Review: Forza Motorsport 5

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Forza Motorsport 5.

Auto racing games are often the go-to genre for a feature launch game on a new console, and for good reason. Starting off a new generation of gaming with an established and broadly understood genre is a safe move, and qualities such as great graphics or innovative features can stand out a little more in the initial hype. Microsoft placed the latest entry by Turn 10 Studios in the pole position for their latest Xbox One console, and Forza Motorsport 5 has been spectacular in many ways…as well as frustrating in others.

At its core, the newest Forza Motorsport game offers the best core driving simulator in the long running series. The car models have a level of graphical fidelity that surpasses cut scenes from previous generation, the tracks are beautiful and the user interface have a fit and finish that looks every bit as sophisticated as the vehicular dashboards available in the first person view or Forzavista showcase mode for each car. There are moments when the sunlight glints off of your hood during a furious straightaway or a split second glimpse at a coastal shore when power drifting through a tight turn will take your breath away, offering glimpses at the possibilities of the massive upgrade in hardware over the Xbox 360.

The impulse triggers in the Xbox One controller add a subtle and satisfying refinement of the rumble sensation by adding greater degrees of variety and intensity to the effect depending on the model and actions of your car. This is probably the most immersive sensory experience for an auto racing game for a major title: even with the substitution of a controller for a steering wheel (which I had for the Xbox 360 and used sporadically for the 360 predecessors), the series’ debut on the newest Xbox console stands out.

The much discussed Drivatar artificial intelligence system actually works quite well in emulating the performance and behaviour of real Forza players, with the odd exception of sporadically sharp movements that make no sense (I’ve seen a couple of cars in 1st place suddenly decide to steer violently into a wall). This comes with both positive and negative results as it captures the side swiping, fish tailing and other aggressive combat style behaviour that many drivers utilize to get ahead, and even forces unwilling participants by setting off chain reaction crashes that are all logged by Microsoft Azure cloud computing servers for integration into their respective Drivatar personas. It does prepare you for the online combat experience, which plays with the same smash mouth aggression on traditional races and a swarm of glitch exploiting cheaters on specialty modes such as Virus Tag that render them essentially unplayable unless you party up with friends.

Unfortunately, the game also represents one of the first console forays into deeply integrated micro transactions and it wipes out badly into a corner. The game had a smaller initial car and track lineup at launch, and is designed to supplement that selection with either a staggeringly expensive $50 season pass to eventually add that content or a series of smaller content sets that would cumulatively add up to a even greater cost for gamers who want everything. This downloadable content still has to be unlocked within the game using credits or the alternative in-game currency of tokens that can be acquired using real money transactions: combined with the disappointing removal of the Forza Marketplace, the abilities to acquire vehicles at affordable prices and exchange existing cars for additional credits have been removed from the Forza experience. These changes represent a huge step backwards for the in-game economy, and a disheartening removal of existing features to empower the ongoing financial transaction model by artificially limiting the availability of cars.

In the end, Forza Motorsport 5 is an inconsistent experience that pairs a deep and satisfying driving simulation with an economic model that is still designed to drive profits over gamer satisfaction. The initial game experience has been superseded by a series of post-launch updates by Turn 10 that have dramatically revamped the economic model with a three-pronged approach of doubling credit bonuses for gaining a level, approximately halving car prices and regularly doling out huge reward bonuses based on cumulative experience with Forza racing games at the innovative Forza Rewards portal.

It comes as too little, too late for launch day players who got turned off by the combination of deeply embedded real money hooks and comparatively bare bones content. I ran the gamut from being initially blown away by the technical achievements to deeply cynical and unhappy with the finances, and eventually settled on a divided opinion: the amazing core driving experience saves the game from fading into obscurity, but Forza Motorsport 5 is a cautionary tale against taking the goodwill of gamers for granted.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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