Driving sims used to be so simple. Games presented you with a unthinkable amount of cars, free to race around as many ribbons of tarmac the compact disc could fit. Some of the best racing games to ever appear on consoles followed this simple rule, from TOCA 2, to Gran Turismo and Formula 97 - still probably the best Formula 1 game ever made. Breaking the dominance of Gran Turismo, Xbox's Forza series is one of the only titles that has come close to Sony's racer. Combining stunning graphics with challenging, accurate handling and massive choice, the Forza series has been accessible for beginners and equally rewarding for those that love to upgrade and tinker.
However, Forza 5 adds micro transactions to the mix - and the result is a game that feels more like a demo. The unwelcome arrival of In App Purchases has changed the face of gaming, with many titles becoming paired back cash-cows at launch, designed from the beginning to be upgraded and added to via DLC's.
Shipping at launch with a paltry 14 tracks, Forza 5 omits some of the series' most memorable circuits, nearly halving the last game's 26 and outrageously omitting the Nordschleife - a must-have in any racing game. With only 200 vehicles this time round, cars are thin on the ground too, with classics like Toyota's GT One nowhere to be seen in the initial code. Sadly, this isn't a Prologue special, Forza 5 costs £55 - full price for what feels like half a game.
Looking past the cut backs, Forza 5 bolts together everything great about the Forza series and supercharges it into the next gen. Running at crisp 1080p and smooth 60fps, Forza 5's stunning presentation is matched by its gameplay. A winning formula of gaining cash and experience, Forza 5's linear Career mode is addictive for motorsport heads and casual racers alike. A never ending circle of upgrading, earning, purchasing and racing, a Forza 5 session can turn from minutes to hours - and the addictive feeling is only broken by the lengthy loading screens.
Powersliding through the streets of Prague in a pristinely modelled McLaren P1 is a tactile, engaging experience, with the game using the controller's vibration feedback to superb effect. Wheelspin is felt though the throttle trigger whilst lock ups can be communicated through the brake, so it's actually far easier to drive without assists than ever before. Unlike the peculiar physics in recent other games, Forza makes you feel connected. Cars are unruly and susceptible to imbalance, but taming, nailing and extracting the most out of your car is a truly rewarding experience.
Forza 5 also introduces Drivatars. In effect a ghost racer, a Drivatar records each player's characteristics and converts them into computer controlled racer. Shared via the cloud, Drivatars are your opponents in every race, whilst your own Drivatar hopefully outbrakes other players on their consoles. A neat feature, Drivatars are sadly spoilt by the Maldonado-esque driving of 99% of the Forza community. Barrelling into the first corner like shoppers on Boxing Day, races become a free for all, with bumper car tactics endemic in the AI.
If you get bored of Career, the Rivals mode is similarly addictive. Pitting you against the ghost of a fellow racer in a similar car, Rivals mode challenges you to relentlessly improve your lap time and claw your way up the world leaderboard. Tinkering with set up to extract the most out of your car and fine tuning your lines, Rivals is a great spin on a simple time-trial mode and is arguably even better than the main Career.
However, amongst all this fun, reminders of Forza's new micro-transaction ethos are everywhere. After a race you're invited to use tokens to purchase an accelerator - allowing you gain experience faster. These tokens can be purchased and used almost like a currency, awarding those who cough up more with faster progress. What's worse, DLC cars are displayed alongside available cars, so seeing the message "DLC only, purchase car pack for £7.99" becomes a disappointingly familiar site.
£10 usually gets you 9 cars you don't want plus one you do, but Forza also have a £40.00 Car Pass which gets you all the packs for "better value". For the price of previous-gen game, Forza 5 will let you have content which should have been in the original release, something more reminiscent of FPS's like BF4 and COD.
Since release, Forza has added a few tracks at no extra cost with Long Beach and now the Nordschleife offered at the time of writing. Nowhere near compensation, these new tracks add to the sense of a missed opportunity and make Forza 5 almost feel like a beta, rushed in time for the Xbox One's release.
As for the looming Forza Horizon 2? Open world racing is great, but with no familiar circuits and a capped 30fps frame rate, it's never going to the racing enthusiast's game of choice.
Despite all its faults, Forza 5 is probably offers the best driving experience of a console today and is unbeatable if you're prepared to cough up for an acceptable amount of cars. Racing through the twisting tarmac of the Nordschleife in a 2013 BMW DTM car is one of my favourite experiences of Forza 5 - it's just a shame it took 7 months and an extra £10 to get there.