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Comparing FM5 to Previous Series' Titles

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Some wise man once said that comparisons are odious at best -- but another wise man said that you cannot know where you are if you don't have an awareness of where you have been!

That being the case it is a good idea for us to take a look at where we have been and where we have arrived, because the journey has great potential to reveal in its up-sights the sort of information that can permit a far keener appreciation for what we have -- and what we have had -- than an absence of the consideration of this sort can supply.

It usually helps to start at the beginning, and that is right where we will start this exploration - with the original Forza Motorsport -- the game that created the series. That is a great place to start because the launch of FM -- like the launch of the original Xbox -- shook up the industry and the gamer community in ways that nobody could have predicted.

Forza Motorsport - May 2005

In the beginning the video game console world was divided: Atari, Nintendo, Sega, and a dozen smaller players -- including three small companies owned by Sony -- who would eventually be joined by NeoGeo, NEC, and finally Sony itself under its own name.

The round dozen smaller players battled with each other for a foothold among the second tier of players, but the main force in the world of console gaming all the way up to October 2001 consisted of Nintendo, Sega, and Sony -- three major players and a dozen smaller ones, with the former wielding significant control over the industry and publishers, while the latter never really amounted to much except on a regional level.

That all changed in November of 2001 with the North American launch of Microsoft's new games platform, a large slab of a game system called the Xbox.

When the Xbox arrived that November, despite the serious weight Microsoft put behind it, the Xbox was initially classed among the second tier of platforms, mostly because it lacked the full support of major game studios - but that would quickly change.

It was correctly viewed as the new kid on the block to be sure, but a lot of the players in the industry -- most notably Sony -- failed to recognize just how genuine a threat the Xbox posed, and why.

The source of the danger the Xbox brought to the industry was not that it was a new platform that would further divide the pie, or that it arrived at a very opportune time, with Sony, Sega, and Nintendo the three weakened survivors of what had been a very serious fight for market share that had only resolved the previous summer.

Yas Marina Circuit - the Crown of Abu Dhabi

The true threat that the Xbox posed went completely undiscovered for months and, in fact, it was not until the platform finally arrived in Asia in late February 2002 (and in Europe the following month) that companies like Sony finally understood that they now faced a new sort of struggle -- a battle they were ill equipped to fight: they faced a games console that was itself built around a gaming experience.

Up until the launch of the Xbox console gaming was defined by a common experience: you plugged your games platform into your TV, you plugged it into the electrical outlet, you attached the controller, and then you put a game in and turned it on.

Mark that sequence carefully mates - once the device was set up, you first put in a game and only then you turned it on. The platform would begin the boot process, self-check its circuits and components and only then access the game that was inserted -- be that a cartridge or a disc -- and begin loading the game.

For all practical purposes the identity of the platform came down to the logo and name either printed on the outside or, more likely, on a badge that was affixed to the outside -- because by itself and with no game loaded into it, consoles had about the level or personality of a brick.

The launch of Microsoft's Xbox changed all that.

It changed all that because Microsoft never intended to enter the console market strictly as a console.

The Xbox LIVE service that we know today was always intended to be part of Microsoft's reality -- the intentional creation of the combination of a gaming platform experience both as an entity and socially, with an emphasis upon identity.

By the time both Sony and Nintendo fully understood what it was they were facing the damage was done.

Only Sony acted decisively in responding to this new threat -- creating its PlayStation Network to be deployed with their next gen console, the PlayStation 3, but by the time it arrived Sony found itself trapped into a defensive posture.

While Sony was spending the lion's share of its efforts on expanding its PlayStation Network with the serious intentions of outdoing LIVE -- and while its attention was diverted to doing this, Microsoft began to attack other strong points that Sony had enjoyed unchallenged, and for so long, that Sony simply did not see this new threat coming until it was far too late to stop.

The first foundation point Microsoft targeted was the Auto-Racing Simulation gaming genre -- not the arcade style racing game mind you, as those were a dime-a-dozen with practically every major game studio at one time or another having issued a few arcade style racers so that nobody took the genre seriously.

For nearly ten years Sony's Gran Turismo series dominated racing simulation. It was one of Sony's major success stories.

There was no competition -- if you wanted to simulate professional auto-racing on lifelike Tracks laid down as faithful copies of the real-world venues, your only choice was the GT series, and Sony essentially owned the genre.

