If racing games have served any didactic purpose, that purpose has been to teach Americans about obscure variations of Japanese wagons (ahem Nissan STAGEA 260RS AutechVersion). Forza 5 eschews any claim to breadth in exchange for stunning detail and a desire to teach all you monkeys how to not drive like assholes.
(Full Disclosure: Microsoft sent me an early copy of Forza 5 to review. They also sent me an Xbox One because no one has an Xbox One to use to review the game. They then sent me two copies of a game about zoos that I don't intend to play. Game companies are strange.)
Load your Forza 5 disc into your new, mercifully trayless Xbox One, and you'll be greeted almost immediately with the booming intones of Jeremy Clarkson, inarguably the most famous car guy on the planet.
Underneath his words are stunning visuals of cars and tracks and people and, well, it's basically the greatest argument for the automobile that anyone has or will ever make.
There's also a subtle suggestion of superiority in his words. Unlike Forza Horizon or, even, the new Gran Turismo, there's no promise here that they're giving you a sandbox world in which to create and play. They're not. Forza knows better than you, so just give your body over to it.
Why would you do such a thing? It's obvious from the moment you take over the controls that what the game's creators have done is create a world that crosses the uncanny valley into a place more beautiful than real life.
With little warning you're transmitted into a non-existent road course that takes you through the perfectly imperfect streets of Prague and puts you in a McLaren P1 for a race.
There are little details here so minute you almost don't notice them. The way the light flares off a windshield or a cloud seems to change direction. The deformation of your thumb on the wheel or the squeak of a tire.
The first time you're in the car you might even forget to start driving, the universe is just that complete. It's as if they hired Wes Anderson to unleash his miniaturist tendencies on the game's mise en scene.
But drive you will and, if you're using the new Xbox controller, a subtle change will also start to happen that you won't at first realize. Pull hard on the right trigger and you'll get a little buzz. Brake hard into a turn and you'll feel a buzzing in the left trigger.
Don't think too hard about it, just drive.
When this first race finishes you'll be taken, on rails, to your opening series. After another Clarkson introduction you can choose from a selection of modern sports cars, including the Subaru BRZ and Honda S2000. It doesn't really matter which you pick as you'll be transported to a number of (mostly) real tracks around the world.
It's here that the little buzzing — actually the new controller's haptic feedback — comes into play. Whereas in an FPS this might be used to mimic the kickback from a trigger, Forza wants to teach you a lesson.
Put a person who has never been on the track in a race car and they'll brake too early and too softly and then get on the gas way too late. When it's your ass (and someone else's car) on the line, you're a little careful.
Put a person who has never been on the track in a virtual race car and they'll body slam the go-pedal like Randy Savage and then brake, oh, maybe never.
It's this tendency to fight physics that the game is itself trying to fight, and if you do it wrong it'll let you know. This can be bothersome at first, and the game doesn't always seem to know the difference between driving style (in my case: bad and oversteery) and driving ineptitude, but it's usually right.
As with previous games, it'll give you a little kudos for a well-done turn or pass.
What allows Forza 5 to get away with this attitude, beyond the fact that you just forked over retail $$$ for the game, is that the game finally steers properly.
People prefer force feedback wheels over controllers for driving games because, in addition to the feedback, you can more easily pull off non-linear turns. Watch video of anyone driving on a track and you'll see that the speed with which they turn the wheel varies from corner to corner.
While you may slowly unwind the wheel around a long bend, a short burst around the esses may send you into snap oversteer, which requires a quick correction. It's what makes controlling drifts sans a wheel so difficult.
Forza now knows what you're trying to do when your vintage Skyline GT-R is suddenly perpendicular to the track coming out of the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Look down and you can see your own virtual paws making the fast correction.
Because I just got the system on Monday and have, unfortunately, spent most of my time playing a game called "UPDATING" in which the Kinect system waits to see how long you can stare at a slowly updating percentage before just wandering off to sob and masturbate in a corner, I've only put in a short amount of time playing and have to wait to form fuller impressions.
In addition to the Career Mode I did manage two races in a multiplayer setup, including one that put me on the Top Gear Test Track in Dunsfold, England. This was hilarious because, instead of just renting a car, I bought a TVR Sagaris — the British car equivalent of Thor on an acid trip.
Despite my critiques of bad video game drivers, I am maybe the worst. While I managed to finish the race and mostly keep up, the next track was the heavenly Bathurst.
Someone, surely, can drive a TVR Sagaris around Mount Panorama, but without a little practice that person isn't me. I ended up bouncing off the concrete walls, the little haptic feedback buttons screaming at me to exercise at least a little restraint.
Which leads to my last point. The people you'll be racing against aren't pre-programmed AI. They're "drivatars," which is a silly name for driving avatars that take data from actual drivers in the Forza universe and match them to you.
My Drivatar is basically a Drivatard, despite whatever reprogramming Forza is trying to do to my brain and my fingers. When you see him, you'll know. I apologize, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Ultimately, Forza 5 is to racing what eugenics is to science. All bad behavior is discouraged. Anything that the game's creators couldn't rescan and improve didn't make the cut, thus the paltry list of tracks and cars.
Is it better or more moral to expunge imperfection from the game at the cost of losing tracks like the Nürburgring? Do we lose our humanness? What is perfection?
There's a train of thought, normally associated with yoga but found elsewhere, that says happiness is impermanent, and the realization of this is what causes suffering. The only way to obviate this suffering is to be content in the here and now.
So when I'm worried about a video game having the audacity to think it knows better I plan to just meditate on the temporal and enjoy what is, no doubt, an entrancing and lovely experience.
Plus, it's Microsoft, so I'm sure there are going to be five million DLCs between now and Christmas.