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20/11/2013 09:31 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

'Forza Motorsport 5' Review: Just-About Top Gear (Xbox One)

'Forza Motorsport 5' will be released on 22 November for Xbox One as a launch exclusive.

Key Features:

  • 1080P graphics at 60 fps
  • 14 locations including iconic Silverstone and Spa tracks
  • 200+ Cars
  • New physics engine
  • 'Dravatar' concept replaces AI with crowd-sourced drivers
  • Forgiving learning curve
  • 16-player multiplayer
  • Extensive customisation

The Pitch:

"A cinematic automotive journey starring the world’s greatest cars and tracks. Built from the ground up to take advantage of Xbox One and the vast power of the cloud, no game better delivers the wide-eyed thrill of racing."

microsoft

Verdict:

According a back-of-an-envelope theory we just made up, racing games used to make great launch titles for consoles, because in the more controlled environment of a racing track you can make everything in sight look gorgeous, without worrying about anyone seeing anything from an awkward angle.

'Forza Motorsport 5' largely holds true to the formula. It looks almost entirely amazing, running in 1080P at 60 frames per second, with incredible lighting on the cars and tracks, beautiful details in almost every second of a given race and startlingly realistic recreations of 14 challenging race locations.

The problem with this generation of consoles, though, is that we're not just expecting good looks. We're essentially expecting perfection. And as a result it's frequently the case with Forza 5 that you notice what hasn't changed since the last gen, rather than what has. The crowds, for instance, are still almost entirely made up of cardboard cut-outs and not real humans - no matter how many 3D flagwavers Turn 10 sprinkle among them. The trees are still static and made of plastic. There's no way to judge the weather effects, or nighttime reflections, because there are none - all the races take place in the same conditions, more or less, with the same pre-race animations and cut-scenes.

There are other missing elements too - including tracks. There are only 14, and that's counting the "iconic" (um…) Top Gear circuit, which is really just an airfield near Guildford. More than 200 cars sounds like a lot, but to Forza fans its about 100 shy of average.

None of which matters. Not really. Because while Forza 5 has sacrificed some of our hopes and dreams to deliver the first truly stand-out visual feast for Xbox One, it hasn't sacrificed any of the racing. Make no mistake: Forza 5 is an absolute blast to play, whether you're a novice with the assists on or an expert able to feel every new carefully tuned tire variable and suspension shift. This is pure, straightforward, sunny-day racing, and it's glorious. The tracks are not over-numerous, but are varied and have all their rough edges and imperfections intact. They're hard to master but fun to barrel around on, even on a first outing. The addition of the rewind button - which costs you credit, but eases your frustration wonderfully - and the return of the driving line are also welcome.

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Forza Motorsport 5
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Part of the reason Forza 5 works is that it lets you choose your own path, without hiding the exciting sports cars or crazy rally vehicles behind hours of grinding. After the first introductory league (which includes a bizarre Top Gear 'London Challenge' race designed apparently to show off how many wheelie bins the Xbox One can handle on a road at once - about 50, in case you wondered) you can pick your own path and work steadily through earning money for new cars of any different type. Meanwhile even when you're away from the game, your 'Drivatar' (essentially your driving style distilled into an AI 'ghost') can play online for you, earning credits by competing in other people's races. It does mean that almost everyone drives like a furious kid in a bumper-car attraction. But it's fun.

When you log back in you get the benefits, and compete in your own single-player leagues against other drivatars. It sounds weird, but its a really neat early use of the cloud-based AI that this generation will eventually be founded upon. Challenges pop-up even mid-race, and let you storm your way up the global leaderboard, giving you a genuine sense that you're participating in something bigger than just your own make-believe driving.

Multiplayer with up to 16 racers is also intact, as is the ability to make races up on the fly - and all the other options you'd expect. But really it doesn't matter if you're playing online or in single-player (with the WiFi turned on) - every race in Forza feels like a mutliplayer race. Every race feels real. And despite the missing bits and pieces, every race feels fresh and fun. It's a great introduction into the depth made possible by the next gen. Just don't look too hard at the crowds. We're not there yet.