Five changes that would make Forza 5 the Xbox One’s Killer App

Forza5boxartForza 5 is an excellent racing simulation.  On the surface you’ve got probably the best racing simulation currently available on consoles with excellent controls giving you the means to race at blistering speeds around some breathtakingly picturesque tracks. Racing around Bathurst’s Mount Panorama, new  to the series, is a pure joy and highlights the game’s real strengths.  The complex track is a driver’s dream, with its numerous fast straights punctuated by sequences of tight corners, making it one of the more interesting and technical tracks on the roster.  It is a spectacular experience in even the lowest sports hatch class in the game, but it really comes into its own when you’re behind the wheel of a V8 muscle car, the way nature intended.  From the moment you first rev your engine to the moment you cross the finish line Forza 5 packs a great big walloping punch full of realistic racing thrills – don’t be surprised if your hair gets wind swept.

And its all in the physics that underpin the whole game.  The cars for the most part behave as you would imagine they should, and while I personally get more satisfaction from powerful touring cars that rely on their tyres for grip, the faster supercars that rely more on downforce to stick to the track require you to manage your speed more carefully to avoid losing control.  The addition of open-wheel racing    The force feedback in the Xbox One’s controller is put to excellent use, signalling when your tyre adhesion is starting to reach its limit.  It all adds to the immersion that makes Forza 5 a joy to play and incredibly rewarding to learn.  The game may not be the full featured and well-structured game of its predecessors, having taken a step back in a number of ways from the last game in the series, but that doesn’t make it a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.  If you like driving fast cars and being challenged while doing so, Forza 5 is absolutely your game, and one that I can not recommend enough if you’re a new Xbox One owner.

But it’s not perfect.  Having spent quite a lot of time with the game now I feel like there are a few key areas that the designers could improve on in the next iteration of the game that would make Forza an unbeatable force.  Better still implementing some of these changes now could potentially make Forza 5 the Xbox One’s first killer app.  Here are the five key changes I would make to Forza 5 the best experience on the console.

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1. Fix the Drivatar

Forza 5’s biggest innovation and it just so happens that it is a very large thorn in its side.  The drivatar is in my opinion a bit of a disaster with every corner in the first lap of each race feeling more like a game of Destruction Derby than anything closely resembling a racing simulation.  The underlying idea, though, is a good one that is misguided in its implementation and I think misses a stellar opportunity to provide a unique experience for each player that caters toward their play-style and skill level.  The problem is while the issue does fix the rigid AI issue that has forever plagued offline single player simulation racers, it doesn’t fix the real underlying issue that the racing part doesn’t in any way resemble a real race.  You can get your physics spot-on but when the other cars on track aren’t behaving as they should, that means diddly.

The fix: have the AI Drivatars learn from the player rather than a world full of players who play their own way.  It’s all well and good to have drivers that behave more like real players, but when those real players are for the most part maniacal drivers, it doesn’t help for those of us that want to ‘play’ race driver for the day.  By having AI drivers learn from the player you’re in essence building up a database of sound AI that know how to react to at times erratic players.  And that can only be a good thing when it comes to delivering dynamic AI opponents to players in offline.  Make them drive like player opponents, not like players themselves and I think you’ll solve some of the game’s most fundamental issues.

2. More ways to compete in Rivals mode

I could not be happier that Forza 5 places such a great emphasis on multiplayer competition.  While I don’t necessarily gel with real-time online play outside of my friends list, competing with real people is where games like Forza shine, forcing you to continue to improve and push the car outside of your comfort level. The Rivals mode comes bloody close to making Forza 5 the first must-have game of the new generation, featuring a dynamic leaderboard that provides the impetus to improve your own driving and mastery of the game.  While this is best experienced against your own Xbox Live friends, having a world of drivers’ ghosts at your fingertips is definitely a reason to keep playing.

But it’s not perfect.  The Rivals system is hamstrung a bit by the way it has implemented its challenges.  On the rivals menu you are provided with the opportunity to challenge the ghost of the player next on the leaderboard from you.  It’s great but has a few issues that make it far from the user friendly and compelling experience it could be.  The first change would be to instantly update the ghost to the next rival on the leaderboard once you’ve beaten one.  This is a minor change that would make a big difference to the flow of the game.  But there are other changes that would make it a far more compelling experience.

