The main Forza franchise has always aspired to be Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s highly acclaimed Gran Turismo series - a serious racer, for serious racing fans. The franchise was handed to a new development team for its last outing on the Xbox 360, in the form of Forza Horizons, clearly as the core Forza team were busy beavering away on Forza Motorsport 5. This time around the seriousness is back in spades and the free flowing, light handling, care free driving nature has been abandoned for the stiff, sterile and focused simulation style racing which was the basis for the franchise in the first place.
A new generation is upon us and running at a smooth 60fps in stunning 1080p, graphically Forza Motorsport 5 is breathtaking. From what can only be described as car porn to the stunning rising sun over a track corner while hurtling forward at 200mph is enough to make you want to stop racing and admire the craft that’s gone into making such a beautiful game. Visually, as you may have gathered, Forza is the best looking racing game ever made for now at least until we see that series make its way across to the PS4. The detail is apparent from the initial menu as the camera slowly pans around your first free car, a banger for sure but as the camera pans and the light dynamically reflects of every curve and right angle you briefly, for just a moment could forget you are playing a game. Naturally this extends itself hugely into the actual racing - crystal clear graphics, rich colour, oodles of clever lighting with absolutely no slow down, ‘jaggies’ or glitching of any kind, it really is a sight to behold.
Oddly though as easy as it is to gush about the graphical prowess of what is an impressive launch title, everything isn’t all that rosey and the crisp, clean, almost sterile graphics feed into the overriding feeling that it’s a simulator, not a “fun” racer and at times, as much as people might disagree, not a particularly exhilarating experience. By no means is the game poor though, it just doesn’t ever feel like a seat of your pants, fun to play racer.
Take for example the utterly dreadful soundtrack that can be heard throughout the game, not the engine noise on a Lotus maxing itself out on a long straight or the sound of tyres screeching as fourteen cars hit an apex at the exact same moment, this refers to the ‘day spa’ music that dominates all menu and loading screens. The ambient, classical based music - which you are usually only forced to endure in the background of a day spa or a posh hotel lift, this does nothing to effectively juice you up pre-race and is more akin to a game like Flower on the PlayStation, a game which this type of audio suits perfectly. In Forza 5 it feels completely out of place, uninspiring and sadly reinforces the clinical, detached feeling that the game seems intent on pushing. Maybe it’s the Forza Horizons hangover again, with its awesome beats-based soundtrack and generally damn fun attitude to racing, either way this is but one of the reasons why Forza 5 feels so damn sterile.
Let’s talk about tracks and cars as, along with handling, these are the foundation of any good racer. As touched upon earlier graphically there is no equal to Forza 5, it looks astonishingly good, so good in fact family members will sit in the same room while you are upgrading an Aston Martin and be shocked when you tell them this is a game, not a TV commercial. A wide selection of cars are available to choose from and can be acquired using either of the game’s in-game currencies, credits or tokens. Whilst the number of cars clocks in at around half of that of Forza 4 (two hundred or so) it doesn’t feel like you are being short changed as every single one of them looks utterly beautiful, you can spend an age tuning, tweaking and/or simply admiring your car collection. Naturally also lots of cars have begun appearing and will likely continue to appear as paid for DLC, not cool in itself as the car packs are usually overly expensive and don’t represent value for money but the car rosta with the £55 retail game is sufficient to enjoy everything Forza offers up.
Tracks on the other hand have been similarly scaled back and it is a big deal. Gone are series and fan favourites like Maple Valley along with a whole host of classics that have helped define the series. Suzuka is gone, the Nurburgring is gone, these were tracks that every Forza lover has spent years with and was likely excited to see running at 1080p, 60fps with the dynamically lit sunset on the horizon, but alas, we have the Top Gear track - good lord. Along with the really quite pathetic Top Gear track come in one or two other new tracks like Spa, which to be fair is fantastic (with the right cars) but the overall shortfall is noticeable and really effects the package.
The handling feeds back into the clinical, sterile nature of the entire presentation with the customary oversteer and sharp, quick correction coming through for almost every car. It feels rigid throughout and as a result unless you are pretty special at racing games the kinetic free flowing corner smashing you were able to pull off in more forgiving racers isn’t going to happen here. Of course you can play around with assists but at its core the handling is stiff and at times very tricky, no more so than when you are on a tight circuit surrounded by grass - if you go off road, taking a corner fractionally too aggressively, your race could be over. In career mode you can of course use the now fairly industry standard ‘rewind’ mode but you receive a leaderboard penalty flag for doing so.
