2017 sure feels like a lifetime ago, huh? The Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One X just released, the battle royale craze was only beginning, the lootbox controversies were at their peak… it certainly was a long time ago, and it’s also the year the last Forza Motorsport released. Quite the anomaly, for a franchise that has always released a game every other year. By the time this review releases, I should have about 60 hours into this transformative new chapter simply called… Forza Motorsport. So… let’s get driving, shall we?
For such a massive reset of the franchise, developer Turn 10 had to go back to look in the mirror and figure out what is it in the Forza Motorsport formula that doesn’t work too well, what are the areas where other racers simply do a better job. I can sorta envision how such a meeting could have gone. The graphics? That has never really been an issue, both the Forza Motorsport and Horizon spin-offs by Playground Studios have been mindblowing visually – keep working as usual on the tech. The handling? It’s good, but it could be better. The campaign? Definitely needs some tweaks. The on-track simulation? Now that needs a lot of work, with proper tyre wear, fuel consumption, pit stops to be introduced. The online/eSports side? Surely that will need an overhaul. The faux controversy around Forza Motorsport 7’s lootboxes that were never even for real money and would effectively just translate to optional challenges that could make the event harder in exchange for bigger payouts? Better stay as far away from it, just in case. The penalty systems? Definitely need to switch that up. And what can Microsoft’s beefy Xbox Series X give Forza Motorsport? Quick Resume? Check. HDR, 60fps, 4K? Forza Motorsport 7 already supported those, no-brainer to keep them. Raytracing? Let’s figure out the best way to implement such a demanding technology. It’s quite a lofty set of goals to achieve, so let’s see how Turn 10 fared with all that.
Fortunately, the game doesn’t bore the player to death with endless cutscenes, text-based tutorials or eternal customization sequences, putting them behind the steering wheel of a car before long. How is the new Forza Motorsport? Well, in the driver’s seat, we can immediately feel the answer to many questions in our head. As someone who’s played tons of this franchise from 2 to 7, the difference can immediately be felt, even with the slower street car that we start with. While the general personality of the handling is certainly familiar, making it easy to throw the car’s weight around into fast corners if you learned that skillset in previous Forza Motorsport games, the way the tyres approach the asphalt feels like a major evolution. Even without going too high up on the simulation settings, you can really feel the car shaking as the kerbs are touched, the wheels locking up and skating on the gray, and that’s before the weather and tyre wear even come into play. For a franchise first in fact, Forza Motorsport has fully dynamic weather if the player chooses to use said option, which means that not only the rain, fog and other conditions may arrive even in races that seemed unlikely to have any, but the grip levels and driveability of the track also change gradually, letting drivers choose between staying out or pit for different rubber. Hold that pitstop thought for a second because the tyre wear itself has been drastically altered, so that finally we aren’t lapping on rubbers that stay fresh and performant even after 50 laps, but forcing players to manage the temperature, wear and so on. And unlike most racing games where there is just a noticeable gradual drop, Forza Motorsport also has the so-called cliff near the end of its life – if you miss your optimal pit window, suddenly you may find yourself lapping several seconds slower compared to the previous lap where the tyre still may have seemed passable, so beware!
Proper pitstops, like you find in most simcades and racing simulators nowadays, have similarly been a much desired feature in the franchise. For those not too familiar with real life races or other racers, this changes so much of how the competition plays out: fuel consumption and tyre wear drastically alter car performance, thus correctly identifying whether it makes sense if and when to pit can decide between an epic win or not even finishing on the podium. While Forza Motorsport already flirted with tyre wear and fuel consumption before, even having pitstops available for repairing the vehicle, this new installment finally brings the full package. If players choose to use the game’s race simulation options, players will have to manage tyre wear by not driving too aggressively, fuel consumption (even resorting to lift and coast at times), with longer, more treacherous races requiring one or more pitstop to complete. While pitstops remain a fairly automated process, players can decide on the spot which tyre they want, how much extra fuel they need if any, and what potentially damaged parts of the cars to repair, trading immediate performance improvements for the time loss of sticking to the pitlane longer. This element of strategy was sorely missing from Forza Motorsport, and while it feels a bit arcade-y in how it only takes a couple seconds to fix grave damage, it still drastically alters races and it would be hard to go back to Forza races without these pitstop options.
