Forza 6 May Save Car Culture

Or, why driving simulators can—and should—consume the lives of every generation.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


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Forza Motorsport 6, affectionately known as “that friggin’ car game” by my father, is the newest driving game from Turn 10 Studios for Microsoft’s Xbox One. It also may be the most sophisticated driving simulator ever developed for basement-dwelling otaku around the world. But Forza 6shouldn’t find its biggest fans in basements, but rather in the above-ground legions of car fans who do not play video games.

I was born in 1991 and raised on Need for Speed and Test Drive, simply because they were the next step in the natural progression of car fandom after the Cozy Coupe, Matchbox cars and the city map rug. Parents invariably do not look fondly on their child’s first video-game phase. To them, gaming is an irredeemable obstacle to youth development that does not land you a job or develop character. They don’t understand a boy’s love for shitty Nineties Eurobeat, the Mazda Eunos Cosmo and Gran Turismo’s Special Stage Route 11.

My brother, 15 years my junior, loves them, too. My father still thinks a game like Forza 6 is for retrograde millennials hell-bent on squandering their youth. But there are sound arguments why he—an inveterate, lifelong car guy—should be Forza 6’s biggest fan.

Reason 1: Forza Bridges Generational Gaps

Dad pined after Corvettes in the Seventies, Porsches in the Eighties and Supras in the Nineties. He doesn’t see how Forza could possibly scratch those itches.

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And yet, if he gamed, he’d get the feedback of a virtual tire edging beyond its capabilities and the subtleties of a lightened rear end growing squirrelly under braking—all of which can be applied to the dream cars of his youth, which are well represented in the Forza 6 garage. Yes, the game controllers would look like a Rosetta Stone at first. But once up to speed, he’d understand that Forza Motorsport 6 is a storytelling medium—a means of sharing across generational boundaries.

Reason 2: It Makes You Want to Drive. Hard.

“Well, the graphics are excellent,” dad concedes from the sofa.

He says nothing else as I weave through the Nürburgring Nordschleife in one of Forza 6’s starter cars, a 2015 Volkswagen Golf R. He was quiet until I pointed out Brünnchen, the corner where he watched me lap the Green Hell for real in July 2012.

“Oh yeah!” he exclaimed. “I remember looking out for you every 15 minutes or so. I’d start to get nervous you had wrecked. How big was that track again?”

We began recounting tales from our vacation in Germany, the cars we saw at the track and the omnipresent risk at the world’s longest, deadliest circuit. We spoke about Niki Lauda’s crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix and my father’s concerns about his eldest son experiencing the same in an econobox with a roll cage. He didn’t care, however, to reminisce about our top-down drive at 127 mph to our hotel in Cologne via the autobahn, with me piloting our rental car.

“That was damn terrifying.”

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Reason 3: It’s a Motorsport Utopia

While my eight-year-old brother and I howl through Daytona International in a pair of Risi Competizione Ferraris, I explain the grueling nature of multi-class endurance racing and the history of the Rolex 24. He asks why a fluorescent orange Lamborghini Aventador—his favorite supercar—doesn’t compete in IMSA events. I tell him that I didn’t know.

“It’s probably because it would always win,” he suggests. I can’t prove him wrong.

Forza Motorsport 6 has over 450 cars—twice as many as its predecessor—that provide an opportunity to recreate races and trade experiences. Formulas 1 and E are represented, as are new and old sleds from the Tudor Championship, IndyCar, V8 Supercars and the World Rally Championship. The car list is all-inclusive, covering everything from the golden age of American muscle to the tech-dripping, wind-sculpted world of hypercars.

Daytona International, Brands Hatch and Monza comprise just half of the new circuits. Forza Motorsport 6 presents a motorsport utopia, where race cars from my father’s youth and my own compete on the same track.

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Reason 4: “Forzavista” Lets You Get Handsy With the Models

The series’ facelifted “Forzavista” feature slows things down to offer a sharpened, more hands-on environment, allowing players to open doors, start engines and interact with automobiles that are out of grasp for most of the planet’s 7 billion human residents.

Don’t know an Ariel Atom from Ariel the little mermaid? The game provides each car’s upbringing and legacy. And it’s all offered with pornographic levels of graphic precision.

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Reason 5: Forza Turns Back Your Clock

But perhaps FM6’s most special trait is the sense of wonderment it inspires. The game’s opening film posits competition as an inherent human trait. Viewers, in the throes of an unexpected nostalgia trip, are led immediately into a race with the game’s title car: the new Ford GT. It’s impossible not to smile.

