In the view of Forza Motorsport, cars are serious business. This you can tell from the score, by Peter G. Holmström, which is laden with hammer blows and ticking synth. It sounds like the work of Hans Zimmer, and you could lift it out and lay it snugly over a Splinter Cell or a Deus Ex – one of those tech-infested thrillers in which the world is redeemed by hardware, and the solitary souls who guide it. (Such is racing, I guess, in the eyes of its admirers.) This approach differs from that of Gran Turismo 7, the chief rival of Forza Motorsport in the mainstream simulator stakes. That game presents its races in a café, amid the glint of coffee pots and the steam of lightly brewed jazz. Slotted together, both works spin and blur into a similar conviction; when you apply the brakes, you notice that they lie at opposing ends of it. Do cars make life worth living, or does life make cars worth driving?
Spend an afternoon with Forza Motorsport, in its thuddingly epic air, and you may stagger away convinced of the latter. But think of the efforts that it makes to welcome you. We are ushered into a string of races, as though it were no big deal. The difficulty is dampened by default, with brakes that kick in to carry you around each bend. The career mode is approachable – wrapped into parcels of races. The Legacy Tour. The Power Tour. The Enthusiast Tour. Within these you find themed events: Practical Performance, Super Sedans, Built For Sport. Start one of these series, and you get a potted history lesson, albeit with a steely edge: “Modern high-performance hatchbacks have evolved into serious street and track weapons,” we are told by a stern narrator. You’ll never look at a Renault Megane, loaded and cocked in a Tesco car park, the same way again.
The developer, Turn 10 Studios, is determined to be a courteous host. Thus, it’s only as you progress in the career mode that you turn up the difficulty – increasing the AI challenge of your opponents, lowering your starting position (therefore boosting your potential winnings), and, if you dare, removing the litany of assists that soothed your early drives. One by one, like Jenga blocks. The battles of Forza Motorsport are won and lost on its corners. The game is at its best when you are clinging onto the track, wrists juddering with understeer, trying to accelerate out of your troubles and press on. It’s like a scene from Shadow of the Colossus, as you grip the back of some beast of rock and grass and unforgiving angles, trying desperately not to get thrown from a hard shoulder.