Forza Motorsport 5

November 25, 2013

It says a lot about the growth and evolution of the Forza Motorsport series that Microsoft now has enough faith in it to use Forza Motorsport 5 as the flagship launch title for the XBox One. Since the series’ inauspicious start on the original XBox, it has developed into the premier driving sim for consoles, far outpacing all rivals, including the mighty Gran Turismo series.

At first, Forza 5 feels a little underdone compared to the previous game in the series. Whereas Forza Motorsport 4 was very much about consolidating and confirming the series’ position as the go-to console racer, Forza 5 is mostly focused on getting the series up and running on the next generation. You can see this in the fact it has both fewer cars and tracks than Forza 4, a necessary backward step to compensate for the greater artistic demands of each one.

What is there, however, is stunning. Forza has always presented a very high level of polish, and Forza 5 continues this tradition. Of all the launch titles on both the Playstation 4 and the XBox One, this is the one that most screams next generation. The refined, detailed car models and gorgeous tracks all look the best of not just any Forza game, but of any racing game in the entire history of the medium. The opening race, in which you burn around the fantastic new Prague track in an awesome McLaren P1, is a clever way to show off the new shiny immediately, before you have to go back to the more mundane cars that mark out early progression in a Forza game.


It isn’t quite as painful as it was in Forza 4, however, as the early races allow you to buy some impressive wheels. I started out, not with an earnest little hatch like a Honda Civic or a Ford Focus, but with Honda’s classic S2000 roadster, a wonderfully precise driving machine that never quite caught on. After choosing the car, I was offered the option of immediately downloading community-designed livery for it. This is a great new feature that puts one of the best aspects of the Forza series— it’s incredible tools for painting and designing liveries— right in front of players who mostly prefer to race, and the result is a much more colourful and alive racing field.

Speaking of the field, that’s where the game’s biggest new feature is found. Rather than using the standard AI opponents of past series (M Rossi, K Takahashi et al), the “Drivatar” system in Forza 5 pits you against other players at all times in a sort-of asynchronous multiplayer. What you are actually racing against are driving profiles created as other players race in their own games. Your own profile is also uploaded and will appear in their games as well. The result is a race that feels much more dynamic and realistic. You can’t expect every car to take the same lines and make the same decisions on each lap. Now, every driver has their own personality, and you’ll have to deal situations that you didn’t expect, challenges from drivers you can’t easily outsmart.

While there are fewer tracks in Forza 5, the selection is a lot tighter. Gone are Forza originals such as Maple Valley, Nissan Speedway and Fujimi Kaido, along with real-world tracks such as Motegi, Road America and even Suzuka. In their place, however, are a set of amazing new tracks.


Australia’s own Mount Panorama makes its Forza debut, and it is glorious. Every detail of the track is preserved, and you’ll rapidly understand just why it’s revered as one of the most challenging motor racing circuits in the world. The other new tracks are Belgium’s legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the beautifully futuristic Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi, and an all-new original circuit in the form of the Prague street circuit, which takes you through a beautifully-rendered section of the famous city.

All the existing tracks have been given makeovers and updated to better reflect changes in their real-world counterparts. Circuit De La Sarthe has had its runoff areas changed to be closer to the real track, and Sebring has been updated to reflect its recent resurfacing. The biggest change is Silverstone, which underwent major renovations to support the Formula 1 GP, and this new version is reflected in Forza 5. Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Circuit de Catalunya, Indianapolis and the Top Gear track have all been updated with much more accurate laser-scanning technology, resulting in much closer renditions of these tracks to their real-world counterparts. In all cases, there’s also been a significant increase in trackside detail as well. The Nürburgring isn’t in the game currently, but will be added in a content update in December.

The reduced car selection also cuts out a lot of the chaff. There’s fewer small, low-power cars and a much better selection in the mid-range. Sadly, some of the smaller but more interesting manufacturers are gone too, so don’t expect to be tooling around in a De Tomasi or a Noble anytime soon. Porsche have also gone missing again due to reasons, so you’ll have to get your rear-engined fix in either the selection of RUFs or the original VW Beetle.


Having impressive tracks and cars is one thing, but what’s really important is how Forza 5 puts all that power onto the road. The good news is that the excellent physics modelling from Forza 4 is still there. The thing that’s most noticeable, once you look past the surface visuals, is just how smooth the framerate is. While Forza 4 did run at a smooth 60 frames per second, it would happily drop frames when necessary if the action heated up. Forza 5 has no such trouble thanks to the vastly increased hardware power beneath it. One early race on the Top Gear track feels very much like a demonstration of just how much more physics the game can handle without breaking a sweat. Even the rearview mirrors got a speed bump, now rendering in what appears to be 30FPS, which is impressive in itself.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test Forza 5 with a wheel. Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, have chosen to make all XBox 360 controllers incompatible with the XBox One, and that includes my Fanatec ClubSport wheel. A new wheel from Thrustmaster is coming soon, but it unfortunately lacks a stick shift or clutch pedal. On the bright side, The XBox One controller is perfectly serviceable in Forza 5. The new trigger rumble motors provide surprisingly good feedback about what a car is doing in any given moment, so you can actually feel, through the controller, when you’re at the limits of grip on a turn, and whether or not things are about to go pear-shaped. There’s always some degree of input smoothing with the controller, but it’s less noticeable than before (at least, if you disable the assisted steering and braking).

I can talk technical stuff and car and track selections all review long, but that’s really not what Forza is about. The Forza series has always been for car lovers, by car lovers. They are about capturing the heart and soul of some of the most fantastic and awe-inspiring machines man has ever created. In a world where efficiency and environmental-friendliness are revered more than power and beauty, capturing the spirit of these machines is the most important thing any racing game can do, and Forza 5 upholds this tradition.


The game is helped by the much expanded presence of Top Gear’s presenters. Say what you will about Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond; there’s no question that they know and love cars. The three presenters provide short introductions to each of the race series, offering their thoughts in their own unique way. Don’t expect Top Gear: The Video Game because that’s not what having the show’s presenters on board is about. Rather, this is about combining two things that are very much about the love of machines to make something even greater.

For all its new shiny features and looks, Forza 5 is very clearly a game built to meet a launch window for a new console. It is a very, very good game built to meet a launch window for a new console, but I can’t help but feel that the true next-generation Forza game is going to be Forza Motorsport 6 in another year or two. That game is going to blow every previous racing game out of the water because if there’s one thing Turn 10 can be relied upon to do, it’s deliver incredible console driving experiences that nobody else can. Unfortunately, that’s not the game I’m reviewing right now, and it’s not the game you can buy right now.

There is, however, no reason not to pick up Forza 5 along with an XBox One. It’s by far the best game on the system right now, and if you have any love of driving at all, you’ll be able to get a lot of hours out of it. No doubt Turn 10 will deliver a comprehensive set of updates over the next year or so, adding new tracks and cars and making the game a lot bigger than the one on the disc right now. The Drivatar feature is great, and the game continues to deliver the excellent Forza quality we’ve come to know and love. If you love cars as much as you love video games, then you shouldn’t need me to tell you to go out and buy this game.


- All the Forza magic has transferred to the next generation
- Absolutely gorgeous visuals
- New Drivatar system makes racing opponents more realistic
- Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond


- Fewer tracks and cars than Forza 4
- Feels a lot like a trial run for a true next generation Forza experience in the future

Overall Score: