Forza Horizon 4 is the best racing game ever made.
No, wait, Forza Horizon 4 is the best current gen game ever made.
No no no, Forza Horizon 4 is the game ever made forever. End of review.
Okay, no. Fine, I’ll do a real review I guess. Forza Horizon 4 is the eleventh entry in the Forza racing series exclusively on Xbox One (and PC). It’s the racing game for people who love racing games, and also those who don’t. Developed by Turn 10 and Playground Games and published by Microsoft, it’s one of the only killer apps that the Xbox has in terms of exclusive properties. It’s hard to understand why it’s good, even for people who enjoy it. The game in general just has a way of accommodating all types of players. You can play it as a hardcore simulation racing experience full of professional competitors. Or, you can play it as an arcade racer with enemies who are dumb as bricks. Or, you could just ignore the entire game and make a name for yourself exclusively on making liveries and tuning setups for cars. In addition, you can also stare at and sit in the cars you purchased. How could you go wrong?
The power of the Xbox One is in full bloom on this game. Whether you’re playing it in glorious 4K on your X model, or just playing the vanilla version on your S model, Horizon 4 is absolutely stunning. It’s first party games like these that use the full potential of the Xbox’s capabilities. This game is the first one to feature changing seasons to keep the game lively. Every week, the game swaps between Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer. The appearance and condition of the large (but not too large) map change dramatically with every season, promising you a different experience every time you get on. Each one of these seasons is expressed in stunning detail, whether you’re driving across the frozen lake of winter or blowing through the foliage of autumn. Every car is excellently crafted. This is a perfect 1 to 1 model of their real-life counterparts. Not to mention the greatest looking rain effects ever, as the car you’re driving gets littered with tiny specks of water. They glisten on your hood and roof as you sprint through the picturesque city of fake Edinburgh.
This game has an astounding way of keeping you invested in the game. You are merely a competitor in the Horizon racing series, as opposed to being the boss in 3. The game conforms to suit the kind of racing you want to play. Four is the power number in this game. There are 4 racing types: Dirt, Cross Country, Street, and Road. The more you complete in a specific series, the more races of that type will appear on that map. For instance, street racing isn’t my bag, so I stick to playing the other types. There are only 3 street races on my map, but several dozen races of my preferred series dotting the landscape. The same goes for stunt challenges, four of which are: danger signs (jumps), drift zones, speed zones, and speed traps. If you like speed traps and beat them, you’ll get more. If you hate drift zones and don’t bother, there will only be a few.
The racing experience itself does a great showcase of the game to get you into the grove. Before you join the official Horizon roster, you have to prove yourself by playing “Year One” of the festival. You get to experience all four seasons in a very short period of time. During that, you learn of all these game types, as well as learning what earns you ‘influence,’ the progress tracker of the game that determines your driver level. You can get influence from practically everything, from races, painting, shopping, you name it. The game is also content throwing Wheelspins at you. Which sounds like gambling loot boxes, but you CANNOT buy them with real money. It’s simply a reward given to you for taking part in the game, and it is very generous.
Finally, the game also has 4 story modes: Stunt Driver, Drift Club, World’s Fastest Rentals, and LaRacer @ Horizon. These challenge races have replaced the “bucket list” of former games, giving you more context to a litany of racing challenges. It gives the game a lot more power to give you some context as to why you’re driving the car they gave you and what the challenge is. Of course, Horizon has its showcase races as well. Five races in which you perform a Top Gear style race against certain vehicles. You race a train, a large hovercraft, and a VTOL, among other things. Never a dull moment.
All the cars sound authentic. All the DJs are as annoying as real DJs. Voices are fine. The licensed OST is certainly a crowd-pleaser. Although it actually features fewer radio stations than the previous iteration, the lineup of songs still fit the mood of the game to a stunning degree. That is if you even care about the soundtrack. I do, but many gearheads may agree that the only sound they need to hear is the sound of the motor.
As stated before, you can play this game however you want. When you set up the difficulty, you can choose from more than 8 difficulty levels of driver AI. The AI itself is good because it simulates real drivers, rather than relying on cheap rubber band tactics like other games do. From there you can pick if you need traction control, stability control, or steering help. Then how to see how much help you need with breaks and whether or not you need a line to show you where to drive or just where to hit the brakes. Then you select transmission. Then you set if you want damage to be real, simulated, or completely absent. Then you select if you want the rewind feature enabled. All of these settings determine how much money you get at the end of a race. The more assistance you turn off, the more bonus money you earn. It absolutely is a “play how you want” game that will accommodate everyone.
