Racing games often begin with a montage of quick-cut scenes and thumping techno music designed to get you in the mood for speed. Look at those cars, check out that horsepower, and listen to that beat!
From the start, Forza Motorsport 5 tries to separate itself from the rest of the pack. The game begins with a video displaying racetracks from around the world interspersed with shots of some of the world's fastest vehicles. An orchestra comes in and forms an aural backdrop to Jeremy Clarkson's usual, dramatic monologue about how cars are man's finest modern art form. And by the end of it all, you believe him.
Forza Motorsport 5 is indeed different, and it is easily the singular achievement in the Xbox One's launch lineup. The game quickly get you into the action, placing you in the driver's seat of less powerful cars for several races to give those unfamiliar to the series a crash course. While the game is not nearly as serious a racing simulator as Gran Turismo, it is nowhere near an arcade racer, and there is a lot to delve into.
To ease you into the flow, Forza enables a number of driving assists that keep things easy, but as you get more experienced, you can remove these helpers to offer yourself more of a challenge and earn more credits as a result. Removing all of the assists creates a very challenging experience, but I understand why that could be a lot of fun for those who are into simulators.
As you race on different circuits, you earn more credits that can be used to purchase cars of several different classes, or you can invest in upgrades to bring your C-class car to the next level. The less assists you have on, the more credits you earn, and the fuller your garage becomes.
The Car's The Star
Forza splits its career into several circuits that focus on different types of cars, from vintage cars to hot hatches, sporty coupes to supercars. This is a creative way of displaying the racing options before you, and certainly beats the generic continental tours found on most other racing games.
Visually, the game is a stunner. If you're looking for an instant showcase for your new Xbox One, the answer is Forzavista. This mode allows you to take a closer look at the cars you own in a showroom setting that is anyone's dream garage. There is something about the realistic look of the stitching on the leather interiors, or the brushed aluminium on the rims and brakes, that triggers a visceral reaction that you are watching something special.
Race time continues the visual punch, but this time your attention is piqued by stone-cobbled streets and hot air balloons tracking your movement. Moments like being blinded by the sun or catching the reflection of your dashboard on your windshield show you the difference between this and the previous generation of consoles.
Some of the downsides are the reduced amount of cars from previous games in the series, and I would have liked more integration with the Top Gear license given its affinity with the racing community. It was a bit of a disappointment to hear Jeremy Clarkson replaced with a generic voice actor during segments where he could have lent his own kind of gravitas (no matter what you may think of the guy, it works).
For more seasoned gamers, a bigger downside may be an alarming trend in Xbox One launch games, and that is the inclusion of microtransactions where you can spend tokens to boost the amount of experience you earn during races. You can also use credits to unlock different cars and upgrades, and it all makes you long for the days of the "up, up, down, down" cheat codes.
The pros vastly outweigh the cons, though, and if you're a racing fan, Forza Motorsport 5 may be a system seller. Even if you're unfamiliar with racing games in general, Forza's gameplay holds your hand for just long enough to get you into the action without being condescending. At the very least, if you're looking for a game to show the visual power inside Microsoft's new box, you will have to check out Forzavista at least once.
Overall, it may not hammer you over the head with the same kind of over-the-top presentation found in most racing games, but Forza Motorsport 5 is confident enough to allow its gameplay and visuals to do the talking. The result is the singular must-have launch title on Xbox One.
GAME's Verdict: 8 / 10
- Forza strikes the right balance between simulation and arcade racer
- Both multiplayer and single-player options are plentiful
- An absolutely gorgeous Forzavista mode is the ultimate launch showcase for Xbox One
- Fewer cars than in previous Forza games is a disappointment
- Top Gear could have been used to greater effect, though it's nice to hear Captain Slow make the odd introduction
- Microtransactions may change the way multiplayer races are balanced