Forza Motorsport 5 (Xbox One) Review – Is this the Start of Next-Gen Racing

Forza Motorsport is Microsoft’s racing jewel as it has provided Xbox gamers with a great simulation experience that is accessible to all levels of racing fans.  The series was first released on the original Xbox and this fifth release, sixth if you add Forza Horizon, is a launch title for the Xbox One.  Many people have been awaiting the arrival of what has been expected to be the first next-gen racer.  Personally I have played every Forza to hit an Xbox branded console, from the first one on the original Xbox all the way to the last one, Forza Horizon, which was a departure from the usual circuit track racing.  To say that I was pretty excited for the Xbox One launch title was an understatement.  So, did Turn 10 hit a homerun, or did the ball fall short before making it over the wall?

Let’s get the biggest negative right out of the way.  As I write this I can’t help but focus on something that has bothered me since I heard about it just prior to Forza 5’s release.  The game has only 14 tracks and 200 cars.  This is about half of the tracks and about one-third or so of the cars that Forza 4 had.  I have to admit that I am a bit sad about how much of a downgrade the content did get.  Sure, some people will say that the car number is still large, and in some ways it is as I drove only a small fraction of 600 cars in Forza 4, and a lot of the new race specific cars and new exotics are great (e.g. F1, Indy, McLaren P1, etc), but the decrease in tracks was quite jarring as it does affect gameplay the deeper into the game you get.  Tracks start to repeat themselves a lot and you get that feeling of familiarity as you grind to level up.  Some may be ok with this, but it is one area that really did affect some of my enjoyment of the game, plain and simple.  Ok, I feel much better getting that off of my chest, let’s move on.

Forza has always claimed to be a “racing simulator” and I have to say that this even more evident this time around.  Don’t get me wrong, you can still turn on a bevy of assists to make the game easier, as evident by my 7-year old son being able to play using the new McLaren P1, but with various assists off this game can turn into a bear testing the might of the most advanced driver.  The physics are AMAZING, and yes, I put that in caps to emphasize it.  Such things as the way a car can start to break loose around a corner is enhanced as you make a subtle adjustment and hit the gas resulting in the tires grabbing hold as you make that seemingly impossible pass.  Taking into account the different tracks, the different car classes, and the different handling characteristics of each car, you have to adjust to all that is offered.  Of course for those gearheads out there Forza 5 also has a slew of tuning features once again from brakes, suspension, tires, camber, gearing, and all that which can determine your ability to take a few 100th’s of a second off your lap time.  You can also download other user’s set-ups if you find one that suits you.  Forza 5 is definitely an encompassing experience and as deep as it has ever been in this area.

Controlling all the on-screen action is pretty smooth.  The new Xbox One controller is great, and the new haptic triggers add a sense of control and immersion not seen, or felt, before.  You’ll feel when your car’s tires start to strain under your driving and you’ll need to react accordingly.  To have tactile input of this nature through the triggers is a first and it is something I never even thought about when racing in the past, now I actually wonder how I will play any other racing games in the future without this feature.

One of Forza 5’s much talked about, and much anticipated features is their new drivatar system.  I’ve gone into much detail about it in previews, but in a nutshell the game takes player data from races, sends it to the cloud and allows for virtual representation of real-life players to come alive in your game via the AI you race.  It basically recreates the driving abilities and habits of other racers, from how aggressive they are to how they negotiate corners and chicanes.  It also allows your own drivatar to earn you credits when you are not online as your drivatar is out there racing in other people’s races and earning money depending on how well they place.   You can set the skill level of the AI as well so you don’t have to worry about feeling like you can’t compete.