There’s also a section in the menu screen called “My Horizon Life” that tells you what your progress in every facet of the game. The race types, exploration, photos, cars owned, paint jobs, online races. Absolutely everything is tracked and rewards you accordingly. And those wheelspins you earn are a fine motivator to keep you playing. That’s along with the perks you get just from getting points earned from driving, in or out of races. Also, every week, with the new season, comes new challenges. In the #Forzathon section of the menu, you can view challenges that are started daily, and up to 3 can be completed per day. There’s a challenge of the week that will ask you to buy a certain car or type of car and complete four challenges with it. Furthermore, all this challenge participation will give you an alternative currency (which also CANNOT be bought with real money) that you can spend on special prizes for the season. You can also partake in “Live” events, which is basically a team car meetup where you all head to a place, have a chat, take photos, then work as a team to complete 3 challenges. The multiplayer is seamless, and unless you specifically ask to play alone, you will encounter other drivers. But you have nothing to wait for when you launch the game. Just boom, you’re playing and other people are on the map.
As stated many times, the game constantly finds ways to reward you. Everything you do in this game will get you credits and influence. You can do anything you want to and the game will cater to how you want to play it. The only frustration I’ve found in the game is that during multiplayer races, one bad turn can ruin your entire run. But that’s my fault because I rely too heavily on rewind and drive like a maniac. No more needs to be said. Unless you hate racing games explicitly, there’s no way you can hate on this title.
The developers of Forza Horizon 4 worked very hard in making sure that this installment of the series addresses a few of the sticking point and nags from the prior entry, but even that game was merely just shy of absolute perfection. This one finishes the job while opening up the game to new possibilities for the future. I implore you, please play this game. The demo is free, and you can play the full game if you own Xbox Game Pass. You could get the whole entire game for just a $10 single monthly subscription. Or just buy it, you can do that too. And you should. It’s that good.
Racing fans all over the world rejoice. The official “only game series worth playing on Xbox” has just dropped its newest iteration, Forza Horizon 4. This is the relaxed, more open world format of the game that can be custom tailored to your play style, from arcade racer to hardcore simulator. I haven’t reviewed the game yet but I am confident it is the best racing game ever made. But we’ll have to wait for the review on that.
We are here to talk about loot boxes. They are a sticking point in the gaming industry that has recently left gamers with a bad taste in their mouths. It’s easy to say EA was the straw that broke the camel’s back with their disastrous issues brought up by Dice’s Star Wars Battlefront II. It made national headlines to the point where non-gaming outlets were covering the issue. It inspired several developers to actively patch out the aspect in their games. It even got a country to outlaw it.
Now, Microsoft has been walking on thin ice in regards to this for quite some time. The more recent games in the Forza franchise featured an alternative currency you can buy with real money. This alternative currency could be used to buy cars. But they took a step too far with Forza Motorsport 7, in which you could earn “prize crates”. These prize crates were filled with cars, in-game currency, and challenge cards. The challenge cards were interesting, in that they just offered you a bonus bounty if you complete certain conditions during a race. For example, placing in 5th or better, or making 3 perfect turns would net you some more coin.
But the Forza Horizon Wheelspin is present in all four titles in the series. The only difference is you can’t really purchase spins, outside of using perk tokens in later titles. But, still, it is basically a slot machine that has different prizes you can win. The fourth installment expanded on the items you can win. On top of cars and money, they added cosmetics for your avatar, car horns, and emotes. Yes, emotes. However, something else changed with this version. That alternative currency is gone, completely removed from the game. You can’t buy cars with real money anymore, and you certainly can’t buy the wheel spins or the new SUPER wheelspins. You win one item for wheelspins and three items for super wheelspins. The only microtransaction outside of expansion packs is the treasure map, which reveals all of the secrets on your map for just $3.
So what makes a loot box a loot box? Overwatch may not have been the first, but it did codify the concept of loot boxes. The list of items you can win from crates are icons, skins, emotes, sprays, voice lines, victory poses, highlight intros, and loot. So, cosmetics and some currency. But you can pay to get a whole bunch of these, and you get 4 items per box. And one “rare” item is guaranteed in every box, with rare being the second tier of swag, sporting blue. After that, you have purple for epic loot and orange for legendary loot. MANY games that feature “loot” in general, box or no box, use this color-coded system and verbiage for their items. In Forza Horizon 4, that most certainly is the case, the names and colors are the same.
You only win one loot box from leveling up in Overwatch, with some exceptions for certain events and standards. In Horizon 4, the game practically throws wheelspins at you. Level up? Wheelspin. Do a couple stunts? Wheelspin. Buy a house? Wheelspin. Paint a car? Wheelspin. Take some photos? Wheelspin. Buy a few cars? Wheelspin. Get a couple perk points? Wheelspin. I could stop here but I’m going to keep going anyway. Win a few races? Wheelspin. Lose a few races? Wheelspin. Complete a championship? Wheelspin. Drive around doing absolutely nothing? Wheelspin. Participate in a live event? Wheelspin! EXIST? WHEELSPIN! DON’T EXIST? WHEELSPIN!
