Two steps forward, one step back: A Forza 5 Review

I can safely say, at this point, I have a love/hate relationship with Forza 5.  After playing in career mode and free play mode for nearly two weeks, I think I have my finger on the pulse of the game so here are my thoughts…

It seems like Turn 10 Studios made big improvements to all of the polish in Forza 5.  Little details that heighten the enjoyment of playing are immediately noticed.  The dashboard reflections, blinding sunlight and various dirty effects such as dust/rubber that collect on the car throughout a race are impressive (particularly in photo mode where the dust effect is very subtle but realistic).

Also, Turn 10’s upgrades aren’t limited to what you can see on the screen as massive improvements have been made on the audio side.  Considering how authentic the sound was in Forza 4, I am pretty floored at the level they have achieved here.  Tires squeal and screech more gradually and this actually helps you find the grip limit in the corners.  On turbocharged cars, the spool is more noticeable and it’s different from car to car as are the blow off valve effects.  One other audio enhancement I noticed was how the environments effect what you here.  When you’re near a wall on a closed course, the exhaust noise echoes (especially on a home theater system with DTS processing).   On tuned naturally aspirated cars, valvetrain and intake noise are much more pronounced now, which heightens the impact of modifying cars in the game.

So, things look and sound better than before…great!  So how is the gameplay experience?  Well, I have no complaints about the actual racing experience (aside from the music which can be turned off).  Racing is as intense as ever, and tuning/hot lapping is about the same.  I do think that they changed how mods effect overall class rating, but I can compare that another time.

Unfortunately, what Turn 10 studios removed from Forza 4 is just as noticeable as what they added.  Several tracks are missing from previous games such as the famed Nurburgring, the Fujimi Kaido mountain pass and Maple Valley (my favorite).  I can’t understand why they think removing beloved tracks would sit well with the fans!  In addition, hundreds of cars are missing from Forza 5 entirely and cars that remain are not as tunable as they were in past iterations.  Plus, of the cars that made the cut, most of them can’t even be played in free play mode unless you own them!  Thankfully, there is a glitch around this that most people are aware of (for now).  Also, some body kits from Forza 4 have been removed are the Forza 5.  For example, only the “racing” front/rear wings are available for a 350z!  Moreover, the selection of wheels seem the same as Forza 3, 4 and Forza Horizon.  There are many other wheels on the market, even from the manufacturers they already have licensing agreements with.  I simply do not understand…

The final verdict is that it seems the focus on Forza 5 was to improve the details at the expense of the overall package.  At this point, I’d expect a next-gen title to be able to make marked improvements without sacrifices made to features people already loved about predecessor titles.  I am hopeful that they can rectify many of this with some downloadable car/track packs but I feel apprehensive about paying more to complete what, at times, feels like an unfinished game.  I am still enjoying myself, but I’m also hopeful that Gran Turismo 6 can return to its former glory.  GT6 will be in my hands tomorrow, as will Need for Speed Rivals for Xbox One.  For now, enjoy some pics.

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It has begun…

OK, so apologies to anyone who reads this blog for the lack of stories…starting a new job a few months back really cut into my time to play and get some content up.  With that, PS4 is officially here and while I’m sure some of you are excited I honestly couldn’t be less enthused.  I care about DRIVING games and the list of PS4 launch titles is a major yawn-fest for people like me (or us I suppose).

Leave it to Sony to tease us last year with DriveClub and then delay the release until Spring of 2014, months after the PS4 release.  Sound familiar to anyone??  If you recall, Gran Turismo 5 was delayed several times in the past so I wouldn’t be shocked if DriveClub was pushed back even further as we get closer to the current ETA.  Sure, Need For Speed Rivals is a PS4 launch title, but, like many of the PS4 launch titles it’s really just a port of a PS3 game (which comes out a week later…noodle on that one).

