From an outsider’s perspective, Forza Motorsport 5 appears unstoppable as ever.
Circuits span Monterey County, California to Bathurst, Australia; and Turn 10 brings each Audi, Honda, and Lamborghini to life with stunning audio and visual clarity. Tires squeal and engines howl while the sun’s rays reflect off headlights and quarter panels, invigorating pursuits for first place. Beneath that flashy exterior, however, anyone can see Forza Motorsport 5 requires fine tuning. Featuring fewer cars, even fewer tracks, a nuts-and-bolts career mode, and multiplayer that lurches from busted to bearable, Forza 5’s marginal advances ‒ the visuals, Drivatars, and physics ‒ will only get the heartiest fan’s engines running.
But in some ways, I adore Turn 10’s next-gen foray ‒ no ruses, just racing at its purest. After a tease of the McLaren P1's potential, the campaign turns you loose on the competition. Players may participate in any championship once they have sufficient funds for an entry car, and each event celebrates something new. Forza Motorsport 5 puts the pep of compact hatchbacks, the rumbles of American muscle, the grips of modern Indy engineering to the test. With dozens of makes and models represented, this is a game built for car enthusiasts by car enthusiasts (if all you care about is the driving part).
Regrettably, the developers strip the career mode down to its bare chassis. Gone is the auction house for cars and liveries (now, players download them for free), as are the abilities to hire AI drivers and test vehicles before making a down payment. Players cannot trade in their unused speed machines, and the game no longer passes them out left and right for podium finishes or increases to your driver level ‒ a result of the reduced roster, surely. Forza 4 manifested 500 mid-life crisis-mobiles, while Forza 5 downsizes its showroom by nearly 300.
Forza 5 looks strikingly better than its predecessors, with smoother edges on the cars and scenery.
Of those hundreds, a chosen few can be viewed in Forzavista mode, empowering you to peek under the hood and slobber over that sensual V12 metal, or examine a vehicle’s interior and let her motor rev. The sounds of a Chevrolet Camaro’s eardrum-bursting wails do differ from the raspy purrs of Nissan’s 1971 Skyline, but an apparent faithfulness to the dashboards, steering wheels, and leather seats is also worth drooling over.
If we’re talking costs, take your excitement elsewhere. Previous Forza Motorsports handed out supercars like Halloween candy. For Forza 5, players must purchase every sedan, SUV, and coupe. Several beauties ‒ the Ferrari 250 GTO, primarily ‒ exceed $3,000,000, whereas most championships fork over $100,000. In other words, Turn 10 presents fans with a financial grind before they even line up at the starting grid. The other unsavory option is to buy cars through microtransactions, but public outrage urged the developers to rethink their pricing strategy.
Other changes seem less seductive. Forza 4 provided 26 tracks; Forza 5 features 14. In light of Forza 5’s 587 races (I counted), you’ll swing by several circuits roughly 50 times. Give me less Silverstone, England and its dreary, overcast skybox. Cut back on the Laguna Seca where the only commotion occurs at its infamous corkscrew. Show off more courses that weave through Prague’s cobblestone suburbs and the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, whose undulating terrain masks upcoming corners. Even Germany’s Nürburgring forgoes its usual appearance ‒ almost unthinkable for any triple-A racing sim.
Lens Flare: The J.J. Abrams Story.
No racing game will try your patience like Forza Motorsport 5. As part of the next-gen impetus, Drivatars bring the thrills of multiplayer into single-player ‒ traditional AI remains absent. After uploading your stats to the servers, the Drivatar system copies your braking, accelerating, and cornering mannerisms, which goes for the rest of Forza 5’s users. Random avatars (as well as those of your friends) occupy races, making a jockey for the lead that much more personal.
Drivatars brake early, skid out, shunt you from side to side, and wander from their racing lines. They behave like real people to a certain extent, though I had to bump the difficulty to a higher setting to keep things competitive. However, their malicious attitudes increased in turn. Battling forward from the back of the pack (where players routinely start) would be a harrowing test of swerves and sideswipes if it was not so nightmarish, like dodging teenage road hogs amidst rush-hour traffic.
Although damage defaults to cosmetic, cranking up the realism multiplies profits post-race. The physics affect your car’s handling in subtle ways as well, lending a believable challenge to the simulated events. Broken brakes impact the rate at which you slow; a cracked suspension jerks vehicles around during hard stops; a ruined driveline pulls the wheel to the left or right, requiring players to counter-steer appropriately whenever speeds reach 200 miles per hour.
The feedback triggers on the Xbox One controller rumble when you lose traction braking or accelerating, but after five games, fans should have mastered these concepts.
The patented rewinds allow you to undo the past few seconds before putting yourself out of commission, which now have unlimited uses. Of course, rewinds deduct a percentage of your winnings, so if you habitually amend accidents, expect a substantial fine. That said, Turn 10 no longer penalizes you for the harm done to your car as if to acknowledge that Drivatars act like dicks. The developers award gold medals to the first three finishers in a race, with no bonus for ranking first or second.
The true bright spot in the career is the return of Top Gear’s announcers. James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond bring their reverence to the discussion of cars that neither photorealistic visuals nor subscription magazines duplicate. They speak with an appreciation of automotive eras that hails from somebody with extensive, genuine motorsport passion, yet they retain the show’s cynical wit that left me laughing under my breath.
The rest of the audio ‒ delivered by a droll American narrator ‒ I could do without. You cannot disable her commentary during lifeless tutorials, and other superfluous moments stack up. The countdown timers and camera pans of your vehicle after a race superficially extend a lengthy campaign. I do not want to wait 30 seconds every time the game tallies my earnings, nor do I need a faceless pilot giving the all-clear on system checks. Did I mention Forza 5’s egregious loading times?
Forza 5 is the closest some of us will ever get to an Aston Martin.
The menus and loading screens also sing of an out-of-place soundtrack, a setlist of orchestral arrangements befitting a Hollywood action film. Are we fighting Mass Effect’s Reapers, maiming gods as Kratos, or mourning the death of Batman’s parents? I thought we were controlling an otherwise diverse game of motorsport. Whenever I grew tired of sliding my Ferrari 458 around hairpin turns, I switched to the vintage tournaments to take Volkswagen’s ‘63 Beetle for a spin.
You will spend more time scraping guardrails than actually racing in multiplayer, because the developers do nothing to counter intentional griefing. Iconic first-turn pileups happen often, and I met several opponents eager to drive the wrong direction around a circuit. Forza 5 lacks the means to report driver misconduct, and menus often bug out, forcing those affected to quit the match or watch replays on an endless loop. Turn 10 breaks playlists into monthly events, class competitions, specialty heats, and so on, too. But these playlists spread a threadbare, next-gen fanbase thin. Outside of the monthly meets, I never found a full 16-man lobby.
I played Forza Motorsport 2 to completion, shed literal tears at the sight of a Mercury Cougar Eliminator in Forza Motorsport 4, and lost hours to the open-world demo for Forza Horizon. As much as I ask myself, however, I hate to revisit Forza Motorsport 5. Forza 5 is a safe next-gen launch title with a modest roster of cars, realistic grasp on handling, and heavenly Forzavista mode, but players expecting something meatier of the expensive Xbox One should ‒ beyond a doubt ‒ dine elsewhere.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Turn 10 Studios
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-16 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed)