Forza Motorsport 5 Review
Written Wednesday, November 20, 2013 By Richard Walker
Forza Motorsport 5 is like the hot girl who knows she's hot. She doesn't have to make all that much effort, because hey, she looks good no matter what, and she might not necessarily realise it, but she's actually a bit dull. The same goes for the hot guy, if you're a girl. Whatever the case, that's Forza in a nutshell, though Forza 5 has learned one or two new tricks, it's still the same old series, steadfastly dedicated to pretty cars, the passion surrounding automotive enthusiasm, and racing repeatedly in the never-ending pursuit of perfection.
The moment you first get Forza 5 fired up, you're bombarded by a relentless assault of visual spectacle, as the game launches into its Top Gear intro voiced by presenter Jeremy Clarkson, before dumping you onto the achingly gorgeous Prague street circuit in an equally jaw-dropping McLaren P1. There's no two ways about it; Forza Motorsport 5 is unreservedly, inarguably beautiful, rendering its cars and tracks in stunning detail. It's one of the most awe-inspiring demonstrations of next-gen's graphical capabilities, and you'll no doubt be wheeling it out to show family and friends that the money you spunked on an Xbox One was totally worth it. Because look at how good it looks and everything!
The car's the star. Forza 5 loves the McLaren P1.
But again, like that aforementioned hot girl, Forza 5 is a case of style over substance, failing to really push the series forward in any particularly meaningful way beyond the obvious addition of its new Drivatar AI, powered by the Xbox One's ubiquitous cloud. There's still no nighttime racing, the damage model is still severely lacking, and the only weather is perpetual sun and a bit of cloud. Damage-wise, you can opt for superficial cosmetic scuffs, scratches, dents and other warped bits of bodywork, or you can turn on the simulation version of the game's damage model, impacting engine performance, steering, tyre wear and a laundry list of other mechanical stuff.
It's Drivatar that's the crux of what Forza Motorsport 5 has to offer in the way of innovation, pitting you against AI representations of drivers from your friends list and random racers from around the world. The result is realistic driver AI that's constantly evolving and learning, raising the stakes to overtake your friends, as Gamertags float enticingly over their respective cars, taunting you. That said, there's very little in way of motivation or real point to any of the races, simply railroading you through the motions from race to race, never stopping to congratulate you after earning a hard-fought gold medal or after having pushed your way from the back of the grid into first place. You can adjust the difficulty of Drivatar for cash and XP bonuses, the game presumably picking the AI's strongest tendencies to drive against, upping the rewards and overall sense of satisfaction.
There are finishing tiers rather than places, so you can finish in third place and still bag a gold medal in each of the league races. It's leagues that make up Forza 5's Career Mode, and there are eight different ones to race through, encompassing supercars, touring cars, GT racing, sportscars, vintage cars and more. A league is comprised of a whole bunch of events to complete, each of which has around ten races to complete. It soon gets a bit tedious after a while though, thanks in no small part to a lack of race environments. There are plenty of track layouts and reverse versions to race, but the aforementioned lack of weather and night racing means there isn't a great sense of variety. You can also complete extra bonus races upon completing league events if you want to accrue a bit more XP and currency in one shot.
Forza 5 is inarguably sexy.
Career essentially boils down to being a constant grind to raise credits for new cars, and racing to acquire all of the gold medals for completists. Beyond that, there isn't a huge impetus to progress through the Career, although building affinity with your favourite car manufacturers and marques, as well as accumulating XP to level up your driver ranking can be pretty gratifying. And there's a great selection of cars vying for your hard-earned credits, meaning putting in the requisite time will soon see your garage swelling with the tastiest automobiles imaginable.
As you progress, you'll also unlock badges and such for your player card, all while bolstering your bank balance. With these funds, you can purchase eligible cars for each league event, or use tokens – which can be bought via micro-transactions – for the same thing. You can then customise your cars with patterns, decals and stickers. You can choose from community-created designs too, if you so wish. We picked a lovely Union Jack design for our quintessentially British Lotus, for example.
One of the Career's stronger points is the Top Gear presentation, introducing each league event with a slickly produced intro voiced by the show's presenters, who each adopt their own unique patter when talking about the cars you'll be competing in. The Top Gear stuff provides most of Forza 5's character and charm, while presenting facts and trivia about the ever-so shiny rides you're about to browse, informing your purchase. Or not, as the case may be. There's the Top Gear Test Track too, which presents you with some of the game's funnest events. You can even take on the Stig's 'digital cousin', which isn't quite as challenging as it should be.
Well over a million quid's worth of car on one screen.
