation is a factor, too – since 2005, only three Gran Turismo games have been released, while there have now been eight entries in the Forza series, including its Horizon spin-offs. Gran Turismo games have arrived with expectations whetted by "Prologue" versions, which undeniably increases the hype for the full release. And then there's the cultural factor to consider: Gran Turismo producer Kazunori Yamauchi is highly secretive, his Polyphony Digital studio shrouded in a sense of mystery that the American team at Turn 10 simply can't match.
However, Forza's approachability has become its defining feature. Where Gran Turismo is a dense, focused simulation that can alienate those wanting a real feeling of arcade speed, Forza embraces the liveliness of a race and aims to provide those instant thrills as well as an overall impression of authenticity.
It's in the just-released Forza Motorsport 6 that Turn 10 rectifies past mistakes, rebalances the quantity of its content, refines the quality of it too, and finally makes its flagship racing series better than Gran Turismo, definitively so. Having essentially screwed the petrol-headed pooch with Forza Motorsport 5 – an Xbox One launch title that asked too much of players while giving nothing back, even going so far as to pack a ridiculous amount of pay-to-win content – the Washington State studio has got itself back on track, not only hitting the series highs that they achieved with 2011's Forza 4, but accelerating beyond them.
Turn 10 has proved its love, knowledge and intrinsic understanding of motorsport time and time again over the last decade, and here it's packaged in close to perfect fashion. Which is not to say that Polyphony doesn't know its stuff – Gran Turismo is consistently an exercise in automotive know-how, but the execution can come across as sterile. In Forza 6, quantity and quality come together without compromise, delivering a roster of over 450 of the world's fastest, quirkiest and most iconic sets of wheels. And not one of them feels like an afterthought, an inclusion the game's makers felt they had to make, but did so by cutting corners. There's an attention to detail here that is without parallel.
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All of this stuff is expertly conveyed into an updated handling model that adds even more nuance to an already deep, varying drive, resulting in every single car that I raced with feeling unique. More impressively, the tech-specs presentation is so delightful that it makes every car appealing, even the crappy bangers that your nan wouldn't dare be seen in on her weekly trip to Budgens. Gran Turismo has never really succeeded in doing this, instead including "Premium" cars, which were basically the real-deal, while other vehicles in its garage were sub-par recreations without full-resolution textures. Pfft.
One of Forza 5's main problems was its career mode, which felt like a complete slog from the start, handing out credits and car rewards so slowly that it essentially forced you into spending real money. Nice one, Microsoft. This is also a problem that GT faces, where progression feels sluggish, and sitting in menus for ages isn't quite what you expect when buying something on the promise of experiencing the world's most authentic driving game. Forza 6 is pleasingly generous in how it wants you to progress – you're quickly into faster cars and exploring its world of sculpted rubber and glossy metal mere minutes after the main menu's been navigated. Credits to buy new cars and upgrades get spat at you in decent chunks, while the level-up-marking lucky spin tombola represents the chance to win extra bonus credits, or brand new cars, like the illustrious Bugatti Veyron.
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The sublime Xbox One pad, with its rumbling force feedback triggers, gives you a decent impression of exactly how your car is performing on the track. Having the left trigger buzz as you squeeze the brake at high speed is electrifying, and running wide through a fast turn not only sounds like bad news, as the tyres scream and you hang on for dear life, but the controller relays that information directly into your hands in a way Gran Turismo has never really tried.
Not all of it works. Forza 6's scope is vast, but its new and breathtakingly beautiful wet weather conditions and night races are missing the dynamic weather and day/night cycles that would've made for much deeper and more environmentally appealing sessions. There aren't nearly enough fictional circuits, either – I really wish Turn 10 would turn more of its time to creating more tracks like Camino Viejo, the Bernese Alps and the new windy slink through the hills of Rio de Janeiro, as racing the same realistic circuits, year after year, gets a little tiresome.
But tiny niggles aside, the end results here are impressively pure. Forza 6 is a clean, polished package that feels like it's been flown, first class, straight from the heart of its developers and into your console, but it's also passionate and characterful at heart. Gran Turismo lacks a certain human touch, I think, and that's its problem and Forza's gain, as this title understands the importance of creating a driving game without sacrificing speed. Gran Turismo looks like a racer, but it doesn't always feel like one. There's no doubt that Forza occasionally strays too far into humanising what is, basically, a bunch of machines going in circles, with its portentous videos and pretentious voiceovers about kids being "born to race". But on the track, where it matters, it's got soul quite unlike its peers.
Forza Motorsport 6 is out now, exclusive to Xbox One
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