So does the drivatar system work?  I have to say so as it is pretty darn neat in action.  I found myself racing a lot of my online friends who own Forza 5 as in-game AI in my races mixed in with other random AI of people that I don’t know.  Many of my friends who I do race with online with were well represented as AI in my games and it provided me with a lot of competition as we would be trading positions in where we finished, and we occasionally traded paint as well.  Fellow reviewer and COG staffer FiftySPEED was one such drivatar who gave me one hell of a run for my money a lot.  One of the biggest things I noticed was the unpredictability of the AI racers.  No more having the AI race perfect.  Seeing AI opponents take a corner wide or crash from trying to bump and grind with other racers was a treat.  Heck, during a race on the new Spa-Francorchamps track my win was a result of the AI entering the final series of turns too “hot” and they lost control and hit the barrier due to this mistake.  I have to say that Turn 10 is definitely onto something with this new drivatar AI system.

The career mode is back this year and feels somewhat similar to last year’s mode.  You get the choice of what you want to race including car class or the type of race series.  You won’t find yourself getting through the career mode that quickly either as there are many different races and classes for you to compete in.  Of course the deeper into the mode you get the longer that these races can take.  As I made my way through the game I discovered that the generosity of Forza 4 is gone in this area.  You won’t be winning cars as often and as easily as you did in the previous entry so you’ll have to choose which car to buy carefully as you’ll spend more in-game credits than you did in the past.  The one good thing about this year’s career mode however is that you don’t always need to place first as the medal rankings are different.  To get that elusive gold medal you only need to place at least third to get it. So if you find yourself in a very tight race you’ll have that minimum goal to hit to get the top medal prize.   It’s a nice little feature as some races can get tough.

There is a lot more to do than just get through the game’s career mode.  There is free play for you to practice your skills.  Here you can race any track with any car in your garage and earn points towards your ranking and money to go into your bank.  Should you not have a car in your garage that you want to use you can ‘rent’ a car (for free) but you don’t earn any EXP or money to add to your career. For those that may want to race a friend at home, a split screen mode is available.  Forza 5 also welcomes back the rivals mode of the previous entry; however, it is incorporated into the career mode as well as the main menu.  In the career mode you can launch a Rival’s Challenge right after finishing a race.  There is nothing like trying to beat that one racer right in front of you on the leaderboards, especially when they are an online friend.  That feeling of “I just want to beat that small time difference” is so satisfying when you do.

Multiplayer play is once again prevalent in Forza 5.   I got a few races in during the Xbox One’s launch weekend.  You can access any track in any configuration that the game has available, and you can play with up to 15 other racers.  Should you not have enough online gamers to fill that number you can fill the remainder of the field with AI racers to round out the cars on the track.  Even with the rush of Xbox One gamers on launch day, and during the weekend, the experience was lag free.  I enjoyed being able to race with a few friends of mine who were South of the 49th Parallel.  Races were intense and chat was clear.  Even when racing with a large roster of AI racers the game took no noticeable technical hits. Bottomline, this game should provide you with a smooth online experience.

Forza 5 is not just all about racing though.  Along with the deep tuning options Forza 5 once again allows you to customize your ride.  From custom rims, custom paint jobs and custom vinyls, you can make your car look however you want.  From replica liveries of past or current race cars to custom paint jobs with intricate designs, paint jobs or pictures, there is already a wide array of designs for cars and Forza 5 will even recommend designs for you based on what you may make in the design area or what kind of car you buy.  You can also check out all the cars in Forza 5 using the new Forzavista mode.  Where as Forza 4 only allowed viewing of a short list of cars in their Autovista mode, the Forzavista mode allows you to look at ALL of them, including your own custom painted or designed cars in your garage.

Although much is rosy for Forza 5, diehard fans will notice a few things that have been omitted from the series or that is not included once again.  In regards to the latter, dynamic day/night cycle or weather effects are still ‘missing in action’.  Given that this is the fifth version of the series (not including Forza Horizon which had a day/night cycle) you’d think Turn 10 would, and could, include this.  How many more times are we going to race on the same track at the same time of day, and with no weather effects?  In regards to features not returning from previous incarnations of Forza, you’ll find no Auction House.  This was a great place to buy some cars that were already set-up and painted.  Usually you could get a few of your favourites for a fair price and players could make some in-game money at the same time.  You also cannot just test drive a car before buying it in Forza 5 either.  Sure, some will say go rent it in free play, but alas only a handful of cars are available in free play, and having to do this is a pain.  The Kinect driving feature of Forza 4 is also missing; diehards won’t mind this, but fans like me who have kids will miss it. My kids thought it was great they could drive a car using the Kinect in Forza 4.