Another facet of Forza Motorsport 5 is Rivals Mode, wherein you race against community ghosts in a bid to beat their best lap times. You're presented with a bunch of different Rivals Mode disciplines and car classes, the more advanced of which you'll need to buy cars for. Want to race the X class Rivals Mode events? Until you've accumulated 3,000,000 credits for an eligible car, it's out of bounds. Rivals is a nice single-player addition to Forza 5, but it's still Career Mode where the real meat of the game is to be found. You can also practice in free play and rent cars for free without earning XP or cash, enabling you to sample some of the pricier rides. This is where you can also play in local split-screen.
As well as being ludicrously beautiful to behold, Forza 5's handling model is superb, though there are a lot of questionable elements that you'll run into during a race. Chief among these is the inexplicable way in which the game slows you to a crawl, making it feel like you're wheel-spinning through molasses if you dare to veer onto the grass or gravel traps. Granted, you shouldn't be doing that if you want to win races, but if Forza 5 is striving for sim realism, this isn't remotely adhering to that goal. Being able to rewind as much as you like comes to the rescue when you inevitably make an error (unless you're good at the game and never make a mistake), so luckily spinning off the track isn't too much of an issue.
More of an issue is the piss-poor achievement list that couldn't be more by-the-numbers if it tried. Mundane achievements for levelling up, earning medals, manufacturer affinity, miles and medals in multiplayer are simply dull as dishwater, and inexcusable for a first-party game from a seasoned developer like Turn 10. Even more surprising is that the game's challenges are actually pretty good and would have made for a vastly superior achievement list. Instead, these objectives are relegated to Gamerscore-free challenges, and therefore literally pointless. Beating the Stig's digital cousin? That'll be a challenge rather than an achievement. Stupid.
For the ultimate in Forza sim-ness, only the cockpit view will do.
Multiplayer has been pared down somewhat too, with some of the more enjoyable party games like Forza 4's cat and mouse excised in favour of the more straight-laced game types like the standard circuit race and timed race, alongside drift, multi-class and elimination modes. It's nothing to get too hot under the collar about. You can race offline in Career Mode using Drivatar and basically enjoy the same experience without listening to people coughing, blowing their nose and muttering through the Kinect microphone (though you can mute players). Levelling up is persistent across all the game's modes too, so playing online isn't essential, unless you're in it for the achievements.
We can overlook the relative dearth of tracks and the stupid driving through treacle thing when you veer off the track, but we can't overlook how little of an evolution Forza Motorsport 5 is on Xbox One. The game has little to offer over its predecessors beyond shinier, prettier graphics and its innovative new Drivatar AI, which is arguably the game's only major advancement. Omitting night racing, weather effects and a more intricate damage model is fairly unforgivable at this stage in the game – this is the fifth one after all – though Forza Motorsport 5 manages to deliver a robust racing experience that's also one of the best-looking and most well-presented games we've ever seen. Buy it and you won't feel disappointed, but you won't be able to shake the sense that Forza 5 could have been so much more.
Engines sound utterly fantastic, but the music is simply too intense and high drama. We turned it off after a few hours due to migraines. Impacts sound like bags of marbles being smacked with hammers. We suspect this is exactly what the sound guy used.
Forza 5's strongest suit, no one does retina-detaching shininess like Turn 10. If anything, the game's visuals are too clean and clinical. Cars look gorgeous inside and out. Track environments are supremely detailed too, with sun pouring in and lens flare bouncing off bodywork. It's the greatest showcase for Xbox One's visual grunt among the console's launch line-up.
A joy to drive as ever, Forza 5's relative lack of variety makes it something of a grind after extended play sessions. Still, there's no denying that Forza 5 is still a superlative console racing sim, let down only by a few dubious design choices here and there. The Xbox One controller's impulse triggers also feel great, connecting you to Forza's virtual asphalt with vibrating rumbliness.
A myriad of Career events, but a lack of variety in single-player. Multiplayer doesn't fare a whole lot better, removing game types from previous games. Presentation is impeccable throughout, with the Top Gear license fleshing things out considerably. Forzavista too is fantastic, enabling petrolheads to get up close with expensive cars to poke around their various flaps and pipes.
What is it with Forza and unrepentantly insipid achievement lists? This is yet another one, securing the racing series' place in achievement list infamy for all the wrong reasons. Levelling up and earning hundreds of medals does not a great list make. It's pure grind and zero fun. Rubbish.
Bearing the weight of Xbox One's launch day racing hopes entirely on its own, Forza Motorsport 5 is a more than worthy addition to the storied racing franchise's history, and a strong first crack at next-gen. However, it's a game that's so in love with its own style that it forgot to bring the substance. Drivatar is a brilliant innovation, but where's the weather, night racing and improved damage model? Turn 10 has a lot of room to improve with the next Forza Motorsport game. For now, Forza Motorsport 5 will do.
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