Enhanced online gameplay turns Forza Motorsport 6 into a social sandbox, connecting fans around the world. But what does this mean for non-gaming car fans? For my dad, and for maybe you? It means that online gameplay is the next generation of the weekly enthusiast meetup.

For non-gamers, Forza Motorsport 6 can be seen with this grander purpose in mind. It’s a meeting table for new and old car fans to swap stories and share their infatuation for driving pleasure. Forza offers proof that people’s fascination with automobiles is not waning, just evolving. It’s keeping car culture alive.

Forza Motorsport 6 is a Digital Dominatrix

The latest Xbox racing sim will punish and demean. And that’s the fun of it.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


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Now that we’ve thrown fodder to the non-gamers, it’s time to plunge into the nitty-gritty of Forza Motorsport 6, this year’s freshly unwrapped, much anticipated driving simulator. Four hundred and sixty cars. Twenty-six tracks. Enhanced graphics. Precision feedback. Turn 10 Studios latest installment seems to have been bred from the notion that Forza Motorsport 5was just too easy. For players nurtured on PSone driving simulators, Forza 6 is pupil-swelling, heart walloping visual amphetamine. It’s an absolute masterpiece. But it will kick your ass.

Loyal Forza disciples who immediately switching off driver aids, bump up opponent racers and make for a wet track in a 1,000-horsepower rear-drive car may be startled. Approach this game with fists of iron and like this reviewer, you may find your mindset in a flushed toilet of emotions:

Man, I’m rusty. Must be a learning curve. I mean, does Kimi Räikkönen just hop in and start winning? Oh, wait. Yeah, he might. Whatever. The controller is probably dying. One more restart and I’ll be on pole. No, it’s the game. No, it’s me. What happened to me? Is anything I know real? It’s a conspiracy. Chemtrails.

And, finally: Why can’t I win?

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With no driver aids, playing Forza 6 is like completing a Rubik’s cube on a roller coaster after smoking angel dust. The Lotus E23 Formula 1 car at Le Mans in the wet: Undrivable. The McLaren P1 at Spa-Francorchamps: Impossible. The Caterham R500, anywhere: LOL. The game’s meticulous car tuning isn’t likely to save you either. Like many of the overconfident, I felt neutered by Forza 6 and slunk away to break in the game’s other fine points.

Good news: You begin this journey with 10 million credits and an assortment of starter sports cars. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore the latest edition of Forzavista, which is even more sophisticated the last. Owing to an exquisite graphics upgrade and enhanced smoothness, each car is obsessively detailed and completely explorable. Players can open doors, rev the engine and hear a thorough account of each vehicle’s backstory. Combine this with a glut of visual and performance upgrades, and your fantasy car stable is at your fingers.

Celebrity voiceovers from Richard Hammond, James May, Tanner Foust and others narrate specific menus within the game. There’s even a one-on-one “beat the Stig” feature that’s tailor-made for Top Gear devotees. To the surprise of few but lament of many, Jeremy Clarkson is absent in this edition.

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But the best aspect of Forza is the gameplay. Many tracks are available in wet, dry, and night conditions, letting players take part in virtual recreations of actual races. Endurance racing is back, allowing for truly poetic homages to historic motorsport: The Mazda 787B howling through the blackness of Le Mans, the Audi 90 IMSA GTO cornering flat at Daytona, the Brabham Formula 1 car bouncing through Watkins Glen. It’ll make your neck hairs dance.

But the game isn’t without drawbacks. Porsche, rumored to make a reappearance in the series by way of a 2016 DLC, is absent. Ruf and Citroën are also missing. The lyric-less soundtrack, presumably ripped from a film about overthrowing the English monarchy, can get old and is a bit too epic for racing. Here, buttoned-up Forza 6 could learn a thing or two from the backwards cap-wearing Horizon franchise.

As always, Forza’s opening footage is mad with nostalgia and a “Hell yeah!” conviction. But the minimalistic styling, dreamscape music, and stodgy narration script keep the game’s warmth at arms length. Again, a dash of Horizon mien would pump life into the sterile menu experience.

But my biggest gripe with Forza 6 has nothing to do with the game itself, but the aforementioned learning curve. Adjust difficulty, and it suddenly feels like the game is letting you win; take it head-on, and it’ll slap you around. You may be able to wrangle a featherweight racer without assistance through the 23 other computer cars in most single player races, but it won’t be a fast lap time. To really master the gilded hypercars, you’ll need a scalpel-precise Playseat. But at that point, why not join the SCCA and race for real?

