Forza Motorsport 5
Since its debut in 2005, the Forza Motorsport series has been my go-to series for sim racing. The original didn’t just deliver a gorgeous game, but also a sim racer with some challenging AI that was fun to play – and it raised the bar for on-car graphics creation with its thorough decal editor. Forza 2 followed up on it fine, while Forza 3 kept things going with a big graphical upgrade and the debut of an in-game storefront where you could spend in-game currency on cars and vinyls in an auction house, and the fourth meshed everything together that worked before, increased the graphical quality and brought immersion to a new level with the Kinect-friendly AutoVista mode that allowed you to explore the cars.
The mainline games were feeling a bit clinical, so Jeremy from Top Gear was brought in to do voice over and add some life to the menus and information you’d have piled on, while Forza Horizon added more life to the Forza brand and showed fans that the series could be more than a racing sim and the engine could work just fine in an open-world game as well. Forza 5 blew everyone’s minds when it was shown at E3 in the summer of 2013 and all of the pre-release hype set it up to be the definitive version of Forza – just with fewer cars than prior games. However, the game’s release wound up stirring up a lot of controversy – and with some good reasons.
While the racing is as solid as ever, it’s far more time-consuming to earn cars. You used to earn a vehicle with each level you gained thanks to XP, which allowed you to amass a decent variety of cars while still having to earn tons through smart spending due to a large roster. It didn’t eliminate the challenge of earning vehicles, and if you wanted to race well in the higher-end ones, you needed skill to do so without swerving around the track. Now, cars can only be earned through in-game credits…or you can buy them with real currency.
This practice is nothing new on its own – the first time I remember it was in Shift 2, and it seemed like a way, albeit not a financially wise way, to earn vehicles. Now, the cost for some cars can be around $50 in actual money to get a virtual item. As someone who finds the idea of paying money for 360 Avatar clothing to be a waste, the mere idea of this astonishes me. While you’re not quite bombarded with BUY NOW stuff like you would be in a free-to-play game, this really does feel like one given how few car options you’re left with unless you grind for many hours or opt to spend actual money. For a game with an MSRP of $60, this is a fairly sad practice to see enacted on such a great series. Turn 10 has taken the game that should have been the definitive Forza experience and have come as close to mortally wounding the series as possible.
Fortunately, the racing action is still quite exciting with some major changes being made. The biggest change is the drivatar returning. This feature has been dormant since the very first game, where it allowed you to race some races and give the game a chance to craft a virtual you that would race in your place – at the expense of some credits. The feature didn’t quite work out perfectly, but was way ahead of its time then and has now been used to replace the regular AI racers throughout Forza 5. This means that every race will have a feeling of racing a real person in it, and that can be both good and bad.
Humans tend to race more aggressively, and with Forza being a sim (albeit a really fun-focused one), that usually meant that the AI was somewhat aggressive, but wouldn’t try to ram you off the road. Humans do tend to treat this game like it’s a PGR game, or at least more arcadey than it is, and that results in drivatar opponents that try to spin you out on turns and are generally a bit more predictable on straightaways than AI drivers used to be. Like in the first game, the execution isn’t flawless, but it is fascinating to see how far the tech has come in just eight years.
The auction house that allowed you to sell your virtual creations and tricked-out cars for in-game credits is a no-show for right now. While there is a marketplace on the main menu, it has no content available yet. The closest thing you can get are some user-created recommendations for free in-game liveries for your cars when you buy them. This mode being largely absent at launch is disappointing since you now have to rely on pure artistic skill to create a car decided to a favorite sports team, hobby, or have a favorite kind of vinyl design style that you like, but can’t replicate yourself with the in-game art tools.
Since the individual races can get a bit old during a marathon session of XP grinding, it’s nice to see autocross events included to mix things up. These throw obstacles on the course to keep you on your toes and remind me a lot of PGR’s driving test-style sections that were a ton of fun to play. These tests pit you against someone’s drivatar in a specific car and ensure that you mix up your car usage, as opposed to getting comfortable in just one car during the career mode.
The autovista mode from the fourth entry has been merged into a showroom, and turns the virtual showroom jokes that used to be made about the Gran Turismo games into a reality for every car here. This functionality allowed you to explore a couple dozen vehicles in thorough detail complete with voiceover narration by the Top Gear hosts. Now, not every car gets that treatment, but you can explore the cars in much the same way now as you could then. The exteriors look incredible to the point of photorealism, but the interiors are still clearly artificial – even if they are impressive to look at.
On the track, the vehicles look very good although they don’t really stand out as being as jaw-dropping during a race – the pre-race camera pans are stunning. The photo mode allows you to freeze things in time and really see how realistic the car models look. It can also showcase the rather bizarre-looking crowds that are photo-realistic in the sense that it appears 360-degree photos were taken, and then they just get spud around in real-time as you move the camera – it’s bizarre. You can also zoom in on collisions and see just how detailed the paint-chipping can be. You’ll also see each spark fly off. On their own, these things aren’t too impressive to read about – but seeing them in action is impressive. Sadly, night driving is still not in the main line Forza series despite being in Horizon and this being the next-gen debut entry with naturally higher expectations. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but it is incredibly disappointing to see it absent in yet another main Forza game.
The voice over work from the Top Gear guys is just fine, but doesn’t add as much to the presentation as it did in Forza 4. They’re used more sparingly, and it results in the game feeling a bit more clinical than that game. The music is epic, and while I would love to hear it outside of the game, it doesn’t really fit this game very well. It’s more akin to something you’d hear in God of War, and simply doesn’t mesh well with a sim racer. It’s far from bad, though, it’s just a lot of great music in the wrong game genre. Car-smashing sound effects are fine, but the most impressive audio comes from the car engines. Each one sounds different and even your camera angle can change the roar – with the cockpit and first-person cameras offering up the most impressive sounds that you’ll want to show off if you have a great sound setup.
While Forza Motorsport 5 delivers the best-looking experience in the franchise’s history, it’s impossible to recommend at a full-price purchase. The revamped in-game economy makes getting cars seem like a chore, which in turn makes the idea of races seem like one – and that’s a very bad thing for a racing game since you’ll be doing a lot of that. If it’s possible to patch in the old method of earning a car for each level, then you’ll have more incentive to race and they’ll be more fun to do since you’ll have a goal to always shoot for. The actual racing is as good as ever, and the drivatar AI changes things up in some big ways, but the overall package is disappointing. If you’re a Forza fan and maybe missed out on some Forza 4 DLC, or didn’t feel comfortable with Horizon being so different, you’re far better off buying those at rock bottom prices and enjoying them than buying this. Then you can have a lot of fun with slightly older games, and save money by not picking this up until its issues are fixed. As the game stands around launch, it’s best served as an extended rental.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a retail copy of Forza Motorsport 5 for the Xbox One purchased by the reviewer.