All in all, despite a familiar sensation behind the steering wheel, Forza Motorsport has done enormous steps forward to make the overall races more closely mimic what actually happens on racetracks across the globe. The AI, Forza’s very own Drivatar system, has received further tweaks as well, making them manage the race in a more credible fashion. They seem more prone to make errors under pressure rather than in random moments, their battling skills feel improved and so forth. Playing against the AI, of course, there’s still various tricks the player can use, such as hugging the middle of the track on tighter sections where the AI won’t attempt a daring move even with a large speed advantage. Fights against the artificial intelligence do feel more varied and enjoyable than before though, and their performance too is impacted by tyre choice, wear, track conditions and so on. While their behaviour can still be abused a bit, like it happens in virtually every racing game, I got quite a few unexpected divebombs and aggressive defensive manouvers from them, making me realize quite quickly the AI races can’t really be managed in the same “toxic” way we got through some difficulty spikes, with harsh penalties also making me lose the desire to play it rough too. Granted, there’s always the safety net of the optional rewinds if things go sideways, but these AI opponents make for much more enticing opponents than they usually do.
The career mode, which I’ll get into in a bit, is likely going to be where most players first encounter the “caRPG” aspect of the game, the individual leveling up and upgrading system that already worried a good bunch of the playerbase before launch. But let’s take a step back: how does it work? Instead of letting players throw virtual credits at any car to upgrade and optimize them for any event, the new Forza Motorsport demands commitment. Every car has its XP bar to fill via driving (and the cleaner and faster you drive, the faster it progresses), and leveling up unlocks new options that can then be used for the vehicle in question. Unlocking new driveshifts, gearboxes and whatnot even unlock extra setup options that can then be shared online, while reaching the maximum level of 50 allows for entire engine and driveshaft switches, drastically altering the car’s core mechanics and effectively “rerolling” its stats into something new to once again experience from the ground up. It’s quite an exciting progression system for each vehicle, and on the one hand, this forces players to find out about a car’s characteristics and, piece by piece, see it evolve into a much more customized and, hopefully, competitive machinery. On the other, maximizing a car’s level takes various hours of driving, which can be an annoying task to complete when you realize that, in order to beat a certain rival in Rivals mode (more on that later) you are almost certainly going to need a maxed out very specific car at times. Online players, fret not: while I’ll get into the specifics of multiplayer later, do know that this upgrade system, for the most part, does not impact the competitive racing at all.
If you’re a solo player, said lengthy career mode should definitely be your starting point. This is called the Builders Cup, and it puts players into a rather usual formula: completing a certain amount of races in a playlist, where winning each event isn’t mandatory, but in order to get the gold cup the player needs to score the most points across the various races. Each race features a mandatory set of 1 to 3 practice laps to complete, with a suggested laptime to beat to prepare for the race’s pace, though players can stay and “git gud” for longer if they so desire. These events remain, sadly, disconnected amongst them, with only a brief presentation as to what kind of car class we’ll be using this time. What sets it apart from previous games is the “Builders” aspect from the title: players and AI alike will level up their cars and upgrade their vehicle as the events go on, making the performance threshold for each consecutive race that much higher. You took a wrong development turn and you are on the backfoot? No problem, as the development tokens can be instantly refunded for free and be spent differently, on top of being able to tweak setups or download them from the ones shared from the community. And even beyond that, players have a lot of agency in what kind of races they want, as the game offers a cool risk versus reward system in the selectable starting grid positions. The player can start anywhere from P3 all the way down to P24, with the game even suggesting a starting position based on their practice laptimes – the farther in the back they start, the larger credit payment arrives if (and only if) they reach the podium. It’s a great system and it makes so that players can avoid the usual “Forza formula” in races, where a particularly competitive AI races drives into the sunset while we’re busy wrestling with the others and, by the time we get to 2nd place, the leader is way too far away. A more balanced AI and this new system tends to avoid such scenarios fortunately.