I swear I could not go more than 15 minutes without getting at least one or two wheelspins. That may be because I bought the ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the game and got some generous boosts to start, but even afterward, I just kept getting more and more. It actually got annoying and broke up the pace of the game. Thankfully, you don’t have to sit through a whole wheelspin animation, which is only about 5-7 seconds, not much at all. But even then you can skip that animation, get your prize, and be on your merry way.
So, what’s different about the Horizon 4 wheelspin again? Let’s review. You cannot purchase them with real money. The alternate currency system is not present. You get them all the time. Basic wheelspins will always get you either a car or more money. Super wheelspins will get you 3 of anything else. You do not get unfair advantages in multiplayer for wheelspins. You don’t get cards that change the conditions of earning more. Every spin is a winner (unless you get 10,000CR, that’s pretty lame).
It feels a lot more like the game is using these prizes to encourage you for playing the game. You can and will play the game regardless of the wheel spins. Yet as you play, the game is constantly rewarding you pretty much just for playing it. You may feel appreciated by the game as you continue to get gift after gift after gift. You may feel far more appreciated than you ever felt possible with this inclusion. Despite the “slot machine” appearance, it feels a lot more like you are just being given some free things, instead of gambling. Because of these reasons, I assert that the Horizon Wheelspin is neither a loot box nor a form of gambling. On top of that, I appreciate Microsoft’s nerve to decide not to include alternative currency this time around. I hope this game along with others continues with that mindset for the foreseeable future.
Forza on Switch? Gear.Club Unlimited is up to the challenge.
Forza Motorsport may be the king of the racing games but this small challenger has appeared for the switch and it’s got an ace in it’s sleeve. This is Gear.Club Unlimited, and it makes a bad first impression. But it gets better.
Gear.Club Unlimited is a console exclusive racing game for the Nintendo Switch and is based on the Gear.Club games for mobile, although this was developed by Microids. Which is interesting, because that developer is well known for their point-and-click adventure games. You could say this is actually the Switch’s first true racing game, because although Mario Kart 8 does feature racing, I consider it a party game due to all the mayhem. This is the first racing game on the Switch that features real cars on a semi-realistic racing atmosphere. Can it launch a potential new series for the console?
Well to start the graphics are… bad. Really bad. You cannot blame the hardware for the graphics on display here. They don’t even look as good as other mobile racing games out there. Asphalt 8 for mobile dances circles around this. As far as the environments go, they are very unfulfilling. They are blocky and have very low-res textures, and you don’t even have to stop driving to bear witness. Even at top speeds you can see how bad everything looks in full detail. The roads aren’t too real looking either, seeming like they were pulled out of a 90s racing game for PC. The cars themselves aren’t too much better, but they are better. They at least look like the cars they are supposed to, and the game does feature licensed cars, which is nice to have. But even then, trying to represent the real cars is where the game fails, as it looks like it could run on a very early Xbox 360.
This needs to be specified more in the about section, but when a game doesn’t have a story, it has to either benefit from not having a story or have a good progression system. GCU has the latter. The goals and rules of the races are as straightforward as possible. You have a couple of cardboard cutout characters who will tell you what to do and where to go, and that’s all you need. This game has tons and tons of races, all of which use the typical mobile formula of giving you a 1, 2, or 3 star ranking based on your performance. The more stars you get, the more races you earn, and in a matter of hours my map was a litany of racing championships to partake in. The money you earn in the game is also fair, with cars, parts, and even your own tune up shop gear all being decently priced and tiered accordingly. Everything in the game has a goalpost, everything is upgradeable, everything rewards you. Best of all: no alternate currencies!
So, the game doesn’t have great audio either. A lot of the cars have that lawnmower sound, the menu music is generic and… there’s no soundtrack. How do you judge that? Is it good because it could have had a bad soundtrack and doesn’t have one at all? Is it bad because it should have a soundtrack? There are a lot of games that don’t feature music during races, so it’s hard to say. The game’s sounds are functional, for the most part, even if they don’t match the car being used, but that’s getting too technical. I guess you can just this game is BYOS, Bring Your Own Soundtrack, and that’s… just okay I guess.
At first I thought the game was bland. But after a couple races, the game showed that not only can the AI be altered but that you can also alter the assists for driving. This is one of those racers that sits halfway between being a sim and being an arcade game. It’s the kind of formula that makes Forza Horizon so great. And GCU has an ace up its sleeve, because you can REWIND your mistakes in it, just like Forza. In fact, not only can you rewind, but you can rewind to whatever specific spot (in a 15 second window) you want to go back to, whereas Forza’s rewind forces you to rewind back to wherever it wants you to go back to. So yeah, this tiny indie game just one-upped Turn 10 in one of its biggest gimmicks. Besides all of that, the racing is fun and various. The locations, despite not being gorgeous, are unique and varied. Controlling the car hits just the right spot, and can be as difficult or as easy as you want, based on your choices for assists. The game has different kinds of races too, from time trials where you race the ghosts of other cars, to rally tracks that get off the asphalt and into the mud. It’s satisfying, and with the length of each race being short, it’s great for short rounds or long runs.
Like I said earlier, the game doesn’t give off the best first impression, what with the cardboard characters, low visual fidelity, lackluster sound and rigid structure, but once you get past the first 30 minutes to an hour, the game opens up in a grand way giving you multiple options on how you want to proceed. This isn’t a game that has trapped me and has me coming back day after day all in a row, but I play it in between games or when I’m on break at work; it’s always a quick and easy distraction to just go, get your fill in, and stop whenever you’re done.
While Gear.Club Unlimited may not be the darkhorse the Nintendo Switch needs to bring itself up against the big boys in racing, it is not without its merits. If a solid, if very direct, racing game is all you need and you wanna take it on the go, get this game. It’s value-priced to download and is almost exactly worth what it sells for.
So recently, between bouts of Monster Hunter World, I’ve been playing a bit of Project Cars 2 on the side. No wait, that’s not right, I’ve been trying to play Project Cars 2. Okay, no, I have made several attempts to play Project Cars 2. And I’ve failed miserably, but I don’t understand why. I love my racing games and tend to reach for the simulation-oriented games like Forza Motorsport/Horizon, Gran Turismo Sport (which sucked), and Grid Autosport. Basically, it has to have “sport” somewhere in the title in order to be a simulation game. I love these games and always have a blast. Unless I’m playing Project Cars 2.
To call PC2 the Dark Souls or racing games isn’t quite right. It’s not that it’s just hard and requires you to ‘git gud.’ Its demands are far higher than that. From the very moment you start the game, it’s strongly suggested you begin at the rookie section of the game which consists of… go karts and average cars. “Oh, you played Forza? That’s cute. Learn to drive for real, dumbass.” I got schooled in the way of racing as crash after crash, restart after restart, I failed to even finish one race in anything other than last place. That’s if I manage to finish a race at all, which was also infrequent.
The legitimacy of the game’s mechanics can be seen right there in the settings when you decide how much help you want/need from the game. Back when I played Gran Turismo Sport, I had to set the game’s assists to ‘Expert’ because the ‘Intermediate’ car practically drove itself. By the end of Forza Horizon 3, I had almost all assists turned off and had the car’s AI set to Pro. In Forza Motorsport, it’s the same but I leave traction control on and race against ‘Highly Skilled’ drivatars. I’m great at these games, I had fun and I loved them. Project Cars 2? Almost all of the assists are on and I still can’t catch a break. And the number of settings there are to adjust are mind-numbing, just look at the general settings screens: [Click here for HQ]
You see that? I can’t catch a break even with all of the help the game is willing to give me. It doesn’t help that the cars you’re up against don’t seem to have any difficulty slider, and in many cases, they don’t feel like they have to obey the rules of the road as much as you do. I’ve had to restart a race 8 times because I accidentally clipped a corner or bumped into a car. These infractions can sometimes force you into the pit lane as punishment.
Another problem seems to be the controls. It appears that the game was on showcase frequently with a full steering wheel and pedal set. Driving wheels cost quite a bit, usually in the $400 range unless they are on sale. Playing the game on a regular controller doesn’t always feel right, as if it wasn’t optimized to play on it. I’m sure Project Cars 2 is a spectacular one-to-one recreation of real driving if you have a wheel. But for that price, you can also get a PSVR. Funny enough, this game has VR support on PC but not on the PS4. Not that it matters, as I’m playing it on my Xbox One.
Again, the game can get rather infuriating. You can race again and again and again and never improve. At some point, you may think that I may be being spoiled by Forza’s rewind mechanic. While I do admit it improves the racing experience, I still play plenty other racing games and fare just fine without being able to rewind. Rewind is merely an evolution of the game. It’s not cheating at the game, but instead is the game telling you that you did something wrong and that you have to do it over and over to get it right. But that’s just it. When you screw up in Forza, you hit the rewind button repeatedly until you fix it. With Project Cars 2, you end up pressing the ‘Restart Race’ button many times because in most cases, crashing will leave you so far behind there’s no point in attempting to catch up. Honestly, one of my best friends is a bonafide gearhead and racing game aficionado and even he says that this game is too hard to be enjoyed.