While Sony was focusing on catching up with Microsoft and its online social network, Microsoft released a new game called Forza Motorsport and proceeded to blindside Sony yet again!

Sony not only failed to see the move coming, but had no reaction -- official or otherwise -- ready.

The reaction of the gamer community and the GT fan-base appeared to suggest that thanks to the over-the-top posturing in Microsoft's pre-release promotional activities, the GT community felt confident that there was nothing to fear.

After all Sony owned he genre. Any real competition simply be incredibly expensive to stage, would require an outlay of development costs -- including the digitization of the Tracks and the interpretation of literally every system on a car from tyres to the engine and the physics of racing...

Logically there should be nothing to fear because nobody -- and especially not some tiny little game development studio with a silly name like Turn 10 -- would dare bring a fight into Sony's backyard. Right?

What they did not factor was that Turn 10 had a partner called Microsoft,

A partner with very deep pockets and a willingness to spend money because from its point of view there was far more at stake here than simply adding a new genre to its game catalog.

Microsoft's reaction to the contempt that the community showed began with a very serious series of regionally localized promotional events targeting gamers and, specifically, fans of the genre, and then switched to carefully targeted press events that were intended to woo and influence games journos falling just short of crossing the line that would violate the moral codes followed by most of the by then reformed games press.

When the game finally materialized on launch day, it turned out to be a serious take on racing simulation and, what was worse, it was a very good very accurate and realistic take on the genre that quickly won support from a segment of what were previously GT fans who were now what was to become known later as the Forza Faithful.

You cannot really blame them either - after all they were not PlayStation fans, they were racing sim fans, and from their point of view Forza Motorsport came to the table with an impressive array of 230 very well engineered and interpreted Cars from 60 modern automobile manufacturers!

Add to that a mixture of real-world Tracks spanning what was at the time a faithful representation of the world of the professional racing circuits -- racing venues that were implemented with at least the level of realism and accuracy offered by the GT series -- with some of the tracks actually exceeding the realism and interpretation levels then offered by Gran Turismo.

What you end up with then is, in very simple terms and every respect, a racing simulation fan's wet dream!

Adding insult to injury, many of the courses were actually far better than the Tracks in the GT series, and when they stopped to consider that this game was basically Microsoft's freshman entry into the genre, and you should find it rather easy to understand how the racing sim community began to build great expectations for the game that would follow Forza Motorsport as its sequel.

This new Forza game brought to the table a number of impressive and innovative new features that essentially allowed any gamer no matter what their skill level was, the means to competitively bring their game to the Tracks and, using Cars that the game itself helped them to tune and configure.

Thanks to the glowing suggestion line laid down on the very track surface -- a driving aid that acts as a dynamic tutor demonstrating precisely where the player needs to position their car, as well as how much gas or brake pressure to apply, how to enter, traverse, and exit from any corner on a track, offering an ingenious and effective tutor for those new to driving games as well as for experienced players!

While Sony was not beaten and there was no decisive victory to declare, the best that the former King of Consoles could manage was to fight Microsoft to a draw similar to the resolution of the Korean conflict -- with gamer living rooms divided by a DMZ called Nintendo, while Microsoft emerged from its first pitched battle having carved out roughly HALF of the market as its share, with Sony only just able to retain the other half!

What was even more shocking to Sony was the fact that, once Microsoft had obtained that market share, like a pit bull dog that has firmly latched onto a leg, Microsoft was not going to be beaten back, refusing to give up an inch of its hard-won share.

Bathurst Oz - Mount Panorama Circuit one of the funnest tracks in the game!

Forza Motorsport 2 -- May 2007

Following so quickly upon the heels of the game that established the series -- 2005s Forza Motorsport -- gamers and fans of the racing simulation genre had no way to know that a two-year development cycle would become normal for this new auto-racing simulation series.

Because it was an unknown quantity and, perhaps as well due to the startling success that the first game had enjoyed, there were more than a few fans of the game fearful that it would crash and burn with this sequel, that game studio Turn 10 was calling Forza Motorsport 2.

At the time of FM2's release on 24 May 2007 it was already dealing with incredible competition for gamer attention from the hot games of the previous Christmas season plus the games of the new season, including the PS exclusive title God of War 2 (March), and even as it grabbed its own share of that attention it was constantly being interrupted by new games being released.

