Developed by: Turn 10 Studios / Publisher: Microsoft Studios / Played on: Xbox One / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: [Everyone] Comic Mischief
Cynics love to trounce next-gen optimism, reminding you that launch games are just the same old business with slightly better graphics. Forza 5 asks the question—is the same game with better graphics really so bad? Turns out it isn’t…sort of. Forza 5 is a solid, solid racing game, but the Forza series itself has already set the bar higher. The second you catch your stride with Forza 5, a lack of gameplay content and variety will have you wondering where you can find the rest of the game.
Right off the bat, Forza 5 makes it clear it’s taking a step back from the inventive, open world of Forza Horizon. This racing game is by the numbers—you pick events from a menu and play through a series of races in a variety of vehicle classes. There is one novel bit—race results are determined by gold, silver, and bronze ranks rather than positions. If you finish in the top three, that’s a gold, meaning you don’t have to get first place in every race. It’s a subtle twist that removes the frustration caused by an impossibly fast lead car. Aside from that, Forza is about as cut-and-dry a racer as you can get. There’s no points system like Project Gotham and no sense of progression like that in the DIRT or GRID series.
To find Forza’s successes you have to get more granular. While Turn 10 presented the “drivatar” system as this entry’s defining feature, I found the Xbox One’s impact triggers way more… impactful. If you’re unfamiliar, there are small rumble motors in the shoulder triggers of the Xbox One’s controller, and they’re awesome in Forza 5. Yes, they rumble when you hit the gas or brake, but you can use that rumble to “feel” your car’s traction. As you accelerate through a corner, you can feel exactly when the tires start to skid and lose friction, allowing you to hit that razor edge of speed just before you start to oversteer. Playing without traction control used to be unrealistic with powerful supercars; now it’s just awesome. With impact triggers, you can feel the car’s power more than ever before. If you love racers, it’s worth playing Forza 5 for that alone.
Another win for Forza 5 smacks you in the face; this game is gorgeous. Environments look amazing and I am floored by the car interiors modeled in Forza 5. Typically I use the bumper cam in most racers but I spent most of my time in the cockpit view just because the car interiors are so nuts. Sunlight even bounces off the dashboard and reflects in the windshield, which is an effect I haven’t seen in any other racer. Speaking of the sun, sometimes it’s so next-gen it’s annoying. Sun bloom makes it impossible to see anything when it blasts you in the eyes… which you could argue is realistic. Still, Forza 5 is, without a doubt, the best-looking racer I’ve ever seen.
Forza 5 puts those meticulous car models to use with “Forzavista,” which sets new standards in car porn. In this mode, you can walk around any car you own—open the doors, activate the lights, and of course switch to camera mode to get those perfect pin-up shots. Car simulators have been trending to digital car love letters for a while now. This feature is a natural evolution of that sentiment that makes great use of Forza 5’s incredible visuals.
The drivatar system is less noticeable. The idea is interesting—supposedly the game learns how you drive, and will then tailor an AI character around those behaviors and seed him into other people’s games. If your “drivatar” wins credits in those races, you get a sack of money the next time you log in to play. It’s oddly reminiscent of Dragon’s Dogma’s pawn system, but in practice I didn’t see a noticeable difference between these drivatars and normal racing AI. Sure, the drivatars would occasionally botch a turn, but so does traditional AI. It’s possible this system will gain more personality as more people play and salt the earth with diverse behavior, but right now I’m unimpressed.
You might think that racing against real humans would be more stimulating, but if you do, you’ve probably never played a simulation racer online before. Every race goes like this: everyone barrels into the first corner at full speed, causes a cataclysmic pile up, then whoever’s lucky enough to squirt out of the maelstrom first gets a free lead unless they miss a corner somewhere. Aside from enabling simulation damage or the occasional moment when the game disables car collisions, there’s no penalty for making contact with other cars. As a result, even well-intentioned races end up being a dirty riot of spinouts and swapped paint. It’s not challenging or interesting; it’s just silly.
A much more rewarding outlet for competition is improving your own lap time on a given track. At the end of any race, Forza will slot you in a leaderboard with close rivals and friends highlighted to tempt your competitive spirit. A few buttons drop you back on the track, giving you the opportunity to dissect every corner and shave tenths of seconds off your lap time. Given the strength of Forza’s simulation and its awesome controls, tackling a track over and over until you nail that perfect lap is still a lot of fun.
That said, I don’t expect many racing fans are chomping at the bit to drive on a single track for hours at a time, and that’s where this game falls the hardest. Forza 5 only features 200 cars and 14 track locations, which is anemic when compared to the upcoming Gran Turismo 6 or even past Forza games. There’s no point-to-point races, no rally, and the track lineup is missing iconic locations like the Nurburgring.
If you thrive on variety, your patience with Forza 5 will wear thin in ten hours or so… and the idea that DLC may fill out the experience sometime in the future isn’t very comforting. That’s tragic, because Forza 5 is one of the most gorgeous and best-feeling racers I’ve ever played. I just wonder when the rest of it will get here.