The game is kind of boring too. It flaunts its rules and pinpoint precision in racing mechanics, but that doesn’t make the game fun, it just makes it realistic. And that’s not always fun, especially when it’s to the extent that this game has implemented. The game doesn’t give you a whole lot in terms of motivation to keep racing, you just fail and that’s the end of it. So, having played around 5 hours of this game, I just don’t really want to play it anymore unless I’m feeling particularly masochistic. This game might be perfect for many people out there, but as a person who is more of a gaming enthusiast than a racing enthusiast, this doesn’t quite work out. Here’s the basic rating the game gets, based on our scoring system.
Doesn’t look as good as the average racing game lately. If your racing game doesn’t look absolutely gorgeous, something terribly wrong has happened.
I have no idea if the game offers more encouragement down the line, but as of right now, it’s practically nonexistent. The game feels empty despite everything it has to offer.
Car sounds are as true to life as is expected from a racing sim. But the soundtrack is dismal, with annoying and overly dramatic movie score music playing on the main menu and nothing else.
This game truly is about as non-fictional as a racing game can get, if that hasn’t been made apparent in the rest of this article.
Imagine being so annoyed by a game that you go off on a rant about it instead of doing a proper review. That’s what just happened here.
Racing games tend to be the conduit for showing how powerful new consoles are. It’s no surprise, with the release of upgraded consoles PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, that this holiday season has been riddled with racing games. Need For Speed: Payback is one of the contenders aiming to fulfill the adrenaline desires. Published by EA and developed by Ghost Games arrived to store shelves on November 10th, 2017. As the 23rd entry in one of gamings most iconic franchises, Need For Speed: Payback has the difficult job about giving gamers a reason to stop playing the other incredible racing games available now. Full speed ahead to see if this game will continue to revitalize the series that the previous entry reignited.
Right out the gate, racing games have two very important jobs. The first is for the console manufacturers. They need to extract every possible amount of power that the little box can muster and make sure to show it off through visual representation. Need for Speed: Payback does an incredible job making the world feel alive and real but it doesn’t do anything that makes it stand completely outside what other racers are doing. Fortune valley, the most recent recreation of Las Vegas in video games, is a beautiful city filled with different environments that help to breathe fresh air into the long drives. The cars all look fascinating, accurate, and provide a real representation of some of the worlds greatest super cars at home. Some of the character models for less important characters look a little shoddy but nothing of importance is ever effected by the lack of attention. This new racer does a great job of showing off all the technical power in these new consoles but it doesn’t do anything to break the mold or really stand out.
The games title is pretty telling when it’s comes to the plot in this particular game. The story opens up with a typical race crew of misfits who each fill a general role working together to steal a car with some crazy prototype technologies. Things go bad pretty quick and a member of the crew screws the whole team over. The team falls a part everyone goes on their own sad adventure till they eventually team back up to fight the good fight. In no way is Need for Speed: Paybacks story bad. In fact it’s actually pretty great. The story unfolds through the eyes of the 3 playable characters from the crew and the fourth who happens to be the team mechanic. The issue with the story, as with many of the titles this year, it feels to predictable. Maybe it’s a writing issue or maybe it’s a reviewer issue. The story just lacks any real sense of freshness. However it’s still a really good fun story to experience, just not one that will have the edge of the seat warm by any standards. Also, not sure why one of the main characters is Bruce Wayne. Just saying.
Hearing the roar of the roar of the most powerful engines in the world is one of the most endorphin-inducing sounds for any person. Vehicles moving at speeds that literally break wind (insert fart joke) have to sound as real as possible. The screeching of tires, the sounds of collision, everything sounds incredibly real. It would be easy for a neighbor to confused the sound of this game through surround sound for an actual vehicle collision. On top of the hyper realistic world noise, the voice acting is also pretty good. Lines are delivered in ways that feel convincing and compelling. None of the characters fall into a muddy or uninteresting tone however there maybe a little backlash over the stereotypes in some of the characters voices. Arguably the most important audio component in any racing game or sports game is the soundtrack, and boy does Payback deliver. Boasting a playlist that covers a wide range of genres that keep the blood pumping the music really pulls everything together. It’s super easy to envision someone racing down the street with A$AP Ferg’s “Trap and A Dream” playing at neighborhood rattling volumes.
