Over the Bathurst 1000 weekend (October 12-13 for anyone who doesn’t follow it), Microsoft entered a wildcard car with the aid of Triple Eight Race Engineering and their own Xbox One brand. The idea was to help promote the fact that Forza 5, a launch title for Xbox One, was releasing with Bathurst as one its premier tracks -- a real boon for Australian motorsport given the Forza pedigree.
On the face of it, despite the huge cost in getting a car (or two) together, recruiting two capable drivers, along with a pit crew and all the peripheral activity around promotion, you could be forgiven for thinking this whole thing was just an expensive promotional stunt, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The Xbox One team, lead by international touring car drivers Andy Priaulx (UK) and Mattias Ekström (Sweden) not only put in a 110 percent effort, they made an impact, breaking into the top 10 after 161 laps and also lead for more than 30 of those, combined. For a wildcard entry, this was a phenomenal feat.
Their efforts and success, however, are more or less a reflection of the work Turn 10 has put into the Bathurst track in Forza 5. I saw this firsthand while out at Bathurst as a guest of Microsoft. Seeing the race was a bonus to the ins and outs I was given access to, including a hot lap in an SS Commodore and full access to the Xbox One garage, among other things -- all built around information synergy: giving me a heads up on how the track and cars work, and how they ought to translate to the game. The end result is a stunningly beautiful recreation of one of racing’s most sought after tracks, and one of Australia’s most iconic and demanding races.
While the demo I saw was in hands-off mode, the track likeness was immediately noticeable. From the Armor All bridge and the Rydges Hotel, to the twists and turns up and down the mountain before opening up on Conrod Straight, the team has done a stellar job capturing both the look and feel of the track but, more importantly, its character. I asked if we’d see any dynamic weather come into play as it was forecast to rain on race day which got me thinking about how a slick surface would really shift up a player’s approach to driving.
“We had to make some hard choices about a year and a half ago,” explains Turn 10’s Guy Welch. “We wanted to commit to be a launch title [but] we also wanted to commit to being 1080p, 60 frames per-second, so for this edition of the game it’ll just be as you see it here, there won’t be any weather effects. Which is heartbreaking, but there are so many decisions that are heartbreaking when you’re making a game.”
The irony of this seeming let-down though, is the skyline we’re looking at on-screen is almost 1:1 with the actual weather outside. The game’s yellow, sun-drenched hue has been lifted perfectly off the real-life racecourse and helps give the track that Aussie sunburnt slice of character. The car they’ve modelled for the demo is a 2011 HSV V8 supercar, and we’re told we’ll see the full 2011 line-up of cars included in the game upon release -- more importantly though, was the way the car handled around the course which, in the wake of actually experiencing a hot lap in a car not much less powerful than the real thing, was a sight to behold.
“This [Bathurst] has been on the shortlist since Forza 3,” Welch reveals. “The team here’s been clamouring for it, but also folks on the forums; it’s reputation for being such a legendary track… [and] how we changed how we actually get tracks into the game... you know, now we have laser scanning whereas before we were using old surveying methods which were just really time intensive and not very accurate. So now it’s just more realistic.”
There’s also an obvious and highly likely addition coming in the Triple Eight Race Engineering Xbox One entry as a driveable car in Forza 5, though Turn 10 could neither confirm nor deny its inclusion, but given the level of access the studio was handed to Australia’s great motorsport (with the likes of Mark Skaife serving as a consultant for both the track’s inclusion in the game and Xbox One’s wildcard entry), I’ll go out on a limb to say it’s a no-brainer.
Unfortunately we didn’t see more than just a single car on the track, but it was enough to prove the team is serious about our slice of Australiana in their global-reaching game. And as I’ve peppered throughout this preview, having a more personalised, up close look at the track and race workings that go into Bathurst helped really bring home what it means to have Mount Panorama included at this level. There’s no element of the content that looks or feels tacked on, and the fact that with the new laser scanning technology, as well as the high level of detail that goes into every car Turn 10 has ever included in their series, this will be the most realistic depiction of Bathurst in a videogame ever cannot be overstated.
For race fans who’ve been wanting to get as close to the real thing without being there or driving a physical car, Forza 5’s Bathurst is going to be as close as you’ll get, and at 1080p and a smooth 60fps, it’s looking to be one of the top interpretations of just what the Xbox One is capable of. Here’s hoping the final release lives up to the promise and, after such an amazing feat on race day, V8 Supercars could probably do well to entice the Xbox One racing team back for another crack at glory around the Mountain.