Simulation racing games make the big jump to next generation consoles with Forza Motorsport 5’s release on the Xbox One. Developer, Turn 10, has become the one of the premier racing game studios with its Forza series. Does it live up to its legacy? Make a quick pit stop if you need to before we move on.
The Forza Motorsport series has never had an actual story, other than what the player may have thought up while taking their turn behind the wheel. Forza Horizon would be the exception, but that game was used more for an expansion of Forza as a franchise rather than a true sequel. So come up with your favorite rags to riches racer story, maybe the old champion comeback, or no story at all, and race on in.
Controls and Gameplay
Players familiar with Forza Motorsport 4 will find themselves at home with the controls scheme. There has been no change in placement of the acceleration, brakes, steering, and even the time reverse button swhich makes picking up and playing Forza Motorsport 5 as easy as possible.
The gameplay mostly follows the same pattern as Forza Motorsport 4. Instead of racing through a season and choosing multiple types of car series throughout that season you choose a car series and race through 12 - 15 races in that series. Interestingly this does not complete the series. At the end of each series you are given the option of choosing a new series or racing in bonus events in the current series.
As you complete the races you gain money and experience, depending on how you place and what driver assists you have enabled. You and your car gain experience, separately. The driver receives bonuses when they level up. The car is earning experience for every race completed, which gains bonuses for the manufacturers (Ford, VW, Ferrari, etc.). Each vehicle combines the overall experience points for that manufacturer to get you larger bonuses. Experience and bonuses translate into money. With the money you earn, you can buy new cars and improvements on ones you already own. Sadly, unlike the prior entries in the franchise, Forza Motorsport 5 doesn’t allow you to earn free cars as you move up the levels.
Multiplayer for Forza Motorsport 5 consists of "hoppers" that you can join. Each hopper has its own specific race rules. A few examples are Class Racing where all the cars must be of a specific class in order to race or the Monthly hopper where extremely specific races are in place for a single month, such as Beginners in C Class only. There are the odd categories too, like Tag where you play tag with cars. The hoppers will drop you in with random people, but if you want to just race with friends you can create a private session to do so. Turn 10 wisely included a split-screen multiplayer option for some fun "on-the-couch" plays with friends or family.
A new element is the Drivatar. Instead of having preprogramed A.I. racers for you compete against, the single player mode has you racing against Drivatars. Drivatars are echo A.I.’s created from the your particular racing habits and that of everyone else playing Forza Motorsport 5. Say you have a habit of breaking too early for corners, Forza Motorsport 5 will take note of that and include it in your Drivatar's profile. Your Drivatar will then go out and populate races of people on your friends list. They will also randomly fill empty slots on others. As an added plus, your Drivatar will earn money and bring it back to you. Effectively Drivatars allow you to race against your friends when they are not online.
Graphics and Sound
The Xbox One graphics for Forza Motorsport 5 are drop dead gorgeous. It's running in a very smooth 1080p at 60 frames per second. Cars look like they rolled right out of the showroom. The real world tracks that appear in Forza Motorsport 5 have been laser scanned so they are as realistic as possible. The only graphic problem I can really determine, and this is nit-picking mind you, is that the damage models for glass on the cars still doesn't look quite right.
Sound is a beautiful thing too. Each car has been recorded to provide accurate engine sounds. So a 1962 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa sounds like a 1962 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, a 2013 Audi RS 7 sounds like a 2013 Audi RS 7, etc. Surprisingly there is no licensed music this time around; it's all original work.
At first blush, Forza Motorsport 5 looked like it was moving towards micro-transactions, with it’s missing tracks and real-world money tokens. Thankfully it isn't. They chose instead to revamp the visuals, rescan and update outdated tracks, drop prices on previously expensive cars, and allow those who don’t want to struggle through each race to earn money for cars to use tokens to buy those cars. It still is the premiere racing simulator exclusive to the Xbox One. The stunning graphics and the stellar gameplay allows anyone that wants to race the ability to do so regardless of skill level. That's why it's disappointing that there is a slight downfall, the missing tracks.
Compared to Forza Motorsport 4, 5 is anemic in its number of cars and tracks. Forza Motorsport 4 shipped with about 500 cars from over 80 manufacturers and 27 tracks. While Forza Motorsport 5 shipped with 200 cars from over 50 manufacturers and 14 tracks. Tracks that have long appeared in the series, like Suzuka Circuit, Sonoma Raceway, Maple Valley, and fan favorite Nürburgring, are sorely missed. Turn 10 has explained that moving from the Xbox 360 to the more powerful Xbox One meant that they needed go back to rescan cars and tracks, which takes time. That explains real world tracks but it does not explain why virtually created tracks, like Maple Valley, are also missing. It's part of a new standard they are implementing, one of high quality. Many of the cars and tracks that have been carried over from previous versions of Forza were only updated as needed. From here on out, because of the console power they have available, Turn 10 will be doing fresh scans as a standard, no carry-overs. The focus is on cars for the moment, but they have hinted at adding more tracks, including the missing ones, in future downloadable content. A pleasant side affect is that Forzavision (Autovision in Forza Motorsport 4) is available for every car in the game instead of just a handful. So if you ever wanted to pop the hood or sit in a 1965 Shelby Cobra you can, virtually.
Even though there are less cars and tracks, there is still more than enough to keep racing fans occupied. Top Gear has teamed up with Turn 10 again to provide, not only voice-overs from hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, but their infamous airfield test track as well. Additionally the Drivatar system not only provides a cool way of racing your friends whenever, but it shows the direction the future of gaming systems are going, cloud computing.
While it has less cars and tracks,it continues to bring a big smile to my face. The high quality of what it has and the continued high standard of a great racing simulation earns Forza Motorsport 5 a 5 out of 5.
Forza Motorsport 5 is rated E for Everyone for Comic Mischief by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
Forza Motorsport 5 is available now exclusivly for the Xbox One. For more information visit the Forza Motorsport web site.