It’s incredible how after all these years, Forza has been so consistently successful. Along with tens of millions of copies sold across games, it’s also critically acclaimed across its many entries. However, much of that recent success is due to Playground Games and Forza Horizon, which achieved high standards in almost all aspects. The game that started it all, Forza Motorsport, has been missing in action since 2017 with the controversial but still very good seventh iteration.
In addition to supporting Forza Motorsport 7, Turn 10 Studios went back to the drawing board. It didn’t just ignore the troublesome aspects, like the Prize Crates or the boosters, but looked at how to evolve the series’ systems, from the racing itself to the progression and what it’s all about.
To that end, it’s apt that Forza Motorsport doesn’t have a number to signal a continuation of the old. It’s a new start that captures the magic of racing while polishing it to an insane degree. The result is one of the best games in the series, a stellar racing game in its own right, a compelling sequel that new and returning players should indulge in – the list goes on.
"The racing, from the controls and responsiveness, has always felt good, so it’s insane that it could achieve this at a higher level."
This may or may not have been expected, but I didn’t think I would vibe with so much of what the reboot offered. Perhaps the biggest appeal is its focus. Don’t get me wrong – I like driving around Mexico in Forza Horizon 5, entering a sandstorm, indulging in some street races, and careening through billboards while earning Skill Points. Forza Motorsport, on the other hand, is about racing – grounded, tense, exhilarating and containing all the minutia which has defined its namesake.
Things will immediately feel familiar upon entering a race. You have the usual pre-race tuning, with an option to reduce your overall fuel for improved handling and acceleration. Take your starting position with other players, gun it on 1, follow the racing line, and hit Rewind after making a mistake. Forza Motorsport seems so simple at first, and so typically Forza. “No quick hacks or vehicular combat?”, some may say. “Well, at least it’s on Game Pass.”
However, the gameplay feels like a completely different beast. The racing, from the controls and responsiveness, has always felt good, so it’s insane that it could achieve this at a higher level. We’ve heard about tire physics and how they’re 48 times superior to Forza Motorsport 7. When you’re hitting those curves, in slight danger of going off-track, you can hear and feel the deformations.
As a race wears on, so do your tires – it may not be so obvious after a lap or two, but four or five laps in, you begin to feel your grip and handling affected (depending on the tire type, of course). You feel and hear the paint scraping when pressing against other cars and the loss of control that comes after taking a solid collision.
"The caveat is that for each Series, you get only one car, which you level up, unlock parts for and upgrade throughout that Series."
The result is an experience still distinctly Forza in look but which feels so much more reactive and dynamic in feel. Managing those factors and maintaining a steady performance is also key, especially as you dive into the new Career Mode, Builders Cup.
It’s similar to Forza Driver’s Cup from Forza Motorsport 7, except that you have Tours with multiple Series. Each Series consists of several races – completing them grants Credits and Gold Trophies, culminating in a Showcase Event for the tour. The caveat is that for each Series, you get only one car, which you level up, unlock parts for and upgrade throughout that Series.
You’re not just learning a single car category and moving on, but building it from the ground up to play how you want. It offers a greater appreciation for the cars and racing in question. Plus, that feeling of getting your hands on a new vehicle when a new Series begins is palpable. That Subaru may feel like a solid workhorse in your introduction tour and the first Series, but then you get a hold of powerful sports cars and Sedans, and it’s a whole new project to master.
Before entering each race in a Series, you first jump into Practice on the track. You learn about Key Racing Segments, which are distinct parts of the course to hone in on and improve your timings. They could range from a simple S-Curve to an extensive series of turns over 20 seconds. Navigating them and completing the bonus objective of the track – beating the specified time for a lap – will grant Car XP and Car Points.
"It may seem like a good idea to increase your Speed and Acceleration, but if your Handling is not manageable, you’re rocketing down a track with barely any control."
However, if you can beat your times in those Key Racing Segments, you’ll reap more rewards. These Practice sessions don’t just serve to fine-tune your set-up but also to level up a car and gain more options. You only have to race three laps, but Practice can continue after that if you want.
Car XP grants levels, which unlock new parts – and even categories that aren’t adjustable otherwise – but the Car Points determine which ones can be equipped. You also have the class to consider – if you equip too many high-end parts, your car can become ineligible for racing. There’s an RPG-like min-max aspect to it all, further reinforced by the four main stats – Acceleration, Handling, Braking and Speed.
Increasing or decreasing one will impact the others in different ways. It may seem like a good idea to increase your Speed and Acceleration, but if your Handling is not manageable, you’re rocketing down a track with barely any control. Good for straights, not so much for cornering.
There is more in-depth tuning available, allowing you to adjust pressure to the rear and front tires, gearing, alignment, springs, and more. Each aspect will alter your acceleration, braking distance and lateral G’s at different speeds, along with your top speed. Knowing your racing style and what feels the most comfortable is key.
"Of course, even if you get too comfortable with the current difficulty, there are ways to spice things up further, like the new Risk vs. Reward starting position system…"
You could skip Practice altogether, but this is where the new dynamic time of day comes in. A track practised in the morning will have different conditions later in the day, with the higher temperature affecting the asphalt and your resulting grip. In later races, weather also comes into play – you may start the day in relatively clear conditions, only to become engulfed in fog during the event (which slowly clears up over time). It’s all very well done, adding further nuance to a racing scenario, and also hyping up the tension. If things get particularly bad, you may be encouraged to pit and change your tires to match the competition.
