Late To The Party: Forza Motorsport

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I never got the chance or never got around to playing any of Microsoft and Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport games until they started releasing them on Windows. And by “releasing them on Windows,” I mean making free versions of them available for me to try out — the free-to-play Forza 6 Apex and the recently released demo for Forza Horizon 3.

I should start by saying I’m not a racing game person at all. I can enjoy racing games a lot, I just don’t jump into them as readily as some other types of games. I even kind of like realistic racing simulators despite my lack of expertise. There’s a certain layman’s angle from which I can appreciate the craftsmanship and sleekness of something like Gran Turismo, which can often feel like a toy chest of cars (in the same way ArmA is a toy chest of military equipment).

I checked out the Horizon 3 demo because I’d heard serious game-of-the-year talk surrounding the full game. I don’t know if it’s because I’m coming into this franchise with the third entry in a spin-off series, but throughout the demo I felt that a lot of bloat was getting between me and a potentially fantastic game at the core of Horizon 3.

Horizon 3 looks incredible and its controls feel terrific — it feels like there’s fundamentally a great game here. From that point though, I found it kind of hard to get a feel for what Horizon 3 all about. I pretty much just pressed the A button or X button whenever a menu told me to, did some events where I drove to the finish line, and followed a blue driving line to whatever new event the demo wanted to show me. Each race was a different kind of event, but I felt like the demo took me through them so quickly I didn’t fully understand how they related to the core game, or even which one represented the core game. On top of that, Horizon 3 seems to toss you experience points or other kinds of points for doing basically anything, whether it’s crashing into something, doing a jump, passing another car, or whatever. The whole thing screamed of the obvious positive feedback loop modern big-budget games try to shove in your face.

I imagine there was a simpler core game in the original Horizon but the developers just added more and more to it in the sequels to get where Horizon 3 is. That’s fine for fans but maybe confusing and a bit overwhelming for someone who has never played Forza. I had the same feeling when I tried out Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate as my first Monster Hunter game. Horizon 3 seems mostly just about having fun with cars which is great. I think all I’m really asking is for the game to dial back and slow down the presentation a bit.

Part of me still wants to play Horizon 3 because the basic interaction with the game is still fun, so we’ll see how I feel when I’m done with some other games on my plate this fall.

Forza 6 Apex is supposed to be the more complex racing simulation to Horizon 3’s arcade game but I think I prefer its more subdued tone. It seems to be more about the cars and the races than unlocking things with experience points or filling up progress bars. In Apex you do unlock things with medals, but that whole system seems more cleanly presented to me. It does the same thing as Horizon 3 where it brings you through different vehicles for different kinds of events, but I feel like it gave me more time to understand each one.

I’ve reached a point in Apex where I can load it up to do one race for the day and feel like I made some kind of progress or did something new. It’s almost becoming my “game between other games”.

My main problem with Apex as a simulator though is how it handles accessibility for mainstream players like me. I’ll admit right now I’m playing with all the driving assists turned on, and they’re pretty egregious. When reaching a turn the game pretty much hits the breaks at exactly the right time for you. You kinda just have to hit the gas and steer. I tried turning down the brake assist once and couldn’t even stay on the road. I had no idea when I was supposed to break or how hard, even with the driving line turned on.

The assists are a fine idea, but I don’t like that Forza doesn’t really teach you how to play without them. There are events where you’re encouraged to turn the assists down and you have free-drive mode, but all you can really do to learn is keep failing in races until you get it. Maybe a lot of people don’t like the driving school each Gran Turismo game forces players into, but I’d prefer to have something like that in Forza, at least as an option.

I like how GT patiently sits you down and walks you through deceptively simple tasks like figuring out the right time to hit the breaks, letting you retry as many times as possible, before hitting more advanced tasks like finding the apex of a turn. Usually I don’t like slow tutorials, but in complex simulation games like this I think it’s a bit of a necessity. Part of the purpose of games like this is to be a sort of virtual learning tool for ordinary people.

I guess the common thread between both Forza games I tried is that I feel kind of in over my head dropping into the middle of this series.

BULLETS:

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