Reviews
Forza Motorsport 5

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 11th, 2014

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Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport series is one of my favourite driving franchises. Forza Motorsport 4 was quite impressive with its high level of visual detail with respect to its cars, its faithful representation of a number of popular racing venues, and its ties to Top Gear (a popular British show all about cars). Forza Horizon dialed back the “seriousness” of the franchise, merging arcade racing mentality with decent simulator goodness. So how does Forza Motorsport 5 stack up, considering that it is a launch title on one of the next-generation consoles? Pretty damned well, thanks very much.

Forza Motorsport 5 brings the series back to the track. With slick new menus and a renewed partnership with the hosts of Britain’s Top Gear, Forza Motorsport 5 is definitely geared up to attract more than just the usual car enthusiasts; in fact, I would not hesitate to say that it also goes a long way to bringing new blood into the fold thanks to some effective design elements. Take the menu system, for example. It is intuitive, and it makes it easy to get around (you’re not really more than a few steps from anywhere that you would like to go). When you decide to check out the different modes that you can play, you will sometimes be treated to an introduction by Jeremy Clarkson or one of the other hosts of Top Gear – it’s really a very “friendly” UI.

Another great draw that would increase ones affinity to automobiles is Forzavista mode. In Forza Motorsport 5, this mode gives the player the ability to inspect every single car on the roster in great detail (which differs from the relatively small number of cars that were available to browse in same mode in the last Forza Motorsport game). For those of you who did not play the previous title, imagine that you can walk around your car, open and close doors, peek under most of the hoods, and sit inside any of the vehicles in the game. It is great to be able to become intimately familiar with all of the cars in your garage; this ends up really increasing your sense of investment in your purchases.

fm5r-2Fewer locations? Yes. More detailed locations? Yes.

In the single-player Career mode, the player starts out with a car or two (sometimes Turn 10 sends out gifts), and you’ll have the opportunity to race in one of eight series’. It will take a bit of time, as each series will require vehicles that you might not own (which makes sense); however, taking part in each series will give you the opportunity to take home the gold in a number of different races. Gold means money – and money means that you can improve your car or buy an entirely new one! Each series has extra events, as well; these events usually take the normal racing formula and turn it on its ear. One of my favourites involves passing as many slower-moving cars as possible. There is also a really great event where you race through “London”. Why is London in quotes? Well, because it is actually the Top Gear Test Track covered with recycling bins and cardboard cut-outs of various buildings and vehicles from around London, England. Even though these bonus races are different from the standard ones, they are still races.

As you compete, you earn experience points which go toward your driver level. For every level that you climb, you gain a little infusion of cash that can go towards your planned purchases or vehicles tuning tweaks. There are a number of mechanical upgrades that you can perform on each car, which will raise or lower their performance points (make sure you keep your points within spec when you’re racing in a specific class – lest you have to re-tweak). There are also aesthetic customizations that you can make in the way of paint jobs and decals. Brand loyalty also has its perks. Sticking with specific brands nets you something of an endorsement, which also has a level system of its own. As you climb levels in this department, the automobile manufacturer that you are representing (by using their brand) will kick in some cash – the higher the level, the more cash you get. Rivals mode makes a return, giving you yet another opportunity for making some extra scratch by beating the person in front of you in your races.

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Drivatars should be called Jerkatars.

One of the most interesting new features is the “Drivatar” system. Essentially, Forza Motorsport 5 monitors the driving habits of each and every one of its players. As you race, you provide more information to your Drivatar which takes the trends of your behaviour and sends it out as a representation of you to the Forza cloud. So, when someone else is partaking in a single-player race, your Drivatar might make an appearance and will represent you in that race. Whatever your Drivatar wins will automatically be saved for you to deposit into your own Forza “account” (you don’t even have to be online for this to happen). It’s an interesting system, as it cuts down on trying to make realistic-behaving AI; instead, it takes real people and takes the essence of each of their driving habits to create a pseudo-multiplayer experience. I’m not really sure how I feel about this system, though. In theory, it sounds great; however, there are no real consequences to bashing up your car, or driving like a jerk – so a lot of the Drivatars that I have encountered have tried to run me off the road. Turning up the difficulty seems to fix that issue a little – but it makes the race a bit harder in other ways.

I found the physics a bit iffy in Forza Motorsport 4. I’m not going to fault Turn 10 for that, as they are making a game that bridges the gap between automobile enthusiast and gamer. But, it’s hard to deny that given the realism, the physics should have been a bit tighter. The physics in Forza Motorsport 5 are better than those found in the last title. However, they are still not as good as they could be, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it invites more people who might not be good at a strict simulator to try out and possibly like the game; it’s bad because weird physics hurts my brain. There are a horrendous number of calculations that have to be done – so one can’t really fault the developer if everything isn’t a hundred percent perfect. I’m just puzzled as to why collisions are so much more gentle on the player than, say, driving slightly off the track. Ultimately, if you behave yourself and drive like you should, you should be fine.

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It’s like you’re there.

One of the really great features of this latest Forza game is the interaction with new Xbox One controller. I don’t know exactly what kind of voodoo Turn 10 used to cast whatever spell they did, but holding the Xbox One controller during the game feels like you’re actually holding a steering wheel. You can feel the bumps of cobblestone roads as you drive over them; you can feel your car slipping out of your control; most amazing of all: you can feel when your car catches air thanks to that nearly indescribable feeling when your wheels are spinning so fast without contact that they feel like two gyroscopes that refuse to tilt. I felt these things when I tried the demo during the TIFF event; but being able to spend some time with the force feedback of the controller was great. The amount of hours that I spent trying to figure it out are surely dwarfed by the amount of time that Turn 10 spent figuring out how to get the controller to do something really, really cool.

