The Forza Motorsport series has been around for over a decade now, and has enjoyed a great amount of success under Microsoft’s wing. This E3, they even unveiled a new Porsche 911 GT2, no small feat for a series that started as “Gran Turismo, but with bumpers that get creased.”
In the time since its late arrival to the original Xbox in 2005, the series has gone through a number of iterations and even spawned a spin-off series, Forza Horizon (which you should totally play). Finishing up the campaign on the most recent entry of the mainline Motorsport series this last weekend, I thought back upon the series as a whole and realized that Forza’s true talent wasn’t its revolutionary online play or realistic damage modeling. It was the series’ ability to draw in players with its adaptive difficulty- ones who might otherwise shy away from demanding simulation racers. Forza is an everyman’s driving game- whether you’re new to the genre, or have a $3000 iRacing setup in your den.
The series’ signature scalable difficulty curve hasn’t been around forever, though; it took a few entries until the Microsoft GT clone really found its bearings. I distinctly remember trying to enjoy Forza Motorsport 2 on my buddy’s Xbox 360, and both of us giving up after thoroughly wrecking our cars in about half a lap (through some fairly unskilled and reckless driving). It just wasn’t inviting to new players, even someone like myself who’s really into cars. This was par for the course in the sim racing genre; despite being a pretty big gearhead, I hadn’t been a fan of Gran Turismo in the past, and with Forza’s damage adding to the game’s difficulty with permanent reminders of your mistakes, I wasn’t exactly encouraged then, either.
Forza Motorsport 3 changed everything. By 2009, I was in college, and had recently started working at GameStop. Feeding my long-dormant gaming passion, I was rapidly consuming every genre I could get my hands on, and that included revisiting the long-since-discarded Forza franchise. I didn’t actually get around to playing FM3 until some time in 2010, at the recommendation of a co-worker who was an avid fan of the series. I checked out a used copy (as a GameStop employee is wont to do) and took it home to my 360.
Forza 3 didn’t start with a menu, or a series of excruciatingly dull license tests. The first thing it did was put you behind the wheel of the brand new Audi R8, the game’s cover car, and let you rip around a twisty mountain circuit in a high speed race against rival Lamborghinis and Ferraris. I was surprised at how good the game felt, and how much control I had over the R8- I had stepped into the shoes of a master racer, flogging my new whip around the racetrack. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the game launches with all the assists enabled – a stroke of genius by developer Turn 10, and a stroke of my ego as well (until I found out, of course). Only after getting into the meat of the game are you encouraged to remove the training wheels and reveal the hardcore simulation underneath.
By that time, though, I was already hooked. That was the beauty of it. Even those shy to things like adjusting their own camber or turning off ABS can easily drive like a pro. As you progress, you can slowly raise the difficulty to a comfortable level by turning off assists one at a time. On top of it all, Forza Motorsport 3 introduced the instant rewind function – a single button press would undo your last mistake, taking the edge off of turning up the difficulty for a greater challenge, or checking your anger when you blew the last turn. Over time, I slowly disabled the game’s computerized nannies, and eased myself into the twitchy unforgiving world of simulation racing.
I now play the Forza games with the majority of the game’s helpers turned off. I want to feel my tires break away, and force myself to visualize the driving line in my head, as if I were on a real track. The game’s robust simulation has become the series’ main appeal to me, rather than an intimidating roadblock. It has allowed me to return to games like Gran Turismo and appreciate them for what they are (and their differences from Forza, something I wouldn’t even have been able to fathom before).
Sometimes, though, I just don’t have the energy to concentrate on nailing every last apex, or the nerve to follow in another car’s slipstream without the ability to undo when I inevitably rear-end them. When that mood strikes, and I still want some good racing fun, I just kick the difficulty down a couple of notches. At the end of the day, Forza is still about the fun of driving, racing and cars. The ability to scale the tenacity of the AI, the reality of the physics and the presence of the weather means that I can enjoy Forza at whatever skill level or concentration level I want.
That’s the secret sauce that keeps me coming back for more. Turn 10 has gone from an also-ran, chasing Gran Turismo’s taillights, to a genre leader, releasing their 10th game in a dozen years. It’s a series that has turned me from a racing sim misanthropist to a genre acolyte. Forza Motorsport’s greatest strength isn’t that it has realistic damage, or more cars, or better sound effects (although it’s always striving for more). The series’ popularity keeps growing because it knows exactly how to be all things to all people, from the FIA-superlicensed pros to the kids who still need training wheels. So if you haven’t already, give the series a shot. You might be surprised to see it grow on you as you grow into it.