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Forza Motorsport 5 (Xbox One) artwork

Forza Motorsport 5 (Xbox One) review


"The flagship title for a very expensive piece of hardware really shouldn't be thinner rehash of an experience that's already been available for years, should it?"



Forza Motorsport 5 asset


I review games, not business models. I accept that things like microtransactions and DLC are the unfortunate side effects of games becoming more complex, more visually staggering. And Forza Motorsport 5 is nothing if not visually staggering. Aside from the peculiar detail that crowds are composed almost entirely of inanimate cutouts – and really, given how quickly you'll be passing them, it's barely noticeable – this thing absolutely shrieks next-gen, exhibiting stunningly realistic car models, maintaining a constant 60fps even at blistering speeds, and rocking the much-sought-after 1080p resolution that reportedly no other Xbox One game has yet hit. It's in competition with Killzone: Shadow Fall, Sony's own showcase of visual splendor, for the best-looking game I've ever seen.

But the caveat is that after spending a few hours with Forza 5, I literally had to open the box and double-check to make sure that the game didn't ship with a second disc. Forza 4 did; it was so overstuffed with content that they couldn't squeeze it all onto one DVD. Its follow-up has barely half of the tracks and roughly two-fifths of the cars. Developer Turn 10's explanation is simple: The new engine necessitates that all existing cars and tracks be rebuilt from the ground up, and the pressure of having to ship Forza 5 in time for the Xbox One launch meant that things like the iconic Nürburgring, a series staple, had to be omitted.

It sounds perfectly reasonable until you spend some time wading through the game's menus. For one thing, Turn 10's newfound emphasis on microtransactions is absolutely impossible to miss, with "tokens" on sale for real-world money around every corner, used to either buy vehicles or boost experience income for periods of time. Maybe that's okay; I'm fine with microtransactions as long as those of us who don't want to pay more can still get the full experience. But on top of the game's best cars requiring far more grinding to unlock than previously required, Forza 5 is also already unsubtly shoving DLC into your face every time you need a new car, a mere week after the game's release. What's that, Turn 10? You "recommend" that I buy the Acura RSX Type-S? The one that I have to pay actual dollars for? Yeah, you would.

Forza Motorsport 5 asset


Like I said, though, I don't review business models. Call it what you will – time constraints, hardware limitations, greed, whatever – it doesn't matter. What matters is that Forza 5, for whatever reason, feels incomplete and suffers for it. And never mind the number of cars. 200 is more than I'll ever actively use, and I'm not enough of an automotive geek to be able to pick out noteworthy exclusions (aside from the obvious Bugatti Veyron, which has indeed been spun into day-one DLC). What's harmful is that when a racing sim asks me to dump dozens of hours competing in hundreds of races, a meager 14 tracks isn't enough, especially when most of them are partial or full repeats of what we saw in earlier entries. Following a game that set a new bar for depth and flexibility within the genre, it's underwhelming to say the least.

Even the narrator sounds agitated after a while. "Once again we head to Belgium for yet another event at the historic Circuit de Spa, home of the world-famous Belgian Grand Prix, in case you didn't hear me the first 20 times."

But let me backtrack a bit and explain why you should even care about Forza to begin with. Turn 10 has spent roughly the last decade perfecting the formula for the most authentic driving experience imaginable, marrying spot-on handling and physics with sheer adoration of the industry (or, as Jeremy Clarkson puts it during Forza 5's intro sequence, "a celebration of all things fast and four-wheeled.") The series has always controlled flawlessly, and the enthusiasm for the cars at the heart of the experience is contagious; there's a mode called Forzavista that exists for the specific purpose of letting you pour over the detail put into recreating all of the vehicles in the roster. And customization is through the roof. You can manually adjust the angle of any car's camber or the stiffness of its anti-roll bars. Who even cares enough to do that? No idea, but the option's there, and it's awesome.

As someone who's easily frustrated, though, my favorite feature in Forza is the ability to completely fine-tune the difficulty setting to your liking by toying around with the assists and handicaps on offer. You can turn aided steering and breaking on or off. You can determine whether the damage sustained throughout a race is merely cosmetic or affects the car's performance. You can remove the guide arrows completely, or instruct them to only advise you on cornering. All of this factors into your experience and credit payout, meaning that you can play Forza however you want, but that it rewards you for taking risks. There's also the ability, at any time, to instantaneously rewind a few seconds... again, for a smaller payout, but the option is there.

Forza Motorsport 5 asset


This is all great. It's also been seen before. At its core, Forza 5's mechanics and presentation are every inch in line with series standards. You'd think that nothing else would matter. Yet with such an iterative franchise, do I have any reason to recommend Forza 5 when its predecessor offers twice the content of the same quality, costs a fraction of the price, and is available on a console that most people actually own? Regrettably, there isn't much of an argument to be made. The few new tracks we actually get are nice – Prague, in particular, is a beautiful and thrilling addition – but the roster, as a whole, feels criminally insubstantial. Even the previously massive feature set feels skimpy now. Driver level and manufacturer affinity rewards are minimal, cars can't be tested before being purchased, and the beloved marketplace now hangs in perpetual "coming soon" mode.

By my count, there's only one notable step forward that Forza 5 makes: the Drivatars. As you play the game, "the cloud" collects information on your performance and behavior and compiles it all into an automated driver who is then sent out to race against other people worldwide. When you compete in single-player races, you're not going up against AI-controlled opponents, but rather other players' Drivatars, including those of anyone on your friends list who is also playing the game. The idea is to add a more human element even when you don't literally want to race against other people.

It's an interesting experiment, and one that seems to be yielding unique results for everyone. I think it's an improvement. For one thing, there's greater disparity between winning and losing drivers, meaning that cars no longer remain huddled together in a single group like they usually do in racing sims. In a broader sense, it means that races are now less predictable because the Drivatars do things that regular AI opponents wouldn't. There's less rubber banding and more physical contact, and even the toughest adversaries are prone to mistakes now and then. It's also weirdly rewarding to hear reports from other people about your own Drivatar performing remarkably well, as has happened to me a couple of times since I started playing Forza 5. It's a great feature. If Microsoft wants to prove that cloud gaming is the future, this is a solid start, for sure.

Forza Motorsport 5 asset


Sadly, the rest of Forza 5's improvements are pretty much surface-level, if nonetheless appreciated. As a Top Gear fan, I greatly approve of the game's expanded use of the license. The show's three hosts take turns introducing car categories with their usual expert wordplay (Jeremy describes hypercars as being "made from stuff that hadn't even been discovered until a few years ago"), and the career mode even has you racing against the Stig a handful of times. I also greatly enjoyed the use of the rumble in the Xbox One's triggers whenever applying gas or brakes; it's a subtle change that makes a world of difference. And, as established, Forza 5 looks absolutely magnificent.

Is that enough? For some, sure – I've talked to several people who have never played a Forza game before and are having a blast with the new one. But given the high standards that Turn 10 has set for itself, I can't help feeling that this latest entry is merely a sampler. A week or two ago, Forza 4 was the best racing sim I'd ever played, and now... it still is. The series is mechanically perfect, and it's undeniably getting prettier and prettier. But the flagship title for a very expensive piece of hardware really shouldn't be thinner rehash of an experience that's already been available for years, should it?

Rating: 7/10

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (December 01, 2013)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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