By Steve Wright
I’m not a car guy, but I’ve fallen in love with Forza Motorsport 5.
Top Gear is partially to blame; from the moment you stick Forza’s disc in (well, after installation), you’re greeted by Jeremy Clarkson’s dulcet tones. Clarkson, in true Top Gear form, talks about cars in a comical way that makes it easy for casual types to keep up while still managing to please die-hards. Cars are powerful, they’re deadly serious… but they’re also big toys. Top Gear never forgets this, and neither does Forza.
If you’re on the fence when starting this game up, Clarkson will draw you in and get you excited about cars before you know it. Best yet, as soon as he’s said his peace, Forza itself takes over and turns that excitement into interest.
At the end of the day, I’ll forget most of the names of the cars I’ve driven in Forza, but I won’t forget that each car I’ve driven has a completely different sound coming off the line. I’ll remember the little anecdotes gifted to me by the Top Gear boys before starting up a new race series. As much as Forza is a driving game, it’s more of an experience.
Despite a truly awful name, Turn 10’s Driveatar system is extremely impressive. After a couple races, Forza 5 tells you that your Driveatar is ready to race without you, taking your style – and in my case, extremely bad habits – and virtualising them so race against others. Soon after, you’ll notice Driveatars of your friends suddenly racing up against you.
Now, of course you know the people you’re driving against aren’t your real friends, but you still want to beat them anyway. Amazingly, you can also clearly see how your friends drive differently than one another. Joab Gilroy of the GAP Podcast takes corners well and aggressively fends you off during a straight. Steve Farrelly of AusGamers? He takes corners like I do: at awful angles and usually too fast. Ben Salter of MMGN? He’s a pretty damn good all-rounder. As much as I’m impressed with how the Driveatar system works now, I can’t wait to see how the system will evolve in the weeks and months to come as we all (actually) drive more.
I’m also terrified that all of my friends will soon see just how tragic I am at the game. My strategy for turning is usually to run into another car to slow down and get that corner.
As you get comfortable with game, it’ll start to throw rivals at you, challenging you to better their lap times. That’s all well and good, but it really gets interesting when those rivals start popping up with your friend’s gamertags. As I’ve said, I’m not the biggest car fan, but I wasn’t about to put my controller down until I beat every single friend I was asked to. Forza stokes that competitive fire in your belly in a way I haven’t experienced with a game in a long while.
Let’s just say that many races were restarted. Microtransactions were also considered (and for the record, they only will help you to buy better cars or gain boost XP, but gain a real edge whilst driving).
Driving assists, drive lines, rewinds and customisation are largely the same as in other Forza games, so experts will immediately turn them off, and n00bs can dial down Driveatar skill if need be. Creative types will jump into the game’s tuning centre or paint shop and start designing schemes that drivers around the world can access. Even playing the game before the Xbox One is available, you can tell that it’s going to have a massive community behind it. Hell, with only 500 people playing the game now, it’s already the case; I’ve downloaded some choice paint jobs and given their creators a thumbs up as thanks.
As far as for how realistic the cars drive? I have no idea, and I don’t care to.* They look cool, they sound cool and controller rumble feedback is subtle, yet extremely well done. As a relatively awful driver, I find I need to rewind races quite a bit as I manage to put myself in an unwinnable situation, positioning myself in front of UI vehicles that slam me into walls or spin me out completely. Other times, I basically sit there fighting the game’s drive assists, trying to pull off a move I think is going to work and failing completely because the assists drag my car in a completely different direction.
For me, the cars are minor features in a play where besting friends and mucking about on the Top Gear track take centre stage. Rev heads will love this game, and those with even a minor interest in the title should pick it up for the its beautiful vistas and limitless competition. It’s hard to go wrong with Forza Motorsport 5.
*For those of you that really do, we'll be sure to get Racing Editor Nicholas Simovski's thoughts as soon as he has access to the game.
TL;DR? Check out our video review!
Take two: Our expert racer's review
For me, I’ve never been one of those day-one console adopters. I remember when the Xbox 360 launched eight years ago, and how much I wanted to get one when it was first released. Problem was, when you’re a 14 year old with no income asking your parents to spend their hard-earned cash on a $800 toy, you don’t exactly have a lot of pull.
With the Xbox One though, things were a little different. With the entry price being significantly lower than the amount consoles were initially selling for last generation, with Forza Motorsport 5 being a launch title, and with an income of my own to buy it with, I thought “why not”. The question is, now that I’ve spent the last few days with it, was the Xbox One and FM5 worth the purchase?
