Microsoft

Forza 5 is next-gen where it counts, but frustrating due to lack of tracks

Forza 5 is next-gen where it counts, but frustrating due to lack of tracks

Driving has to be its own reward in Forza 5.

There is no real campaign to speak of, instead there are simply series of races that focus on different collections of cars. You race, you earn credits, you buy more cars, and you race some more. You can tackle the races in any order, although you’ll have to spend some time saving your credits and grinding the races to pay for the most expensive cars.

Of course, you’re always welcome to simply pay real money for them. I’m not ashamed to admit that I did exactly this once or twice.

So the racing has to keep you interested. The good news is that the racing is damned near perfect.

Bring your friends

The most immediately impressive aspect of the game, aside from the next-gen graphics, is the artificial intelligence that fuels your opponents. Every player who sits down to race is training an AI counterpart called a “drivatar,” meaning the often artificial feeling of racing against the computer has been replaced with characters that feel like real people.

You can bully them around the corners, as many of them will try to avoid hitting your car. They’ll lose control while trying a take an S-curve at high speeds. It’s not about racing well, although you’ll find drivatars who are very talented indeed. The racers feel real when they make mistakes, and in the middle difficulty levels where most of us will live those mistakes happen often enough to give you a fighting chance.

It’s odd to think about, but the racers begin to feel more mechanical as you move up the difficulty; the truly talented racers know the best lines and they understand exactly when to break and how to take each turn. The best drivers are going to feel like machines, while those of us fighting it out and learning our way around the game will provide the majority of the human experience.

The game looks at your friends list first, so your games will be populated with the drivatars of your friends and acquaintances. There is something very surreal about racing against the habits of your friends, even when they’re offline.

Keep in mind you’ll also be training up your own drivatar, and when you log in every day the game will tell you how many credits your phantom self has earned you when you were offline. Once again, it’s very strange to know that your name and racing habits are out there making you cash as you sleep.

Last night my drivatar was in 31 races. A few friends let me know that it wasn’t doing that great. I was still happy to accept the cash this brought in.

It's neat to bump into personalities from the world of gaming due to the low number of overall people playing, and there's a lost opportunity here: It would be great if Turn 10 had an option that allowed you to search for and populate your races with specific drivatars. Wouldn't it be great to bring in the director of the game to see how good he really is? What if you wanted to race against Adam Sessler?

It would be very cool if there was a pool of well-known drivatars that you could race against just for fun, regardless of their level in the game. As it stands, right now the game always keeps you with drivatars of like skill level. Still, creating your own “celebrity races” would be a great time. Wouldn't it be great to be able to find my drivatar to see just how good I really am?

The same thing over and over and over

The core racing is great, and you can add or remove as many racing assists as you'd like to make the game feel like an arcade racer or a punishing simulation. It's up to you. If you blow a turn you can rewind a few seconds to try again, which removes a few credits but keeps you from wasting the entirety of a race on one terrible corner.

There are 200 cars to buy and race, and you can explore them inside and out in a sort of museum mode called Forza Vista. Still, that's a significant step down from previous Forza games, and there are only 14 tracks. That's a big step down from the 26 found in the previous Forza title.

That may seem like a good number, but you'll notice the same environments repeating within the first few hours, and you'll have to rely on changing races and cars for variety. And again, this is fewer cars than we're used to.

You also have the ability to create intricate paint jobs for your cars, and upload them for other racers to use. If you create a popular paintjob you'll earn credits as more people download and use your designs. You can also, of course, race against real-world people online, and in real time. The interesting thing is that the drivatar system often makes it feel like you're always online, but the other drivers are silent.

It's blissful, in fact, and it's dimmed my desire to venture online.

It will take players a significant amount of time to earn all 200 cars, but you'll be praying for new tracks long before that happens. The cost of certain cars also seems to nudge you towards dumping in some real money instead of grinding races, not to mention the fact that DLC packs are on the way. This game will take as much money as you want to give it.

Still, when you find a car you enjoy, and you're racing against the virtual representations of your friends and the light spills across your dashboard a certain way and you get lost in the graphics… it's hard to care about these nits. The driving has to be its own reward, and sometimes the game can feel a bit thin, but the core action is so damned good it's hard to get grumpy at the downshift in content. 

This is the first step towards AI being crowdsourced, and I can't wait for more games to use a drivatar-like system. This is one the best next-generation games available now.