The King of Fighters XII is generally regarded as an unmitigated disaster, perhaps the most gruesome example we’ve ever been given of what happens when a pubisher’s corporate branch pays a visit to its development branch with a complaint and a demand. “We understand that you’re adjusting to new hardware, but it’s been far too long since the last installment of our flagship franchise, so you’re just going to have to take whatever assets you’ve produced for the new system and crap out a game to keep us relevant.” SNK Playmore’s Falcoon eventually did just that, pooling together an unfinished set of sprites and backgrounds to make KOF XII, disappointing fighting gamers the world over until they got their hands on the masterpiece that was The King of Fighters XIII, the game Falcoon and his team were trying to make from the beginning.
Wait, isn’t this a review about Forza Motorsport 5? Why the King of Fighters history lesson?
Quite simply, it was hard not to be struck with an unsettling sense of deja vu over the summer as the facts came in surrounding Forza 5. Combined with the fact that it is a launch title – unprecedented for a racing sim due to the time usually required to develop one – its meager 200 or so cars and 14 tracks (a selection of courses entirely devoid of epics like Nurburgring Nordschleife and Fujimi Kaido) give it less content than any other racing sim save for the original Gran Turismo. From that angle, it certainly wasn’t looking good for Forza 5. As it turned out, those numbers just made it difficult to see what Turn 10 was really up to.
What Is It?
“Can you handle reality?” Those four words introduced the world to Forza Motorsport at E3 2003, and ever since then, it has been the gold standard in racing simulation on consoles, consistently staying a good step ahead of its lone competitor, Sony and Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo. With every installment, it has taken enormous leaps forward, and once you start to look past the car and track count, you start to realize that Forza Motorsport 5 is just as ambitious and progressive. Starting at the core gameplay, Forza 5 handles better than any entry in the series to date. It adds yet another huge leap on this front to follow up on the momentum built up by the last two games. This further highlights the scholarly, data-hungry side of Turn 10 that will only continue providing us with more cutting-edge driving experiences in the years to come.
The career mode has taken a more simplistic approach, opening everything up for you to play (provided you can afford an eligible car) from the beginning. To this end, the experience system has also been retooled, no longer providing you with free cars as you level up, but rather giving you generous credit bonuses with each level. Affinity bonuses have been altered in kind, with Forza 4’s affinity-earned deep discounts having been replaced by bonus credits as you perform well while consistently driving the same make. This all adds up to an RPG-like sense of freedom, where your garage will be much more populated by cars you actually selected and tuned yourself than stuff that you’ve never driven and was only heaped on you as you levelled up in career mode.
Also, of the already noted pared-down car lineup, you will still be hard-pressed to find anything important missing. Although starting over completely on new hardware has very well addressed the clutter in the roster, Turn 10’s apparent adherence to what producer Dan Greenawalt describes as “racing canon” has protected a good number of cars that are mandatory for any serious racing sim despite cries of redundancy by casual observers. For example, although there are no longer multitudes of Nissan GT-Rs, you still get one of each generation to play with, including the original 1971 Skyline 2000GT-R, Skyline R32, Skyline R33, Skyline R34, and the modern R35 GT-R. It would have been nice if a hard-tuned variation like BNR34 could’ve been included, but DLC can always amend that problem. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution line has been whittled down to a sort of all-star lineup, including Evo VI GSR, Evo VIII MR, and Evo X GSR. Finally, Subaru’s Impreza makes out a little better, starting with the legendary 22B, 2004 and 2005 versions of the WRX STi, and of course the modern WRX. Concessions clearly were made, but nothing that should lead a more hardcore petrolhead to riot in the streets.
Why Should I Care?
The real crown jewel of Forza 5’s next-gen approach is called Drivatar. What this does is collect very detailed data about your driving style, your tendencies, your techniques, and your overall approach to racing, and creates a fully functioning AI out of it. Because data is collected constantly while you’re playing, your Drivatar evolves perpetually as you play, and will even take in races in your stead while you aren’t around. This is Turn 10’s outright replacement for pre-programmed AI, populating the entire single-player grid with AI data provided from the cloud, starting with your own friend list. Even better, when you sign in again, you will be awarded your Drivatar’s winnings for the day. If you give a good account of yourself on the track, this can be a great way to make credits on the side, even when you don’t have time to sit down and take in many races firsthand. However, given the fact that two of the three most influential races for your Drivatar early on will be in crowded grids on the Top Gear Test Track and Yas Marina, aggressive driving will be the order of the day, and you’ll find yourself quickly wishing for some way to use the Kinect sensor Microsoft issued you with your Xbox One to give other motorists the finger.
Top Gear integration, enjoyed to some degree by Gran Turismo 5 and Forza Motorsport 4, has been ramped up considerably here. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May provide narration for many aspects of the game, most notably every single racing championship featured. It’s also implied that the lineups of cars featured in each championship were curated by Top Gear themselves. Clarkson’s spirited introduction to Forza 5 may not be quite as spectacular as the sermon he used to kick off the previous game, but it still gets things started right, and proves that Forza is better with Top Gear as an integral part of the formula. The best part of all is that Top Gear’s signature sense of humor carries over intact in Forza 5, with the lone exception of James May unfortunately having to watch his language a bit for an E-rated game. All of the dry humor and good-natured ribbing among the Top Gear presenters carries over perfectly here, and should serve as a good introduction to the show itself for any Forza players who still, for whatever reason, haven’t started watching.
Another big enhancement for Forza 5 is an emphasis on lighting simulation. Turn 10 has stated a belief that simulation does not begin and end with how a game handles, but also how it looks. This makes Forza 5 a beautiful game to watch, even if the sun is an occasional obstacle for you to overcome. Shadows cast perfectly on the track and even inside the car, while the light will occasionally strike in such a way that you can see the dashboard’s reflection in the windshield. We aren’t quite to the point of absolute photorealism in our racing simulations, but Forza 5 leaves very little doubt that this is the generation that will eventually bring it to us, and what we have right now really isn’t bad at all.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
As noted by history, Forza Motorsport 5 could have been an unmitigated disaster. There is no doubt that getting it out on launch created a situation not unlike that which brought us The King of Fighters XII. Turn 10 just kept their priorities straight, starting next-gen development by getting the most important cars brought over first, making the most of the tracks they had available, and taking real advantage of the hardware, licensing, and network resources that were made available to them. The result is not just a great game, it’s the best racing sim ever crafted, with the promise that DLC will forge it into an ongoing masterpiece. Is it a game of the year candidate? Perhaps, but probably not with the competition it has. Even so, it is the best game between this month’s pair of system launches, and by no small margin at that. If you bought an Xbox One, this is the game that will showcase it and keep you playing for a long, long time.