I was excited for Forza Motorsport 5. The promise of the XBox One's next-generation graphics capabilities combined with cutting-edge technologies like Forza's Drivatar system and its much, much more lax attitude towards car customization (both visual and mechanical) made it an appealing title for me. Then I had to write this story.
A mere 200 cars, I could live with. Yeah, variety is always nice, but to be truthful, I'd rather have 200 unique cars representing a broad swath of automotive history than 1,100 cars with dozens and dozens of them containing only slight variations. And I knew that Turn 10 Studios, the folks behind FM5, would come through with some awesome downloadable content packs. What I couldn't get over, though, was the lack of tracks.
It wasn't just the 14 tracks, but the ones that were chosen. Catalunya and Spa-Francorchamps are great picks, and the decision to include Mount Panorama is, as far as I'm concerned, inspired. I even liked the inclusion of Indianapolis Motor Speedway instead of Forza's knockoff version included in past installments. But some of the tracks, like Sebring, Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta almost feel too familiar, while the fictional tracks – Prague and the Bernese Alps – lack any real character at all. And don't even get me going on the insipid, Tilke-designed Yas Marina Circuit.
Most egregious of all, though, was what was missing – the Nürburgring. Germany's famed circuit has been a fixture in console-based racers since Gran Turismo 4 introduced it way back in early 2005. Its absence in Forza 5, particularly after it appeared in FM4, was inexplicable.
Now, though, nearly seven months after FM5 was released, the Ring is back, and better than ever. I spent
- First of all, what took so long? For a start, Turn 10 went back to the drawing board on the beloved circuit, opting to recapture everything with the latest techniques rather than work off of the GPS and photography that was used to render the track in Forza Motorsport 4. Turn 10 Creative Director Dan Greenawalt tells Autoblog that the old methods "pale in comparison" to the new laser scanners. These new technologies allow the smallest cracks in the pavement and the curbing to be captured, creating the most realistic recreation of the track possible.
- Was the Ring worth the wait? A resounding "Yes!" Forza Motorsport 5's Nürburgring is the finest rendering of the track on any console by a simply huge margin. I sampled the track in Gran Turismo 6 back-to-back with my drive in Forza, and while GT remains a strong offering, the comparison test is simply further reinforcement that FM5 is truly a next-generation offering.
- I've been virtually racing on the Nürburgring for nearly ten years, and this is far and away the most difficult version of the track to date. The advantage of laser scanning, as we explained in our post on the Long Beach DLC, is that what you're driving on is accurate to the "sub-centimeter" level. You really, really notice the bumpiness when running the Ring in FM5, particularly if you opt to run with the game's steering in the "simulation" setting. As you can see in the video below, I was constantly fighting with the wheel in the run from Adenauer Forst to Bergwerk. Not only do you need to contend with the Ring's notorious bumpiness, but because of the laser scanning, the curbing acts as a double-edged sword. It took only a few laps for me to learn that sections of curbing that I could exploit in FM4 or GT would quickly lead to a collision with the Armco barriers in FM5. Simply put, it's the most challenging racing environment I've ever experienced on a console.
- As we explained yesterday, it took 30 Turn 10 artists 13,000 man hours to capture the track. There are 26,000 trees spread around the track for crying out loud. Greenawalt called the Ring the team's "most ambitious project ever" owing to its sheer size – over 16 miles for the combined Nordschleife and Grand Prix circuit. That in itself is a first for Forza – offering up the combined challenge of both the old and new circuits simply adds to the feat that is a lap of the Nürburgring.
- According to Greenawalt, "the Ring has a definite sense of 'place.' It's more than a beautiful place; it feels alive." I'd argue that it's a really beautiful piece of work, but it almost strays into the uncanny valley, particularly when viewed on the replay. I'd blame this largely on the track team's emphasis on lighting and atmospheric details. Looking at the video and images I captured gives a real sense of that, with a lot of natural light and dynamic shadowing. The track really does feel like a different place when running from a section with heavy shade, such as the complex from Aremburg to Adenauer Forst, and then bursting into a largely exposed area, such as Metzgesfeld. It's not photo realistic, if only because the lighting is so dynamic that it feels slightly artificial, but it really is a beautiful place to drive.