If you like cars, video games, and haven’t recently crawled out from under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Playstation and Xbox exclusive Gran Turismo and Forza franchises. Both offer a simulation, track-based approach to racing games, and they are both important exclusive franchises for both Sony and Microsoft. Both also happen to have new releases in their franchises out this year.
Let’s start off by outlining the bread and butter part of these games aka the racing. In Forza 7, you have a single player campaign in which you win races in different sorts of cars to advance to the next tier of challenges, until you eventually finish the campaign and are free to finish anything you hadn’t already. It works okay, but it’s pretty much the same model the Motorsport series has been using for it’s single player since the beginning. It’s starting to wear really thin, even with the addition of “Showcase” events from the Forza Horizon franchise, in which you are given a car to race in that you can keep if you win. There’s also a “Free Play” mode, which allows you to pick a car and a track and race on it without having to do it via the campaign. As far as the multiplayer goes, there’s the traditional online races which also include drift and drag events as well as tag with cars, and the rivals events which allow you to try and beat other player’s lap times on your own. One thing I must complain about is the loss of the class-based lobbies in rivals and multiplayer, which allowed players to choose the kind of cars they wanted to race against and get right into the action. The multiplayer mode is let down by the god awful collision physics and online community. Practically every online race in Forza 7 ends up becoming a 24-car pileup due to the fact that the ridiculously sensitive collision physics makes it easier for would-be-trolls to ruin the race for everyone before the first lap has even ended.
Compare this to Gran Turismo Sport, which has opted to undergo the radical change of completely axing it’s single player campaign in favor of single player challenges. Such as the driving school which teaches you the fundamentals of car control and racing etiquette, and the circuit challenge which offers you step by step instructions on the best racing lines for every track in the game. The real meat of Sport’s gameplay is the plethora of online content it offers. You can choose to race in a basic online lobby or partake in official racing series sanctioned by not only the developers of Gran Turismo, but the FIA, one of the largest motorsport organizations worldwide, who are behind, among others, the Formula One and IndyCar race series. In fact if you demonstrate great driving ability, you may actually be able to acquire a real-world FIA racing license, which allows you to enter real life racing events sanctioned by the FIA. And while I don’t think my driving skills are up to par enough to go racing for Aston Martin just yet, the idea of using a game like Gran Turismo to kickstart a real-world racing career is a cool one. And in order to maintain a good enough standard of racing for the FIA to sanction the game, the developers of Sport have made absolutely sure that each player in online plays fair and doesn’t do things like cut drivers off or run them off the track. They’ve implement a scoring system which ranks drivers based on their finishing position and races, and the level of etiquette they display while racing. Reckless drivers who run others off the road will get matched with other messy drivers, and drivers who follow the racing line and act courteous towards others will get matched with drivers who behave likewise. In fact, in order to play online, you are mandated to watch a 5 minute video explaining the do’s and dont’s of professional racing. It seems that the developer’s efforts have paid off, as online racing in Sport is a refreshing experience, especially so after coming from Forza 7. Drivers on Gran Turismo are usually a lot more courteous and tend to be more mindful than ones on Forza, and the fact that a light tap on the rear bumper doesn’t send me skidding out of control like in Forza doesn’t hurt either.
