The forza series is much more than a video game

I delve into the importance of the car community's expansion through things like xbox, the grand tour, drivetribe and more.

4y ago

Image courtesy of Xbox Wire Media Library;

For all of the harrowing events of 2016, the automotive world’s slow but sure extension into mainstream popular culture is one aspect of the year I will look back fondly on. Like many millions of people, I was horrified when the BBC announced Jeremy Clarkson’s firing from Top Gear because it essentially meant that the beacon of hope for car lovers in the entertainment world was in jeopardy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank God for Amazon, because The Grand Tour will be everything Top Gear was with more money and the boys are finally back on our screens.

The very site you’re reading this article on shows that investors are confident in the automotive world’s expansion. Jeremy, Richard and James, along with Drivetribe’s CEO Ernesto Schmitt, have brought about a dedicated place for the internet’s massive automotive community to gather. That’s really important; an enthusiast community needs a dedicated place to meet up in today’s digital world.

Even though the former Top Gear and current Grand Tour teams command a legion of worldwide fans in the millions (both on social media and in viewership numbers), one of the most important and oft-overlooked growth areas of the automotive community is a category usually taken far less seriously: video games, and specifically Microsoft’s Xbox brand.

One of the foremost childhood memories I have is the Christmas Morning on which I received an Xbox – the original Xbox – from the big jolly man himself. Upon realizing that it really was happening and that the gaming console was already hooked up to the television, my maybe-7-year-old-self exclaimed “Wow, this guy is unbelievable!”

While I may have aged since that Christmas, my enthusiasm for all things automotive has only intensified. Like any adolescent boy, I used to really love video games. The library of titles I had for my Xbox 360 was diverse and ever expanding, but the overwhelming genre was always open world racing games. The Test Drive Unlimited series absolutely rocked my world, providing the first true open-world lifestyle car game. Players were able to choose their own avatar and build their reputation in a digital Hawaii, earning obnoxious sums of money in races that could be used to purchase cars, houses, clothes and, in the second iteration of the series, even yachts. The game wasn’t big on the reality aspect when it came to the actual physics of driving, but it provided years of replay value; for anyone who is even vaguely familiar with gaming, that’s almost unheard of. Around 2012 however, the big name on Xbox in racing, Forza Motorsport, announced a long-speculated open world series called Forza Horizon.

The Horizon series brought the realistic driving, unbeatable graphics and stronger corporate relations of Microsoft to the open world, free-roaming nature of Test Drive Unlimited. It was truly something to marvel at, and the original Forza Horizon pushed the lexicon of the Xbox 360’s power to a place I didn’t think it could go. Not to be outdone by anyone but themselves, the teams at Microsoft, Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games made sure that Forza Horizon 2, the series’ first title on Microsoft’s current flagship Xbox One console, left players’ mouths agape. The beauty of this game on a quality high definition television truly has to be seen to be believed. I genuinely felt as if I was sitting in a six-figure price-tagged Range Rover Supercharged wafting along a coastal Italian road. The bar was once again raised.

Fast forward to the present day, and the Forza team is hot off the launch of Forza Horizon 3. For this iteration, they took the Horizon festival and not only planted it in an utterly stunning rendition of Australia, but gave creative control of how the game plays out to the individual user. Also born out of the Horizon 2 era and even more present in the Horizon 3 era is the Forza Hub, Forza’s dedicated community for players to share their best in-game photos, receive rewards for certain achievements and so on. The game has received almost universal acclaim from pretty much everyone, and I read in multiple different places that reviewers feel Horizon 3 might very well be the best all-around racing game ever, period. You won’t hear me disagree.

Horizon 3 isn’t perfect. I don’t like driving on the wrong side of the road even though the game takes place in a right-hand-drive country, so I’ll make like a whiny millennial and complain about it anyway. There’s also a few bizarre glitches, such as Ford’s 2017 F-150 Raptor sounding like a 1940’s muscle car despite the fact that it utilizes the Blue Oval’s utterly brilliant twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 from the company’s 2017 GT supercar. There are also infinite amounts of “Drivatars” (the series’ name for AI vehicles that populate the virtual world and drive around with you that are actually aggregate representations of other players’ real statistics) that seem to love driving head-on right into you. A handful of vehicles’ interior lights don’t turn on save for the gauges when the environment moves into nighttime.

