PC, Xbox Series X
October 10, 2023
Xbox Game Studios
Turn 10 Studios
The Forza Motorsport Series has always been the flagship racer on Xbox. It is their answer to PlayStation’s long-running Gran Turismo series and carries a storied history of quality, enjoyable titles. For the past few years though, the spotlight has been on the excellent open-world variant Forza Horizon. While we have received two entries in the Horizon series over the past few years, the last proper, on-track, Forza was all the way back in 2017.
This latest title, aptly named Forza Motorsport comes hot on the heels of some very tasty presentations and a very well-received hands-on preview. Touting numbers like 500 vehicles, over 800 upgrades, 20 living environments and claimed photo-realistic graphics – Turn 10 has set its sights high with this one. But all those numbers and promises only matter if this game actually delivers where it counts.
As is standard in this series, booting up Forza Motorsport provides you with a pretty video intro before some narrative throws you straight into the driver’s seat. The opening of the game consists of a couple of staged races, designed to get you into a couple of cars and gives you the opportunity to tweak your settings before getting into the game proper.
What quickly became apparent is that yes, the game does look – at times – incredible, although it’s difficult to notice from the cockpit (my traditional view) once you get outside the car and even on the nose in first person the sensation of speed and detail in the graphics is pretty impressive for the most part. The other thing that quickly becomes apparent is that Forza Motorsport is further into the arcade end of the spectrum than I was expecting.
Whilst yes, you can tweak your settings, remove the rewind function, and add in things like off-track and contact penalties as well as tire and fuel usage, it really comes down to the control of the cars. I found that pretty much any car I drove loved to oversteer and drift corners, which is fine if that is your jam and will be familiar to Horizon fans, but for me some of these cars are supposed to drive like they are on rails. I just didn’t get that same sensation screaming through turns and hitting apexes that I do in other more sim-like titles.
It is hard not to compare Forza Motorsport not only to Gran Turismo 7 but also to the excellent Horizon games. So when it sort of plays like Horizon but just on circuits, it just doesn’t feel serious enough to me. It feels a little less premium and less detailed overall which isn’t ideal really.
The arcade feel of Forza Motorsport flows through to the AI racers as well, who are more than happy to dive bomb you into a corner then use you up on the way out, or simply run you off the track. They do it to each other as well; it’s not uncommon to see a vehicle careen off the track at the start of the race, so at least nobody is playing favourites I guess. They run funny lines and love the odd brake check as well, I have to admit that although annoying at times it does keep things interesting.
I found this then impacted my own driving; as a sim racer (iRacing), car contact and off-tracks are a big no-no due to the inevitable safety rating impact or resulting damage to my car. In Forza Motorsport though, once I knew the rules of engagement I found myself adopting the same sort of behaviour: late-braking, dive bombing and just moving my competitors out of the way for position.
With penalties on, each time you make contact or head off track your racing transgression pops up onscreen whilst the stewards decide if it is worthy of a time penalty or not. They are wildly inconsistent, on a number of my less proud moments I thought I would be receiving a nasty time penalty, but when it flashes ‘no penalty’, I’ll take it!
Turn 10 says that Forza Motorsport includes 500 cars at launch, it doesn’t feel like it though. To be honest, the roster feels like a similar set of vehicles to the ones we have been driving in Horizon for years. Even though the menus are similar I really think they needed to change things up to help this new one feel fresh and different.
In Forza Motorsport, the core of the game is its career mode, Turn 10 described it as the full campaign experience but unfortunately, I found it to be disappointing. There are about 25 different championships in all to unlock as you plod along. It was during my career journey I noticed that Forza Motorsport is dominated by road cars, yes there is a sprinkle of proper race cars here and there but unless you set up your own race it’s going to be a while before you get to drive one.
To me, factoring in the handling as well, this really does make it feel like Forza Horizon but on-track. Compared to GT7’s excellent cafe approach, where there seemed to be some purpose and reason to try different things and appreciate the differences, you still ended up in proper race cars, doing proper racing before too long. It just does not feel like the same level of care or thought was taken here.
In Forza Motorsport the cars level up like it’s an RPG which is a bit strange, earning car parts and the like the more you race your car. You can self-select the modifications you want or simply press a button and it will automatically choose the best parts. I found this novel, but a bit of a weird approach; if you level up so do your competitors so it’s all a bit pointless actually. This also crashed my game a bunch of times, even post-launch.
During the main career mode, the game forces you to do a few laps of practice. A nifty inclusion is that depending on your difficulty settings it will change the target lap time, which is really handy because it gives you a tangible measure of your skills vs the field. Unfortunately, although career mode does let you practice it doesn’t place you on the grid by qualifying time. It will however let you select your grid spot, the further back you start the better the bonus.
As with many games in this genre you earn money based on where you finish. I found the reward amounts very fair vs the length of the races which means it’s not difficult to build up enough money to buy some decent cars along the way. Many of the more special, more expensive race cars aren’t totally out of reach. On launch, GT7 was criticised for the low reward vs high-value cars and I am pleased to say Forza Motorsport has dodged this bullet nicely.
On the graphics side, Turn 10 has definitely delivered with Forza Motorsport for the most part. Photo realistic might be a tiny bit of a stretch but it’s definitely darn close in moments. When it comes to time of day and rain effects it’s pretty much spot on, even though you really need to be outside the car to take it all in. The rain effects are impressive particularly when it’s really stormy and you can see the rain coming across the track in waves, very cool.
Forza Motorsport features Ray Tracing during gameplay, rather than just for replays like in Gran Turismo 7, and features different graphics v performance modes. I found that even in full-on pretty mode the game still runs really well so I have left it on that setting on my Xbox Series X for the most part and didn’t need to tinker. PC owners might need to think about some trade-offs though depending on their kit.
I have also managed to get online and test my racing skills against some real people, which was a lot of fun. It’s easy to get started by completing a couple of mandatory races against other newbies so you can be assigned a safety rating before being unleashed to race the masses.
In the couple of races I did I found the racing to be very respectful overall, none of the swearing and cursing that you sometimes get when road racing online. I suspected that it might be a crash fest but I was happy to be proved wrong and the lobbies I was in were full of decent people to race with. Sure, a few cars got into each other, but that’s fine we will take the extra couple of positions where we can. My overall experience was glitch-free and in one race I started in the back and managed a podium finish without any incidents or penalties. I call that a win.
Given that Forza Motorsport is designed to be a couch game with a controller rather than a hardcore wheel and pedals required to go fast, I think a healthy casual online racing scene will develop around this game and over time will become its focus. The online racing is definitely more exciting than the single-player experience, so hopefully it gets the attention it deserves from players.
- Excellent visuals across the board
- Balanced and reasonable reward system
- Implementation of some Sim-like features
- Career mode is very basic and no frills
- Car selection is very road car focussed
- Dodgy AI racers
Make no mistake, Forza Motorsport is a couch racer designed for a gamepad so people looking for a simulation experience need not apply. Overall, Turn 10 has got the job done, delivering a title that looks fantastic and is an enjoyable play. Unfortunately, Forza Motorsport lets itself down in a few areas, mainly the career mode which is very basic as well as (arguably) a focus on road cars which makes it feel more like a track day rather than a serious racer. Forza Motorsport is pretty good, it’s just not yet at the level of its competitors, nor is it as fun as Forza Horizon which puts it in a very difficult position. It’s just not different enough; even the menus are the same and so are the majority of the cars on offer. The online experience was a highlight, and will probably be the key part of the game that will keep me coming back for more.