The racing game genre is as jam-packed as I-80 in rush hour, making it difficult for games to stand out -- yet “Forza Motorsport 5” still manages to do just that.
The Forza series focuses on ultra-realism for hardcore gearheads. Although often beaten by Gran Turismo games for sales, its latest effort for the Xbox One leaves the competition eating dust in terms of graphical quality.
But does the gameplay stack up?
“Forza Motorsport 5” is an Xbox One exclusive, and from the get-go is obviously a next-generation title. From the smooth menus to the jaw-dropping graphics, “Forza 5” oozes quality. Not only do the tracks and environments look photo-realistic, but the cars’ interiors look so real it’s as if you could reach out and touch them.
Title: “Forza Motorsport 5”
Summary: Visually stunning racing game with superb handling and a new “drivatar” AI that adds character and energy to races. Unfortunately it is let down by the introduction of micro-transactions that either make the game expensive, or a grind-fest to gain the credits with which to upgrade.
Availability: Xbox One.
ESRB Rating: E – Everyone.
Maybe that explains why the developer, Turn 10 Studios, lets you explore your car’s interior while parked in the garage. It may make some casual gamers roll their eyes, but car fans will love that they can get in each car they purchase.
Fans may be disappointed by the scope of cars available, however. Forza 5 has fewer than half as many cars as its predecessor. It still has 200 cars from 50 manufacturers, but it is a drastic reduction from the expansive 500 seen in Forza 4.
The same is true with the tracks available – there are significantly fewer and the game can quickly feel repetitive as a consequence.
Ultimately, though, what matters is the gameplay, and in this aspect, Forza 5 has some groundbreaking achievements.
Apart from the smooth driving and realistic feel that characterizes the series as a whole, Forza 5 brings in the concept of the Drivatar -- a cheesy word that hides something wonderful.
As you race, the game learns your driving style and how you react to situations, bundling your characteristics together in a drivatar, which it then uploads to the cloud. When this happens to every player, it means there are a lot of different drivatars buzzing around. Consequently, when you race in single-player, you race against a host of other drivers with different characteristics and the ability to make mistakes.
It means the days of racing endless computer characters who stick perfectly to the racing line are over, and it radically changes the whole experience. Cars will move off line to block you, and will make mistakes under pressure. Early on in my playthrough, I spent three long laps chasing the car in first place, unable to pass, only for him to overcook it. I grabbed the win at the last second. It was an amazing racing moment normally reserved to multiplayer, but thanks to drivatars it is a common feature of single-player.
But Forza’s good work is undone by the introduction of microtransactions.
These in-game purchases require real money, usually reserved for free-to-play titles and not $60 AAA titles. Initially, they are well hidden; I didn’t notice them for the first 2 hours of gameplay.
They may seem innocuous, and there for those who want to progress more quickly. But when playing career mode, progression is much slower, possibly in order to encourage in-game spending.
In prior iterations, cars could be bought, but they were also rewards for passing certain milestones. No longer – now the only way to buy a car is with credits earned via races or with “tokens” purchased with your credit card.
But buying with credits alone is sometimes impossible. One car is 3,000,000 credits. With the amount of credits earned for a race win, it will take over 30 hours of top-3 finishes to purchase a car (out of 200 available). That’s outrageous, and it shows that microtransactions have fundamentally warped the game.
Turn 10 has since backtracked and announced a plan to reduce prices. How well this works remains to be seen.
“Forza Motorsport 5” is in many ways close to perfect, oozing quality and playability, until you get deep into career mode and realize it has been tailored as one big cash cow. It’s an unforgiveable misstep, especially considering how good the rest of the game is.