(Pocket-lint) - Forza Motorsport is that rarest of videogame franchises: a late-developer. Generally, games don't develop into franchises if they don't hit a nerve first time out, but Microsoft knew it strategically needed an exclusive driving game for its consoles to rival Sony's Gran Turismo series. Forza Motorsport 6 is the pinnacle of that.
But while previous iterations of Forza failed to overcome criticisms that they somehow felt squeaky-clean and soulless, and despite developer Turn 10's high-tech efforts, the cars still felt as though they were floating above the tarmac. Forza 6 finally manages to kick those criticisms into the long grass, and even leaves you with the feeling that Gran Turismo developer Kazunori Yamauchi is going to have raise his game for Gran Turismo 7 (whenever that might finally appear).
Is Forza Motorsport 6 the best racing simulator available today?
Forza 6 review: Simply stunning
Forza games have always looked spectacular, but Forza 6 looks simply amazing. The level of detail in the cars and tracks is stunning, and the game's lighting sets new standards. It's true that in comparison with, say, Project Cars, Forza 6 still looks rather shiny and scrubbed – rather than conveying the grime of real-life motorsport – but its graphics are so good that any criticism seems churlish.
And, at last, Turn 10 has nailed the handling, so you can back rear-wheel-drive cars into corners as if they were superbikes, or induce both understeer and lift-off oversteer in four-wheel drive cars, by varying your turn-in and aggressiveness on the throttle.
Turn 10 has also nailed Forza's cockpit view for the first time: there's absolutely no reason to even look at any of the other views in Forza 6. You could argue that Project Cars gives you a tiny bit more handling feedback, but Forza's floaty-feeling days have been well and truly consigned to the bin.
Forza 6 review: Mod progression
Forza 6's general structure is also impeccable. You start off with the ability to choose from various types of cars, all with roughly the same amount of power, that stretch from hot-hatches to rear-drive Japanese convertibles and, in Career mode, you must finish in each race's top three to progress.
You canalso tinker with driver aids, which affects the amount of XP you can earn, upgrade all aspects of your car, Gran Turismo-style, apply some gloriously wacky liveries (our favourite being the Derbyshire Constabulary jam sandwich), and avail yourself of rewinds, although you can turn those off and receive an XP boost.
The one true innovation that Forza 6 brings is the concept of Mods, which you can win or buy, using the in-game currency. They come in packs and conform to two types: persistent ones, and ones that last a single race; you can only equip one of the former. They give you things like percentage increases in grip or braking, or XP boosts, and can come in very handy if, say, you're racing an old 1960s classic that looks great but has zero grip. And, cleverly, you can get negative Mods that might, say, reduce your grip, but give you a big XP boost if you can still win races with them equipped.
Whenever you level up, you get a Prize Spin to win either a car (invariably one that would take days of gameplay before you could afford it) or in-game cash – a system lifted from Forza Horizon – and you soon start to unlock Showcase Events which might, say, put you behind the wheel of an Indycar, or pit you against Top Gear's Stig.
Forza 6 review: Great tracks
The race series zip around the world, taking in some of the best tracks in existence – which include Brands Hatch, Silverstone, the Top Gear test track, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen – and there are some stunning-looking city tracks (Prague being a particular highlight).
The Career mode difficulty curve is exemplary, and Forza 6 is very meaty elsewhere: there are five so-called Volumes, leading from fairly standard road machinery up to exotica like Indycars and endurance racers.
Online, Forza 6 is also exemplary. It offers a vast choice of different racing formulae, including drag-racing and drifting, and it's easy to set-up leagues with your mates. Match-making seems to work well, and any bugginess is impressively absent.
Finding anything to criticise about Forza Motorsport 6 is tricky. It does still look a bit too shiny and clean, but this time around it has proper damage-modelling (which is only cosmetic by default, but if you turn it on, again you get an XP bonus). And unless you turn that on, you can still "brake" by driving into the side of rivals, but at least the game praises you for clean overtakes, as well as rating your cornering.
Forza Motorsport 6 is an order of magnitude better than any of its predecessors. At last, after ten years of trying, Turn 10 has made a heavyweight, utterly credible racing game that is completely free of any glaring flaws.
Whatever you do, don't show it to a PlayStation 4 owner, forlornly waiting for news of Gran Turismo 7. Because, for the moment, Forza 6 buys Xbox One owners a vast amount of bragging rights. Indeed, it could plausibly claim to be the best racing game ever made.