Though they were never really going head to head, Driveclub’s postponement has pushed Forza 5 even further into the foreground for racing fans. Aside from Need for Speed, which is naturally an arcade-fuelled specimen, the only other big racer that Forza has to worry about is Gran Turismo 6 on the previous generation of hardware. They have next-gen to themselves.
For those that want something new and shiny to show the Xbox One at its best, Forza will deliver in spades. As I sat down with the game, I found myself in control of a McLaren MP4-12C, something of a poster-car for this game, hurtling through the streets of Prague.
It’s a track that brought several moment of jaw dropping spectacle, as you round blind corners blocked by buildings, and come out into the blazing sunshine, revealing the gorgeous cityscape rendered in glorious detail. This is what the Xbox One can really do, with 1080p60 handily accomplished for the team at Turn 10 as third parties struggle to get to grips with the hardware’s peculiarities and spread themselves thinly across platforms.
After playing, I was able to sit down and put a few questions to Dan Greenawalt, Creative Director at Turn 10, and I asked him about this first party advantage.
“Being at the launch of any hardware is hard,” Dan replied, “and things are constantly changing. Honestly, when you’re developing anything, you’re going to develop to the least common denominator first. Our engine is bespoke for the Xbox One, so what’s our least common denominator? The Xbox One.
“I used to work on PC games, and you had to test hardware to this SLI and that DX this and that. What you end up doing is having to make tradeoffs, even at high spec just to get into the low spec, and often they weren’t even high and low, they were just different.
“Now, I’m not working in any of these other companies, but I can say that was what was difficult when I was working on PC development. This is made just for the Xbox One, so we can trick the hardware however we like, and don’t have to worry what that does to the PC version or the other version. We just make it work here, and make it work great.”
And it truly is a gorgeous looking game, but I’ll be honest, it’s only at a handful of moments that I really appreciate the graphical splendour on offer, as I’m getting to grips with the cars, finding the right braking points and not oversteering off the track. I feel that a great deal of this comes back to the Xbox One controller, and compared to what I considered the overly stiff sticks of the Xbox 360’s, this is quite delightful.
The haptic feedback with rumble in the two triggers is a peculiar sensation at first, but also a clever innovation. The level of rumble going into your sensitive fingertips will start to help you tell what the car is doing, the forces being exerted on it and the level of grip you have, much more than the traditional gamepad rumble would.
Dan said that, “Haptic feedback is something that is very important to Forza and always has been. The rumble to give you more three dimensional feel for understeer or oversteer in the triggers allows us to teach people when they’re over-braking or over-accelerating.
“Haptics are a very powerful tool, just like audio, where you can’t ignore it and you can’t just focus on one area as a designer, because I can’t put fear into you. At the end of the day you know you’re in your living room. I need to use every tool at my disposal, and I need everything to work together to give a full, 3 dimensional immersive experience.”
As you get more accustomed to the game, or if you’re something of a dab hand at sim racing to start off with, you can turn the various assists off. Just as before, these are there to encourage you to challenge yourself, finding the right balance that you can handle, and being rewarded with extra bonus multipliers to your winnings for the fewer assists you use.
It’s a nice twist on proceedings, and as I switch over to race in an SRT Motorsport GTS-R Viper, driving round a freshly laser scanned – as with all of the tracks – rendition of Spa. Knowing the track from plenty of other games, I find this quite a bit easier to get a handle on. I guess it also helps that there’s no close walls, nowhere near the amount of camber and I bully my way past the AI a little quicker for an impromptu time trial lap without distractions.
A similar thing happens when I switch to the single seater Dallara DW12 Indycar for a couple of laps around Silverstone. There’s such an impressive array of licenses, and skimming through the car rentals I notice this year’s Lotus F1 car, the classic Ferrari 312T and McLaren M23 from the 1976 Formula 1 season, IndyCars, LMP1 cars, and the list goes on. All told, there are 200 cars, which steps back from the number in Forza 4, but they look set to span an incredible variety of manufacturers and disciplines, replicated in exceptional detail. I asked Dan about the difficulties of getting the licenses to some of these cars.
