While the Forza series has gotten really good at customizing a player's personal experience based on their driving knowhow, it hasn't made as much progress in terms of fine-tuning the computer-controlled competitors on the track. Forza Motorsport 5 aims to fix this with Drivatar – a type of learning AI system that governs every AI racer in the game.
Drivatar, a system powered by the cloud and fueled by the habits and behaviors of Forza 5 players, is something developer Turn 10 Studios hopes will make racing in Forza 5 more dynamic, unpredictable and true to life.
Drivatar actually made its debut in the first Forza Motorsport as a local learning system that gleaned information from race times and data on the console level in order to adapt AI behavior. "It was more like a Tamagotchi," Turn 10 Creative Director Dan Greenwalt told me prior to my two-hour demo at last week's Xbox One showcase in San Francisco. "You trained it, you managed it and you played with it," but no one other than you could affect it. And so the original version was too limited in scope.
Now, due to the Xbox One's cloud-computing potential, the feature can better achieve its intended vision. Drivatar in Forza 5 catalogs data from players who are connected online and forms a Drivatar profile, which can then go on and represent the player on other Xbox One consoles. As Drivatars race in your stead, you'll come back to rewards like experience and credits to buy more cars the next time you boot up the game.
Unfortunately, as wonderful as all that sounds, it's a feature whose impact is hard to quantify in two hours of play. It took almost an hour to complete enough races to even establish my own Drivatar profile and I wasn't able to log out, let my Drivatar race and come back to see what prizes it had earned. Regardless, the concept of racing against my virtual friends' Drivatar equivalent for comparison's sake is an alluring concept.
I did find my time with Forza was interesting, however, in that I could also augment Drivatar behavior at a local level. There are a few different presets: If you want racers to be forgiving, you can turn on the easiest difficulty mode but take a penalty against all in-game experience earned; beefing up the difficulty above normal nets greater experience, but opponents will be more aggressive.
Changing any of these parameters would cause a moment where the game re-synced with the cloud, proving that at least it was pulling data from a server somewhere. I found the difference in difficulty levels was evident: I dominated the easy Drivatars and spent a lot of time in last place against the most difficult Drivatars, who were good at fending me off and blocking open lanes during crowded race segments.
So at least in this way the system was able to prove itself, but overall I just didn't have enough of a baseline for Drivatar to get any indication on how it'll perform in the final version of Forza 5.
If nothing else, I got to see the cars – beautifully rendered in native 1080p and vrooming down the highway at 60 frames per second. Forza Motorsport 5 was certainly the most fetching game at Microsoft's Xbox One showcase for me, but its full impact on the evolution of racing games through the concepts presented in Drivatar is yet to be tested.
Forza Motorsport 5 launches on November 22 alongside the Xbox One. Monthly car pack DLC, in addition to a $50 Season Pass, will be offered. Those who import data from any previous Forza Motorsport game will be placed within a tier and gifted a free car at the outset of Forza Motorsport 5.