Naturally, this upgrade system has an impact on the career events, where not only the players but the AI opponents too will upgrade and tweak their vehicles as the series goes on. As far as custom races go, offline or online, the entire upgrade system is entirely optional. Rivals mode is obviously back, allowing players to play against other players’ fastest “ghost” times on any track with any class of cars, and here too the upgrades make a huge difference in the leaderboards. There was a legitimate worry by the community that this upgrade system would ruin the online races by giving players who grinded their cars to performance upgrades an unfair advantage, but that isn’t entirely accurate. For starters, let’s state the obvious: when doing custom online races, organizers can choose to use upgrades or ignore them, or even force every player to use cars 100% identical to theirs. In this case, the upgrade system is cleary not an issue that ruins the balance. Likewise, most of the online events boil down to rotating showcase events, using either specific cars or a category of them, and in the vast majority of events these cars can not be upgraded in the slightest, with most player agency boiling down to choosing tyre pressure, compound and fuel load, which is more a strategic choice than one solely about the pace itself. These races are usually very well-crafted, with cars and tracks well matched to create exciting races. One such exhilarating combo that I just felt the need to go back to is the fast-paced Club version of the brand new Japanese fictional Hakone track, with its sakura trees and the Fuji mountain in the background, where the moderately fast and stable touring cars roll around smoothly and with powerful slipstreams making for some astonishing races. I had two different races here where the race winner was decided by just about one tenth of a second after a race-long battle between multiple cars.
A fully revamped practice and qualifying mechanic also plays a role in these events. Most of them allow joining/registering into one of the matchmade sessions in that combination of track/car specs, leaving plenty of time for players to hit the asphalt. This entire waiting time, that can be reduced by joining up to 5 minutes early (not later than that), is effectively a practice session where players can learn the ins and outs of the track, tweak their setup and more, all while using as many tyres and compounds as they desire, allowing for race stint simulations and such as well. When the player is ready, they can then commit to qualifying, which is a set of 3 not necessarily consecutive laps that determine the starting order, based on whoever gets the better times. This effectively happens concurrently to the practice, so each player can decide to qualify immediately or wait until the end after several practice laps. Since dynamic weather is a factor in most of these races, timing the qualifying laps could be impacted by the weather, as I had multiple events where rain rendered qualifying later a huge problem.
On the flipside, this multiplayer feels a tad aimless and, so far, a bit barren in terms of player agency and possibilities. One of my favourite racing game memory is the good old Forza Motorsport 3, and I remember how there was an entire class browser of sorts, allowing players to specifically find whatever kind of event they wanted organized by the community. Touring, ovals, GT, you name it. As of now, the new Forza Motorsport only has these developer-picked events and invite-based custom races, with as of now no way to organize anything else via matchmaking and such. There is an online safety system that declares how clear of a racer you are, but there’s currently no ranked mode or a leaderboard to climb, making the online events feel a tad disconnected from one another. Still, the netcode seems sound, with even this limited pre-release window with a reduced number of players across the globe offering a rather lag-free experience, which is absolutely crucial when it comes to close racing and potential collisions. And the new penalty system has drastically impacted multiple races I’ve been into, mostly fairly punishing drivers who, voluntarily or otherwise, raced too hard or cut corners with way too much aggressivity.
