I love experts. I love watching and reading people who know their subject back to front and who are happy to just be telling you stuff. People like David Attenborough. Jacob Bronowski. Robert Winston.
So on paper, I should love Forza Motorsport 5. The attention to detail here - the amount of research gone into making the cars and the tracks lifelike - is staggering. And it's educational. Each car you buy comes with an audio run-down of its history from one of the Top Gear presenters, and there's a brief description of every course before you start racing it.
I don't know cars - I have no interest in them - but for someone like me, who loves listening to experts, Forza 5 ought to appeal.
But it's just so dry. I admire Turn 10's adherence to real-life, and the studio's passion for motorsport, but it's presented in a way that quickly grows boring. The tracks are all grey and banal, the cars all behave realistically and the whole thing feels like a buyer's manual - like a textbook given to automobile engineering students.
I prefer Forza Horizon, which still has real cars but also some colour, some life.
I think Turn 10 has misplaced its ambition. The opening cinematic for Forza 5, narrated by Jeremy Clarkson, is a celebration of all things car. It talks about how motor vehicles have marked generations, how they've become fashion icons, steeped in cultural history. It relays a love for cars which I was expecting to come through in the game.
But the subject matter is treated so coldly.
It seems to forget that motor racing is about fun and excitement and instead represents cars as sterile, mechanical objects that are absolutely not toys.
It's such a joyless experience.
The music is a big problem. Even games like Gran Turismo, which purport to have big respect for cars, come with a licensed soundtrack. But Forza 5 is scored with all this serious, operatic stuff. It sounds like it's been lifted from the Skyfall album.
That might seem like a minor gripe, but even if the mechanics are identical, racing to "Aisha" by Death In Vegas is much more enjoyable than doing it to something that sounds like it's been written by Thomas Newman.
There are some attempts to spice things up. Most of the tournaments you enter (there are dozens) feature some kind of "show event" wherein, instead of straight racing, you perform stunts or special driving tasks.
Half-hearted and desperate
The zaniest is on the Top Gear test track where you have to drive around knocking down car-sized bowling pins to tot up points. It's a change of pace but it's very laboured. You can see the thinking behind these special, half-hearted and desperate events, like Turn 10 realised Forza 5 might get a bit boring and tried to liven it up.
Nevertheless, it seems unfair to criticise Forza 5 too harshly because, as a racing game, it works. It works as well as any other racing game.
You accelerate, brake and steer. It's functional. It's fine.
And I'm sure for some people, real gear-heads who share Turn 10's reverence for cars, it's a dream come true. A PR rep told me that each car has three or more coats of paint, so that when you scratch it, the damage is realistic.
And all the tracks have been created using some kind of laser mapping...thing, so that each bump and pothole is scanned into the game. There are players out there who will be into this, and good for them.
Maybe Forza 5 just isn't meant for tourists like me.
Attention to detail
But then I wonder if even die-hard car fans will have much fun with it. You buy a production model car, race it, then buy another and move onto the next tournament. The races are all low-speed, since real cars spin out if you drive them too fast, and the action is predictable.
It reminds me of watching real-life racing, where the cars all circle methodically around the track and you end up selfishly hoping for a crash just to shake things up. Plausibility was definitely Turn 10's intention but it doesn't make for an exciting game.
And in the end, even the attention to detail doesn't fly.
The cars and the tracks are all meant to look real but, because Forza 5 is a videogame, made in the year 2013, they don't, really. The game starts with a visual tour of a McLaren road car, letting you run the camera over the bodywork and climb in the driver seat to gaze at the interior. The voiceover tells you that it's been remodelled faithfully to the real-life design. But it doesn't look like it. It looks like a car from a videogame.
So I'm not really sure who Forza 5 is for. It's certainly not for people like me, who prefer racing games that take some artistic license, but it isn't for true fanatics either.
It works fine and there are plenty of different races and cars to try out. But Forza 5 is a drab game.
The most interesting part ends up being the Drivatar, a digital version of you that's stored in the Xbox cloud and races against other people while you're not playing. After four or so races, Forza collects data on your driving skills, habits and so on and uses it to create your Drivatar. It's then beamed into the games of other Forza 5 players, meaning that, instead of racing against AI opponents, all your races are, essentially, multiplayer, since you're competing against approximations, or "ghost" versions, of other, real people.
It's a great idea and it makes the races a lot more challenging. There are also adjustable difficulty sliders as well which allow you to turn off things like assisted braking, power steering and racing lines meaning you can customise the game to pretty much your heart's content.
But these are only small details and on the whole, Forza Motorsport 5 is a bone-dry, fun-free game.
I respect Turn 10's expertise and I really did learn a lot while playing. It's just that I didn't have any fun. I was bored a lot of the time. I didn't get a sense of "the joy of cars" that I think Forza 5 was trying to hammer home.
Gameplay: 5/10 - Functional, but very dull. The Drivatars are a good idea and they give the races some life, but overall, Forza 5 is a drab experience.
Graphics: 7/10 - The cars are shiny and the tracks are carbon copied from real-life, but Turn 10's vision of total verisimilitude isn't achieved.
Sound: 5/10 - Of course, all the car engine noises have been recorded for real and you can't help but respect that amount of work. But the score is plain. It sucks the fun out of driving.
Replay value: 8/10 - There is a lot to be getting with here- dozens of tournaments for dozens of types of cars. As long as you don't get bored, Forza 5 is a long form game.
Overall: 6/10 - A functional, okay racer that has good, but misplaced ambitions. Turn 10's propensity for realism doesn't translate to an enjoyable game.
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