Forza Motorsport 5 review

Forza Motorsport races back onto our screens, this time as an Xbox One launch title, looking to showcase the new Xbox's power.

When were introduced to Forza 5 on the Xbox One, Dan Greenawalt, creative director at Turn 10 Studios, pointed out that usually a full racing sim wouldn't arrive until some way into a console's life and at launch you normally get something like an arcade racer. 

Not so with Xbox One, as Forza Motorsport 5 takes the next-gen gaming platform and introduces a new physics model that Greenawalt said simply couldn't be done before, giving you a full racing sim from day one.

Racing onto the next gen

One of the big sells of Forza Motorsport 5 is that it's 1080p at 60fps, meaning its packed full of detail which is lovely and smooth whether you're slipping behind the wheel of your Ford Focus ST or Ferrari F12.

The cars are incredibly detailed, with the Forzavista mode giving you the chance to explore the cars you've always dreamt about. There's so much detail packed into the cars, you can see surface mottling on the paintwork and the weave of the carbonfibre and, at times, their realism seems to be spoilt only by how perfectly clean they are. 

Take it on to the track you'll get to soak up some of that rich detail, from the passing faces in the crowd, to the shop fronts in city races, to the lush foliage of your favourite racetracks.

It's a sumptuous feast for the eyes that's difficult to deny, and it's partnered with a soundtrack that gives you plenty of track noise, from the roar of the engine, to the thump of the gear change, mixed with the echo as you enter that tunnel. 

At its heart, Forza 5 is a game that's at its best when the volume is up loud: if you don't want to disturb the neighbours, go for headphones to make it the most immersive experience it can be.

A sense of déjà vu

But what we've described so far could be Forza Motorsport 4. The 2011 release was wrapped in the same rhetoric as this latest instalment: it's about car passion, realism and offering you the best driving experience whether you're a casual gamer or a car sim fanatic, in a Fiat 500 or the headline McLaren P1.

That's all true and in the first few races of Forza Motorsport 5, we're taken back to an Xbox 360 title that we love. The design of the game in career mode feels familiar, although graphically things are much more impressive, you progress in much the same was as you have done in previous Forza titles.

It's at that point, as you're waiting for the next track to load, to race your next race, that you might question whether Forza Motorsport 5 is the game it's supposed to be.

We criticised Forza Horizon for moving too far from the Forza Motorsport model, so it's perhaps hypocritical to criticise Forza 5 for being too similar, but we can't help thinking there will be some who find that Forza 5 isn't that different from the game they were playing a few years previously.

READ: Forza Horizon review

Again you have Top Gear inclusion, with the three presenters taking turns to introduce new race categories as you move along and it's nice to have a familiar voice to guide you.

There's Top Gear races too and, like Forza Motorsport 4, you'll be into Dunsfold driving amongst wheelie bins and cardboard cutouts by the second level, something that we didn't really like in Forza 4. It's a break from "serious" racing, but we'd rather just hit the track.

Shifting up

But that sense of déjà vu doesn't last too long as you dive into all that Forza Motorsport 5 offers. As you put more in, Forza gives you more in return and we soon found the old addiction coming back. The excitement of hitting that perfect corner, turning off the assists to get more out of the cars on offer, that thrill of seeing the open road before you, and all your rivals in your rear-view mirror.

That's where Forza 5 is really at its best, once you get away from the slightly ponderous early stages, into the thrill of the faster racing. Up towards the top end you have the likes of the Audi Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro or the Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12, which brings open-wheel racing to Forza for the first time.

That's because the Xbox One now has the power to handle the game physics needed for this type of car, something that Turn 10 said couldn't be done before. These cars might not have the bedroom-wall-poster sex appeal of the McLaren P1 that's on the cover, but on the road, they are an adrenalin-fuelled drive of fantasy.

If you're looking for a prize in Forza 5, then getting through those early stages to get to the better and faster cars is it. Much as Turn 10 pushes the hot hatch racing for its reminiscence value ("I always wanted that GTI"), it's at the top end where the real excitement lies.

Play modes and rewards

There are a number of different play modes in Forza Motorsports 5, with the career mode broken into different classes of cars. That helps keep things organised and you'll find yourself hopping around the globe, racing on real tracks, with the occasional stop off at the Top Gear track.

There are different race types which helps keep things fresh as you progress through a race series, but at times it feels like you're just putting in the hours to make enough cash to move on up. A bit like a real job.

There's multiplayer racing too, although without the Forza population to race against before launch, we've not had the chance to play. Similarly, we haven't been able to race split screen against friends. Not because we don't have any friends, but because we only have one Xbox One controller.

