There's no sensation quite like stepping behind the wheel of a new car for the first time. You never forget the first time you rev your new ride's engine and, likewise, I won't forget the first time I took control of my first car in Forza Motorsport 5. Developer Turn 10's Xbox One launch title comes across as a true passion project, seamlessly combining many of the racing genre's best qualities.
First impressions are everything, and Forza 5 wastes no time in dazzling with its crisp, luminescent visuals. I'm not a car junkie by any means, but the attention to detail and the Top Gear narration made it hard not to become one.
Beyond shiny next-gen graphics, perhaps the greatest addition to Forza 5 is the new cloud-based Drivatar system. Turn 10 proudly boasts that there are no AI racers--only opponents that adopt a player's driving style and habits across tracks they've participated in. Though I was initially skeptical, I found some distinctly "human" behaviors throughout my time with Forza. For example, certain drivers would overshoot turns and make mistakes in calculating corners.
Of course, what the Drivatar truly adds to the racing experience is that you can no longer predict exactly what your opponent will do. Think you can take the inside track and pass opponents on a long turn? Chances are someone else has had the same idea and it will show up in their Drivatars. Think you're on the right path by following the helpful guideline laid out on the track? Get ready to fight other drivers for that space. Drivatar racers prove to be every bit as ruthless as humans, recklessly plowing into you and trying to spin you out. They can be overly aggressive, which seems like an accurate portrayal of how other players approach the game.
Through Drivatars, I always felt like I was in the middle of a multiplayer session, finding no real difference between driving against real humans in Multiplayer. In fact, I found myself gravitating back towards the career, as it proved to be faster than waiting for multiplayer's long setups and lengthy intermissions.
The Career is structured with numerous leagues, each taking a different class of car. While I wasn't able to take my starter car into every league, I quickly amassed enough credits to purchase cars eligible for different leagues. While there were plenty of options to choose from, however, I don't think the game did a good enough job in explaining which cars best qualified for which league. For example, I jumped into a "B" class league, where I saw a notification that I could afford a car that would qualify. When I went into the interface to buy a car, there was little help on which car would qualify or why it would be best suited to this league. For newcomers like myself, this process proved a bit intimidating.
However, once I got acclimated to the Career mode's layout, I enjoyed the five and ten race sets, as well as the option to participate in unlockable bonus races. In continuing to utilize the Drivatar system, each race encouraged me to chase after the game's leaderboards, assigning me rival Gamertags with lap times to beat. It really helped further bring the multiplayer atmosphere to a single-player game mode.
The more I ran through Career, the more I was able to marvel at Forza's immersive environments. Real-world environments are captured in great detail. However, as much effort as Turn 10 put into each track and into capturing the sunlight-driven visuals, it's unfortunate that Forza 5 doesn't feature night racing or weather effects. I'd be interested to see how the studio could apply its talents to moonlight and storm effects, but sadly, every race in Forza 5 is perfectly bathed in sunshine.
Once I stopped racing, I had a chance to purchase cars and take a grand showroom tour of each one through the Forzavista mode. This mode helps demonstrate how much love Turn 10 has for cars, offering players a chance to explore every aspect of their vehicle and even hear fascinating narrated facts about each car. Anyone with a passing interest in cars will find this intriguing and it encouraged me to unlock as many cars as I could.
Unfortunately, unlocking a bulk of the cars in Forza 5 is a truly daunting task. There are well over three dozen cars that exceed the cost of 1 million in-game credits. To put that number into perspective, I'd only earn about 6,000 credits for each finished race and my Drivatar would bring in another 5,000 or so each night. With cars costing such an outrageous amount, getting access to the higher-end cars becomes a tremendous grind, unless the player wants to shell out real money for tokens, a separate currency entirely that relies on real money. With the token exchange rate at 100 for every dollar, unlocking a 6 million dollar car for 9,800 tokens becomes insanely expensive. The microtransaction route is especially egregious, given that this is already a full-priced retail game. Only the most devoted of players will be able to unlock top-tier racing vehicles, but Microsoft and Turn 10 have made the idea of completing an entire car collection impossible, unless significant amounts of additional money is involved. This idea is unsettling at best and utterly abusive at worst.
The game's microtransactions are a blight on an otherwise excellent-playing game. Forza Motorpsort 5 is a true visual showcase for Xbox One, regardless of your interest in cars. Drivatars prove to be a winning addition to the franchise, ensuring every race is thrilling. Stepping into the virtual cockpit of these spectacularly detailed cars, Forza 5 is a love letter for car enthusiasts. It's a shame, really, that most players will never be able to see everything the game has to offer.