And, you know what? None of that matters. The overall effect of the game for car enthusiasts is that of pure joy, and even non-car enthusiasts consistently enjoy it whenever they stop by my house and see me playing. Plenty of friends who don’t even know what kind of car they themselves drive love having a go in a McLaren P1 on a blast through the rainforest.

That to me is the best thing that the Forza games and brand have done for the automotive community. It has taken so much passion and paired it down into a useable, beautiful, enjoyable form of consumption that anyone would enjoy. Anyone. And that’s what’s important; it’s extraordinarily difficult for car enthusiasts to express why we love cars so much. The Forza series is a virtual escape from all things real to that world of passion we all love dearly, yet can’t really explain out loud. The men and women who work tirelessly in automotive research and testing do it because the finished product is an example of science and art in concert, just like the Forza games are. The effort on the part of Forza’s designers and programmers is nothing short of witchcraft, and the general public would likely be shocked to know that they spend about as much time engineering the game to work properly as automotive engineers, designers and marketers do on the real vehicles.

I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of working at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, and I walk around grinning like an idiot whenever I’m there even though I couldn’t begin to understand the actual research taking place – it’s that amazing. With the success of the Forza series, the wild popularity of shows like Top Gear and The Grand Tour and the launch of enthusiast hubs like Drivetribe, I hope that the community beyond car enthusiasts begin to really see cars for what they are: anything but an appliance. Cars, the video games that feature them, the enormously talented individuals who research, engineer, market and sell them, and the journalists that tell their story all make up a beautiful world. Dive deeper and I promise you won’t be anything but delighted.

The Forza series is widely available for purchase; my recommendation is to purchase Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition from Microsoft’s Xbox Store for $99; it includes all future car packs, VIP status and so on. Worth every penny.

To learn more about what really goes into the world’s most advanced vehicles and video games like Forza, be sure to watch APEX: Story of the Hypercar on Netflix.

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Comments (4)

  • Top 3 Forza games

    1: Horizon 4

    2: Forza 4

    3: Horizon 3

      1 year ago
  • Honestly the horizon franchise reignited my love for cars and racing. It also got me into top gear and the grand tour so at least for me horizon got me back into cars

      1 year ago
  • And now, welcome to the xbox one! Forza 5 was with us. Along with the second iteration of horizon. And how turn10 survived after the release of those 2 games is simply amazing to me! Appearantly, not many ppl share my opinion of horizon 2. Because to me, horizon 2 was absolute trash! It just didn't compare to the original. I don't know if I just had extremely high, and unrealistic expectations for the game. Or if they just legitimately sucked at round 2 of horizon. Now, I will admit that I had a copy of horizon 2 for the xbox360. And I have been told many times, by many ppl, that there is a big difference between H2 for 360, and H2 for the ONE. so, I'll let that slide. And I won't bash the game to badly in the aspect that I never really played the "better" version.

    But! Forza motorsport 5...... Wtf!?!

    What the hell happened there? Did they even try? Did they not know that they had built a standard to Witch they, above anyone else, needed to live up to? What utter crap! I understand that they were in a rush to get the game out for the launch of the xbox one. But wowzers! Talk about a game that was so..... lifeless. So, empty! Just a dull grind. In comparison to fm4, the game was a total flop! I miss fm1. I enjoyed fm2, and 3. Fm4 was fantastic. But fm5.... just missed the mark in every single way possible. I understand that fm5 was round one. The practice game. New technologies, new platform, new world all together. But dam! That one hurt their pride. It had to! The one good thing I will give it, open rivals! That is what kept me holding on. All the crap of fm5 aside, I was in love with the open rivals! Any car, on any track. That, is where I started getting into tuning! Lap times became important! Shaving off that 2 or 3 tenths of a second was life! But that's it. Rivals was the only part of fm5 that I paid any attention to. And impatiently waiting for fm6 to come out.

    Forza motorsport 6. Here we are. Never have I been more involved in a game! Since fm6, I have joined 2 clubs, spent way to much money on dlc, and have gone from a casual player, to what some might call an extremist. I wouldn't call myself that. I'd say I'm more of an enthusiast. Or a die hard. Now, I don't know if it is because I am more involved in forza then I was before, or if social media has improved so much that information is so easily transmitted, I now hear sooooo many issues that people have with the game. Replay data that won't save. Problems with certain cars, imperfections in tracks, problems in online lobbies. The lack of rules in online lobbies. Etc etc etc. The list is actually quite large. But even with all the issues the game clearly has, I can't stop playing! Fm6 has pulled me in and will not let me go!