There's free play where you can just go and drive (this incorporates the split-screen racing). Finally you have a rivals mode, where you can take on rivals that the game has selected for you, who have similar experience to you and put you in the right car on the right track.

The real barrier to progress, however, is the amount of credit you have to spend on new cars. In Forza 5 you have credits you win from racing, as well as tokens you can buy from Xbox Live: the dreaded in-game purchase. 

You start with 100 tokens and you can spend these on cars, just as you can with the credits, but buying new tokens will cost you big. Tokens start at £0.79 for 100, and run all the way up to £64.99 for 20,000. If you want to jump ahead in Forza 5, it's going to be expensive, because some of those cars will cost a lot in credits or tokens: the Audi R18 e-tron quattro will cost you 2,500,000 credits, or 4,167 tokens which would be about £25. 

If you don't want to buy or race your way to a new car, you can access a number of different cars in free play mode, where you can loan a car. This lets you try all sorts of different models and see what you really like driving, but when you're loaning a car, you don't gain credits from your races.

Drivatars

Credits, however, are earned almost constantly. You'll be rewarded for finishing a race series, for placing well in events in all of the gaming modes. You'll get credits from multiplayer, from split-screen racing with friends, but it's going to take you a long time to get the millions of credits you might need to buy an X-class car.

You can boost the credits you're rewarded by spending some tokens on them. This will factor up your credits won for a time period, perfect for that quiet evening when it's just you and Forza. 

But you'll also earn additional credits when you change the assists. This was the case previously, but has now been wrapped into the Drivatar system. Drivatars are the virtual manifestation of you, taking part in races against other players. 

Rather like Real Racing 3's Time Shifted Multiplayer, the aim here is that Forza ditches the conventional AI opponents and uses Drivatars instead. So out there, somewhere, will be you, in your customised car, racing against opponents unknown and earning you credits as it goes.

After the first three races, your driving characteristics will be uploaded to the cloud and your Drivatar is let loose on the Forza world.

As car customisation is a big part of the fun in Forza, you'll see a variety of designs out on the track. There's the option to turn off Drivatar custom designs, but that would be a real shame, because we have a woodgrain Audi TT RS out there doing the rounds, and it's a sight to behold.

On the track

Forza is, first and foremost, about cars on the track. It's here that you get all the detail you want to change your car, you can customise just about everything to your preferences, or simply leave the car as it is. You can automate tuning, or delve into the detail. You can have manual gear shifting, you can tinker with tyres, and everything else.

The aim is to cater for those looking for fun racing, as well as those wanting the deep sim experience. We suspect that the former group outnumbers the latter.

The handling of the cars in Forza is sublime, as it has been in previous games. Each car drives differently, corners differently, brakes differently and learning how your car will drive is a big part of the game.

Although Forza will give you a racing line, or a line through corners, you'll soon learn the tolerances your car has. You'll get to know which will drift through a corner under control, which are better to bounce off the inside of an opponent and which, well, you should just drive.

There will be times when it feels like you're sliding a tea tray across a sheet of ice, stringing together skids to get around corners. But that's all part of the fun, and as you play you'll find cars you love, that just work for you.

Others will feel like a dog to drive. The buzzing feedback from controller in the high revs, gear changes that sound like a boxer punching a pig's carcass and that car that corners like an oil tanker.

Verdict

As an Xbox One launch title, Forza Motorsport 5 is in the spotlight. It's highlighted as a 1080p, 60fps, gaming experience and the visuals don't disappoint: Forza 5 rarely looks bad. There's the occasional shadow that looks like it's a bit wobbly, but we're still trying to decide whether that's down to heat haze off the Tarmac: Forza is that sort of game. 

Forza Motorsport 5, despite the odd interjection of something whacky from Top Gear, is still a game for those who like to race. It's not Forza Horizon, it's not a casual jaunt in fancy cars, it's about braking perfectly, it's about hitting the apex of corners, it's about drafting. Those who don't want to put in the time to get the rewards for the best cars might take that cash shortcut and others may feel that the only way to get the best cars is to pay.

READ: Xbox One review

Putting the Xbox One's new controller to task, it showcases how the trigger rumble can be paired with the traditional rumble: you can feel when your car is nearing the top of the rev range and it's time to switch up, for example, but for some, it might be a little too buzzy. 

If you're a Forza fan, or a racing fan, then you'll find Forza Motorsport 5 perfectly addictive. It's one of those games that will bring you back to the track, while your friends and family question what you find so appealing about driving the same track again and again.

Forza's back and it's so much fun.