There is something special about the Forza series. The way it portrays the cars that you've got a real world relationship with. Your parents' car you grew up with. Your own first set of wheels. The series has managed to reproduce the feeling of driving those cars ever since Forza Motorsport 3, and even in the Horizon titles. To put this into words, it has become our racing game over the years.
We had a great time with Forza Motorsport 5. The Drivatar concept was fresh and humanised the solo game, adding character to AI opponents. In Forza Motorsport 6 the Drivatars learn faster and act more realistically in the new 24-strong field of racers. The system has matured. AI drivers, even on the medium difficulty setting, offer a genuine resistance as you search for the podium finish you need to progress in the campaign. If you turn the challenge up to professional, you'll need a flawless run if you're to emerge victorious.
One new feature are the mods; trading cards of varying levels of rarity. You can use three per race. Some are permanently available and give bonuses such as better grip or perhaps improved braking. Some will boost your earnings while others improve your position on the starting grid. It's a well crafted system, especially since you can buy mods with the credits you've earned, or win them. They don't destroy the game, instead they add a nice touch. That said, one must be careful not to get too used to them with individual cars, since a boost to your grip won't apply in online multiplayer, and the car will handle differently. Other mods offer a risk reward scenario - do you dare turn off all the driving aids and lose 15 percent of your grip for a 50 percent bonus in credits? If you finish last the bonus won't amount to much.
The career mode offers five classes and they include various racing series. You can battle your way through each series with any of the suitable cars. There are showcase events that focus on early F1 races, you can challenge the Stig, there's Indy 500, classic car racing, chases, BMW bowling on the Top Gear track, and everlasting endurance races. There's around 80 showcase events in the career mode. You'll need to repeatedly change car, switch manufacturers, and get a feel for each new ride, which keeps things fresh.
It's good that we can now race day or night, and rain has also become a factor. If it pours the game will form puddles in low lying parts of the track. These produce spray and can even cause aquaplaning. As a result of this it's noticeable that the tire physics have improved somewhat. Just like in real racing the tires grow hotter as you break your way through a corner and it gradually loses grip. This is now expertly simulated.
There are about 460 cars available (we haven't counted each one), all of which are available in the Forza Vista mode. This is where you can admire the rides virtually, taking a seat, getting a feel for the cockpit and learning a little more about the model in question. Some of these little voice overs are provided by former Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond and James May. You won't hear Jeremy Clarkson however. The fantastic look of the virtual showroom transfers over seemlessly to the tracks. Great lighting effects and an impressive day and night cycle. The sun shines through slightly grimy windows and moves perfectly across the sky. The first time when desert sand flew onto our windshield on Laguna Seca it becomes clear to us that there are more fine details at work than you'll catch at first glance.
The rain is another example of this, not only because of the puddles. Wet races are extremely frustrating, since they are so hard to master. You'll have a lousy view, especially in the middle of the pack, and the car behaves extremely stubbornly. But this is precisely what gives these races their charm, they represent a different challenge. Nighttime races also makes matters behind the wheel more complicated. The lower temperature reduces the grip of the tires, so the well rehearsed racing lines of daytime racing don't apply, and the darkness also plays its part. Night also means aggressive drivers are at greater risk as bumping into someone's rear may break your headlights. And that's not good. Not at all.
As you'd expect Forza Motorsport 6 is a purebred racing simulation whose full potential is unlocked using the right equipment. But whether your equipped with a pneumatic playseat and a £1,000 steering wheel, or just playing with the controller, the entire garage works well and provides a good experience. More than ever before Forza Motorsport 6 embraces the joy of racing. Simple things like the additions of mods and that you, after each new level reached, can spin Forza's "Wheel of Fortune" to win more rides, cash or mods - shows how well innovations carry over between Forza Horizon-creators Playground Games and Turn 10. The US developer is not afraid to integrate successful and playful ideas into a game where it would have been easy to remain purist.
A few inconsistencies remain. Turn 10 wants us in the cockpit view more than ever. Although the cars look nice when your racing with an out-of-car perspective it sometimes appears as if they are floating an inch or so above the track. There were also a few other issues encountered when racing from this perspective: visual imperfections, flashing puddles, minor but noticeable flaws like that. Equally annoying are long load times when swapping the tracks and changing game modes. The collision sounds are also unconvincing. But other than that everything went smoothly, with no lag and a steady frame-rate, whether playing solo or multiplayer.
As extensive as the single-player experience may be, in the longterm Forza will eventually be all about multiplayer, which here comes in various forms. There are conventional races with up to 24 players, while a new feature is the league mode where we go online against similarly-skilled opponents. One can rise through the ranks slowly, without the annoyance of constantly losing against better players. On the other hand you'll need to spend some time tuning your rides here, depending on class restrictions. Sometimes it can be necessary to trim an E-class to a D-class in order to stand a chance of winning. There are five classifications in terms of driving skills and there are lots of leagues to take part in.
From the deeply integrated rival system via the weather conditions and the increased car count, this racer is filled with small ideas that each have a big impact, improving on the already excellent foundations. Forza Motorsport 6 is the best racing simulator currently available on console. Gran Turismo 7 has its work cut out.