Forza’s Race Rewinding Is the New Regenerating Health

Dear Reader,

Racing games have been broken for decades, and “Forza Motorsport” is here to fix them; not necessarily “Forza 4″ in particular, but the franchise in general, and specifically the last two. In these amazing games, a race can be rewound from almost anywhere, allowing you to redo mistakes and fine-tune your performance. I was aware of this mechanic’s existence in “Forza 3,” but since I barely played that title, I was unable to experience how drastic a revolution it incites.

This is a game-changing piece of design, not unlike regenerating health in first person shooters. At first you think it’s apocryphal, even blasphemous, but then as it sinks in you begin to achieve a kind of zen-like freedom. The sweet smell of joy fills your nose, and you start to wonder why you tolerated things the old way.

Hop in, Big Boy

I think racing games have been guilty of a fundamentally flawed assumption: that we have to finish a race in one try, or do the whole thing over. This is a Byzantine idea, valuable only in multiplayer, and long overdue for disposal. Yes, that’s the way a race would be in real life, but it’s not the job of a video game to preserve reality. If it was, you’d have beat “Call of Duty” in a single sitting, without dying. As it is, we don’t even have to complete entire levels all at once, nor should we.

Hit the jump as we explore how racing games should be made, post “Forza 3/4.”

Being empowered to repeat troublesome sections of a game is a philosophical choice as old as the hills, meant to simulate a level of competence the game developer knows it cannot imbue in you. When you’re playing as Master Chief, for example, you’re not really on par with your avatar’s skill level. The game can give you his strength and his weaponry, but not his reflexes or his tactical excellence. So, like all shooters, “Halo” allows you the luxury of trial and error to compensate. It’s a simple yet brilliant idea, and it buttresses modern gaming as we know it.

And yet, racing games have ignored this idea for almost their entire existence. The situation is no different: we have the tools of our avatars, but we can’t possibly be expected to function as professional drivers, so in theory some device should exist to give us a leg up. Nine times out ten, none does. Get the race right, or do it all over again. Why on Earth is this the standard? Even “Super Mario Bros” doesn’t make you do whole levels from scratch.

Well damn, start all over

I assert that it should be standard practice in racing games to let me try the race again from any given lap. Two qualifiers should probably exist, however: first, this would only apply in single player, and whatever time you achieved could not be placed on a leaderboard. Second, there should be a limited number of these retries available, and a special commendation for completing the race uninterrupted. That way, the gamer sets their own bar to jump over.

By pioneering this new philosophy of racing, “Forza” as a series has done something remarkable. It’s all the more noteworthy because FM is a sim, not some whiz-bang arcade boat racing garbage (you know I love you, “Hydro Thunder”). This is a serious franchise, and so their innovative game design must be taken seriously. Other racing games need to take notice, and start thinking about the future of their genre.


if i had a heart