Forza Motorsport 5 - Reviewed

What better way to kick-start the genesis of your new console than to release a new entry in one of your flagship franchises during the oft-criticised launch period? 

That’s exactly what Microsoft have done; they’ve recruited wizards of the raceway Turn 10 Studios to create yet another exquisite entry in the Forza Motorsport series which has launched alongside its parent console the world over.

Forget your multiplatform titles, to witness the magnificent birth of a new console you have to judge the launch exclusives. They give the best indication as to how the device performs and show a tantalising glimpse into the future of development. Forza Motorsport 5 is one such game; it has the traditional umms and aahs that surround any high-profile release, but the truly exciting thing is that if a game can look this good so early in a console’s lifecycle, imagine how good they’ll look three of four years down the line. More on that in the years to come, for now let’s focus on the Xbox One’s headline act.

And what an act it is. The series has always been known for its smouldering beauty and open-mindedness to drivers of all abilities, and this fifth entry continues both traditions impeccably. The first thing you’ll notice is the immense quality of the visuals. A next-gen game this definitely is, the Xbox 360 probably couldn’t produce anything like this. Cars have been fastidiously recreated down to the minutest detail. Wear on the tires, the texture in the paint and even the reflection of the dashboard on the windscreen (when you’re in first person view) – all are graphical flourishes that really nail the realism.

If you really want to salivate make sure you head over to the ‘Forzavista’ mode. Here, you’re allowed to observe your car from all angles as it sits in a supremely middle-class garage. Graphical fidelity is at its highest in this mode; the quality diminishes slightly when you’re actuallyplaying but that’s both inevitable and understandable.

So, definitely good to look at, but just like contemplating whether or not to approach that blonde bombshell that’s leaning seductively on the bar you have to ask yourself: is there any substance behind the glamour? A question that is met with a resounding “yes” in this instance. All hail the intelligent stunner that’s downing her fifth cocktail.

Forza Motorsport 5 isn’t just a pretty face; gameplay, as ever, is superbly refined. The settings really are your oyster; the game can hold your hand through every event or leave you out in the cold depending on what assists you apply. Anyone can pick this game up and have a great time, you don’t have to be an expert racer. All are welcome aboard this ship.

It’s a brilliantly realised simulation experience, like all of its predecessors, but something has changed. Something big. When it was first revealed to the gaming world, Turn 10 guru Dan Greenawalt made a big deal about the new Drivatar feature, something which this writer idly brushed aside as pointless developer flim-flam. Turns out I was being arrogant; this feature might just change racing games forever.

The simple version is that the online cloud gathers information on your racing style (the lateness of your braking, the ferocity with which you attack corners etc) and creates a virtual opponent based on you that is filtered down into the consoles of every gamer the world over. So, even when you’re playing single player, the other cars will be driven by gamers, or rather a computer imitating them. Formulaic A.I. drivers are no more, they act like real people. It makes it feel like you’re in an online multiplayer showdown even when you’re just progressing through the single player. It’s brilliant.

The levels of drama and variation this affords are immense. It gives the player a real sense of satisfaction when they win a race because they’ve actually beaten other people, rather than a bunch of computer-controlled opponents that are following a pre-programmed set of rules. It also negates any guilt you may have about playing dirty because there’s every chance you’ll get side-slammed by one of your rivals and driven off the road. This is every man for himself racing, supported by a bombastic orchestral soundtrack that Michael Bay would be proud of and engine notes that have never sounded better.

It’s more fun than playing the actual multiplayer which, whilst being a relatively solid suite, does little to mix things up. It’s the side salad to single player steak, and is full of gamers who will do everything to ensure you lose, usually via cheating. That’s ok in the single player but out in the online realm there’s no rewind feature, so if you’re spun out by an annoying kid then you’re race is basically over. Screw those guys!

Single player is where you really want to be, even though it’s remarkably sparse for a game of this magnitude. It has significantly fewer cars and tracks than its biggest rival – the upcoming Gran Turismo 6. Take that with a pinch of salt though; the Japanese game series has been known to pad out its ridiculous car count by including hundreds of boring hatchbacks and different versions of the same vehicle. Here, each car is different and feels like it belongs, and wasn’t just included to boost a number.

You have to make big decisions when it comes to buying one. Each race series gives you a few choices but once you’ve bought one you’re stuck with it until you’ve clawed back enough money to purchase another. It’s a little frustrating to be saddled with the same car for so long, competing in samey races that have little variation. The inclusion of odd challenges to do on the Top Gear Test Track are fun once, but just feel like a gimmick once you’ve knocked down your second set of enormous bowling pins.

So, a brilliant (but slightly flawed) masterpiece then? Definitely. Forza Motorsport 5 is a great game in so many ways and utilises the power of next-gen better than pretty much any other launch title. But even though it’s taken a few steps forward, it’s shuffled back a few in other departments.

Seriously, guys… still no weather effects?!


Words by Matt Gammond

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