The problem is that its all focused on lap times.  In order to capture and hold the attention and interest more than just the best of the best, because the fact is unless you’re a seasoned driver you’re never likely to come close to the best times worldwide. Casting the net wider and allowing competition on a broader base of metrics could fix this.  The game tracks so many performance based metrics that it is seriously insane that the game doesn’t use them in any meaningful way.  Corner perfection, racing lines, top speeds; all of these could be used as a basis for competition and leaderboards.  Not only would this make it more interesting and varied, it would offer those that haven’t mastered the game the confidence and a real gateway into the magic of competitive racing.  And combining all of these into one factors into a lap ‘score’ could be the cherry on top that shows players that lap times aren’t the only thing that matters in racing.

3. Add wagers

Forza 5 could be the ultimate multiplayer racing sim with just a few tweaks to its rivals mode.  Adding extra metrics on which to compete on aside from just lap times would be a good start, but that’s only going to last as long as players are compelled to keep coming back.  While these challenges do provide monetary rewards upon beating ghosts from players all over the world, that may not be enough to compel players in the long run and keep them coming back to the game.

Forza 5 collects truckloads of information about how players play in forming the Drivatars.  It should therefore follow that this telemetry could help form a global picture of how capable or likely the player base is to perform any objective put before them.  Use this information to allow players to set challenges for their friends.  Want to challenge your friends to beat the V8 Supercar lap record  of 2:08.46 at Bathurst?  Let them do it.  The amount of information ‘in the cloud’ should allow the game to calculate the odds of success and allow you to offer up a reward to any player that can beat your challenge based on the ‘degree of difficulty’.  It would need careful balancing but allowing you to challenge your friends would play into that competitive edge in all of us that makes us want to keep playing.

4. Forza 5 ‘snappable’ App

If competition is, as it should be, at the heart of the Forza 5 experience it needs to do a better job of keeping you in the game.  Criterion’s implementation of its Autolog features have always led the pack, and with good reason, the designers put a strong focus on keeping the competition alive to keep players coming back. Burnout Paradise really changed how we compete online with friends by keeping track of an amazing level of detail about how friends were performing across a whole stack of actions in-game, but more importantly the team realised that in order to give your game multiplayer legs, you need to keep the players in the game.  At any one moment playing any of Criterion’s brilliant and critically acclaimed racers you are presented with countless challenges: countless ways to outdo your friends, and countless ways your friends have outdone you.  It’s this game of leapfrog that kept these games so exciting and in the drives of many people for months, perhaps years, after release.  The first problem for Forza 5 is that because its stat tracking doesn’t just include your friends rather it includes seemingly every person that has ever raced on that track, presumably in the class of the car you’re in.

The second and perhaps bigger issue is that the game’s competitive side isn’t readily apparent, meaning you have to go searching for how you’re tracking against your rivals.  This should be front and centre and  I’m sure having all of this wealth of content and multiplayer stats impacts the longevity of the game to all but the most dedicated racing enthusiasts.  This should never be the case, and if I’m having to remind myself that I’m competing, something is wrong.

So transparency is incredibly important.  Giving easy access to how players are tracking against their rivals (or just friends) is paramount in encouraging healthy and ongoing competition and keep them thinking about the game even when they’re not playing.  The unique interface of the Xbox One provides the perfect opportunity to fix this.  Adding a Forza 5 leaderboard app that could be snapped to the side of the screen whenever the Xbox One is perhaps the best move the developers could make toward giving their game longevity.   Imagine watching TV or playing another game while being able to keep a keen eye on how your lap times are holding up against your friends.  It’s such a good idea I’d be surprised if we don’t see developers start using this functionality in the coming 12 months.  Which is a win-win for everyone in my books.

5. Make Forza 5 the Killer App by separating the rivals mode out

This is my final recommendation and probably the biggest change to the game.  You’ll notice that most of these recommendations are based on keeping the competitive nature of Forza 5 exciting and dynamic.  With good reason, simply put Forza 5 is best when you’re pushing yourself to the limit, and what better way to do that than against the world’s best.

As you can probably tell I am enamoured by what the Rivals mode tried to do and by changing the way it is distributed could make it the Xbox One’s first killer app.  The rivals mode is so separate from the rest of the game that there would be no harm in providing it free of charge as an individual product in the market-place and allowing players to buy cars and tracks individually.  Not only would it allow players to get involved with a lower price of entry,  coupled with the other changes to the multiplayer it could have the potential to be a real money maker for Turn10 and Microsoft.  If you saw your friends posting blisteringly quick times at the Circuit de la Sarthe in an Audi R10 tell me you wouldn’t want to do the same.  Who hasn’t spent money to outdo their friends?  At the end of the day the game should let players play the game with friends on their own terms.

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Played Forza 5?  Agree with me or disagree?  Tell us in the comments below or continue the discussion on twitter @oldgaulian.

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