As one of Microsoft’s most critically acclaimed exclusive franchises, the developers of Forza Motorsport 5 were given a leg up few others could dream of: input on what Microsoft should make possible with the Xbox One. Beginning with a consistent performance set at 1080p and 60 frames per second, the result was always assumed to be a technical showpiece for the console. But there’s more to the game than just looks.
But with next-gen comes a new approach to racing for Turn 10 Studios, and the implementation of some groundbreaking changes. Do they all succeed in the end, or struggle on their first outing?
It was clear from the first unveiling of the Xbox One that Forza 5 was being positioned as a feather in Microsoft’s cap. That pride was based not only in visuals that could stun any onlooker, but the fact that out of all the announced launch titles, Turn 10 seemed to be building their gameplay around the technology made possible by the Xbox One more than any other.
The visual prowess of the actual racing speaks for itself, but the most promising change – and the one that will first grab the attention of players – is the new and improved Drivatar System.
The days of racing nameless, faceless, AI opponents is apparently over, as a player’s first races (and subsequent laps) are used to generate their personal Drivatar. For every subsequent race, the field of drivers is populated not by scripted AI, but a sampling of other Drivatars. The systems operate largely behind the scenes, but the challenge of facing off against simulated drivers – each with unique personalities and tendencies – is one sure to pique the curiosity of any racing fan.
As one might expect, the results can be somewhat mixed. Forza players have never had to deal with the increase in contact, brake checking, and total disregard for common etiquette when jockeying for position along a racing line that they must now endure. That might sound like blasphemy to some simulation enthusiasts, but the surge of rivalry experienced when a friend’s Xbox Live Gamertag appears above the sedan that just clipped your bumper for no discernible reason can’t be understated.
That recklessness might sound problematic to some simulation enthusiasts, but the option of removing driving aids, increasing difficulty and accurate damage is still present (and with each increase in difficulty, the rewards likewise improve). But if Turn 10 hadn’t already made it clear that they’re just as concerned with capturing the spirit and passion of motorsport as the technical aspects, they leave no doubt with Forza 5.
The emphasis placed on personal rivals, as familiar Gamertags begin to carve out spaces in every driver’s psyche, is largely to blame for the heightened attitude and sense of humor. But the increased relationship with British motoring institution Top Gear takes care of the rest. There are certainly worse motoring mags to emulate, and seems to round out the personality of the Forza banner that has slowly been forming.
Whether it’s driving the Top Gear test track between cardboard cutouts of London buses or oversized bowling pins, the developers make their design philosophy evident; that while driving may be the heart of this experience, nobody ever said it has to be the only element.
The commentary once again offered by Top Gear‘s TV presenters proves that all involved know as much about motorsport as their passion would demand. But like the TV series, Forza 5 seems to realize one truth: that once the technical polish and fine-tuning have become standardized, it’s easy to forget that this is a video game, first and foremost. And games, like motorsport, are supposed to be fun.
For the most part, how a player responds to Forza 5‘s changes will largely depend on what they expect from the series. While the game is arguably more welcoming to newcomers than any previous entry, the game once again offers the best available racing experience for simulation fans, bolstered by the added horsepower of the Xbox One.
Comparing vehicle rosters, tracks, and Career modes between Forza 5 and its predecessor will show that Turn 10 has slimmed down the experience, at least in terms of feature sets. Casual onlookers might look at the new selection of 200 cars and wonder how any gamer could complain they’re deprived of variety, but longtime fans will recognize the limitations.
That being said, Forza 5 has set its sights not on offering the biggest entry in the series, but one which takes the franchise into the next generation of home consoles successfully. And with the implementation of Drivatar, the growing relationship with Top Gear, and a larger injection of motoring passion (as opposed to sterile simulation), it achieves that goal entirely.
The experience may not be as diverse or in-depth as in the past, but the added attention to detail and heightened standards for the content which did make it into the game shouldn’t be overlooked. The decision is a trade-off, but one that fans of the series will be happy to endure.
Turn 10 may not have crafted the biggest, boldest, and most definitive Forza experience with Forza 5, but they have delivered one of the Xbox One’s best titles so far. Not to mention a breath of fresh air for the franchise’s devoted fan base, and a promising step forward for the series as whole.
Forza Motorsport 5 is available now exclusively for the Xbox One.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.