It’s hard to judge gameplay on a game type that has one basic mechanic: Drive fast. Sure some of the game modes and challenges add a little dynamics to the concept but overall it’s just drive really fast. And for better or worse that’s where Need for Speed: Payback sits. It doesn’t really do anything new but it also doesn’t really get anything wrong. The one gameplay mechanic that was kind of a silly decision was not including police cruisers and chases in the free roam. All police chases are tied little bait boxes which provide loot when completed but have no negative impact at all when failed. It’s a really interesting choice that doesn’t quite make any sense no matter which lens it’s looked at through. It was just a bad choice that hopefully can get patched in via an update or something. Who knows how games work? Either way all the other modes and race styles almost make up for it but not quite enough. The one thing that seemed to be a major point of concern were the loot boxes EA is trying to force into every game. After playing the game for a few hours, there was never a moment where purchasing a loot box felt necessary. The pay to win model, for single player, doesn’t exist, however the impact on multiplayer is still not entirely clear. Hopefully the concern remains baseless.
Tying things back to the beginning of the review, the second important mission every racing game is tagged with completing is owed to the gamers. Every member of the development team who wasn’t taking the console apart to figure how to abuse its power, is now focused on making sure the game carries endless amounts of fun. Check this box for Need for Speed: Payback for sure. Hours and hours of fun can be had with this game whether playing through the interesting story or driving around fortune valley smashing billboards there is something for everyone. Vehicle customization remains a staple feature, now that EA finally figured out no one ever asked for racing games with out customization, and boy does it get deep. Of course it doesn’t get as deep as the ultra pro racing sim, Forza, but it definitely goes a lot further than any other arcade racing sim available now. Locating derelicts feels like an exciting scavenger hunt in this brand new world while racing around the world aimless still feels just as adventurous. The major complaint is still the lack of police cruisers when free roaming but outside of that can’t imagine putting the control down once the engines start.
At the end of the road, Need for Speed: Payback will be remembered for giving fans almost everything they love without to much extra filler. Beautiful cars to drive through beautiful scenery while playing beautiful music. That sums up the fun in a beautiful way. Anyone looking for a great story or something incredibly brand new in racing gameplay may not be 100% satisfied with this selection but it would be hard to believe they didn’t enjoy themselves at all. Need for Speed: Payback is almost the game fans of the series wanted but in the world’s current state, maybe complaining about the little things isn’t to great of an idea. Just hop into Payback and push those cars to wind breaking speeds. [Editor’s Note: Fart Joke Here Too]
Gran Turismo Sport is the thirteenth game in the Gran Turismo series, one that has been forever exclusive to the Playstation platform. Props for loyalty, eh? It was developed by Polyphony Digital and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Now, I’m going to be up front here, I’ve never been a big fan of Gran Turismo and have always leaned more to the side of Forza and being an Xbox fanboi. But considering that the most recent entry in the Forza series was the lackluster but well-made Forza Motorsport 7, I was hoping that some good, sturdy competition from a rival series would bolster some friendly competition between the two. The last Gran Turismo came out in 2013 and that’s quite the gap. Can the new game pull it off?
It’s becoming increasingly hard NOT to find a racing game that looks stellar in the visuals department. Gran Turismo Sport is no different. Every car has been built with careful and loving detail from top to bottom. The fictitious race tracks also lend some credence to creativity when it comes to the design, as many other racing sims rely purely on real world tracks, so this game was a breath of fresh air in that regard. Sadly, unlike the new Forza game, this game does not feature realistic weather and every track and race are all situated in a clean and clear race day. That said, to make up for this, the game features the tracks at many different times of the day, so you get many variations of lighting. You can race at dusk, dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, morning, night, and everything in between. If you’re keeping your eye out for flaws, you will notice that some buildings in and around the circuits could use some love but that’s some sheer nitpicking. One particularly great looking course is a dirt rally track based around a wind farm and the aesthetics of that track are gorgeous no matter what time your race.
As stated before, in games that don’t particularly qualify or have a story, you have to observe what sort of progression the game gives you and what incentives are in place to keep you going. GTS sadly has none. For starters, it has three very sad campaigns you can take part in. The first is literally driving school, in which you watch YouTube videos on what you’re supposed to do (no really, it has YouTube videos embedded in the loading screen) and then drive for usually seconds at a time. Not only is it boring, but it also gets incredibly hard as it tasks to perfectly recreate a corner it wants you take to learn about turning. That would have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that it drops you into the heat of things too quickly and makes a lot of the intermediate driving courses unreasonably challenging in a vacuum. If the driving school isn’t your bag, the second campaign is a series of challenges that start off interesting but quickly become annoying or unreasonable by the time you reach the second or third series. Then if that’s not enough, the third campaign is track mastery in which you just do specific sections of the tracks in the game, which isn’t very fun either.