To begin, I guess I should discuss the one feature that everyone’s been talking about since Forza 5 was unveiled at E3 this year – yes, it looks amazing – beautiful even. I’ve been following the franchise since Forza Motorsport 2, and it’s great to see each subsequent release improving significantly as far as graphics are concerned. For some time, I was just playing around in the Forzavista mode, checking out my 2011 Mazda RX8 R3, and just sitting in awe as to how great it looked in the game. The devil is certainly in the details though, and it’s the smaller and finer touches like the stitching in the steering wheel, the glare from the sun as you drive around the track, the reflection of your dashboard on your windshield, and the fact that you can see debris on the track outside the racing lines, which truly shows how far Forza has come, and how Turn 10 have really embraced the processing power of the new Xbox.
Of course though, graphics aren’t just about how pretty the cars look, but also how great they look beaten up – and it’s also here that Turn 10 have out-done themselves. The first (and for me, most important) improvement I noticed was that no longer do you get the impression that you’re racing without a windshield or windows. Crash into an opponent or barrier hard enough, and you’ll notice cracks in the glass. Scrapes look more realistic than ever too, and seeing bumpers dislodged from the body of the car as you watch the post-race video sequence never ceases to impress me. I should note though, despite all these graphical improvements, some bumpers still won’t crack but merely bend from damage – which, if I’m brutally honest, looks kind of ridiculous. Turn 10 really should take a look at how damage is handled in Need For Speed Rivals, which, as far as I’m concerned, has been the industry leader for damage in the last few years.
Moving on from graphics, another solid feature of this game (as you’d expect) is the physics. Now I’ve played my fair share of racing games, and as I said earlier, I’ve followed the franchise ever since FM2, but there certainly feels to be a significant improvement in the overall feel to these cars in Forza 5. No two cars feel the same, and I’ve never played a racing game where I felt I was getting such an authentic racing experience. Racing with my RX8 R3, I’d have to constantly worry about throttle control, braking, and careful steering to ensure I navigated my way around the track without losing control – and believe me, I lost control a LOT! Contrast this to the Mitsubishi Evolution VIII I jumped into afterwards, with its AWD, and the feeling was completely different. The car felt planted, I had more confidence going into corners, and it was really obvious the differences between RWD and AWD – something which I really haven’t noticed as much in other titles.
Another major feature which Turn 10 has been promoting, and which needs to be discussed, is the new Driveatar feature. Essentially, your Driveatar is your virtual driver, whose driving style is based off how you drive when you’re playing the game. Drive aggressively and your Driveatar will be designed to do the same. Brake later into corners, so will it, etc. etc. There are some pretty neat changes as a result of this – whenever you’re not playing Forza 5, your Driveatar races for you in the cloud. This in turn earns you money while you’re not at your Xbox One. Neato! But there are a lot of disadvantages too.
When you load up the first race of the game, you’re told that there are no AI – that all your opponents in the game are other players’ Driveatars. Now this sounds like a cool feature… until you realize how horrible they all are. It literally only took only a few races to see just how had the AI are in this game. Now I know that Turn 10 are telling us that there are no AI, but when the other drivers in your race aren’t actually being controlled by human people – that qualifies as AI to me. Now AI has never really been a strong-point in this franchise, but it seems that they are particularly horrid this time around. In almost every race you’ll fall victim to dirty racing – where your opponents crash into you from behind, force you off the track, and are just ignorant of your racing line or position on the course. To be honest, it’s perhaps some of the worst example of driving I’ve ever seen in a game, and I just refuse to accept that it’s because my friends are or aren’t good drivers. I had to resort to dialing down the difficulty of the opponents before I started to enjoy the races a lot more.
While we’re on the topic of disappointing features, I have to discuss Forza 5’s track listing. Playing through the first two championships in career mode, I thought everything was going well. Of the tracks I’ve raced on, they were varied and fun – but it wasn’t until I was told by a mate that there were only 14 tracks, where I realized that I had already driven on them all, that my disappointment sank in … and believe me, in sank in quick. Fourteen tracks, as much as that might sound to be a lot, really isn’t. When there are so many leagues I’ve not even played yet, each with so many championships within, I’m kind of dreading the fact that I’m going to have to play through them all, with the same bunch of tracks that I’m already over. This is the next generation of gaming, this is the Xbox One, this is Forza Motorsport 5 – and Turn 10 has included less tracks than their last few games, with only a handful of new ones! I believe in quality over quality, but no developer should ever be excused for giving less! I can only hope that future DLC introduces a whole lot more tracks (which replace the existing ones in career) otherwise this game will fall victim to becoming extremely repetitive, extremely soon.
Make no mistake, as far as launch titles go, Forza Motorsport 5 really does well to showcase exactly what the future of gaming holds, and what the Xbox One is capable of. The game looks amazing, and for the greater part plays great too. The sheer number of driver assists and options that Turn 10 has made available really means that both racing fans and newcomers can enjoy Forza 5, and I absolutely love Top Gears involvement too (I’m so glad that all three presenters lend their voices to the game)! Make no mistake, FM5 isn’t without its faults, but it’s still a solid game nonetheless. If I wrote the original review, it'd be at an 8.5/10.
With additional content from Nicholas Simonovski.