I love Top Gear and I love good racing games, hell I even like to watch the V8’s on TV – well I did before Sky TV took that little pleasure from me – but I don’t really care about cars. Some people can talk about cars, engines, performance and all that motory stuff until the cows come home. Not me. I like to be able to hop in a virtual car and race. If it needs upgrading I want the game to do that for me. Occasionally I might want to tinker under the hood, but normally I just want to race.
And that’s one of the reasons I love the Forza series – it’s all about racing, but with the option to do all the other stuff, if you want to. And what’s more it’s a racing game that has always looked good, sounded great and handled well.
With the launch of XBox One comes Forza 5. Microsoft’s flagship racing game comes out to play on the new console, and is bound to be one of the most popular launch titles. With the new XBox One, games have to be installed, and updates downloaded before you can play. This is a minor irritation, but certainly not a deal breaker, it’s the way games are these days. The beauty of the XBox One means that when a certain amount of the installation has been completed, you can start playing whilst the rest of the game installs in the background.
When you first fire up Forza 5 it gives you a taste of what’s to come, putting you in the seat of a McLaren P1 on the cobblestoned streets of Prague. The experience is mesmerizing. But then in true racing game style, you are bought back down to earth when you have limited funds to buy your first car and start racing.
Each new class of car comes with an introduction by one of the Top Gear presenters, they waffle on in their own way about what they think are the pivotal cars of the class you’re about to race. Of course, to begin with, you won’t have the cash to buy any of the cars they actually talk up, having to settle of a lesser car.
My first car was an Audi. It handled itself fine against the competition, but it wasn’t the car that made my first set of races so memorable, it was the tracks and the scenery. And the fun. The first time you race the Top Gear test track, they’ve set it out for a race around London, and soon you’re racing through rubbish bins and road work signs as you battle your way to the front. It catches the spirit of Top Gear perfectly, and leaves a great big smile on your face.
And then you get to take your little Audi (or what ever car you chose as your first) around Bathurst. That first time round was just jaw dropping. Sure I’d seen some spectacular scenery already in Forza 5, but Bathurst has a special place in my racing heart, and it was amazing to be back on Mount Panorama. The track itself was stunning, but it was the view from the top of the mountain that took my breath away. Not a spectacular view, just dusty old outback, but the fact that it felt like you could see for miles was just stunning. No flat two-dimensional horizon, no scenery pop-up, just immersive, real world racing. Add to this the lighting effects, from the sun blinding you as you come out of some corners, the the darkness of the shade, all add to make the drive that much more real, more challenging and more believable.
Forza 5 was everything I wanted it to be, and more. In my first session with one game on the XBox One I had gone from my views on the new generation a few months back of “why do we need a new generation of consoles” to “holy cow, this is just amazing.”
Of course there will be the haters. The bad news, for some, is that there is probably half the cars and half the tracks of the previous Forza game. Awesome visuals and game defining sound comes at a price, especially at the inception of a new generation of consoles. But really, this doesn’t matter, the game has enough depth to keep you hooked, and has a pretty cool new feature, the Drivatar.
After a few races Forza 5 will inform you that your Drivatar is now ready. The Drivatar concept is cool in two ways. The first being that it will drive for you whilst you sleep. Log into Forza once a day and you can see how many races your Drivatar competed in and how much money it earnt you. Sure, it’s not going to level you up, or get you rich quick, but it does slowly build you your coin, and that’s important when you’re trying to save enough for a really good car.
The second way that Drivatar is cool is in how other people’s Drivatars are used in your career races. Rather than having cookie cutter AI driving the competing cars, Microsoft have uploaded the driving styles of everyone who plays Forza 5 into the cloud, and download their styles every-time you play, so in essence you’re playing against real-ish people.
My races seem to be populated with people I know, so I’m guessing Microsoft try and keep your friend who play Forza 5 to be the ones you race against, which limits the chance of getting put up against a bunch of douchebag Driveatars, unless you and your friends are douchebags, in which case, you deserve what you get!
What this does is remove the predictability of AI, and you get to witness a lot more drivers making the same mistakes you do. It’s refreshing and works well. An added bonus is that you’ll see all your friends Drivatars and you’ll have that extra incentive to beat them.
A big part for many people these days with racing games, is online racing, and Forza once again shines in this instance. Whilst I’ve been too scare to tray racing Bathurst in an open lobby – I can just imagine the carnage with a full grid of inexperienced drivers – playing with a group of friends has produced the most racing fun I’ve had in quite a while.
The game handles brilliantly, and the new XBox One headsets are awesome.
And then there is the new controller. It’s a little more compact than the 360 controller and the thumbsticks a little thinner. But a grippy top makes the control great, and the individual motors controlling the rumble on each of the triggers makes racing all that more immersive. Brake hard and you’ll feel the vibrations of the braking system under pressure through the left thumbstick only. Like wise when you try and accelerate to fast out of a tight corner, you’ll feel it through the right thumbstick.
It’s the little things that make the game just all the more awesome.
Rating: G Suitable for general audiences.
Available on: Xbox One Reviewed on: Xbox One