The launch of an Xbox console has always meant the release of a racing game. For the Xbox and Xbox 360, we saw Project Gotham Racing and Project Gotham Racing 3 respectively. With Bizarre Creations no longer around, the Xbox One sees Forza Motorsport 5 fill the void. Turn 10 Studios brings the franchise back to its simulation roots after the 2012 spin-off Forza Horizon. Yet in the process, they’ve left a lot on the cutting room floor.
This is the peculiar position of a console launch game. On the one hand, it’s attractive to release a shiny new game in a popular franchise alongside your shiny new console to help entice buyers. On the other, that strict deadline to complete the game often leaves titles showing what’s possible for the next iteration instead of providing a 100% worthwhile experience. That’s not to say that Forza Motorsport 5 is a terrible game; far from it, in fact. It’s just that it could have been so much more.
Much has been made regarding the game’s cut tracks and vehicles, though honestly it doesn’t necessarily bother me as much as it’s bothered the internet. Let’s start with the facts: Forza Motorsport 4 featured 26 different locations. Forza 5 only has 14. In terms of cars, Forza 4 offered 500 cars at launch. Forza 5 only has 200. As someone who isn’t the biggest car nut in the world (I like driving them, that’s about it), the lack of car count isn’t something deterring. Sure, it stinks that I can’t enjoy the novelty of pimping out a DeLorean to race with the big boys, but I’m perfectly fine with being offered the best of the best in terms of vehicles. I will admit, however, that when you compare the manufacturer list between the two games, the difference is night and day.
The bigger issue comes with the game’s track listing. See, I already had a problem with repetition of locations in past Forza titles. Shrinking the number of tracks only increases this repetition; I was not looking forward to seeing the same old tracks again and again. Yet as I was playing through the game, something peculiar happened: it didn’t necessarily bother me. Each track is not only eye candy (aside from the glaring issues with the spectator placeholders), but also an absolute blast to drive. I don’t fear coming to a familiar track; I look forward to seeing how my experience can play a role.
Some of this admittedly comes from the game’s Drivatar, the cloud based feature that replaces AI with the driving habits of people over Xbox Live. The result is an experience that doesn’t quite capture the same essence as an actual multiplayer race, but comes incredibly close to it. Drivers are human: they’ll make mistakes, they’ll drive aggressively and force a three-wide lane on a narrow straightaway, and they’ll not follow scripted paths. Most importantly, they’re not pushovers. I’ve seen a couple of familiar gamertags make runs halfway through a race. People I thought were long gone have a tendency to show up in my rearview mirror at the worst possible time.
This results in removing one of the things I’ve always hated about simulation racing games: the inability of the AI to provide a balanced challenge. Either races have been far too easy or far too hard. The Drivatar behavior, combined with tuning difficulty and assists, allows for races to remain competitive throughout the game’s circuit campaigns. However, it’s just not the Drivatar that plays a part in this. Turn 10 changed the payout structure for the end of races. Instead of just the top three ranks being paid out, there are different brackets: a bronze, silver, and gold. Even if I finish 7th out of 16, I’ll still earn credits. This removes the insane amount of pressure that builds up before a race and allows the player to race the way they want to. Sure, it might stink to not finish first, but it’s no longer worth it to play aggressive on that last corner just for extra credits; the top three all pay-out the same. This allows me to actually have fun playing the game.
Just kidding; first place or bust for me. Rewind all day every day.
Speaking of the rewind feature, actually…
Now that the Drivatar is in place and the other racers have a tendency to swap paint, the rewind feature comes in handy far more than most people would like to admit. One of the biggest issues with playing any sim-racer online are the racers who will spin you out early on and laugh as they pass you. The Drivatars are not afraid to do the same. They are stubborn and selfish; they’re not afraid to hold their ground and spin you out either. Only in the single player, you can go back and fix the mistakes others made that harmed you.
Not that you’ve made any mistakes in the past. Any time you spun out and rewound in previous Forza games was totally the fault of others. Always.
It all comes together to provide and enjoyable and thrilling racing experience. Sure, you’ll visit the same location far too many times. Yes, the car roster isn’t the deepest thing in the world. There are still those pesky micro transactions. For some silly reason, Forza Motorsport 5 lets you buy any car with real money. Coupled with the fact that you’re no longer gifted cars as you level up your driver rank, it’s an incredibly disappointing feature that gives the impression of the possibility of the franchise being overrun with a “freemium” type model in a $60 game. Yes, it really sucks, but here’s the beauty of the thing: it’s optional. I don’t have to open my wallet; I can just spend my hard earned credits and still pick up that McClaren P1. Sure, some random scumbag can drop the cash for it and have it before I do, but clearly he’s compensating for something.
The bottom line is this: Forza Motorsport 5 isn’t the next big full-featured game in the franchise. Instead, think of it as both a prologue and an enjoyable launch game that’s gorgeous to look at and incredibly fun to play. We can only hope that Forza Motorsport 6 is just as fun. Only, you know, with more tracks and cars. And fewer micro transactions.
And no placeholder character models.