As the new Xbox One approaches, the task of flaunting the console’s prowess falls to the first-party developers; and in that regard, Forza Motorsport 5 isn’t disappointing. Over the life of the Xbox 360 developer Turn 10 Studios has pushed their series forward, with graphics, user interfaces and physics that make Forza Motorsport the premiere racing simulation today.
Now that Forza Motorsport 5 has been detailed and demoed at E3 2013, it seems the team has found a way to make a near-perfect racer even better. Visuals are just one aspect of the improvement, but as a showcase for how the Xbox One’s hardware and cloud computing can have serious impacts on top end graphics and processing.
From the first appearance of the game’s loading screen, the term ‘refinement’ comes to mind – and stays there. Not only due to the classical music being played over slow shots of the McLaren P1 or Pagani Huayra, but the stripped down interface that is a far cry from the intimidating start menus of some competitors.
But the graphical upgrade of the overall game is by far the most noticeable change, and due in large part to Turn 10’s decision to move AI off of the console and into the cloud. Doing that allowed the implementation of a new engine, higher fidelity on both cars and the in-game environments, and was a top priority for the studio as word of a new console began to circle. When Microsoft first approached the studio about their hopes for the Xbox One, the ability to play in 1080p and at 60 fps were the first words out of their mouths.
And they got it, too. With improved framerate and resolution, the team was able to heighten the amount of details in their models down to individual scratches on the brake rotors, brush marks on aluminum, and dimpling in the middle coat of paint. These imperfections, ironically, are what the developers believe make Forza 5 the most realistic game they’ve made so far. We’d say it still falls short of being photo-realistic, but honestly, it’s hard to tell exactly how.
Having played Forza 5 firsthand, the improvements have unquestionably paid off. With improved detail in the roads, buildings, and grass, the few seconds it takes for the racer’s ‘eyes’ to adjust to the sunlight when emerging from a dark tunnel, or the glimpses of the dashboard reflected in the windscreen when the light hits just right, the passion of the development team is visible at every turn.
As for the classical music mentioned earlier? Well, Microsoft didn’t skimp in the audio department either. In pursuit of music as polished and evocative as the art of racing, Turn 10 worked with Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound to craft a full orchestral score for all of the menus and gameplay. Rather than simple tracks, the music changes and responds to the driver’s actions on the fly; it may seem like an unncesessary decision, but hearing the swell of drums and strings as a race draws to a close proves that it was an inspired one.
If that sounds like a design choice that could only be made by game developers whose love of cars borders on the unhealthy, you’d be right. But that’s exactly what has made the Forza name a magnet for lovers of supercars, hypercars, and any other vehicle only available to the super-rich. In that respect, the alliance between Forza and the British automobile magazine/TV series Top Gear is alive and well, but no longer limited to branding, a test track, and narrated entries on each vehicle.
Instead, Turn 10 worked with Top Gear to organize their vast catalog of cars in a new way; categorizing them according to manufacturer, wheelbase, or performance seemed too clinical for the developers. In other words, it was missing the point. Now, vehicles are grouped together based on “spirit,” sorting cars that may be from competing companies, but were designed, for instance, to directly compete.
The same behind-the-scenes computing that helps suggest cars to players based on their previous choices and racing performances is what helps realize Forza 5‘s most intriguing addition: the all new Drivatar. Implemented in the previous game, the new stand-in for the player is far more nuanced and advanced than it was previously.
Simply put, the game pays attention to the player’s habits from race to race; where they understeer, where they oversteer, how accurately they hit the apex in turns, how aggressively they challenge on the inside or outside, and how underhanded they may be with the competition (pumping the brakes or initiating contact). When the Drivatar system is engaged – while out of the house, or even during a lengthy race – the game takes over, deciding at every moment how the player would most likely react in any situation.
The constant updates to the cloud means that online friends can race against not just lap times, but a real-time simulation of their rivals, with a loss earning credits for the victor whether they’re aware of it or not. It’s too early to say that AI has been replaced, but when Forza is first loaded on the Xbox One, it gathers an enormous variety of Drivatars from the cloud to populate races. That means no racers pasted to optimal lines or stacking up out of the starting blocks; just a random group of simulated racers generating a truly randomized experience.
The tuning and drive models haven’t changed what wasn’t broken, but the new changes could be a major improvement if they function as intended. Only time will tell if Turn 10 can outdo themselves yet again, but the early showings are a very good sign.
Forza Motorsport 5 will release exclusively for the Xbox One.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.