Finding the sweet spot between your own abilities and the game’s level of realism isn’t easy. Mostly, Forza 6 ends up feeling like less of a game and more of a digital racing dominatrix. If you’re a sucker for abuse, the fun here is in the difficulty. Just remember that, like in real modern hypercars, the driver assists exist to make you faster. Say the safe word. Leave some of them on.

Eight Great Racing Games That Will Make You Feel Old

Forza who? Grand Theft what? Bow down to the pioneers that made driving simulators such effective time-suckers.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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POLE POSITION (1982) — The bread-and-butter racing game, and one that now demands, but rarely gets, respect. Graphics were primitive and opponents spaced awkwardly throughout the track, but the game did teach you the importance of holding a race line and the dark art of dodging puddles at Fuji. An oscillating engine hum and low burble of the rumble strips was the only soundtrack needed. No distractions, no gangsters sticking you up in the pits. Pole Position was pure, 8-bit bliss.

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IVAN “IRONMAN” STEWART’S SUPER OFF ROAD (1989) — Few games could stand up the stadium-style truck racing in Ivan Stewart’s Super Off Road. The upright arcade version featured three-abreast steering wheels and pedals that placed competitors side-by-side. Even for the era, the game was surprisingly accurate with its depiction of off-roading articulation. Throwing and elbow or two at your opponent mid-corner was fair play. After all, rubbin’ is racin’.

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F355 CHALLENGE (1999) — Although Sega’s one-make Ferrari racing game was available on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, the real thrills were found in the arcade. Not only did gamers find headrest-mounted speakers and three adjacent screens for optimal driver vision, they also were treated to F1-style paddle shifters or a gated manual transmission with a clutch, the better to tease goosebump-inducing mechanical howls from an F355. The steering wheel even communicated feedback while cornering. Some arcades still carry the game—a testament to the quality of the gameplay as well as the hardware.

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COLIN MCRAE RALLY (1998) — Named for the Scottish rally kingpin, this one gave players a taste of the most iconic World Rally Championship cars of the 1998 season, including McRae’s own Subaru Impreza WRC (and a few scrappy Ford Escorts). The graphics were sophisticated for the era, although the eight stages were not accurate to their real-life equivalents. An in-game navigator provided authentic rally guidance for the course ahead: “5 right into 4 hairpin left, square right.” Even by today’s standards, Colin McRae Rally remains one of the more entertaining—and technical—racing games developed.

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AUTO MODELLISTA (2002) — Here was a different sort of racing simulator, combining comic-book visual elements with cult tuner cars. The Capcom-produced game was proudly Japanese, boasting several mountainous sections, called touge, Tokyo road courses and the famed Suzuka Circuit. Players also got a plethora of tuning and styling upgrades. Despite the game’s embrace of the unconventional, it was also faulted for its cars’ handling characteristics. For gamers who appreciated the reprieve from the seriousness of other driving simulators, however, Auto Modellista hit a sweet spot.

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CRUIS’N WORLD (1996) — Anyone who loves Cruis’n World for its realism should get their brains scanned. The game represented a day off from the forward development of racing graphics. Yet by literally making a day’s play out of driving, the heir to Cruis’n USA ruled by not taking itself seriously. It was a riot. Jumps sprouted from the ground at random, car crashes sent competitors skyward and all cars had four-speed transmissions, regardless of their real-life specifications. Few things mimicked the panic of a dwindling clock and a safety point that’s too far ahead. But there was no mistaking the euphoria of making it through and continuing gameplay. “Checkpoint!”

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NEED FOR SPEED: HIGH STAKES (1999) — With its heady waft of wealth and indifference to the law, High Stakes was the driving simulator that pitted sports cars against both the police and other racers simultaneously. The car list was visual ecstasy for fans of supercars from the Nineties. Especially skilled drivers were even able to unlock virtual editions of the McLaren F1 GTR and Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. High Stakes provided the adrenaline rush with a hi-NRG soundtrack and groundbreaking damage modeling. If players sought good karma, it even allowed them to play as police and pursue the no-goodniks. Righteous.

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DRIVER (1999) — Who could forget John Tanner, the undercover cop committed to busting organized crime in his sweet muscle cars? Driver had the grit of early Seventies New York crime cinema and the flair of a James Bond flick. Although the graphics and handling characteristics felt a bit laggy, the game was satisfying for players who wanted to add a crime-solving element to their virtual driving experience. Powerslides were paramount, and the console controller had a trick throttle option that guaranteed burnouts under hard acceleration.