In order to have a racing game, one needs cars to race in. Forza 7 has a lot of these cars, “a lot” being about 670 of them. Forza 7 has a car to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Whether your idea of “fun” in a racing game is making a Mazda Miata with a Corvette V8 go sideways, driving a Hummer H1 around a tight course and trying not to go off onto the grass, or obsessively lowering your lap time in a LMP1 prototype, you’ll probably find something that’s fun to drive. Forza’s car list spans everything from classic american muscle, 90’s japanese tuners, performance hatchbacks, luxury SUV’s and sedans, and purpose built race cars. However, not everything is great in paradise. A sizeable portion of the car list is locked, only to be unlocked through loot crates that cost a fortune in in-game money to purchase, and there’s no guarantee you’ll unlock any exclusive cars from them. There’s also the ridiculously arbitrary new upgrade system. Gone is the simple, easy to follow PI index from the previous Forza games, replaced by a new “Homologation” system that aims to replicate the requirements of a real racing series, but just ends up falling flat on it’s face. It groups cars based on the type of car they are and assigns arbitrary horsepower, tire, and weight restrictions based on these statistics. In fact, some cars end up being made worse then they are stock to comply with these regulations. What’s the point of having upgrades like engine swaps and crazy body kits available if you’re not allowed to race with them? But my woes with the cars in Forza 7 aren’t over yet. I also have to bring up the fact a lot of the cars in this game have their 3D models ported from the Xbox 360 Forza games, resulting in a large disparity between some of the low quality 3D models ported from the 360 and the newer ones built for the Xbox One. And now, onto my last gripe. The Forza franchise has always been known for it’s high quality car sounds that are extremely accurate to the real thing. However, Forza 7 continues the downward spiral in car sounds that began with Forza Horizon 3. The problem isn’t necessarily the sounds are bad, but all very generic sounding. The Maserati GranTurismo has lost its trademark low burble, and now sounds exactly like a Ferrari 458. Cars such as the Ferrari F12 and Pagani Zonda now sound like a Lamborghini instead of maintaining their trademark sounds. While pointing these differences out may seem overly pedantic, I think it’s disingenuous for Microsoft to brag about their massive car list when so much of it is of such lackluster quality. Overall, it really seems like the developers of the Forza series went with a quantity over quality approach when it came to Forza 7’s cars.
Compare this to Gran Turismo’s approach. While Sport may only have 168 cars to Forza’s 670, the difference in quality is night and day. If you had played a Gran Turismo title on the PS3, you might remember how you had about 250 PS3 quality cars with PS3 modelling quality, but the vast majority of cars were low-poly models carried over from the PS2 Gran Turismo games. In Sport, every car model is built from the ground up to PS4 quality standards, and it really shows. Car models are pinpoint accurate to the real thing, and the interiors in particular really stand out. If you had played a PS3 Gran Turismo title, you might also remember how the cars sounded god-awful, more akin to a vacuum cleaner than a high performance V8. Thankfully, this has been remedied in Sport. The 2015 Mustang retains it’s signature V8 burble, the Volkswagen Golf GTI has a deep, throaty Inline 4 sound, and the Porsche 911 GT3 RS has it’s high revving Inline 6 wail. Something else refreshing about the sounds in Sport is the noticeable lack of post production effects. In Forza 7, every engine sound is layered with an obnoxious amount of reverb that makes every car sound like it’s running in a massive underground cave. In Gran Turismo, the engine sounds have a more subdued tone, which is not to say they unrealistic. One thing I particularly appreciate about the engine sounds in Sport is the muffled quality they have on the interior camera views, much like that of a real life car. The one disappointing part about the cars in Gran Turismo Sport is the quite lackluster tuning system. Unlike Forza and past Gran Turismo games, there isn’t really a concrete upgrade system involving swapping out car parts. Most of the upgrading is done with sliders that simply adjust weight and horsepower figures for the car. This is one area where Forza, without a doubt takes the cake.
So, at the end of the day, what game really takes the podium position in this race? Without a doubt, it’s Gran Turismo Sport. I’ve mentioned above a lot of reasons I prefer the new entry in Sony’s exclusive racing franchise to Forza 7, but something I haven’t mentioned yet is that Sport just feels like so much more of a polished product than 7, even in idiosyncratic areas such as the menus, in which Forza has a confusing mess of a UI with cheesy ESPN Highlights background music, whereas Gran Turismo has a less cluttered, easy to navigate system with relaxing jazzy electronica as menu music. When I think of my comparison between Gran Turismo and Forza’s latest offerings, my mind can’t help going back in time to 2013, where Forza 5 had come out on the Xbox One as a launch title with a limited car list with high res models and great sounds, a small but gorgeous looking track selection, and a heavily overhauled multiplayer. Gran Turismo 6, which launched as a PS3 title, had a huge car list that was full of PS2 quality models without any interiors and some of the worst engine sounds in a racing game ever, tracks that seemed to be directly ported from the PS2 games, and a multiplayer system that was pretty much the same as the game before it. My point in this little tangent is to show that, in the span of 4 years, Gran Turismo and Forza have switched priorities. Gran Turismo offers a limited, but high quality, premium driving experience, and Forza offers a dated but vast drive. If you prefer Forza’s upgrade system or big car list, I can’t fault you, but in terms of which game is the better, more quality product, Gran Turismo Sport leaves Forza Motorsport 7 in the dust.