All of this leads to me giving up and just playing the “arcade mode,” which is far more fun and just lets you race with whichever car is available. But, while the fun can be dug from there, the progress you make is far from engaging. It has four sections for leveling: you have your currency, mileage points, actual miles, and your experience. Leveling up your EXP unlocks tracks in arcade mode and nothing else (for the most part). The mileage is a daily challenge that gives you a free car if you do a sort of daily mileage workout. The mileage points are used to unlock cosmetics that are laughably minimal. The credits you get aren’t quite enough to buy some cars, but buying cars is a moot point when most of the races supply you with the car you need to race with for free, and the car selection is absolutely abysmal. This game really doesn’t hold your attention or do much to keep you going.
The sound is in good form here. Like many other racing games, the realism takes precedence over everything and most cars sound exactly like how they are supposed to sound in real life. I think the real problem comes with a few nagging points that stick and never go away. For one, it has a combo soundtrack of licensed songs and originals for the menu. The menu music is sadly generic and feels like it was done at the last minute. It also sounds like it belongs in a decades-old game featuring big beat and IDM. The licensed soundtrack is a joke, with uninteresting songs that get drowned out by the racing sounds to the point where they are completely unnecessary. There’s that and then there’s the screeching. The screeching sounds you hear when you make any turns or slam the breaks are deafening and unrealistic; taking a hard turn while jamming down the throttle sounds like you’re in some sort of drifting competition, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are going, you are going to hear a solid “SCREEEEEEEEEEE” whether you’re driving a Ferrari or a Ford. It’s so homogenous and grating that it really detracts from the experience. I had to stop playing and load a couple other games to see if it was present in other sims, and it just wasn’t. Or at least, not to the degree that this game emanates.
For a game with a subtitle under it that reads “The Real Driving Simulator” it sure as heck feels pretty unrealistic. Besides the aforementioned screeching, the brakes don’t feel like they work properly. Maybe it is the realism just getting to me, but it feels a lot like the cars are very very lightweight. This doesn’t apply to just braking. Collide with another car, be it a high-speed impact or a ding, and you send the NPC car flying off the track. It also feels like your car is made of elastic with the bounciness of slamming into the guard rails on the track. You don’t get stopped dead, you just BOING right off a guard rail and continue racing. I’m thankful for this mechanic, considering it doesn’t have Forza’s legendary “rewind” mechanic, but it also feels cheap at the same time too. If you’re going to call it a real racing sim, then make it so. This feels a lot more like you’re driving a go-kart at times. This was especially so when I tried out various racing assistance settings.
This game allows novice, intermediate, and expert presets for how much assistance the game gives you with driving physics. I immediately started with expert and was pretty satisfied with the realism it offered at the time, except for my aforementioned issues. Then I tried “intermediate” mode and suddenly the car was practically driving itself. No joke, I kept forgetting to steer the car I was driving because I fell into a trance as the game practically takes over the controls for you when you get to any of the corners. This “autodrive” feature took me completely out of the experience and sent me right back to expert mode. But the problems don’t end there. At the start of many races you are in “autodrive” mode while the race counter counts down from 3. More often than not the game relinquishes control to you in the middle of a corner. It’s absurd.
As said before, the game puts a lot of focus into some realistic driving expectations. Once you get used to the physics engine, the game is rather enjoyable to play for a quick race or two in arcade mode. Unfortunately, you will often find yourself bored as the game makes you try driving around the same corner for the thirteenth time in driving school, doing the same challenge over and over because the difficulty spiked tremendously, or you simply run out of things to do. This game has a lot of merits that save it from being bad, mark my words. For one, restarting a race is instantaneous. If you are unhappy with your drive, you can start over at the press of a button and boom, the race is ready to go. For what it’s worth as well, despite the driving school being unfun for the most part, it DOES make you a better driver. The use of cones to signal braking and turning points are new and interesting. But none of this is enough to keep you going. You have to watch two racing etiquette videos just to join multiplayer. Not only that, but they seem to be fixated on making the races official, so instead of any form of matchmaking, the game just has scheduled races you have to sign up for. I had to borrow a PS4 for this review and didn’t feel like this was worth my time, so I avoided it.
I was really hoping that Gran Turismo Sport would be a triumphant return to form for the series, but sadly this is not the case. GTS feels like another prologue game at best. With its extreme focus on rules and regulations while not being quite a good driving simulator in and of itself, it falls short of being the true racing experience it wants to be. There is a VR mode available for it, but I don’t have 400 dollars to spare so that was ignored, unfortunately. Could that increase the quality of experience? It’s entirely possible. But for now, it seems that Forza will keeps its racing game crown until it gets more complacent, but hopefully that doesn’t happen. With these two racing sims tried out, the way is paved for me to try more racing sims. Project Cars 2 came out earlier in September and is now at the top of my priority list to try before the end of the year. Nintendo is also going to throw its hat into the ring with the upcoming Gear.Club Unlimited in December. Can they best the almighty Forza? This reviewer wants to find out.
