Platform: Xbox One
Developer: Turn 10
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
For many Xbox One owners, Forza 5 is "next-gen," the game that definitely marks the end of one era and the start of the next.
It really is a thing of beauty; the diamond-sharp, crystal-crisp action more drool-inducingly gorgeous than the orange McLaren P1 on the screen. Sure, the off-track detail isn't quite as impressive as those early showcase builds, but we're still able to pick out individual blades of grass as we barrel past at insane speeds, and ogle the tiniest reflections in the bonnet or the inside of the windscreen. It's stunning, £429 stunning.
Forza 5 is built on racing pedigree too. Turn 10's series is famed for its sweet spot between accessibility and ruthless simulation, offering a range of scalable assists and a rewind function to let everyone find their automotive happy place. For me, it's chucking a BMW M3 sideways through the streets of Prague with a braking-only racing line and automatic gearbox. For others, it will be cut-throat authenticity in a track special or F1 car, carefully managing tyres and collisions to stay out of the pit lane. Every vehicle is unique and treated with reverence, regardless of its age or horsepower, meaning that there's a niche for everyone.
You can find it, whatever it is... though getting there might take a little more time than you're used to.
Forza has long been obsessed by cars as works of art, as aspirational idols as opposed to day-to-day transport, so this new level of graphical sheen allows Turn 10 to render them with more near-pornographic reverence than ever before. Whether a classic VW Beetle, cheeky hot hatch, luscious supercar or ridiculous track special, each vehicle is modelled down to the finest detail -- the ridged plastic surface of an airbag cover, say -- which you can examine up-close in Forzavista mode.
It's official: this is currently the best-looking console racing game ever produced, and it lends a sense of raw spectacle to the proceedings, regardless of if you're revelling in the cockpit detail or enjoying the superb real-time reflections from an external camera angle. I've rarely wanted to lick my television, but I came very close. On a more practical level, a bevy of tuning options are available to mechanically customise your fleet, while a robust cosmetic suite allows you to create custom paint jobs and vinyl overlays before sharing them with the community.
Forza 5's handling model is superb, as always, making every car feel unique, satisfying and exhilarating to drive. The simulation has been improved yet again, newly tightened up by real-world tyre data. You'll sometimes feel them start to lose grip through a long hard turn and degrade during a gruelling race, and I do mean literally feel. Forza 5 is the flagship game for Xbox One's Impulse Triggers, which connects your fingertips to the car and road surface in a profoundly physical way. This new feedback makes it easier to make minor adjustments intuitively, without thinking, and adds an extra level of immersion.
With additional tweaks to the scoring system that lets you earn a gold medal by placing third, alongside that inclusive cornucopia of optional assists, the core driving experience has never been better. It's generous yet rewards precision; hitting that perfect line is always such a thrill.
We can't go any further without discussing the idiotic portmanteaux skulking in the far corner of the showroom: Drivatars. Each player uploads an AI racer to the cloud based on their metrics, which are then used to populate singleplayer races with opponents who behave like other human beings. Forza 5's marketing trumpeted this feature from the rooftops as if it's a monumental leap forwards for the genre, but in practice, it basically boils down to "so, the AI is pretty decent, I guess."
Now that the early erratic behaviour has been ironed out by and large, Drivatars are capable AI opponents who drive more defensively than you'd typically expect from most racing games, and pleasingly display a few little cornering quirks rather than rigidly sticking to the racing line throughout. Mind you, there's often an almighty smash in the first and second corners. Not exactly a revolution (or worth all the fuss), then, but racing against them is certainly a lot of fun and challenging on the harder difficulty settings.
So with superb graphics, excellent handling and capable AI, Forza 5 really ought to be the crown jewel of the series. But... it isn't. This is very much a case of nailing the details but letting the big picture slide slightly out of focus.
Career mode feels surprisingly flimsy when weighed against the likes of Forza 3 and 4 despite offering plenty of races. Its brusque screen of series and events prefaced by Top Gear videos comes across as disappointingly clinical and sterile next to the ten-year journeys we embarked on in Forza 4's aspirational World Tour mode. We feel less like a real racer and more like a gamer, lacking basic context save the occasional slice of unskippable banter from Clarkson and co. There's little magic, soul or escapism outside of the track and showroom. The interface also throws up some unnecessary inconvenience, such as forcing players to sit through several unskippable loading screens, cutscenes and quit back to the main menu just to tune or change their car in the middle of a series.
