Game Review: Forza Motorsport 5
By Bradley Iger
November 25, 2013
Debuting alongside Microsoft's new console, the Xbox One, there's a lot more riding on the successful execution of Forza Motorsport 5 as opposed to previous entries in the series. FM5, along with a handful of other launch titles for the new system, has to convince fans that it's worth investing in an entirely new system for the experience it provides. Does Forza Motorsport 5 deliver? Well, yes and no.
As has become tradition in "proper" Forza games (Forza Horizon being a sort of one-off, open-world entry), the game begins with Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson making an impassioned plea for the plight of the car enthusiasts - a dying breed who's obsession is dismissed by the rest of the world as trivial. Jezza's delivery is, as usual, sincere and utterly on point. Afterward, you're quickly dropped into the beautifully rendered cockpit of a McLaren P1 on a road course in Prague, which is where things get interesting. While the thought of piloting a 963 horsepower supercar through the narrow and uneven roads of Prague is simultaneously a thrilling and terrifying notion, it's here where Forza's assumptions about you, the driver, and the gaming public at large, become somewhat polarizing.
Having spent more than a fair share of time playing the previous Forza titles, as well as possessing a cursory understanding of how race cars operate when driven within their potential, it's more than a little bit frustrating when you're handed the keys to a P1 then given about 10% control over the vehicle's function. Forza assumes off the bat that you have little-to-no experience with racing simulators. As a result, traction control, stability control, braking assistance and steering assistance are all enabled, as well as an arrow based driving line which points the way to go from start to finish. You can essentially just hold down the trigger and check your email while running this race. But this frustration is a necessary evil, as not all players will walk into FM5 with the same level experience, so you'll tolerate it, albeit wistfully.
However, for those of us with some track time under their belts, it's doubly frustrating when you're then instructed to purchase a vehicle to run your first series of races without any way of accessing the menu system for the first 5 or so races. This means your new vehicle, which has been setup by the game to be competitive from a performance standpoint with the other vehicles in your series in whatever way Forza sees fit, cannot be modified in any way until you've finished those races. Even after that, the ability to change things like tires, brakes, suspension components and gear ratios is not clearly expressed by the game, and could be easily overlooked by less astute gamers.
The result is that the understeering pig that was my Forza-turned BMW 1M for the first several races transformed into a neutral surgical knife once I was able to ditch the preset modifications set by the game and choose my own, but I had to slog through so many races beforehand that I began to wonder if I'd ever be given the option to do so. It's worth the frustration though, because once the game finally relinquishes control back to you, it is quite simply the best console-based driving simulator money buy - and by a wide margin.
Beyond the subtle improvements - of which there are many - one of the most noticeable enhancements is the introduction of Drivatar AI. The way the game explains it, for first few races, Forza collects data about your driving habits and creates an online, computer-controlled profile based on that data, and pits your Drivatar against other real-world opponents when they play the game offline. While this is a fantastic concept, we can't help wishing they'd started taking this data after we'd gained the ability to fit our car with, say, decent brakes and tires.
No matter, the implementation of this human element is a welcome one. For the first time, your AI-controlled opponents actually drive like humans do. Opponents will brake too late for corners and deviate from the racing line. We've never seen computer-controlled opponents need to corral throttle oversteer before, but it happens with regularity in FM5. Also, much like humans playing a racing game, AI opponents are no longer afraid to trade a little paint. Although in some races the amount of contact made between cars would probably have half the field black flagged before the race's end, it's still incredibly refreshing to have an element of unpredictability and challenge added to offline racing.
Still, there are aspects of Forza Motorsport 5 that feel half baked. Yes, there are far less cars in FM5 than there were in Forza Motorsport 4. Yes, the Nürburgring's omission from the game is baffling, even if rendering it is a Herculean task, which it may well be. Yes, there is day-one downloadable content, which unlocks ten additional cars like the Ferrari LaFerrari, for an additional $10, with subsequent DLC packs on their way in the months ahead. Keep in mind you still have to have enough in-game credits to purchase these vehicles - which can also be had for additional real-world money if you'd prefer not to spend the amount of time required to earn it wining races. Even the in-game marketplace where you can buy, sell and trade vehicles and vehicle liveries within the game is not up and running as of this writing.
Despite these notable issues, when you get behind the wheel and play the game, it genuinely feels like a next-generation experience. From the visual depth to the lovingly recreated engine sounds of each vehicle to the sense of tire slip each trigger on the new controller gives you - which one vibrates depends on whether you're roasting the tires or locking the brakes - Forza Motorsport 5 feels like a thoroughly new racing experience. It may not be perfect, but we love it anyway.