Is there any logical connection between the DriveClub delay and GT5?  No, of course not…it’s not like there is some sort of conspiracy here, it’s just a funny coincidence.  That said, I can’t help but wonder how many racing game fans, itching with next-gen excitement, and will be turned off by the delay and try an Xbox One and Forza 5 instead.  In the grand scheme of things it’s gotta be a small population but still, we do exist.  Perhaps the hardcore Playstation fans will get their fill from the upcoming PS3 release of Gran Turismo 6 but so far the chatter is underwhelming.

OK, so Sony’s disappointment aside, there are some things to get excited about!  Forza 5’s Drivata feature sounds so interesting and innovative and I can’t wait to see how it works!  For those who are unaware, Drivatar is a data profile that learns your particular driving style as you progress/evolve in playing Forza 5.  The game will then use your Drivatar profile as the Artificial Intelligence (or driving opponents) in OTHER players gaming experiences!  So, if you are a fast, successful driver, you can be rewarded for good driving habits when you aren’t even playing!  The idea is to improve the existing AI continually using actual gamers as groundwork – brilliant!  This sparked a bit of controversey as people worried that bashers or prankster profiles who can ruin some online races would screw up with the AI for everyone but Microsoft has ensured everyone that the Drivatar profiling is intuitive and knows what to record and what to ignore in their data mining.

Hopefully, Forza 5 is everything we hope it is and that DriveClub is worth the delay!

New consoles, new games…same arguments!

With all the recent news surrounding the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One, people are still having the same ‘ol debates.  Gamers will speculate which machine has the raw processing power or the better launch titles or these ease/difficulty of development for the platform.  Hell, my buddies and I used to go through the same routine back at the lunch table in junior high during the height of the SNES/Genesis war.  Much like the cafeteria tacos, these discussions leave a bad taste in my mouth (yep, I’m proud of that pun…suck it).

That said, I refuse to participate.  In fact,  this time around I will do my best to remain positive in the hopes that both machines can co-exist and find their own niche because I think these could be the last consoles…ever.  After all, I own a PS3 and an Xbox 360 like many of you, so I’m more than willing to buy both machines if they each fill a certain gap.  I refuse to believe that there will be a clear winner here and it’s better for the industry and gaming fans alike if Sony and Microsoft both succeed this holiday season.  Oh, and when I say “gaming fans,” I mean those of us who will spend the cash on a console rather than straying from home based gaming in favor of the expanding mobile game market.  If the next gen machines are that good, maybe they can convert the casual mobile gamers into avid gamers.

See?  Now I’M getting sucked into the vortex and losing my perspective!  One other piece of information worth mentioning is how social media will play a role (if any) in the battle for market share.  Remember, back in 2005 and 2006, social media was in its infancy.  We all used Friendster as our at-work time waster and companies hadn’t yet jumped aboard to reach us.  These days, most consumer electronic makers have social media teams or “web intelligence” employees whose sole job is to have their finger on the pulse of how people view their products and their corporate image.  Again, the impact here is not really quantifiable, but it’s a big variable nonetheless.

With any hope, the new consoles will blow us away!  I haven’t seen much in the way of Gran Turismo 6, but “Race Club” looks promising and Forza 5 has me ready to make a pricey pre-order, but I will resist the urge…for now!

What the Flux?!

Everyone loves Back to the Future, so it stands to reason that everyone loves the Delorean.  It’s a car that bridges the gap between car people and regular people.  It’s a car that is iconic, beautifully wonderful really SLOW.  I have always dreamed of owning one as a collectors car, but I don’t think I would enjoy the driving experience.  That said, I also think it would be a nightmare to modify and maintain simply due to the level of custom made parts that would be required…after all, this is no WRX.  Furthermore, in real life, I’m of two minds when it comes to building a fast, capable Delorean.  On one hand, it needs big ups in power, grip and handling in order to backup it’s legendary status.  On the other hand, there is something unsettling about big mods on such an iconic car…almost as if the parts required would be a molestation to the brand.

