Forza Motorsport Hands-on Preview – For the love of cars

Posted on September 12, 2023

It’s been a while – six years in fact – since the last mainline Forza Motorsport entry. Xbox has, over the years, crafted a series that loves cars, and while its focus recently has been on partying across a large open world in the incredibly polished Forza Horizon series, Forza Motorsport is back, the first fully-fledged racing sim entry on this generation of consoles. And wow, it looks bloody incredible. We had the chance to get our hands on a few races ahead of the games launch next month, along with hearing from Dan Greenawalt, GM of Motorsport, and Chris Esaki, Creative Director at Turn 10 Studios.

There’s an inherent smoothness as soon as you load up Forza Motorsport. Menus feel slick, the audio is crisp and satisfying, and visually the UI jumps off the screen – and that’s before we even talk about the cars themselves. Dan Greenawalt said that the overall vision of the franchise and what they’ve been trying to do is to build community. “We want people to fall in love with cars. We wanted to take gamers and get them into cars and get car lovers and turn them into gamers. We’ve been saying that for a lot of years. And what I’m really proud about, what I’m really excited about is how that has translated into this new Forza Motorsport.”

For those wondering about the core difference between the Horizon series and Motorsport, he breaks it down that the love of cars comes through in different ways in each franchise. “Horizon does that through exploration, does it through fun, freedom, and traveling around this big world of Mexico. In Motorsport, it’s about competition and skill, building that bond with the car through learning, and finding your fastest self.” Indeed, there is no open world to galavant about in Motorsport; what you’ll find instead is a measured racing experience, with racing and competing the core focus.

“It’s a constant sense of progression, and Forza Motorsport makes it feel bloody excellent just shaving off milliseconds from your time.”

We got to try five different tracks as part of our hands-on preview, which will form the tutorial for the rest of the game. While you won’t see “license tests” like in other racers, instead getting you on the track and into a vehicle as quickly as possible. That said, there’s a reliance on doing a practice run first so that you can learn the track and shave seconds off of your time to ensure you’re ready to compete with others. This practice also nets you experience that can be used to upgrade your vehicle to be more effective, so you might even spend multiple races simply competing against your own ghost time before tackling a tournament series.

Chris Esaki refers to this as “unlocking your fastest self”, and you do this through each lap that is broken into segments, so you can focus on improving specific sections of each track. You’ll know how long it took you to take a certain corner and nail the pacing. That feedback is given in real time, so you can learn and make adjustments for the next lap to improve. It’s a constant sense of progression, and Forza Motorsport makes it feel bloody excellent just shaving off milliseconds from your time.

“One of the things that you’ll find is this (racing) term called 10 tenths.” says Chris. “It’s this notion of how much of the car are you using at any given time and if you’re running at 10 tenths that means you’re using every available piece of grip and power of the car to get your fastest lap time around the track.”

Chris continues to talk about the reason for this system coming to life. “…we have well over 500 cars, new cars coming all the time, tons of upgrades, tons of different ways to tune the car. How were we able to, with our 20 tracks, all those different corners, understand how fast you were going with that one of those 500 cars with all those different upgrades and all those different tunes through that one corner? It was just a huge problem to solve, and the way to solve it that we came up with is to create an AI that could, through machine learning, take all of those cars and all those upgrades and tunes and drive through every corner and find that theoretical fastest time. That became the basis of the heartbeat of the game.”

The car mastery system with this score letting you know how you’re doing was incredibly helpful throughout my session. I’m not a traditional “car guy”, but the feeling of improving step by step with small upgrades feels great. And don’t worry, for those of you who don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of specific car details (or simply don’t know them), there’s a “quick upgrade” button that applies the best and most efficient tweaks to your car with your available money, to save you figuring it our for yourself, which I found to be a bit of a godsend. This is said to be reminiscent of RPG progression, as you gain XP, grow your car, unlock parts and build that bond over time. Unlocking your fastest self.

Unsurprisingly, the tracks we played looked stunning. Maple Valley, Hakone, Grand Oak, Mugello and Kyalami all have slight differences in the vehicle, but I couldn’t help but be awestruck as I was gliding around them. A high-speed racing game probably isn’t the best to be distracted by pretty, but it’s difficult not to be impressed by the visual work that has been done by Turn 10 to truly bring Forza Motorsport to life. Previously, I’d said Forza Horizon 5 was the best-looking game I’d seen, but this one could absolutely pip it at the post.

Dan mentions that there are multiple rendering modes on the Xbox Series X to achieve this game dev witchcraft. “As far as the rendering modes on the Xbox Series X, we have three. We’ve got one that is really targeted towards 4K60 frames per second. It’s rock solid, that’s the default. That’s how I tend to play. Personally, I really prefer 60 frames per second, and because cars have such high contrast sharp angles, I actually find the resolution is preferable to me, but it’s a personal choice. There are people on the team who prefer to go with the performance ray tracing that has a scalable resolution, but you get little aspects of ray tracing that actually make the car feel a little bit more connected to the environment at times. And then there’s the full visuals mode, which goes to 30 frames per second.”

“Now because the Xbox Series X and the Series S are basically the same architecture, it allowed us to have resolution really be the only difference between those two consoles.” He adds. “That does change the performance targets of the Series S. As a result, you’re playing at 1080P. We have upscaling to 4K, and so the ray tracing performance mode that had a variable resolution just didn’t make sense. So that one has two modes: performance and visuals.”

While our time spent playing Forza Motorsport has been short so far, we’re itching to dive back in. The franchise is known for being able to tweak your racing experience, including the skill of your opponents, and the rewards associated, and this is no different. Even little touches like being able to choose your grid position, and placing a bet on yourself and your own skills, is a tantalising prospect.

We won’t have long to wait. Forza Motorsport releases for Xbox Series X|S and PC, also via Xbox Game Pass, on October 10, 2023.