Forza Motorsport 6 is a Digital Dominatrix

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

Microsoft Studios

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 5 was 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?

Microsoft Studios

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.

Microsoft Studios

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.