If you had asked me this morning, I would have told you that I wasn’t buying an Xbox One. It’s an expensive piece of hardware that I didn’t think I’d get that much use out of, given how much of my gaming takes place on my PC these days. None of the exclusives really jumped out at me, and the whole used games debacle had left a bad taste in my mouth.
That was before I played Forza 5, though. Today at PAX Prime, I got to play the new entry in the Forza Motorsport franchise, which happens to be a launch title for the Xbox One. I also got a chance to chat with Dan Greenawalt, the creative director of the Forza series. By the time I left their booth on the PAX show floor, I knew that I was going to end up buying a Xbox One at launch.
It’s rare that a game is as immediately visually arresting as Forza 5 is. It effortlessly surpasses anything we’ve seen from any racing game of the current generation, in terms of raw graphical fidelity. It’s leaps and bounds better looking than Forza 4, which is already an incredibly pretty game that pushed the Xbox 360 to some seriously impressive feats.
There are a few reasons for Forza 5’s overwhelming prettiness. For one, Greenawalt confirmed that Forza 5 is running in full 1080p, at a constant 60fps. The crispness of the UI, and the smoothness of all the game’s sharp corners and refined edges, is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They’ve also got a whole new engine with some absolutely bonkers lighting effects going on; when in cockpit view, you can see your dashboard and the begloved hands of your driver reflected in the bottom of the windshield, for example. In third-person view, the play of light over the car’s paintwork is absolutely mesmerizing. For fans of simulation racing games, this is the kind of stuff that blows our minds a little bit when it’s done right.
To complement the fancy new lighting engine, they’ve devised a new materials system that will make things like carbon fibre and interior panels look much more lifelike than they ever have before. Paint options will be greatly expanded due to this new tech, too, and matte paint finishes – a much asked-for and never delivered feature in previous games – will now be readily available.
There’s also some big changes in store for some of Forza’s standard features. They’re building a system that will curate your career mode to let you drive the kinds of cars you like the most, and it will recommend races (and car purchases) based on the stuff you’ve already done. In other words, if you just want to drive ridiculously fast GT and LMP cars all day, you can cut right to the chase and skip all the slow cars. Conversely, if you like driving old-school muscle cars or hot hatches or something, you’ll be able to drive those kinds of automobiles pretty much exclusively, once the game figures out that that’s what you want to be doing.
It appears that some of the tech from Forza Horizon will be making an appearance in this most recent iteration as well. For Horizon, a new system for simulating diverse road conditions was developed, to allow for different surfaces (tarmac, dirt, gravel, etc.) to all be simulated differently and accurately. While there will be no dirt roads in Forza 5, this surface simulation tech will be used to make different track conditions feel more convincing. Rough asphalt, cobblestones, and the groomed surface of a modern race circuit will all make your car behave differently. Again, this is something that serious sim-racer enthusiasts will appreciate greatly.
New tracks were on offer as well, with one of the playable tracks on the PAX floor being an all new circuit through the heart of the city of Prague. Dan’s lips were sealed on how many other new tracks they had in store, but chances are good that we’ll see at least a couple more new circuits in the finished game, as well as all the usual suspects from previous games. I’m sure many people’s fingers are crossed for a return of the Rally di Positano circuit from Forza 3, but I couldn’t get a comment on that out of the Turn Ten guys either.
Overall, this just feels like a convincing leap forward for the Forza series, and for simulation racing games in general. For someone like me, who’s played over 300 hours of Forza over the last few titles in the series, it’s exactly the sort of thing that I’d hoped for in a next-generation sequel. From the stunning visuals, to the new simulation tech, to the addition of open wheel racing and an expanded stable of vehicles, there’s really not much to dislike here.
The only bad news Greenawalt had for me was that there still won’t be dynamic weather, and that the selection of wheels would be more or less the same as what was available in Forza 4 and Horizon. Those are minor quibbles, however, and this game has single-handedly convinced me that I’m going to need an Xbox One.
See you all in those ridiculous console launch day lineups, I guess.