Eight ways video games make driving more fun

A symbiosis has formed among road, track and game console—and it’s making us all happier behind the wheel.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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1. Touristenfahrten at the Nürburgring Nordschleife— Why content yourself with ripping through the Nordschleife on Gran Turismo when you can do it for real? Touristenfahrten is the very real opportunity for the public to try their hand at the circuit known as the Green Hell. While the Nürburgring has always been a mythical destination for race fans, its popularity boomed after the track’s debut in driving simulators (not that heightened interest has staved off bankruptcy. Sigh.). Touristenfahrten days are some of the track’s most popular attractions. Devotees can even rent specific track-prepped machines for their 20.8-kilometer adventure.

098575100_12251931212. Extreme Track Cars — Ask an eight-year-old gamer to style a track toy, and you’d get a hyper-minimalist, sinister machine with digital everything. Remove any semblance of creature comforts, push wheels hard to the corners and you’ve created this generation’s Caterham or Lotus 7. Cars like the KTM X-Bow even incorporate gaming-style lap timers. The only thing separating these cars from virtual reality is an Oculus Rift.

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3. The Lap of Manhattan— In 2013, a driver initially known only as “Afroduck” shared a visual cocktail of blurry boulevards, reckless endangerment and a BMW Z4 on YouTube. In just over 24 minutes, Adam Tang whirred around Manhattan’s perimeter at an average speed of 66 mph, shattering a very much unofficial, and equally illegal, record time of 26:03. The video circled through the automotive community and Tang gained a reputation as a real-life Midnight Club racer. Although he was convicted of reckless driving, fined and sentenced to a year in jail, the Canada native fled northward, where he remains.

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4. The Survival of Boutique Automakers— Sustaining a tiny, performance-oriented brand was once a near impossibility. Who would take a risk on an unproven artisan when names like Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren existed? The video game generation, however, proved a tremendous asset for niche manufacturers. British carmaker TVR saw success when they made the original Gran Turismo roster—if not enough to avoid falling into receivership. But today, names like Pagani, Koenigsegg, Wiesmann, GTA (pictured) and others survive and thrive, due in part to gamers and developers keeping these niche pleasure craft on wealthy enthusiasts’ short lists.

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5. Driving as Escapism— Anyone who has fiddled with the Forza Horizon series understands that the exotic vistas, weirdly appealing music festivals and rare cars scratch a voyeuristic itch. Throw in barn finds, social online gameplay and a sandbox environment, and Turn 10 Studios has a heady brew in hand. It’s no coincidence that ads for cars like the Scion FR-S and Mazda MX-5 Miata have pitched driving as a meaningful endeavor. These machines, known somewhat paradoxically as driver’s cars, appeal directly to gamers who seek low-priced, non-virtual chariots.

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6. Aftermarket Insanity— When the Need for Speed franchise took on street racing culture in the wake of the original Fast and the Furious film, the popularity of modding exploded. Bright neon underglow, vertical doors and spinning wheels were basic facets of Need for Speed: Underground. After the game’s debut and sequel, car culture went even more rabid for bodykits and spoilers. Functionality be damned, you could buy kits and aero parts for anything from the Mitsubishi Eclipse to the Dodge Caravan. Depending on whom you ask, this is the automotive yearbook page you skip. It’s just too embarrassing.

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7. A Preponderance of Paddles— In the mid-Nineties, around the same time Ferrari was introducing them on the F355 sports car, the original Gran Turismo on Sony PlayStation was absolutely nailing paddle shifters. Before they were available on most mainstream cars, advanced gamers could enjoy the perfect blend of manual and sequential gearboxes from the comfort of their couch. As paddle shifters trickled down from sports cars to hot hatches, some games introduced handheld clutches to greatly enhance the gaming experience.

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8. Ed Bolian’s Cross-Country Record— It’s a question ripped from the thoughts of any open-road gamer: How fast could I drive across the U.S.? In October 2013, the team of Ed Bolian, Dave Black and Dan Huang set this record on public roads, crossing the United States in 28 hours, 50 minutes and 26 seconds. Although the average speed of the trek was 98 mph, the trio’s Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG topped 130 mph for over 90 minutes total, and 158 mph on several occasions. It’s a record that probably won’t—and shouldn’t—be broken any time soon.