“We have very good relationships with manufacturers,” he explained. “Some of the licenses are more problematic than others, but a lot of that comes down to scale. So we have the modern Grand Prix car from lotus, but we don’t have the full field of Formula 1 cars. So we’re able to get that car granted to us through a deal with Lotus, where Microsoft actually has a partnership with them. We’re not looking to do the whole field, it’s about the experience of that one car.
“Going back in time to the cars you’ll see in the Rush movie, where we got the Ferrari and McLaren F1 cars which featured in that film, that’s a different license and much easier for us to just go to the manufacturer and get. It’s not wrapped up in the current exclusives.”
These are all cars recreated in absolute and loving detail. Though I didn’t actually try out the cockpit view myself, as I’m much more of a bonnet cam driver, Dan explained their push in this direction.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback this week from people saying they never race with the cockpit, but what we’ve found through our data was that very few people use the cockpit exclusively, but almost everybody went and had a look as soon as they got a new car in the game. Which means that the cockpit is actually very important.
“So we’ve made tweaks and changes which we’ve tested quite a bit, and we’re finding that people stay in there for longer. It’s not like we’re converting everybody, but we’re able to increase that percentage, and it’s through having the tools and telemetry, as a designer, on how people are playing, but then also really interrogating that telemetry.”
As for the AI, it’s too hard for me to judge in just a short space of time what effect Drivatar will have, but I know that I had my AI difficulty band set far, far too low. Combined with a predetermined set of opponents pitting me against street cars, I was blazing past them quite quickly or bashing them around, as I tend to do with AI. However, Dan offered some fascinating insights in how this ties back to the races themselves, when at the appropriate difficulty.
“We changed your goal when racing so that it’s about coming third. The funny thing is that people were identifying the four and a half minute races in Forza 4 as being about right or a little bit too long.
“The moment that happened was they passed the first place car, and within 30 seconds they wanted that race to be over. It doesn’t matter if they passed them on the first corner, in the next thirty-seconds they wanted the race to be over, and that would be a one minute race. If it took them seven minutes, they’re enjoy about five and a half minutes of that, so there is an upper threshold.
“We’ve changed our AI systems radically, the Drivatar system is really unlike any other AI in any other racing game. They’ll race you, they’ll fight you, and they also set you up with complex corners and race the full physics.
“Our goal is to have you fight every thirty seconds, but you set your own difficulty so that you make the most money. The key is that you’re going to make the most money by coming in third, which means you don’t shoot is so you come in first and get bored. You try and get into third and then if you happen to get in second, you’re still fighting.
“What it means is that we’re able to make the races longer, but in tests people identify them as shorter. It’s one of those things where they say the races are too long. I know how to solve that, I’ll make them longer!”
Speaking further, to my propensity to muscle my way past AI, Dan stated that, “We’re finding that, after about an hour, people are not playing against the Drivatars the same way they would against a normal AI. They afford them more respect… but they still hit them!”
If it lives up to the promises, Drivatar could be something quite revolutionary for racing games. For me, it’s not really that it’s taking the data of other players and letting you race against a simulacrum of them, but rather that Turn 10 have created a learning engine, a vast and sprawling network that will pick the real driving lines and best behaviours from other gamers, creating something altogether more realistic and interesting to drive against.
Forza 5 has been shaping up to be quite a major and innovative new title, to really lead the way on the Xbox One. It has practically everything in its cabinet, from the 1080p graphics to a wide array of exotic licensed cars, or the innovative new cloud AI tied to a deep understanding of how people played previous Forza games and how best to hone and refine that for them.
- Developer:Turn 10 Studios
- Publisher:Microsoft Studios
- Platforms:Xbox One
- Release Date:22/11/13