When it comes to video games, few genres focus on realism as much as the racing variety does. After all, simulations can only do so much with their track designs, given that at least most of the venues end up being based on real-life locations. It’s for that reason, as well as the constant push for ultimate immersion, that developers spend countless hours fine-tuning and polishing the graphical engines and visual reproductions that both power and populate their games. The results are almost always great for us gamers, while serving another important purpose in the process; that being the role of tech demonstrations. As such, racing games generally end up being focused on as launch titles for new hardware, simply because of their visual prowess.
As we all know, both Sony and Microsoft launched new consoles during the latter half of November. The first one to hit store shelves, that being the PlayStation 4, was expected to debut with a racing game at its side, but that didn’t end up happening. However, the delay bug did not hit Bill Gates’ technology giant, which made sure to take advantage of Turn 10’s racing mastery by releasing Forza Motorsport 5 alongside its much-anticipated device. It was a smart move, because the sequel is not only a very solid racer, but a looker as well. In fact, it’s probably the best-looking genre effort on the market, albeit for obvious reasons.
Within the industry, certain racing series are affectionately referred to as being “car porn,” and those who are familiar with Forza Motorsport will tell you that the long-running franchise is perfectly summarized by that term. There’s nothing sexual about what’s being talked about, of course, but the games have always used top of the line visuals to showcase the world’s best vehicles. Through that approach, Turn 10 Studios has given most armchair car fanatics exactly what they want in a video game: painstakingly recreated vehicles mixed with great/realistic driving mechanics. It’s a match made in car heaven.
On the Xbox 360, this Microsoft exclusive franchise was able to take a big step forward, and showed constant evolution with the release of three numbered simulation efforts. What started with Forza Motorsport 2 was fleshed out and improved on with Forza Motorsport 3, and then things got even better and more realistic with Forza Motorsport 4. At the end of that list came a fantastic game that delivered showcase level graphics, addictive content and thoroughly polished mechanics. It was simply the best simulation to ever be released, and had so much to offer that we were left wondering how it could ever be topped. That is, outside of an increase in visual horsepower.
Now that Forza Motorsport 5 has landed, our aforementioned question is still without a fantastic answer, though what we’ve received is still impressive. It’s because, outside of one very notable and interesting change, the game is very similar to its predecessors, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Then again, perhaps we were expecting a bit too much from the first truly next-gen racing game and positioned our hopes and dreams at too high of a level. That may have been the case, but it must still be said that this iteration doesn’t feel like a truly remarkable upgrade over its most recent (simulation-based) predecessor, nor is it more fun than Forza Horizon was. Yes, I went there, because I’m not afraid to admit that the series’ ‘arcadey’ one-off is my personal favourite.
Since we’re talking about a realistic simulation racer, which is obviously devoid of any sort of a fictional storyline, we’ll continue with the gameplay discussion. However, in doing so, it’s still important to note that what you’re looking at here is a career-focused experience that rewards great finishes with driver level upgrades and extra in-game currency. You’re simply racing to be the best, with the hope of getting to the highest level possible, while tackling different leagues and championships as you go along. Strewn throughout that climb are various different vehicle type restrictions, ranging from classic rally cars to modern day sedans and sports cars, as well as occasionally varied event types.
Although Forza 5 relies upon its lifelike visuals as a wow factor, the series’ most recent iteration deviates from the norm by doing away with A.I. racers. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, instead of battling against the computer for single player track supremacy, players get to race against the ghosts of other players. That’s the basic way of putting it, though, because things are more complicated than that. You see, the game analyzes each user’s driving style and then creates a unique driveatar based around it. Once that occurs, the ghost (for lack of a better term) is used to populate the events of both friends and strangers.
The driveatar idea is a very good one, and will probably end up being copied sooner rather than later because of its genius. Through its use, Turn 10’s latest effort has become a less sterile experience than those that came before it, though it comes with the price of increased difficulty – something that may annoy newcomers and those who aren’t exactly good at these types of games. Thankfully, the rewind feature is still in play, allowing one to go back in time to avoid a wreck or spin out without having to do a full restart. Still, there’s something to be said about difficulty levels and I found that the driveatars that I was put up against were a bit too challenging on easy. Perhaps I suck, but there’d quite often be one or two ghosts that would speed far ahead of the pack, leaving me to settle for second, third or fourth.
If you’re truly worried about the increased difficulty and plan to avoid buying this title as a result, don’t be. Although it’s somewhat annoying and unfair at times, and could use some tweaking so that one’s racing guru friends aren’t used as ghosts on lower difficulty levels, Turn 10 has made up for the system’s fault. How is that? Well, instead of basing its scoring system on first, second and third place finishes, Forza Motorsport 5 works on a tiered slash metallic structure. Therein, those who place in the top three receive gold medals and the highest amount of credits, while those who place lower risk earning only silver or bronze trophies and their related monetary awards. Of course, you can still fail, but you probably won’t so long as you pick a good driveatar difficulty level to compete against. Most of them aren’t outrageously difficult; that is, unless you want them to be.
Still, despite its developers’ removal of artificially controlled competitors, this effort still emits feelings of deja-vu. It’s different in one way, yes, but it is still the same Forza. The driveatars are definitely impressive, but they don’t always feel human and quite often still evoke the feel of A.I. opposition. Then again, if you’re interested in this type of game you probably won’t mind that.
Outside of Career Mode, the FM5 package contains some rather familiar options. First, there’s Free Race, which doesn’t need explanation. Next, there’s the garage, wherein cars can be explored thoroughly, both inside and out, offering extraordinary detail and depth. Then, there’s Challenge Mode, which allows players to compete in timed and scored events and/or challenge their friends’ lap times, as well as the paint and vinyl customization zone and the competitive online arena. I’d go as far as to hedge a bet that the latter option will see the most traffic, because of folks’ infatuation with online play. Thankfully, it’s of quality and runs well.
Since we’ve already talked a lot about the game’s visuals, we won’t spend much more time on them. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Turn 10’s designers are detail-oriented wizards when it comes to video game representations of vehicles and tracks, because they’ve produced some incredibly realistic stuff once again. The cars’ damage effects are excellent, the tracks all look great (even if there aren’t a ton of them) and there’s plenty of background detail to admire. Additionally, the cars all sound extraordinary, and are complemented by a fantastic orchestral score.
Unsurprisingly, the guys from Top Gear UK, a popular television show that is watchable car porn, also play a large role within this entry. They’re there every time you pick a new championship or event class via cutscene form. Said videos are not skippable, which is a bit annoying in this day and age, but that’s okay because they’re well crafted and comical.
To conclude, while Forza Motorsport 5 is a very good and beautiful racer, it’s not for everyone. Truth be told, I found it to be a bit dull at times, even though its driveatar system allowed for more humanity than ever before. Still, I respect what Turn 10 has done here and the game is well worth checking out if you’re a simulation racing fan and/or car fanatic.
This review is based on the Xbox One exclusive.
Forza Motorsport 5 is a lifelike racing simulation experience which will appeal to those who love cars and fantasize about owning the most expensive rides out there. However, despite its removal of A.I. racers in favour of players' analyzed ghosts, the game is still quite sterile, which is something that may bother newcomers.