Also, WTF was up with that always online crap? I need to be online even in the ‘campaign’? Total bullsh*t.
Developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft, Forza Motorsport 7 is actually the tenth entry in the Forza franchise. It’s hard to imagine that a mere racing game can serve as a tentpole in terms of being platform exclusive, but when you’re working for Porsche automobiles and you decide that the best way to announce your new car is to showcase it during a video game announcement in LA, you are talking about some very serious prestige.
It’s a strange situation this game is in. Here, I have a game that is certified to run in 4K at 60fps, but that’s on a console that isn’t out yet. Playing this game on my original Xbox One almost feels like playing a preview build in that regard. “Hey, this game is going to blow your mind…. In November!” the game nonverbally taunts. But it shows in little details too. If you go back to when gaming transitioned from SD to HD, a lot of games meant for HD didn’t show up that well on your old SD monitor. This was especially true with fonts and icons often being hard to read between those generations of video. It’s the same for this game; there are definitely some holdovers from what’s supposed to be 4K that make the video seem a little bit off. With all that said, it still looks good above all else. I’ll add an asterisk here as I’d like to see just how good the graphics are when the Xbox One X drops.
So yeah, racing games don’t have a story, so for this section, you heavily lean on incentives to progress. In most games, it’s plot. In racing games, it’s encouragement to be the best. This doesn’t always work so well for Forza. The game made a brilliant opening impression by having you race through three specially tailored racing experiences before jumping into the campaign. It’s back to regular old championship trophies to make your way to the end. Problem is, sometimes if you don’t win every match you will find yourself participating in a championship you don’t really want to do but you have to complete just to progress. Even if all you need is 50 points, you have to finish the championship to progress. The variety of challenges is decent, but sometimes I think Forza should just make a sort of “tour de force” of specially prepared races, more than just three, to cruise through before jumping into championships. It’s also odd that the progression system seems to be built on building your car collection instead of winning races.
Like every other Forza game, special attention has been taken to make every car you ride sound like the the way it should sound in real life. The audio changes based on being in the cockpit or outside, like it should. Collisions sound like they should and are more visceral than ever. The generic rock music that plays between races is just okay, but to be honest, it’s sort of a welcome change. As much as I love the 5+ EDM radio stations in the Horizon series, this game’s music is refreshing. Not that the soundtrack matters a whole lot when you’re actually racing. This is a racing sim, the roar of the engine should keep you going just fine.
There are several nags here and there. The difficulty slider for the “drivatars” seems to be a little unbalanced. I am not the only person who seems to be experiencing wide jumps in difficulty in what should basically just be marginal changes with each tick up on the scale. I found the best pairing I’ve gotten so far is “Above Average,” which is one tick above the normal difficulty. Yet in Horizon 3 I could get away with 3 ticks up and go all the way to “Pro.” I’m not sure if this is a balance issue or maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve played a racing sim, considering I skipped Motorsport 6. Still, although frustrating, the challenge of the game is all the more rewarding when you do click with a car you recently purchased to race with. Then there’s the “free race” mode which was needlessly confusing to set up and was very restrictive. Not allowing you to play with other cars you want to just take on a test drive isn’t really a feature. For once I actually dabbled in the “rivals” mode, a series of time sensitive special races and had a bit more fun with that.
This game has quite a few killjoys. There’s the now infamous “Prize Crate” issue wherein they want you to spend your hard–earned money on randomized loot boxes instead of buying cars, but they also expect you to buy more cars to level up your car collection status anyway. That also gets in the way of things, because buying a car is no fun at all. In prior games, you’d get a good look at each and every car available to purchase. Here in Forza 7, the the car buying screen looks like a messy stamp collection you have to rifle through. The small font and small thumbnails for the cars don’t help. Neither do the random locks on certain cars that can only be unlocked after completing an unspecified milestone. The aforementioned bit about having to play a championship you don’t want to in order to progress really is less than ideal. Even with all the gripes I have, I do keep coming back to the game. The game is so well made, it’s just weird how your progress is impeded by some questionable design choices. But even after all of that, there were still dozens of moments where I was on the edge of my seat, engaged in the race, and may or may not have damaged my right trigger in the process.
Forza Motorsport 7 continues to express the pedigree the game has, yet it’s got a handful of issues that are too big to ignore. Though I didn’t personally have any problems at all with the Prize Crates, the decision to put it in is baffling considering it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of impact on the game. Turn 10 has done better than this in the past. I’m not angry, just a bit disappointed. Perhaps Gran Turismo Sport will steal back the spotlight? We’ll find out later this month.