Rivals mode is predictably back, allowing players to compete with global leaderboards and friends in every class of car per every single configuration of each track. That’s a lot of “ghosts” to beat, and here indeed the car upgrade system plays a huge part. Certain vehicles, in order to be competitive in certain contexts, absolutely demand being taken up to level 50, after which a better engine and drivetrain can also be applied, making them absolute time-hunting beasts. And what if I want to just race against the AI in the conditions I choose? Well, a more thorough than ever custom race mode exists too, where players can tweak and tune just about any rule, even down to the intensity of the penalties, the starting time and time speed when it comes to the day/night cycle, the weather changes and so much more. With 10 different AI difficulties to boot, and the usually vast amount of driving settings, ranging from semi-automatic braking and accelerating all the way down to very sim-like racing, it’s easier than ever to find the perfect spot for any kind of racer. As is my usual as a mainly controller player, I tend to keep a decent amount of driving assists such as traction control, but keeping AI difficulty, penalties and such high, forcing myself to pretty much master every car and track to beat the challenges I face. The revamped physics and controls make driving, even with a handful of assists, feel dirtier and more challenging, with the car’s oversteering needing to be fought more, the uneven surfaces bouncing the car around more, and tyres locking up more often. As of now, the game offers dozens of tracks with various configurations each: from Forza originals like good old Maple Valley and the brand new Japanese track in Hakone, to unmissable racing classics like Indianapolis, Le Mans, Nurburgring, Laguna Seca, Mugello, and so on. Likewise, the car selection is absolutely ridiculous with over 500 cars at launch already and more to come in the future. Retro, GT, street, muscle, you name it: there’s something for everybody here.
At this point, I feel like prefacing a Forza game citing that it looks gorgeous is pretty much a given. Be it the mainline Motorsport series or Horizon, nearly all installments pushed astonishing car models for the times, fantastic particles, excellent light systems, on top of increasingly spectacular extreme weather scenarios in recent years. Yet another series of improvements arrived here, with a further revamped lightning system, fog and clouds even more realistically behaving when it comes to visibility, and so on. Most noticeably perhaps, to use Series X’ strengths, the game features ray-tracing (RTAO) on all vehicles, accurately reflecting other cars and the scenario with a precision rarely seen on console. This can actually be turned off by sticking to the Performance visual mode, where every asset is of very high quality at a stable 4K 60 frames per second. I frankly recommend this mode if you play with the cockpit view, as you’ll rarely see said reflections anyway and the general image quality this way is the highest available. Otherwise it’s either the Performance RT, that makes a couple compromises such as a 1440p resolution as opposed to 4K to mantain the 60fps, or the Visuals mode where all eye candy is there but at 30 frames per second. Now, you probably know that a lower refresh rate in a racing game is probably not a good idea, but in truth playing through various Builders Cup events at 30fps felt surprisingly smooth and solid, much thanks to the Forza games having their physics update way more than 30 times per second, partially mitigating the negative effects of the fewer frames. I still spent the vast majority of time in the 60fps modes.
And what about other platforms? Sorry Xbox One or One X owners, the new Forza Motorsport is quite a technological leap and developer Turn 10 opted not to have to make it somehow work on last-gen hardware. It does work, however, rather spectaculary on Series S, Microsoft’s more compact and less powerful current-gen alternative: offering again 30fps and 60fps modes alike and resolutions up to 1440p, this little machine offers surprisingly similar graphics to the Series X, with only the aforementioned resolution compromises and some slight cutbacks on the raytracing. As is the case for a lot of games, first parties especially, put the Series X and S version side-by-side and, aside from the X supporting 4K and HDR, the visuals really aren’t all that different. Lastly, both me and our Jon tested the PC version a bit as well, with me trying multiple races on a pretty decent gaming laptop with an nVidia GeForce RTX 3050 as its GPU: turns out that the game chugs along rather well around 40-50fps at 1080p even keeping some settings higher than the console counterparts, though oddly enough I didn’t manage to get particularly high framerates (above 70 or so) even lowering the settings a lot. Feels like some driver updates will be needed to extract the maximum performance from the cards, but it’s a very competent PC port from my point of view, with tons of graphics settings, a built-in benchmark and then some. Special mention goes for the game’s push for accessibility as well across all platforms, with a menu narrator, colourblind options, subtitles, all the way down to one touch driving and assists for the visually impaired. I can’t really speak as to how effective these features are for those who actually need them, but the options seem expansive and polished enough. Speaking of polish, our review guides pointed out a couple game crash scenarios the developers were aware of, indicating these would be fixed. Indeed, in my dozens of hours of testing, I had a fair share of crashes, always while tweaking car settings or generally doing something in the menu, never while driving. I did lose my qualifying time in an online session after a crash while changing my tyres, but other than that it never resulted in any progress lost fortunately. I did also encounter a handful of visual glitches, and a few funny but potentially devastating bugs. These include one time where I was stuck in an external cinematic camera on the side of the track for the whole race, one case where my car remained in automatic drive mode leaving the pits and at pit speed limiter pace no less. Luckily for me, these did not occur in important events, because I would have been rather pissed otherwise presumably. All in all, given the state that AAA games release nowadays, it’s a handful of probably fairly easily fixable bugs, and the general look, performance, stability and netcode of the game seem extremely strong.