And then we come to Forza 5's most controversial stumbling block: the content disparity compared with Forza 4. 500 cars vs 200, 26 tracks vs 14.
To be clear: I don't take issue with the amount of cars. At all. 200 was a big number the last time I checked and each has been fastidiously modelled inside and out with full Forzavista support. Most players will never buy anywhere near this many, especially since all cars can be cosmetically customised and mechanically tuned. That's not the problem, rather, it's all in the delivery.
Instead of gracefully rewarding players with new cars as they complete series, Forza 5's vehicles must all be bought from the in-game store with credits won from successful races. A reasonable and familiar setup on paper, but credits trickle into your account at a glacial pace. Consider this: if we generously assume that you earn 10,000 CR per race by selecting harder opponents and driving with a bare minimum of assists, it will take you six hundred races to be able to afford the flagship Lotus F1 car. SIX. HUNDRED.
That's an extreme example, of course, and isn't entirely fair. A functional experience-based levelling and manufacturer-specific affinity system are on hand to provide some extra cash at regular intervals, but after the first four hours or so, many players may become disillusioned by the sheer amount of time it takes to get anywhere. Which is, of course, where those microtransactions come into play. With the option to buy cars outright with premium funbucks or accelerate your level progress by paying real money, it's a clear case of freemium business model being thrust into a full price game. Where, I'm afraid, it doesn't belong. Especially since the player auction house, gifting and other features have been cut out to better fit the new status quo.
Even this needn't have been a issue. After all, "grinding" is another way of saying "racing" in Forza 5, which is why we're here in the first place. If prices were significantly reduced or series-complete rewards significantly boosted, the constant influx of credits and purchases could become an enjoyable economy. Finally earning enough to buy your favourite car is undeniably satisfying, after all, even as things stand. Turn 10 have pledged to tweak the pricing over the next few weeks, so there's hope here.
But there aren't really enough tracks, no matter how much slack you cut (arguably I've cut plenty over the last three paragraphs). Several 'no-brainer' courses are bizarrely absent (no Nurburgring? Really?), which quickly leads to repetition as you replay the same tracks over and over again, if occasionally in different configurations. I've never been a fan of Laguna Seca, but there's no escaping the damn thing. This is nothing less than Forza 5's Achilles' heel, because the magic starts to dry up after a few consecutive hours, leaving room for disillusionment to seep into the cracks.
So I could make an example of Forza 5. I could drag it through the streets and sharpen the pitchforks, but I won't.
See, while diehard Forza fans are likely seething with rage or just mildly disappointed, we're not a fan site. Turn 10's latest racer is mechanically and visually the best game in the series, and if played in moderation, the way most gamers do - a few stolen hours after work, at the weekend, little and often - it's absolutely sensational. It may offer less in terms of raw quantity than its predecessors, but quality is an inalienable part of value. It is value. And Forza 5 has it in abundance.
After putting in roughly twenty hours according to Xbox One's Achievement metrics, I realised that I wasn't driving because I wanted to grind. I was simply enjoying the ride.
- Graphically astonishing
- Sensational handling, core gameplay and impulse trigger feedback
- Meticulously-modelled cars are a joy to drive (or just ogle) regardless of ability
- Drivatar AI is challenging and pleasingly quirky, rough edges ironed out
- Sorely needs more tracks
- Sterile career mode compared to previous games
- Slow progression encourages repetition (or extra micro-transactions) to earn the pricier cars
The Short Version: This graphically exquisite and mechanically impeccable racer shows off the Xbox One to advantage, but ends up slightly hamstrung by a lack of tracks and inconsiderate progression system. The all-important cars are more beautiful than ever, handle better than ever, yet some of the series' magic and generosity of spirit is gone.
Quality is a kind of value, though, and Forza 5 oozes it from every hyper-detailed, lustrously reflective, painstakingly-simulated pore. A brilliant launch title, then, but needs work to become a true successor to Forza 4.