Forza Motorsport 5 [w/videos]
A Powerful First Salvo In The Next Generation Of Racing Games
1. It's the only truly next-generation racing title you can buy right now.
2. I've had it for two weeks and I can't stop playing it.
That second one is critical. After years of reviewing driving and racing video games, I have to say my ability to stay interested in a title past a few days has markedly decreased. The fact that FM5 has stayed slotted in a still-shining-new Xbox One, while supposedly excellent titles like Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Rising 3 sit by largely unplayed, is telling.
Even after sampling the new Forza at E3 this year, I wasn't entirely sure that would be the case. As pre-launch news filtered in about a smaller roster of cars and fewer tracks than were available for Forza 4, my expectations dimmed even more. As it turns out though, I needn't have worried, because Forza 5 is worth the massive amount of marketing that has been bestowed upon it to date; it's the first game you should play for the Xbox One if you care about cars, and it could be the racer that finally quells the rivalry with that other title from Sony. Here's why.
Toss the disc into your newly acquired gaming system, get past the obligatory downloads and installation (one unfortunate time suck that all new Xbox One users will become acquainted with) and prepare to be consistently stunned with what you see. Developed from the ground up to be played on next-generation hardware, FM5 looks every bit the evolutionary step forward in driving games.
Viewed in a static state, all of the vehicles of the game appear just a hair's breadth shy of being perfectly photo realistic. Certainly when viewed in Forza's returning Forzavista mode – essentially a virtual walk-around of a single car – each and every vehicle in the game looks utterly lifelike, down to hints of orange peel in the paint and appropriate texture on the metal of visible brake rotors. Hell, just have a look at the screen saver video:
More impressive, by some margin, is how the renderings of the vehicles hold up while underway. (Please note that the in-game screen captures appear to be lower resolution in our galleries than they do in actual play – a product of the capture software.) The overall lighting of the game is, excuse the pun, brilliant, and the play of light and shadow on and around the moving cars is unprecedented. Turn 10 Studios committed early to creating an experience that would run at a fast, flowing 60 frames per second, and the result is this impeccably smooth presentation of both cars and tracks at speed. And, despite some pretty heavy criticism leveled at the studio for the final product versus the ultra detailed build of Forza we saw at E3, details like street surfacing, suspension movement, damage modeling, etc., is all pretty great.
Of course looking great and driving great are two completely different things. If there's one spot where Gran Turismo 5 still really had it over Forza Motorsport 4, it was in the more precise vehicle physics and faithful reproduction of the real world driving experience. With Forza 5, however, Turn 10 has taken quite a few leaps forward.
Even in full-n00b mode, braking and accelerating feel weighty and tactile.
FM5 still offers a very nice pick-up-and-play experience for those who aren't into the hardcore simulations, with assists that range from steering and braking aids, to an easy to follow driving line, automatic transmissions and many selectable levels of competition (more on that in a second). With all of the above tuned for the novice, it's very straightforward to pick up a controller and race decently – even win. What's great is that, even in full-n00b mode, braking and accelerating feel weighty and tactile, thanks to the ingenious trigger motors of the new XB1 controllers, and cars offer a significant sense of grip-limit.
Start to turn the assists down or off – completely manual braking and steering make the biggest difference here – and play becomes instantly more challenging, and even more faithful still to the real world dynamic experience. Steering inputs have heavy consequences if they aren't subtle; understeer and oversteer are progressive in development but ticklish to deal with on the edge; front /rear balance and curb weight make themselves felt on every corner.
The other major factor in Forza 5's realistic gameplay is the much-vaunted Drivatar system.
I'm fascinated to see if Gran Turismo 6, running on Playstation 3 hardware, will be able to fully match the accurate simulation of physics here. Right now Forza is in the lead where GT has always hung its hat, and with no PS4 version of the Polyphony franchise in sight...
The other major factor in Forza 5's realistic gameplay is the much-vaunted Drivatar system. For those of you who missed it, this is Turn 10's newest take on replacing artificial intelligence for the cars you race in offline play.
The basic idea is that everyone who plays a game of FM5 creates a Drivatar with his or her profile, which then is uploaded to the cloud and constantly updated with new driving data. If you tend to brake early, so does your Drivatar; if you're slow through The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, so is your Drivatar. The result is meant to be a single player experience where your opponents are still just as crafty and unpredictable as live human opponents.
And the system works, perhaps even a bit too well.
The result is that all races feel much more 'alive' than in any other title I've played.
Here's what I don't like: most of the people who play Forza 5 so far, and their digital representations like them, have just terrible manners on the track. Where standard racing AI will allow me, if I'm on my game, to scythe elegant lines through corners and between dimwitted opponents, Forza's cadre of bloodthirsty Drivatars is more likely to brake check my ass, and force me into the gravel trap at Turn 1.
What's more, while you can select opponents ranked anywhere from "New Racer" to "Unbeatable," the lower tiers' incompetence is almost as difficult to deal with as the ace drivers' skill. Crowded starting areas filled with easier-to-beat Drivatars turn in to screeching sinkholes of burning brakes and bent metal. The programing team has handcuffed the Drivatars to a certain extent, to save us all from simply irrational behavior (driving every track backwards), but a lot of chaos still gets through. It's not that the new system is bad, far from it, but the result is that all races feel much more 'alive' than in any other title I've played. That was probably the goal, but be forewarned.
If the replacement for artificial intelligence is slightly more real than I'd always like, the small moments of magic that crowd the rest of the FM5 experience more than make up for it.
I'm not the world's most enthusiastic Top Gear fan, but even I can appreciate the application of that series and its stars here. The TG test track is back and is one of the more entertaining circuits of the game: a new set of races asks you to best The Stig's Digital Cousin and every one of the racing series is introduced with a great cut scene by one of the Top Gear triumvirate. Clarkson gives us a representative sample, just below.
No kidding; FM5 now allows for up to 3,000 individual layers per car side.
The car customization available in Forza 5 is also pretty delightful. Fans of the series will recognize the system for mechanical upgrades (with manual and auto-adjusting versions), but the ways in which you can visually personalize your car are far richer than they were in Forza Motorsport 4 or Forza Horizon. Use stock graphics or design your own, spray with a nearly infinite variety of paints and finishes (I found the various patterns of prototype-car camouflage quite charming), and layer away until your heart's content. No kidding; FM5 now allows for up to 3,000 individual layers per car side. My flat green and black "doom" E30 M3, seen in the gameplay gallery, is a pretty poor example of the fun you can have. (I'd love to see your designs, gamers – hit me up on Twitter @Seyth or message me on Xbox Live, gamertag: FisherSpassky.)
I could pick nits with a smallish number of overall vehicles (see all of them, along with the Ferrari DLC pack, in our awesome gallery) and too few tracks, but the reality is that this is a game I won't be putting down for some time.
It's very difficult to see Forza Motorsport 5 as anything less than the very best in class.
At Autoblog, we don't have a history of scoring cars or video games on some kind of numerical scale as a summary. I think that's correct, as good reviewing includes a lot of nuance, and the understanding that something that I love isn't necessarily 'good' or 'bad' in a way that is easily quantifiable. Some people like chocolate, some like vanilla, and all that. However, if you look at racing and driving simulation games as a whole, it's very difficult to see Forza Motorsport 5 as anything less than the very best in class. Period. Ten out of ten; full points.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just downloaded a LaFerrari to drive at Spa. See you on the track.
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