Presentation wise Forza 5 is amazing, plain and simple.  As touted throughout its development, the game runs at a rock solid 60-fps and it is truly buttery smooth even with all the other race cars on the track (up to 15 others).  No matter what view you race in, from the in-car view to outside and behind the car, everything runs without a glitch.  Cars are recreated to perfection too, from the real-life imperfections of a paint job to the smallest details found inside or on the dashboard.  Speaking of in-car views, this is the first Forza game where I want to race using the in-car view.  I have never been able to in the past, but in Forza 5 I find myself doing this more often.  Maybe it’s the rock solid framerate, or all the detail that is in each virtual recreation of every car, but regardless I love the inside view this time around.  Tracks have been improved as well.  This was most evident for me when racing on Sebring.  Everything seemed brighter, the track side detail more populated, the asphalt more lifelike, and the colours just seem to be more realistic.  Every track looks great, including the new ones, so rest assured you’ll enjoy all of them that you race on.  If there is any negative to be had here there are only a few that I noted.  Although the effects of driving into the sun are well recreated, I found they were overdone.  I even commented to a friend who was watching me race that J.J. Abrams must have had a hand in this aspect of the game.  The other things I noticed were that when going off the asphalt cars did not leave any tracks in the gravel, grass or sand, and such things as the clouds of dust that a car kicks up when hitting the dirt on the side of any track is weak to say the least.  Sure, minor complaints, but something I noted.

As for how Forza 5 sounds, I would have to say this area is very well done too.  Now, I have never driven a McLaren P1, an F1 Race Car, or a V8 Supercar, but man do these cars, and all the other one in the game, sound great.  From the sound of a fully modded 4-cylinder engine to the roar of a Corvette Racing Car or the aforementioned P1, all I can say is WOW.  And as you race each track there is a lot of sound going on separate of your car.  From the other cars that you can hear all around you to when you pass various objects seen off track, it all comes out loud and clear.  For example, when racing on the new Prague track, I was driving over a bridge and the architecture included statue like posts, and as I drove them they each made a “whoosh” sound through my media room’s speakers.  Sounds that are recreated like this immerse you even more into the game, and if you are using a surround sound set-up, either with speakers or headphones, be prepared for an aural treat.  The music is also pretty good and not your traditional “riff” or “techno” fair.  It can be symphonic and epic and makes for a different experience.  Although there was nothing wrong with it I did turn it off only to just hear the other sounds of the game.   Of course you can’t forget about the cast of Top Gear.  They all lend their voices to the game, from the introduction when you first fire up the game to introducing the race series that you may enter.  The humour they have is evident, as is their passion for automobiles.  I think any car fan will appreciate their inclusion into the game.

There is no doubt that Forza Motorsport 5 is a great driving game, as the physics are insanely real, the new haptic triggers add to the immersion, the cars look, sound and handle amazingly, and there are some deep customization features; however, all of this takes a knock from the decrease in game content including less tracks, no auction house, and a smaller roster of cars to name a few.  The decrease in tracks is a painful one as racing can become repetitive.  That being said, I can’t help but think back to the power of the Xbox One and how the new drivatar AI system is so well integrated, the aforementioned physics, and the visuals as a whole, it’s all a testament to Microsoft’s new console and vision.  In the end this game could have indeed been a bit more, but what is there is damn good and driving fans will be impressed that is for sure.  Make no bones about it, Forza Motorsport 5 should be a game that you should definitely consider when buying your shiny new Xbox One.

The Good


The Bad