Forza 5 has a tough act to follow. The mainstay is the tried and tested formula of simulation with seat-of-the-pants driving feel, honed throughout the series, along with various levels of driver assists making it accessible and fun for all abilities. This holds up various layers of customisation, social sharing and car porn, which together make for a distinctive and unique racing game. So how have Turn 10 made Forza 5 stand out?
Obviously there’s a visual improvement for the new generation. It’s not mind blowing, but there are moments where you think “this looks better” and as usual everything zips along very smoothly.
Turn 10 say there’s a new physics engine “not possible” on previous generation hardware. It still feels like Forza (which is a good thing), so if you didn’t like the previous iterations, the fun and satisfaction from nailing a perfect corner isn’t going to convert you. However, what the new physics perfects is the difference between front, rear and all-wheel drive. Ragging an Impreza on the limit through the various phases of the corner feels exactly the same as it does in real life. Similarly the 350Z and Civic are spot on. It's astonishing and race sim fans will love it. The new feedback in the Xbox One pad triggers is a great addition, adding subtle but useful feedback, especially with assists turned off, to avoid locking up or spinning up too much.
It’s not all good though and there are some areas that need to be mentioned. The menu structure is nonsensical in places. At first glance it looks OK, but if you want to see your car list or change them, there is no option at the top level. Instead you have to painfully drill down into “Career” a few levels, even though the cars can be used in the multiplayer racing too. Additionally it still insists on forcing you “into” a car to do changes – why can’t I just pause whatever career phase I’m on and take time out to play with my cars for a bit and then continue the career without having to reselect the car I was using for the career. Then “Multiplayer” and “Free Play” share screenspace on the menu, which makes little sense since Free Play IS Multiplayer. My final gripe with the menu is that it still allows you to go “back” a level from the menu (easily done when you are hammering buttons and want to get places speedily), which takes you up to a splash page where the only option is to press A to go back to the menu. BUT, returning to the menu from here takes 20 seconds while it saves or loads something. What? What is doing? This has annoyed me since Forza 2. Additionally, after doing a career race, there is no way to quit back to the main menu - your only option is to load up the next race and then quit before starting it, which is just painful - how was this not picked up in testing?
There’s a “Marketplace” button, but it just says “coming soon”. There is no auction house. How soon though? This review could be out of date the moment it is published if fundamental parts of the Forza experience haven’t even been finished yet and are added later via download.
The next niggles are that you are forced to watch unskippable car porn before and after every race. Before each race, you see the same shots of your car from various angles and some pit crew waving at you. It’s not clear if any background loading is still happening at the same time, but it would appear that it is just there for the “look at the prettiness” reasons. Then after each race you see damage and road crud applied to your car while it painfully slowly adds up your career and experience points with no way of skipping. With races for the first stages of the career being limited to two or three laps, you can spend huge proportions of your Forza 5 gaming time spent staring at the screen doing nothing. This stuff needs sorting if Forza is to evolve for the better.
Once actually into a career race, if online, you’ll see cars with names above them from people on your Xbox Friends List as well as randoms. Forza 5 learns your driving style and sends your Drivatar out into the wild to race against other people while you are not playing. This seems to work pretty well, with my friends reporting back some epic battles with my drivatar. Whether they are realistic interpretations of my driving style is undetermined, but the important thing here is that it adds an element of FUN to the career mode. Seeing a friend’s Drivatar overtake you on the final lap and then crash into the back of someone else turns an average race into a hilarious battle, sometimes even with shouting at a friend that can’t possibly hear you. This feature has turned out far better than expected. However, the rewards you get appear to be capped in typical freemium style - if you turn on Forza 5 daily, you'll get an amount of credits but if you leave it for a week and then come back, you'll barely get any more than the one-day amount.
Tracks are a bit thin on the ground compared to previous iterations, although multiple variations of each track keep it interesting. What is damaging is not the actual number of tracks, but the insistence on having two-lap races. I’ve barely warmed up by the end of a two-lap race, so seeing the next track so soon after the previous one makes them seem familiar too quickly, giving the impression there are too few tracks. Spa, Bathurst and Bernese Alps are highlights, looking fantastic in next-gen visuals and have gradients to keep it interesting. Bring back the hillclimbs from the original Forza please! There is no clear DLC path for new tracks yet – Nurburgring is missing so one can only assume it’ll be a pay to play option later.
Forza 5 is a full price game. Cars (and upgrades) cost credits earned by racing online or in career mode. No cars are giving out for progression rewards any more. Or you can use real money to buy tokens that either speed up your credit earning speed or buy cars and parts directly. This is a dangerous balancing act for Turn 10 – within a month of release they already changed the pricing structure due to feedback from pretty much everyone. It was far too slow to amass cars and was frankly crippling the game for anyone that has the “gotta collect em all” mentality. Then they introduced the reward scheme that gave out millions of credits based on time spent playing previous iterations of Forza, making credits earned from grinding insignificant in comparison – this almost destroyed the game for me being incredibly demoralising, making time spent playing the career almost worthless. It also begs the question as to whether enjoyment of grinding in Forza 5 is actually dependent on previous experience with the series. It’s perfectly possible to grind your way to car purchases, but it’s too time consuming especially with all the car porn and delays between races. Additionally some cars were available at launch as DLC, so these were highly desirable cars that were finished prior to release but held back for extra cash. Nice idea for revenue generation. Not so nice for series fans. Even if you were dedicated enough to fork out for the DLC, get this: you aren’t allowed instant access to the cars you have bought with real money. No. Instead you have to use hard-earned in-game credit to apply them to your garage. Or you could skip this step and buy tokens with real money to get instant access to them. This is despicable behaviour.
So far this review isn’t looking good for Forza 5, but if you ignore ALL of the barriers that Turn 10 are trying to throw in your way of your enjoyment and instead focus on the core of the game – racing, it’s worth sticking with. The multiplayer racing is as fun as ever, even if the wait between races is still too long. Once you have got to grips with the handling and reached the longer races, the career mode is brilliant racing too (as long as you aren’t bothered about trying all the cars).
I actually believe that the game would be better if they let you have most of the cars and upgrade options from the off - it's not like you can use all the upgrades because otherwise you break through the class barriers, so the challenge would be in choosing the right upgrades to win races as well as improving skills. Progression should unlock rare cars making it seem genuinely rewarding rather than just a few measly credits each race. The current setup of doing countless two or three-lap races just to progress is very tired. Why not five-ten lap races and keep you interested by giving a completely different class for the next race, showing off all the work they put in to the cars and making them all feel different? However this wouldn’t fit into the "wringing-every-penny" attitude that now pervades the game. I worry for the series.
If you only have an Xbox One, with no access to a 360, then if you like racing games you have to buy Forza 5. The Drivatar feature is a great addition, the handling is fantastic, it looks good and as usual the Multiplayer online racing is wonderful, with many chatty people, many of them even genuinely apologetic about not quite braking hard enough behind you into a corner – good banter to be had. However if you prefer single player career modes in your racing games, you have to wonder why you wouldn’t just stick with Forza 4.
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