Oddly enough, the section that I was dreading the most (Multi-Player Mode) turned out to be one of the most fun. It was easy to connect and get going in just a few minutes (unless a race was in progress). In the few times that I have joined online races, I found all of the drivers to be courteous and respectful, relying on skill rather than unexpected shenanigans. It was nice to be able to watch others race so that I could learn new tricks and incorporate them into my repertoire. Chat-wise, the crowd was friendly and there was no cursing at all – just a general sense of positivity. I suppose that when others are watching, it pays to be nice (because these people are far nicer than any of the Drivatars).

Visuals and sound are both important parts of this game – more so than people probably realize. Effective aesthetic presentation will always get the heart pumping and will encourage people to save their replays – so the more realistic everything is, the better. Graphically, the game does not disappoint. My biggest gripe with Forza Motorsport 4 was that the backgrounds didn’t quite match the level of detail of the cars. I’m not sure how wide the margin in quality is now between cars and environments (the cars are even more detailed in comparison to any other previous title in the series), but it doesn’t really matter because the locations are unbelievably detailed and gorgeous. During the load screen for each race, the player is treated to a slideshow displaying pictures of different parts of the upcoming track. These images look like photos rather than screen renders – but I assure you, these images are impressive pre-rendered screen pulls. What’s even more amazing is driving through these locations. Trees seem to blow gently in the wind (gone are the “cardboard standee” style of landscape objects, leaves fall, water ripples gently, and spectators and boom cameras behave realistically. It is tough to notice these things during a race; but during replay mode it is a sheer treat to watch these details come to life.

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To be honest, I’d rather be here than in the last picture.

While Forza Motorsport 5 doesn’t disappoint in the visual department, raising the graphical bar comes greater scrutiny, especially considering that this title is one of the cornerstones of the Xbox One launch library. I have already mentioned that the vehicles are rendered with an extremely incredible amount of detail. Whether “walking” around your car in your showroom or driving it on the track, there is a phenomenal amount of realism. However, when my father was over and we were examining a replay, jagged lines can clearly be seen when the camera distance to the car is relatively short. It’s nit-picky, I’ll admit – but it’s a shame that with all of the crazy detail in the background (which has the advantage of a long camera distance) that something couldn’t be done about the car’s foreground “jaggies”. The only other real issue that I have with the eye candy is that the damage seems to “pop” in, much like “battle damage” on action figures. Rather than crumpling smoothly, cars seem to get damaged in stages. I tested this out by tailgating one of the AI cars in a race. I got right up close to the car in front of me and slowly closed the distance until our bumpers were touching. What transpired after was an odd damage pattern that seemed to change instantly from slightly dented to more dented to even more dented to the back end falling off – but not in one smooth series of steps (which one would expect when a car is applying a constant pressure at high speed). Odd? Yes. Game-breaking? Nah. Especially when you consider that your cars can actually get dirty, and paint transfer takes place between cars when there is any sort of collision.

Turn 10 are masters of bringing the aural signatures of racing to your living room – and Forza Motorsport 5 is the best example of this to date. Tires screech realistically, engines thrum and environmental noise really allows you to feel like you are where the game says that you are. This is not a game to be played quietly, people; this is a game that really thrives when you have a great home theatre, especially considering the surround sound is utterly fantastic. Music is great – and honestly, I can’t really put my finger on why I like it so much. Oh wait. I know! It’s because it’s subtle and sticks to the background! Voice work is top notch (not really a stretch seeing as it’s Jeremy Clarkson and his crew). They have a knack of being able to talk about the most boring things in an entertaining way, with witty remarks and some funny jabs at various subjects, they really make it easy to feel like part of the crowd that likes their cars.

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The only way that this could be more realistic is if new car smell poured out of your controller.

It’s important to note that going from Forza Motorsport 4 to Forza Motorsport 5 can be a jarring experience – especially if your expectations have been set by the content in Forza Motorsport 4. First of all, as we have established already, the games are graphically in different leagues. However, content-wise, it’s interesting to see that Forza Motorspot 5 has about 200 cars and 14 tracks – a far cry from the 500 cars and 26 tracks from Forza Motorsport 4. While there will be whining from some people about this decision, I can understand Turn 10’s hesitation to dilute any of the detail of the existing cars and tracks. I would rather have all of the love go into attention to detail and game-play, and then let the rest of the chips fall when the DLC is announced. I am also secretly hoping that Turn 10 decides to somehow create a patch that allows for night racing (like in Forza Horizon) and various weather conditions. It’s nice to drive in great weather, but to be truly challenged, one must be made to master the elements.

Forza Motorsport 5 is a game that is a must-have if you have an Xbox One. Not only does it showcase the system very well; but it is a lot of fun to play – and it might just be good enough to get certain people (who don’t normally like driving games) behind the wheel of some awesome cars. While thinner on cars and tracks than previous versions, and flawed in some respects (some graphical elements and physics), Forza Motorsport 5 is a dream to play and one of those games that you can lose track of time once you start racing around – especially with a fair number of things to do in each racing series. Add in social media features (like uploading your car designs and sharing replays and photos) and you have have yourself a great all-around next-generation experience!

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