Racing games are nearly as ubiquitous as first person shooters. They come out every year, they largely have to follow one of two formulas (I mean, ultimately, it’s about moving forward as quickly as you can in a motor vehicle), and they are used to launch consoles. While Sony didn’t have an exclusive racing game, or one from their marquee simulation racing franchise, Microsoft comes to the starting line (sorry) with their latest: Forza Motorsport 5. The racing sim is a showcase of next-gen beauty that offers a deep experience that still always feels accessible, no matter if you’re a gearhead or your racing knowledge is “car go vroom.”
Worth The Wait – and The Wait is Long
So, remember how we talked last week about how great the PS4’s load times are, and how the installation of game data is completely transparent and so thoroughly in the background that you never notice?
The Xbox One is the exact opposite of all of that. When you first put in the Forza disc, don’t expect to start playing right away. Luckily, you can jump into TV and easily kill the time, but the time is there. Once you’re installed, things aren’t much better. It takes awhile to launch the game, it takes awhile to load a new race, and with the insane amount of tutorial speech that stops you from doing anything and is not skippable every time you do anything new in the game, you’ll be doing a lot of staring at the screen with your controller sitting in your lap, especially as you first explore.
This is the best-looking launch title for the Xbox One, hands-down. The cars are near photo-realistic, even on the road when driving at high speeds. Tracks are accurate down to the appropriate buildings in the distance, and provide a great backdrop if you’re comfortable enough with your racing skills to take a look around. It’s easy, when you’re shopping for new cars from the huge (though technically smaller than Forza 4) list of vehicles spanning classic coupes and modern-day speed demons, to get utterly lost in the beauty of these vehicles. Every detail, down to the dashboard, brake pads, even the texture of the paint is clearly visible when you’re in your showroom – and it’s actually that good-looking out on the track, as well.
The sound effects fill a surround sound system nicely, and the rumble in the triggers of the controller when you brake or accelerate add to the effect, pulling you in and helping you feel like you’re driving a million dollar car that you’ll probably never even be in the same zip code as. The classical music tracks are nice, but I soon turned off the music, threw on an AC/DC inspired radio station in Xbox Music, and found the cruising much easier going.
The marquee moments of presentation, though, come from the class introductions. Narrated by Top Gear host Richard Hammond, they tell you about the history of those cars, the style, and enthusiastically inform you why these particular cars are awesome. As someone who knows very little about cars, but can appreciate a beautiful one, it is both informative and enticing – I felt genuinely more excited when it came time to drive the new car because of Hammond’s introductions. In fact, it’s almost like a bonus episode of Top Gear unto itself, sitting down and choosing each class just to watch the intros.
Oh Yeah, There’s Racing, Too
So now I’ve written 600 words about a video game without talking at all about the actual act of playing the game. Luckily, Forza 5 plays as good as it looks. Driving is tight, and every car feels legitimately different. If you’re driving a $1.8 million dollar racer built in 2012, it shouldn’t feel the same as a classic 1960s sports car, and it doesn’t here. The racing is a very different experience from, say, a Need for Speed – here you’re meant to follow the apex, and pass gently on the outside, not slam into your opponents to send them careening off the track. Of course, some people will do that anyway in multiplayer, and so will some of your opponents in single player.
You see, single player is actually, in a way, a multiplayer experience of its own. When you’re out racing circuits to earn credits for more cars and upgrades, you’ll race against Drivatars. You’ll see friends and strangers gamertags pop up over opponents’ cars in these single-player races, and those cars are being driven by virtual versions of them. As you drive, the game learns how you drive. It then takes what it learns of you and applies it to other peoples’ games. All this means that you’ll never have the same race twice, and you’ll always be racing against AI that acts like real people. Provided people by-and-large play the game “right,” it should be an absolute boon (and has been so far – but I was playing mostly against the Drivatars of developers and other journalists) – it does have potential to make for some messy racing, so hopefully they’ve accounted for that. When your drivatar races, you make virtual money, so you’ll be that much closer to the car of your dreams the next time you play.
Actual multiplayer, then, isn’t too drastically different an experience. Races there tend to go a little faster, with shorter tracks or less laps in what we played. You’re still going for the same tiered goals you shoot for in single player – you don’t necessarily make more credits for earning first place than third, as they’re all “gold tier,” but you certainly earn more bragging rights. Be warned, another of those long intro tutorials pops up the first time you load multiplayer, so don’t expect to jump right into a race.
There is no question that Forza Motorsport 5 is the best looking, best constructed, and yes, best exclusive for the Xbox One at launch. It will make car lovers smile with the deep knowledge and care put into every detail. The customization that doesn’t get too bogged down in technical jargon may actually be a downside for those that live and breathe motor vehicles, but makes it much easier to feel accomplished from making an upgrade if you’re an amateur racer. With a charm and class befitting the glory of the race and the automobile, Forza 5 is an easy recommended buy for anyone picking up the Xbox One this holiday season.
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10