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Forza Motorsport 5 Review: Even Microsoft’s Premier Racing Franchise Has Launch Game Syndrome

The success of Microsoft and Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport franchise for the past few years definitely changed the landscape of simulation racers, which was once dominated by Sony and Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo series. The Forza games were like a breathe of fresh air compared to Gran Turismo doing many things in the genre first before the GT games had to implement them to catch up. From the racing line for beginner level players to follow, assists to make car handling more simple, a deep and popular car customization scheme, and many more, Forza did what the sim racer genre needed back then, which was more accessibility. Microsoft had include one of their bigger franchises for the Xbox One launch and they picked Forza for it’s fifth iteration. While the driving feels fine, Forza Motorsport 5 unfortunately suffers from launch game syndrome in terms of limited content, long load times, and lingering flaws I personally have with the genre.

Forza 5 had the modes you expect from the series and genre from the long career mode, the time-attack based rivals mode, an arcade-like free play mode, and online multiplayer with many lobbies depending on types of cars. Forza Vista also returns as you look into a car’s exterior and interior. Turn 10 to no surprise nailed the details of all the cars on both aspects even though there are less of them in this sequel than past games, but the cars you expect to see in a sim racer are there. Car customization is also back and pretty much the same as it has been for a while minus the auction house from earlier games. All of the racing modes do have one unified experience and credits system, so Turn 10 luckily did not split the single player and online currencies.

One of my main gripes with simulation-style racing games is that they have too much of a grind to play through. Forza Motorsport 5 is no exception to that with the career mode where you have to grind through many series of races. Finishing a series fully (both the minimum amount and the bonus races) takes about an hour or two depending on how many races. While there are normal races where you don’t have to finish 1st every time to get the gold medal as 3rd place is usually the goal setting for those, the game does mix things up a bit with solo races against rivals, navigating through a course of cones, car bowling at the Top Gear test track, and more. These are okay additions for the sake of variety, but the grindy nature of this whole mode just makes things boring and repetitive. I wish there are drastic changes to career modes to sim races in the future, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon if these developers keep having the “If it ain't broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

The career mode is also hampered by the lack of tracks in the game. Previous games had more and sure there are various versions of the tracks, but the amount in Forza 5 pales in comparison to Gran Turismo 6’s amount. Seriously, how does this game not have the infamous Nurburgring course. This is the first sim racer I played in a long time that does not have it. The lack of courses also factor into how grindy and repetitive the races get even if you’re racing them with different cars. In addition, winning races don’t give much credits to spend on as they should, but luckily that will be fixed in a title update later this month. I personally reached a stopping point in the career mode where I don’t have enough money to buy the expensive car I want for a later series of races, but Turn 10 will be making cars cheaper in that same patch coming soon. There is lots of replay value to no surprise in Forza 5, but don’t expect to be enjoying it the whole time.

What is redeeming about this latest Forza is the driving itself. The big addition in this sequel is the drivatar AI system. Tired of the CPU AI drivers sticking to a certain pattern and driving perfect lines, drivatars are the solution to those as these drivers are more aggressive, willing to take you out, and even make mistakes by taking turns wide or spinning out. In other words, normal single player races are almost like online multiplayer races as yes, even opponents will crash and burn on the first turn. The whole system can be a double edged sword, however, as even though it can make races more exciting to play through, but also frustrating too if you’re at the wrong place and time. This still holds true in online multiplayer races where the first turn pretty much decides the race most of the time.

The neat thing about the drivatar system is that Xbox Live friends can compete against you in your single player races. What I mean is that their racing behavior transfers over to their drivatar and they also gain credits for racing in other people’s games. If I’m an aggressive driver that takes turns the dirtiest way possible, then a friend of mine will see that style reflected in my drivatar in their race. Drivatar difficulty can be adjusted before races along with the assists you want on from the racing line being seen in turns only, letting the game brake for you during turns (you can hold the accelerate button and the car will indeed brake automatically). and tire fatigue being on or off. The accessibility is still there for those that want an easier time racing against the opposition even though you won’t get much credits, but for those who want to be challenged at all times, the options are there for that to happen.
As for the cars themselves, they drive and handle fine. The stats and classes do reflect how they go fast and handle, so there is indeed a big difference driving a muscle car to the game’s cover car, the McLaren P1. The sense of speed shows beautifully with the faster cars too as going 200+ on the LeMans circuit is still as satisfying as it has been in other sim racers. Turn 10 definitely nailed the driving mechanics right in Forza 5, but it is just everything that surrounds it that is flawed and disappointing.