The interruption began in earnest with BioShock (August), then Halo 3 (September), and finally the widely anticipated title The Orange Box in October, but it was the month of November that truly crushed any game looking for gamer hands and eyes.

The month of November 2007 was destined to be a banner year for major game releases and they arrived as a series not unlike the ordered firing of a battleship exercising its great guns; one after the other, exploding onto the gaming scene in a pure and impressive rolling rate of fire called November:

Burnout, COD4: Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, Project Gotham Racing, Rock Band, and Super Mario Galaxy, so is it any wonder that the gaming community was fractured? The month of November must have been a nightmare for games PRs whose job it was to promote their charges.

Its release on the new Xbox 360 platform likely helped to attract new fans to the series, and the new Gamerscore-focused Achievement System and its incredible draw that set the gaming world afire with new enthusiasm probably contributed in no small way... But FM2 ended up finishing the year with a very sizable margin of popularity despite the stiff competition!

The technical side of the game was improved by the new performance index scheme, and the return of the different assists that helped to level the playing field that were established in the original game once again helped to make FM2 accessible to all levels of driver skill, all of which goes a long way towards explaining its popularity with gamers and its massive award wins for the 2007 gaming year!

Forza Motorsport 3 -- October 2009

The most recent Gran Turismo gave Forza a run for comparison but, of course, as the two games are forever separated by their exclusive platforms, there never can be a head-to-head competition, right?

While on the one hand the comment “more of the same” is true enough, the fact that FM3 continues the tradition of making the game accessible to every range of driver skills continues to secure the position of the best auto-racing simulation game ever!

The big news for FM3 -- and what sets it apart from the previous two games -- is the efforts that were made by Turn 10 to improve the world of auto-racing simulation by working with the various support industries in order to better model and translate he physics of driving to make the game as accurate and meaningful a simulation as possible.

Turn 10 started with tires - sounds strange right? Well it is not! The engineers at the studio went to the tire companies and, using proprietary data completely remodeled the physics of the tires that are used in the game -- tires |arguably being among the most obvious “feel” effects for racing.

A large chunk of the final year of development was spent working with the car manufacturers in order to present as accurate as possible the physics and the driving experience for each car - and it shows. This contribution to the game is far more evident when you switch between Cars from race to race, and it only takes racing a variety of different cars on the same track to start to appreciate how each has its own unique feel and performance characteristics.

The engineers at Turn 10 are searching for the perfect racing experience, and based upon the very obvious improvements between FM3 and the two games that came before it, they are getting closer to achieving that perfection.

The first mixed Signature Event Race at Sebring

Forza Motorsport 4 -- October 2011

The initial reaction of the Forza Faithful to FM4 might understandably lean towards wondering just what direction the game went into considering that it features much the same track list as the previous game - but then once they get out onto the Tracks the differences between their substance in FM3 and in this newest title in the series becomes very obvious - considerable effort has been made to improve the interpretation of these real-world venues!

Game play in the previous title offers rewards in the newest in the form of certain Cars and a bundle of credits that transfer forward into the new game, which is something to write home about...

Once the strong feelings of deja vu are exhausted however, the new features begin to poke through the fabric of the game: the basic racing structure and theme of the game has changed for the better. In place of the rigid and organized racing structure of FM3 we now have what is described as the Forza World Tour in FM4, and it certainly makes racing more interesting if not more challenging, throwing the player into a constantly changing selection of Cars.

Reward Cars are presented as a choice rather than the chosen for you approach of FM3 -- but care must be taken in the making of the choice with each new Driver Level gained! This is where a solid knowledge for the many different makes and models of cars will give the moterhead a decided advantage over the casual racer -- as it really is a head-smack to discover that you chose a 25,000 credit reward car when one of the other choices turns out to be a six-figure ride!

All in all while most of the improvements to FM4 came in the form of game play style, there was still plenty of environmental and physics changes to render judgment of FM4 as the worthy successor of FM3... Just saying.

Forza Horizon -- October 2012

To say that Horizon was an unexpected bonus is to flirt with gross understatement - but there was plenty of prior notice in terms of what we could expect in this Not-a-Sequel of a game. Horizon was just the sort of real-world take on Forza that the Faithful have hoped for.

The racing situation finds you winning a wristband for a music-themed mountain-laced road racing festival in which you take your Cars off of the regulation Tracks and onto the highways, the byways, and the city streets and whoa doesn't THAT get you excited?!