By far and away the best innovation to be found within Forza 5 is the hugely impressive rumble implementation in the Xbox One pad. The feedback you get from the individual rumble triggers really is something and whilst when simply reading about it, it may sound a bit underwhelming, actually playing it’s a game changer. Feeling in the tip of your finger exactly how much braking force is being placed on the tyres is just fantastic, hit a corner too hard, lock those front wheels and you don’t even have to be looking at the screen, you are literally feeling the trouble you are in through each individual finger. It’s easily the best use of rumble technology in any game without having to fork out for an expensive steering wheel and for the first time ever it’s easy to say that it’s not a gimmick but will likely become a constant in racing games for years to come.
Forza 5, or Forza Motorsport 5 if you want the Kinect voice controls to work, contains both a lengthy dull career campaign and a host of multiplayer modes. The career experience sees you moved from season to season, buying cars, upgrading and for the most part taking part in standard circuit races. Now and again in a vain attempt to make proceedings interesting an event style race will be thrown into the mix, requiring you to beat one opponent through heavy traffic, or having to pass x number of cars in a single lap. It’s clear to see why such races have been included but it’s not enough to break the mundane nature of the career, which lacks any feeling of forward momentum and simply sees you going through the motions to rank up and get that new car you’ve had your eyes on. There is no narrative, no ‘campaign’, no energy to proceedings, you just take part in ten races per track, take your credits and buy something shiny.
Ranking up is similar to previous iterations and seemingly endless. XP is gained for bronze, silver or gold placement per race (not necessarily placing first to third, it varies) and car affinity levelling also adds XP bonuses per race the more you race with a certain manufacturer. Sadly, the economy is fundamentally broken ensuring that to obtain anywhere near something that can be classed as decent car wise will take an absolute age to obtain - the word grind springs to mind. But what is this, press Y to rank up quicker, interesting...so I pay real money to rank up faster to enable me to purchase cars using the in-game currency. Sweet baby Jesus, painful grind based micro transactions in a £55 game for next gen consoles, I thought we were passed this and we only had to ignore this nonsense on our phones.* Add to this you can always buy a car pack for £39.99 or a season pass, it’s disappointing to see a game with half the content of its predecessor unless you fork out yet more money.
The introduction of the much mooted driveatar (terrible name) is the one thing that will keep you going in the unengaging single player - a cloud based impression of yourself built up of driving data gathered from your time with the game which scoots off and races in your friend’s races as an AI character. The driveatar’s actions sync with your driving style and effectively act a bit like you would during a race - the system is far from perfect but adds that little bit of extra spice when playing alone, an evolution of the NFS autolog feature if you will, placing your friends alongside you even when they are not online. The little scamp also accrues credits for every race they appear in and that money is instantly deposited into your account, all you need to do is load up Forza 5 each day and your driveatar will be off earning you credits.
Multiplayer mode, while confusing as hell at first, is another classic example of UI over-engineering synonymous with everything Microsoft does. It is choc full of race types, all the tracks and a seemingly huge community. After you get over the initial hurdle of figuring out how the hell you set up a game and invite your friends without joining and leaving parties randomly then there is much to enjoy here. The bonus being that any racing done, even privately with friends contributes to your overall driver level and car affinity level.
Forza Motorsport 5 is quite simply car porn running at 1080p, 60fps. Visually stunning and without a rival on the next gen stage. If you are looking for car porn along with a cold, distant racing simulator then grab a copy as quickly as humanly possible, you will fall in love with Forza Motorsport 5. However if you are a more casual player of racing games, sadly with the scaled back content, stiff driving, dreadful soundtrack, microtransactions and completely unengaging career mode, you will need to wait for a racer that is actually fun. So sadly whilst it looks absolutely gorgeous the overall experience leaves you feeling a little bit cold, the feeling that you are simply going through the motions consumes you and how could we ever forgot “Press Y now to level faster”.
*A patch has now been released to balance the economy found within the title, cars are now more easily affordable and credits for ranking up have increased