What has been the topic of controversy for weeks now is Forza 5’s handling of microtransactions. The paid options are everywhere in the menus such as spending money or tokens for double XP for a certain amount of time. If you’re a VIP member for this game, you get double XP anyway along with more cars, but that costs $20. Then there’s the other amount of cars you can buy as DLC. They can be bought separately for $3, but the car packs themselves have various prices. If you’re a diehard Forza fan, there’s the $50 dollar car pass, which costs the same as six car packs. Turn 10 went a little crazy with the amount of DLC available and the shady microtransaction options out of the gate, but good thing all of this is optional. If you’re happy with the base game’s content, always vote with the wallet if you’re willing to spend more on all of this.

The online multiplayer in Forza Motorsport 5 is filled with multiple lobbies catering to certain classes of cars. While there are mostly standard races for all car classes, drift events are also there if you’re willing to try something different. Drag racing was recently announced by Turn 10, which will be in the title update later this month. A max of sixteen players just like single player races can be in an online lobby and I haven’t ran into much issues in terms of latency. However, waiting for races can take longer than they should, but for those impatient players that just want to get things started in just seconds, better have a good sense of patience. My only presentational issue with the online play is that after you finish a race while waiting for others, the framerate cuts in half, which is weird and I wonder why Turn 10 kept that through certification.

Graphically, Forza 5 looks great and it is one of the better looking games on both next-gen consoles. Everything besides the crowds look very detailed from the environments, the cars, cockpit views, etc. Car damage is also in full effect in this game as you have the choice for it to affect gameplay or not, but cosmetic damage alone is good for the most part. The framerate during gameplay runs amazingly at 60 frames per second other than online games that I just mentioned. The UI, however, is filled with too many confusing menus evoking a similar style to the Windows 8 and the Xbox One’s home Metro-based UI. Along with unskippable intro cutscenes by the Top Gear UK guys when seen for the first time during career mode and the announcer lady also being unskippable in some of the menus are also nagging flaws with the game’s presentation.

Another disappointment I had with this game is the soundtrack. The music in every menu sounds too mellow and the races have tracks that sound like something from summer movie blockbusters. In other words, there is no licensed soundtrack of varying genres, which is a bummer. With that flaw in mind, Forza 5 is the perfect game to take advantage of the Xbox One’s Snap feature where I usually have a Twitch stream on the side or a football game on TV to serve as my main sounds so I don’t have to listen to the “serious” music. The car sounds, however, do sound fine whenever it is their engines revving, brakes before turns, and bumping into another car. The Top Gear UK guys do a decent enough job describing the car class you’re racing with during the career mode as well.
Forza Motorsport 5 unfortunately suffers from launch game syndrome in terms of content and quality, which is a shame. Sure, Microsoft needed a big racing game to make launch and you can tell that Turn 10 rushed it on certain aspects, but even franchises as good as Forza fall victim to this syndrome. The serious change of tone just by the music alone makes Forza 5 feel old and boring compared to Gran Turismo 6’s more chill and upbeat vibe. The career mode is too much of a grind like many sim racers and there will be a point you’ll be at a roadblock to accumulate money by the other modes such as rivals and online multiplayer. The driving itself still feels fine and the drivatar system is interesting change of pace for the genre, but everything else just feels flawed and disappointing. Forza Motorsport 5 is still worth buying for those that want a next-gen sim racer and something to show off your new Xbox One, but if you’re looking for more content in general for a sim racer, get Gran Turismo 6 instead.
  • Great driving mechanics
  • Drivatar system is interesting when worked right
  • One of the better looking games out of both next-gen consoles' launch lineups
  • Career mode still feels like a grind
  • You don't get much credits when winning races to buy the expensive cars, but fortunately this will be changed in a title update later this month
  • The tone of the game is a little too serious especially because of the disappointing soundtrack
  • Lack of content compared to past games and it's rival with less cars & tracks
  • UI as a whole can be a bit confusing to navigate through at times


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