Ever since Forza Motorsport 3 at the very least, this franchise has always had some astonishingly detailed car models, both inside and out, with each feature of the car painstakingly recreated, all the way down to the feel of each individual material involved. With the new raytracing implementation and yet another graphical leap, inevitably one thing players will want to do is watch these cars close-up. Here comes Car Theater, basically a new name for Forzavista, that allows players to walk around a car, zoom in, open the doors, sit in, turn on the engine and lights and whatnot, with photo mode usable for zooming on these gorgeous vehicles even more. Perhaps after this many games the shock and awe of virtual cars looking this damn gorgeous fades away a bit but… just kidding, it never gets old. And this mode always features the highest available graphics settings across all available modes, to ensure that this limited space features the most detailed version of the car possible. With the game featuring over 500 customizeable cars, plenty of really cool photos can be taken in here.
Speaking of customization, this new Forza Motorsport’s shop and customization largely mimics what’s seen in previous installments. Every single car can be obtained via in-game credits, with no real money involved, with this time the most expensive vehicles seemingly peaking at a lower price as well. Duplicates can be bought if players desire to customize or upgrade them differently, with the possibility of even selling these personalized vehicles to the community at large. Just like in previous games, cars can be painted, with all kinds of official or user/community-made designs appliable to just about any surface, allowing players to create completely unique visuals for each vehicle. One interesting addition to the car collectathon aspect of the game is that you can build brand fidelity by owning and leveling up cars of the same brand, which in turn makes future buys of said marque significantly cheaper via cool discounts. Not quite a decisive reason to collect cars, but a nice little bonus for those who would like to do so.
With the (frankly misplaced) controversy of Forza Motorsport 7’s lootbox system and the recent trend of many AAAs featuring battle passes, premium currencies and all kinds of grinds, there was a legitimate concern that the new Forza Motorsport would fall pray to these design choices. For better or worse, depending on your views of these systems, the game’s paid aspects remain virtually the same as the ones in Forza Motorsport 7 back in 2017. The VIP membership to gain more credits, the car pass to obtain all future paid vehicles and so on stay, with them included in the game’s Ultimate Edition as well which, among other things, allows players to play the game 5 days early: on October 5th 2023, as opposed to the proper launch on October 10th, which is also the day in which the game will be available to all Game Pass, Game Pass PC and Game Pass Ultimate subscribers. As per usual for most games in the service, Game Pass owners receive the Standard edition, no DLCs included, though there’s a cheaper upgrade path for those who already “own” the game via Microsoft’s subscription service and just want to buy the extra content, without having to shell out for the whole package. Given the support for the game should easily last a couple years at least, it’s an upgrade I usually go for when it comes to Forza games, as the amount of content released in the months and years tends to more than justify the price. What we currently know of this new Forza’s future is that new tracks should be free for everyone, with only the new cars costing money. We’ll see how things evolve with time of course.
Ultimately, it all boils down to Forza Motorsport being an exhilarating simcade racer, in many ways not only the best title in the franchise but surpassing other similar titles. The on-track experience has never been this good, with improved AI when playing solo, tons of tweaks to the physics, great tyre and fuel management, dramatic dynamic weather and much more, redefining once again what it means to simulate the ins and outs of a race weekend, from the practice all the way to the chequered flag. It also happens to be one of the best looking games on any console right now, an all-round technical showcase, though a handful of glitches and crashes did impact my experience a bit. A handful of doubts remain over the new car upgrade system, plus the career mode and multiplayer not evolving as much as the rest of the package. But all in all, Forza Motorsport is a fantastic racer, offering its most comprehensive, realistic and spectacular racing experience ever. It was a long wait, but it was absolutely worth it.