The story that plays out in Horizon -- and there IS a story here -- is that of the average Joe Racer who battles against the odds and a pack of what we can only describe as professional racers, both to win fortune and fame, and of course to make a name for yourself.

Along the way you pick up a collection of Cars ranging from classics to modern day beauties, mostly by purchasing them with your hard won credits - but do not ignore the “Barn Finds” that you hear about on the radio and that your personal mechanic buddy will whip into shape for you - the modern day saga of forgotten steel that you can turn into a winning ride.

Horizon finally brings a story-mode campaign to the Forza series, but it also leverages everything about the series to offer players a unique experience with just the right amount of mystery to it. It is certainly a great way to occupy the year while we awaited the release of the next proper game in the main series!

Forza Motorsport 5 -- November 2013

Now we have come full circle to the newest title in the series - a sequel that is packed with controversy though that was clearly not the intention of Turn 10 - just call it the way that things worked out.

The smaller selection of racing environments include Tracks that have been refined to a polish so that they gleam racing excellence. Add to that a more intimate collection of Cars -- one that offers an increased sense of realism where we honestly did not believe there was room for improvement!

Whether the massive leap forward in the realistic presentation of the look and feel of the Cars that make up the stable in FM5 is the product of its appearance on the next generation of game console or the culmination of the previously established tradition of improvements that come with each new title in the series, either way it is the Forza Faithful who benefit.

If there actually is a conspiracy going on, that will soon become obvious as the game and its expansion progress, so taking a wait and see attitude is the best approach.

A Final Analysis

When the series began it was structured along the traditional racing circuit championship race model, and as each new game in the series all the way through FM4 arrived they seemed to progress that approach, and in the process they created something of grind. In fact that event grind that the games created is among the more noted features. Fans either loved it or hated it - there was no middle ground.

Fortunately by the time that they progressed to the point of having developed and leveled their racer they also accumulated sufficient rewards in terms of credits that allowed for the expansion of the player garage and its contents to a point that a sufficient selection of the higher-end and more desirable Cars were available to them.

The result of this progression was to take away much of the frustration and the pain that the grind tended to present. Factor in that the races that came late in the process also tended to be the ones that used the fastest Cars, and the system worked in spite of itself.

The arrival of FM5 introduces a very different approach to the Forza Universe -- gone is the massive list of often repetitive races, so easily distinguished by its seemingly endless checkerboard of tick marks, each of which represented a series of races that all must be completed to obtained that all-important tick mark.

Factor in Achievements that tied directly into that process -- most notably in FM4 the Forza World Tourer and the Bucket List Achievements -- a pair that to this day can give just the hint of a tremor to the hands of even the most serious fan, and the new approach delivered in FM5 represents far more than simply a breath of fresh air!

The most significant changes in the new game are its new focus upon driving alone -- which is best illustrated in the way that the Achievements system divides up the experience between the races in Campaign Mode (which is the single-player side) and the races in the multi-player side.

Despite the fact that they have similar processes and values to them -- for solo play the Achievement to unlock is called “Golden Standard” and requires the player to have won 400 Gold Medals in Career Races, while the flip-side of that coin is the collection of Achievements for winning medals (ANY medal) in the Multiplayer Races.

These include individual Achievements for 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, 70, 90, 110, 200, and 325 Medals, an aspect of the game that while it places the to-be-expected emphasis upon online multiplayer play, does not force onto the players the sort of requirements that would have been the case in the previous games in the series - like requiring them to be Gold Medals.

It may not be entirely obvious but the message that this sends is pretty easy to interpret once you know what you are looking for: Forza Motorsport has started to mellow in its advanced age and position in the genre.

Perhaps what it is to put a fine point upon it is that the game series no longer has anything that it really needs to prove -- there can be no question that it is now an established element in the genre, or that it enjoys a position of persuasive power in that genre.

With the series now having finally reached a point at which it is displaying a level of confidence in its own position in the gaming community, prior experience with games and game series suggests that we can now look forward to the game reaching out and expanding its presence now that it has the maturity to do it well.

In fact it has already started to display this intention with the launch of Forza Horizon -- and if history is any indication, we can expect similar efforts as, now that the development house is secure in its foundation position as a primary player in the racing simulation genre, it should be interested in seeing where else it can take the franchise -- particularly now that it knows that the fans not only will accept that sort of gesture, but encourage it.

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