We say ‘racing simulator’ for it is more about the racing than the pure car-porn driving simulation found on rival Sony’s PlayStation 3 with Gran Turismo 6. There is a touch more larrikin about the Forza franchise.
This is borne out with the extended addition of the Top Gear team, including Digital Stig, some whacky fun at the Top Gear track and the three iconic lads themselves introducing each league race category.
Hearing Jeremy Clarkson, James May or Richard Hammond talk up the next series of races in their own tongue-in-cheek homage wit is a fantastic way to build the enthusiasm for the racing to come.
On offer are numerous race events, but whilst there is the periphery with F1 and Rally for example, the emphasis is on super/hyper-car sedan racing on well-known circuits. In fact the rally series never ventures beyond the tarmac.
Speaking of locations, you can almost count the number of circuits on your hands, and you can complete the count by removing a shoe and sock. The fourteen real-world tracks do include variants, but it won’t take too long to come to grips with their layouts.
The lighting and visual effects are stupendous though, you will wish that one tuning option the race-cars have is a sun-visor as the afternoon sun fills the windscreen and lens-flare bounces around the cockpit.
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The inclusion of Mt Panorama at Bathurst won’t take any true-blood Aussie much time at all to get familiar with. There is something parochial about forcing your way through The Cutting, almost clipping the wall prior to topping Skyline and then winding down The Esses to hit Conrod Straight at speed.
The problem is, it will take you a little while to earn the 1,000,000 in cash needed to pick up the Falcon or Commodore to complete the authenticity of our most famous race track. It is nice to have those cars in the game however.
The first car we owned was a Subaru BRZ, and this is eligible in a great deal of the games content, however eventually you will want to purchase your next car reasonably soon, and there are plenty on offer. There are two ways to walk out of the virtual showroom with a shiny new four-wheel toy.
The first is the aforementioned in-game cash earned by grinding through races. The second is real-world money in the form of purchased ‘tokens’. Tokens can also be spent to accelerate the rate at which experience points are accumulated, these in turn lead to driver level increases that reward the player with extra in-game cash that accumulate along with race winnings.
The in-game cash can also be boosted by sticking to a particular manufactures vehicles, building a marque affinity adds extra percentage to the winnings.
Forza 5 allows you to tweak the game to your liking. Altering levels of driving assists such as stability and traction control, breaking assist, driving and cornering lines and so on will allow the player to find a sweet spot of challenge and fun.
Turning the assists off also rewards the player with a greater percentage of winnings at race end, so there is incentive to make your racing as tough as you can.
There are also rewards to be had simply in the new car purchase. Each car in Forza 5 is exquisite, taking advantage of the power of the new Xbox One. Each vehicle is modelled fully inside and out. You can inspect each car in the showroom, checking out details and information, and for those of us that prefer the cockpit view; each car has had the layout recreated for our pleasure.
Cars can be decorated with a wide variety of paint and decal options. Designs can be uploaded or downloaded from the Microsoft cloud and if your particular design gets the thumbs up from the community, well then, more virtual cash for you.
There are a myriad of tuning options, however Forza will – somewhat annoyingly – auto fit out a car purchased for events, meaning any further fiddling can result in the car being no longer eligible for the race. For casual players not a problem, but for even those of us with a bit of an interest in virtual tinkering both this fact and the somewhat lean interface for car modification can be off putting.
Actual racing is an absolute hoot. Primarily this is due to the Drivatar effect (more on this shortly), but even at its base level the length of races in career mode is almost perfect – perhaps one lap too short in some cases – the result is tight challenging pack racing to the finish line.
Physics feel good, however we feel forward weight shift under heavy breaking does not translate as we would expect, and the rear end on many cars can tend to float more than drifts at times.
The Xbox One features three types of rumble in the new controller. The standard controller wide rumble and a separate haptic feedback per trigger. This results in a wonderful sense of car strain both during hard acceleration as well as heavy breaking, particularly when ABS is switched on.
There is split-screen racing for two, and of course multiplayer across Xbox LIVE, but it is the Drivatar system that is the most amazing aspect of this game.
There is no AI in Forza 5, instead your games will be populated by other Xbox LIVE Drivatars. It is an amazing experience. Paul H and Seamus B, you guys are my nemesis, always popping up as rivals, always just ahead of me on the race track. Jenna P, you are the smoothest most consistent Drivatar on my friends list, Drew T, you are not far behind. Stephen F however, your Drivatar, with all its inappropriate swerving, is a real d**k!
The Drivatar feature is the best thing to hit virtual racing in a long time. Predictable AI, sticking to a line and reacting only occasionally has been the bane of many a racing game, Drivatars change all that, adding character to non-multiplayer events like never before. Your Drivatar’s characteristics are continually modified as your drive in Forza 5 events, so hopefully those that own Forza 5 today will see an improving ‘Mobius Coil’ out on their race tracks as time goes on.