    Then, lastly, the newest addition to the horizon series. A game that has created a very large uproar. Everyone loves it! Or do they? Personally, I find it to be part 2 of Horizon 2. Yes, they have implemented many new features. Many of witch are quite neat, useful, and, in some respects - amazing. But for me.... it still feels... boring! There's no sense of achievement. And to me, horizon 1 was, and still is better!

    For 10 years, turn10 has had my attention. And the attention of a great many others. The forza franchise has knocked many other similar games out of the water. But can we call the motorsport series a "game"? I think not. Much to the same degree that no one calls "flight simulator" a game. It's exactly that, a simulator. Some may argue to say that the game is so far away from simulation, that is should never be called such a thing. And in a few small ways, I agree. It should not be called a sim. But, no matter what we call it, no matter how good turn10 once was, or how good they are aspiring to be, turn10 will always have my attention.

    I do not consider myself a "gamer". But, seeing as how I play forza every day, I guess I'm wrong about myself.

    And on that bombshell, we can end. Good night everybody!

      4 years ago
  • Good read! It seems you have the same enthusiasm for the horizon series as I have for the motorsport series. It seems as though I may be a bit older then you. 7 when the original xbox came out? I was about 16 or 17.

    I still remember the very first time I played forza. I was 22 years old. A decade ago now. A Buddy of mine and myself had a night of heavy drinking and partying planned. Getting an early start on the night, we poured back a 15 pack of beer and set out. We had decided to walk the 2 miles to the party. Rather then do something stupid like drink and drive. On our drunken walk, we got word that the cops had put an end to the nights festivities, and there was no point in carrying on. So, back to my buddies place to regroup. We had spent all our money on booze for the night, and couldn't afford a cab. And we couldn't drive our selves because we were already seeing double! So, the xbox was fired up!

    My buddy (we will call him Dan) only had a small selection of games. Primarily 1st person shooters. And I am not now, nor have I ever been into those types of games. But he did have a copy of the original forza motorsport. We took turns passing his only controller back and forth as we completed each race in my first online racing experience. I was hooked! Dan was losing steam by 10pm. He could barley keep his eyes open long enough to finish a race. So he went to bed. Leaving me with some alone time with forza. The guys in the lobby I was in had a version of cat and mouse that they played. They explained the rules to me, and I spent the entire night drinking rum and playing cat and mouse!

    Fast forward 2 months, and I had bought my own xbox and a copy of forza motorsport. I had been a Playstation gamer before then. I played all the Grand Tourismo games that had been out at that point in an almost religious fashion. So I was a bit familiar with some form of sim racing. The graphics of forza vs those of grand tourismo were world's apart! The car selection in forza was a bit smaller, but there were more desirable cars. The lingenfelter corvette being one of my favorite cars in forza until this day!

    When the 360 launched, I was in the stores looking for the one that came with a copy of forza 2. Since the release of the console came just before Christmas, finding ANY xbox 360 was impossible in the small town I lived in. Lucky, I had a road trip planned to travel to a bigger city a couple hours down the road. And the future shop had tons of 360s with forza 2!

    I never got to play online much throughout the first couple years of playing forza. Typically I worked to much to have time for it. But you can bet that I spent every possible moment available playing forza. Collecting cars, painting, tuning, and I had completed every single race in career mode! Witch is no easy feat!

    If you followed the motorsport series, then you know that forza 4 was turn10 biggest accomplishment! Yes, today's games have better graphics, better cars, and many other individual aspects that are better. But as a whole, forza 4 was spot on! The car selection, the tracks, CLUBS, and a whole community that seemed to drive its self with high octane fuel! I spent more hours on forza 4 then I care to admit.

    My biggest wish through all the forza games was to have the same car physics in an open world environment. Enter Forza Horizon! And wow! What an amazing game it was! There was only one problem with the game. And in my opinion, the game was so good, that my issue was rendered mute! Simply put, I was disappointed that you couldn't actually tune your cars. But that did not matter much in the end. The story line was perfect. The soundtrack was perfect, the whole game was just perfect! And in my opinion, the overall quality of the original horizon has not been beaten, nor paralleled to this day!

    And now, welcome to the xbox one! Forza 5 was with us. Along with the second iteration of horizon. And how turn10 survived after the release of those 2 games is s

      4 years ago