Speaking of the AI, the Drivatars return and their difficulty is once again determined by whatever level you set them at. You could go with 2 and get comfortable with the game, but they become more competent as you increase it further, aggressively taking corners even if you try to overtake them and making fewer mistakes. They have no qualms about colliding with you if it grants an advantage and will also upgrade their cars throughout a Series. However, it never feels cheap, and hard-won victories against tough opponents by understanding your car and the track lines feel great.
Of course, even if you get too comfortable with the current difficulty, there are ways to spice things up further. You can indulge in the new Risk vs. Reward starting position system, where beginning at a lower position in a race grants bonus Credits. The trade-off is needing to finish a race in a specific place, sometimes first, sometimes third to fifth, depending on the difficulty.
Fail, and you have to settle for the regular rewards. There are also Simulation settings for disabling rewind and fully simulating tire wear, fuel and damage, providing an added layer of realism without necessitating a wholesale change to your settings.
"While you’ll get the most out of the game by embracing its realism and understanding its nuances, nothing stops you from streamlining it for the sake of comfort."
That’s one of the other great things about Forza Motorsport (and the series overall) – you can play how you want. There’s a wide range of settings available for simulating a more realistic experience independent of what Builders Cup offers and extensive accessibility options. While you’ll get the most out of the game by embracing its realism and understanding its nuances, nothing stops you from streamlining it for the sake of comfort.
In addition to the base Tours in Builders Cup, you also have Featured Tours, which seemingly cycle over time. It’s more of the same, but with new cars to build and race, thus challenging you to try new things. You could also jump into Free Play and try out just about any vehicle you want by renting it, with numerous settings to adjust. Of course, if you want to enable ray tracing and admire your collection in the garage, you can do that too.
There’s also Featured Multiplayer, and though I didn’t spend too much time with it, there were no networking issues or lag to speak of (though keep in mind that this could change at launch as more players jump online). What makes it special, is how Practice becomes even more valuable, as you measure lap times with other players.
Once it ends, you jump into Qualify, and your best lap time determines your starting position for the actual race. It encourages one to dial in and refine their approach while observing the competition. You have Open Series for competing against the same cars or Open Series, where any car meeting the class requirements is allowed, and new events become available every 30 minutes or so.
"Unfortunately, some technical issues bogged down the experience. A bug that caused the game to hang after applying an upgrade necessitated a restart,"
Throughout this review, I’ve spoken mainly about the gameplay and the modes on offer, but the graphics go hand-in-hand with everything else. In short, they’re stunning, from the gorgeous car models to the incredible vistas. Everything, from cockpit details and weather effects to the tire marks on the tracks and the crowds, is incredible to behold.
It’s advised to stop and enable Photo Mode to take in all of this detail (I’ve tried while racing and crashed, so wouldn’t recommend that). Of course, the sound design also warrants mentioning, from capturing the distinct engine sounds of each vehicle to the screeching of wheels and crunch of collisions. The frame rate is also solid throughout – even on Performance Ray Tracing Mode, I didn’t observe any major frame drops or hitches (though there was some pop-in here and there).
Unfortunately, some technical issues bogged down the experience. A bug that caused the game to hang after applying an upgrade necessitated a restart, and if this is after a race in Builders Cup, the progress would be voided (which is odd because any XP and Car Points earned would remain). Another issue caused the game to crash outright when finishing a race in Performance RT when capturing footage to an external device. Again, the race would be voided and had to be done again.
"Forza Motorsport is an incredible game. It’s simultaneously a fresh new start for the series and an incredible evolution of its best aspects."
I can forgive some minor issues and glitches, but these are major bugs affecting progress. While I have found ways to get around them (like not capturing footage in Performance RT), they’ll hopefully be fixed in time for launch. Aside from that, the only other minor issue is the track variety. There are 20 locations, with five brand new to the series.
While all of them are enjoyable, from the gorgeous forests of Maple Valley (which look especially stunning in foggy conditions) to the Homestead-Miami Speedway, the amount is still a step down from Forza Motorsport 7. It’s a minor quibble but still worth pointing out, especially with how much racing you’ll be doing.
There is a way to go with the track variety (though new tracks are already confirmed to arrive soon post-launch), and I’m interested to see how Turn 10 Studios builds on the Featured Multiplayer and Builders Cup in the future.
However, for the time being, Forza Motorsport is an incredible game. It’s simultaneously a fresh new start for the series and an incredible evolution of its best aspects. The sheer level of polish to its gameplay and presentation is something to behold, while its racing is some of the very best in the genre.
This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
Revamped gameplay feels fresh and endearing while raising the series' standard. Builders Cup and customizing a car to best suit your play style is fun. New car progression offers an addictive RPG-like spin. Stunning visuals with excellent performance. Stellar sound design. Impressive array of settings for realism and accessibility provide impressive freedom.
Scant but severe technical issues, like the game hanging after applying upgrades or crashes in Performance RT mode, which void completed races in Builders Cup. Some pop-in, which is more pronounced in Performance RT. Location variety feels like a slight step down from Forza Motorsport 7.