Forza Motorsport 5 is, at once, both an exciting example of what next generation gaming hardware is capable of delivering, and a terror-inducing peek into a future dominated by robot overlords. This game doesn’t just learn from how you play. It builds a rough approximation of your in-game self that then races online when you’re not at home, earning cash for you to later spend on new rides. It is awesome and terrifying in equal measures, like a friendly precursor to an inevitable Borg assimilation.
Resistance may be futile, but at least acquiescence looks fun.
Car culture. There’s no more of a story in Forza 5 than there’s ever been in the series’ numbered entries, but the underlying concept remains the same: racing is still at the heart of the play, but the game as a whole is focused on embracing cars and car culture. The roster of rides assembled by Turn 10 Studios isn’t curated by a push to get the most powerful cars, or the fastest cars. Those are there, sure, but the game’s varied selection is intended to give players a deep well to draw from as they seek out cars that are special to them, for one reason or another. That may be a Pagani Huayra, the car with the fastest Top Gear lap time ever recorded, or it may be – to draw an example from a previous game – a Volkwagen Rabbit.
Your personal journey. The focus in Forza 5‘s marquee Career Mode is simple enough: choose a car that you like and “go on a journey with it.” The lineup of rides for this latest game in the series was picked out with help from the team at Top Gear, the beloved BBC “car culture” TV series. A typical career playthrough breaks down into 50 championship series’ spread out across eight different leagues, all of which cater to different types of cars. There’s Exotic, Racing, Sport, Vintage, Grand Touring, Specialized, Sport Compact, and Class Competition, based on what we spied on the game’s main menu.
It’s a racing game. There’s nothing fundamentally different about the moment-to-moment play in Forza Motorsport 5. You race around a variety of tracks from behind the wheel of a variety of cars, earning XP toward your next driver level and improving your affinity for various rides over time. Other cars are with you on these tracks, and your goal is to complete however many laps there are faster than anyone else. Stop us if you’ve heard this before.
Uploading into the Matrix. Cloud processing plays a big role in Forza 5, with the game actively reading your driving behaviors and creating an online persona, your “Drivatar,” that races for you when you’re not at home. It won’t press forward through your career, but it will show up – under your name – in online matches with your friends and assorted randoms, earning you in-game cash in the process. Once you return to your console, you can check your Drivatar’s stats and shudder as you realize how much better it is at playing the game you’ve purchased than you are.
The cloud also follows Google’s lead in creepily monitoring your in-game purchasing habits, then suggesting various cars and upgrades that you might also enjoy, or that might be suitable for your coming race. You can still sort through the car roster using manufacturer-specific or alphabetic filters as well. The game also takes the initiative on suggesting various paint jobs based on what you download from the online gallery, which leads us to…
The return of user-generated content. Turn 10 brings back the option to create and share custom paint jobs from Forza 4. There’s no charge for paints or for painting your ride, though popular livery creators can look forward to seeing a return on their time investment as they earn in-game cash when people download their creations.
Real racing. Fans of the Forza series will no doubt spot a significant improvement in the quality of the visuals. A track from our E3 demo set in Prague teems with life as you tear through the heart of the city. Crowds cheer from the sidelines and crane-mounted cameras fly overhead as sun glints convincingly off the pavement, off your car, and into your eyes, with all of the reductions in visual clarity that you would expect from staring into a white-hot flaming ball of fire.
The visual upticks trickle down to the micro levels as well, with each car’s paint now made up of three separate coats: a base coat, metal flake, and clear coat. Zooming in on each car using the game’s new Forza Vista mode – an upgrade to the previous entry’s Autovista that works the same way, only for all cars – highlights minute differences in the textures on each surface of the car, along with blemishes and other natural imperfections. Sound is also a big component of the experience, and Turn 10 worked closely with the team at Skywalker Sound to create a dynamic orchestral soundtrack that blends well with the sounds of your car and the world around you.
Microsoft and Turn 10’s top-level first look at Forza Motorsport 5 is lacking in some critical areas. Multiplayer is a major facet of the game, and we know you’ll be able to apply filters to ensure that you only race on fully dedicated servers against certain types of players, either human or Drivatar, but the finer details of what makes up online play has yet to be revealed. We also know that there’s significantly more involvement this time from Top Gear, with all three hosts involved in some fashion.
Even with all of those questions floating around, our E3 2013 peek at Forza 5 was a promising one. Microsoft says to expect more details to be revealed later this summer, which makes sense given that the game is confirmed for November 2013 as an Xbox One launch title. Our grim, Borg-led future may seem like more and more of an inevitability with the advent of cloud computing, but at least Turn 10 makes the post-apocalypse look like a fun time.