Fortunately, in Forza 4 there is no stigma to building a serious Delorean!  This example has nearly 500 horsepower and revs to almost 8000 rpm.  It’s cagtoo and stripped but still uses the factory gear ratios albeit with a limited slip diff.  I thought that the old school Work wheels fit the car pretty well.  They are super 80’s but the deep dish is aggressive and I painted them gray to match the factory bumpers a bit.

Without any suspension or differential tuning, it’s actually a pretty impressive drive.  midrange big midrange punch but its still controllable unlike a ZR1.  Actually, I think this has the makings for a very cool drift car in Forza.

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The Crazypants Colt

The Mitsubishi Colt is lame.  I know it, you know it…hell, Mitsubishi HAS to know it by now.  But, there is still hope.  Remember when the Nissan Juke was lame?  Now the Juke is cool (link below) and it has been for a while.  What if Mitsubishi tried the same thing with the Colt?

http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/nissan-juke-r-first-drive-review

If I were a big muckity-muck at Mitsubishi, I would comission a project car to compete with the vision for the Juke GTR; codename “crazypants.”  On paper, it seems fairly straightforward.  We’d slap a fully built version of Mitsubishi’s Evo motor/AWD setup into a Colt.  Perhaps for the sake of nostalgia, I’d go with the ‘ol tried-and-true 4G63 instead of the new Mivec lump…regardless, the car would have a large aftermarket turbo, a big FMIC, fat injectors, a large fuel pump and a programmable ECU.  Sounds simple enough right?

My virtual-example in Forza 4 has over 700 horsepower.  Yes, 700.  Why?  Remember the ’90’s?  The Japanese car makers love to one-up another and we know how easy it is to turn the wick up on a GTR powerplant.  There, 700hp explained.  So far, it runs the 1/4 mile in just a tick over nine seconds in the game.  I’d love to see this happen in real life…it just might inject a bit of much needed interest into the Mitsubishi brand!

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Here is a quick 1/4 Mile Video – I should really upgrade to the Video option on the blog hehe

http://s58.photobucket.com/albums/g268/jrotaryb/?action=view&current=RalliartColt_zps9056dc84.mp4

Simulated Comparison

I really love a well written head-to-head comparison in the automotive magazines (or these days on YouTube).  A good article will inform the reader of the characteristics of each car and make them feel how one performs in the real world.  These days, driving games are so accurate in their depictions of cars…how does the game experience stack up against a real comparison?

I recently watched a Motor Trend comparison of the new Focus St and the 2nd generation Mazdaspeed 3 so I decided to give a virtual comparison a whirl.  I took each car out on the Maple Valley track for a 5 lap blast.  This course is a good measure of grip and suspension as you need to maintain speed to be quick.  Plus, there are nice sweeping corners and some elevation changes so it’s a fairly technical course.

Not surprisingly, lap times were super close with a best laps in the 1:51 range for each car.  The mazdaspeed was about half a second quicker omy it’s best lap but I think the Ford has more potential.  Like the Motor Trend comparison noted, the Focus feels very nimble and precise.  It rotates very easily like the real car and Turn 10 studios even put in the aggressively amplified intake noise that Motor Trend loved.  In the game, the noise is more like a Honda VTEC transition as it comes on strong at 6000rpm.

By comparison, the Mazda has a bit more midrange power than the Ford, but the difference isn’t as huge as the video may lead you to believe.  After all, Torque is a measure of force which is hard to replicate in a game.  Regardless, the Mazda was also fairly accurate compared to the Motor Trend commentary.  It isn’t as sharp as the Ford and it feels larger (despite the Ford being bigger in real life).  The Mazda was easier to drive and required less shifting than the Ford on this track but the Ford does indeed feel better.  I think with larger tires better ore aggressive alignment, it’s possible to get the Mazda to have the same “snap.”

Ok so this isn’t a very technical post, but still…it’s impressive how accurate the game experience is.  If anyone at Turn 10 ever reads this, I’d love an office visit to see how it’s all done!!!  That’s right, I said it!!

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