A buffet of cars, experiences, and players: Hands-on with Forza 5
The beauty of Forza 5 sneaks up on you.
There are moments where it can seem almost like a slightly smoother version of a current generation game, and then suddenly reach the peak of a hill and you see a wide, green field in front of you. The sun splashes against the windshield in ways that look uncannily realistic. Racing games have long been pretty, but Forza 5 is a hint at what the next-generation systems are capable of producing.
I’m playing the game at a Microsoft event that features a number of launch titles, and the Turn 10 team is pacing behind us, ducking down to whisper a few tips or to show off this feature or that upgrade from previous games.
I’m aware of how badly I’m doing, and it takes me a little bit of time to find the rhythm of the game again. A memory glitch causes my car’s paintjob to turn into a rainbow eyesore, but it’s fixed for the next race, and I’m told that the issue will be patched out of the final release.
The number of improvements in how you play the game are hard to count, and many of them are subtle. You no longer have to go into a menu to look at paintjobs and designs created by the community; three interesting designs are simply offered to you when you buy a new car. The content comes to you. In fact, creating a popular paintjob will allow players to make in-game currency.
The game tracks how many credits are earned in each 24-hour period, and it sets a percentage of that total aside to reward people who make content. The more popular your creations, the more credits you earn. It’s a passive system, so you need only create your own designs, upload them onto the servers, and wait for them to spread. If people begin to select your designs above all others, you’ll find yourself earning more and more credits.
We’ve explored the use of drivatars in previous stories, and it’s odd to run into so many developers and well-known Microsoft personalities as I race around the tracks. There’s Microsoft’s Major Nelson, and I have to bring the bad news that he’s not a great driver. I’ve had more trouble passing gas. More “characters” will be added to the game at launch, as players buy the game, start racing, and have their drivatars uploaded to the cloud. If the virtual representations of our driving habits do well when we’re offline, we’ll earn credits.
This all happens passively, just like the paint system. You put content into the game just by playing, and your racer will get better as you get better. It’s out there trying to earn you credits just as much as you are. The whole thing is kind of creepy, but it already seems like the artificial intelligence is more interesting than what you’d find in other racing games. This will only get better as more players upload their information into the cloud, according to Turn 10.
The game treats the player like the guest at a posh buffet. There is no path to follow, no sense that there is a right and wrong way to progress. Instead, Forza simply offers you the choice of a few different dishes that all look good, and then you choose one. I was only able to play for 90 minutes or so, and I botched as many races as I won, but the way the game slowly opens up and allows you to explore cars, tracks, and options is welcoming, even for people who may not know what much about cars.
I selected a series of races that involved classic, “affordable” cars, and find myself racing a Datsun. It was goofy as hell, but also intriguing to find out how differently that car handled from the modern offerings of the opening few races.
I'm not sure how much of this newfangled player-driven AI or the constant, low-pressure offering of interesting content would be possible on current-generation systems, but the visuals definitely betray the game's budget. The whole thing straddled the line between behaving like a luxury experience while also making the player feel welcome and at ease. That's the secret of the Forza series; it's so damned inviting and enjoyable.
The 90 minutes was not enough time.