Gran Turismo. When it released in 1997 on the original PlayStation, it changed the entire concept of what racing games could be. Gran Turismo 2, in 1999, blew the doors off, and, by the early 2000s, the franchise was known as the definitive racing game on the market. With Xbox arriving onto the scene in 2001, the team at Xbox knew they needed their own exclusive racer on the platform. Enter Forza Motorsport.
The original Forza Motorsport released in 2005, and the team at Xbox wasn’t shy about their goals, with Xbox Director Kiki Wolfkill stating, “We are targeting Gran Turismo with this game on Xbox, and I think we’ve been very focused on that.” Since that time nearly twenty years ago, Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport have led the market in what I’ll refer to as the “sim-lite” racing genre.
With the new Forza Motorsport, Turn 10 has gone back to the drawing board and created a brand new foundation for the future of their racer. With a feature and tech sheet that reads like a racing fan’s dream game, does it take the checkered flag? Strap in, because we’re going for a long ride.
Note: Specific info relating to Performance on Xbox and PC, Accessibility Options, and Wheel-Play are summarized at the end
Upon loading into Forza Motorsport, you’re greeted with a familiar, serene home page, which the series is known for. The main menu is an ever-rotating garage bay initially accompanied by the cover car, the 2023 Cadillac Racing V-Series R. However, you can immediately place any four cars you like to occupy your home screen, complete with any modifications you’ve made to them. One car sits in the main bay while the other three take the place in the background. It’s a small but appreciated feature.
Beginning your career means racing in the Builder’s Cup. It’s the first series in the game and acts as an introduction to the new mechanics and options within a series. You’ll choose from a Honda Civic (front-wheel drive), Subaru STI (all-wheel drive), and Ford Mustang (rear-wheel drive) to begin and, over the course of the series, get a feel for the game, how the practice system functions, car leveling, the risk vs. reward grid layout, and, most importantly, the difficulty of your opponents. It’s an excellent, if familiar, way to bring new players and veterans alike up to speed.
Once you’ve blown the doors off of your competition, you gain access to the full “Tours of Motorsport.” These events focus on specific cars or themes and are aimed at providing players the full breadth of motor-racing experiences. It’s not a drastic departure from what we’ve seen in various forms before. The series are each approached from a waterfall perspective in the sense that you have to complete them in a specific order, and, at launch, there are 6 different tours, each containing 5 series with the final race acting as a culmination showcase and rewarding a special car.
I appreciate each series educating players on specific areas of car culture, and I also respect the approach of having players earn their way through the ranks. But I always find it a little bit of a drag when I’m forced to race with cars I personally don’t enjoy. A few more options to provide flexibility in how to progress would have been welcomed.
Outside of the Tours of Motorsport, I turn my attention to the featured multiplayer. Similar to the career mode, you must complete an introductory series in multiplayer before gaining the ability to race more broadly. In doing so, you’ll earn your online safety and skill ratings which factor into the matchmaking system for everything in online multiplayer from that point forward.
Here you’ll find rotating events in two flavors, Spec and Open. Spec events are series where every driver must use the same exact race model (which you can rent for free), thus placing the focus on personal driving skill. Open events, meanwhile, either highlight a car model or are class-based and feature a mixed field. Joining games is straight-forward, and you are provided time for both practice laps and qualifying (which will determine your grid placement, just like a real race).
While the offerings are a little light at the moment, I truly enjoyed my time in featured multiplayer. It’s fun to jump in early, get several practice laps under your belt to warm up, and then sweat out the race with competition aimed at your level.
If you’d rather just race with friends, private multiplayer options are extensive and include the full gamut of options. You can separate out player teams, create multi-class events, or even just create a “Meet Up” where everyone can drive around the track at will. Combined with the ability to save these configurations as files for future weekends, I see some amazing race weekends on the horizon.
Rivals events return as well with new track/car combos and global and friend leaderboards intact. I admit, I spent way too long chasing a ghost of Chris Esaki around VIR in the review period, but it’s great fun see how many tenths of a second you can squeeze out of every lap.
With all of that, then, let’s get to the crux of it: The racing itself. After all, it’s why you’re reading this at the end of the day. So it makes me pleased to report that the racing itself in Forza Motorsport is some of the best I’ve ever had in gaming. It’s the product of several new aspects working in conjunction to produce a sublime end product. Let’s begin with the freshly rendered tracks.
Real-world race locations certainly aren’t new to games. But while the sights and curves may have been captured in great detail over the course of the last couple of decades, it rarely feels like you’re actually racing there. It often feels static, as if you’re racing through a picture on a page.
Forza Motorsport track days feel like an event, with loads of lively on-lookers, tents, flags, media coverage, and more occupying the surrounding area. Racing across the line and up through the hills on Spa is exhilarating, and it’s accentuated beautifully by the surrounding track presence. It may sound almost superficial, but it adds a lot to the moment-to-moment experience. In combination with the fidelity at which the tracks have be re-created in this new rendition, it’s a stunning achievement.
This, of course, is further enhanced by new weather and time of day systems. Each impressed me more than I expected. Unlike a lot of racing games that begin with three or four options for the time of day, Forza provides ten as a starting point, each of which are then progressive after the start of the race. Beginning a race at Le Mans in the late afternoon and witnessing it evolve through sundown into evening is electrifying.
In parallel, the weather system is perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen yet. Rather than merely having a couple varieties of “clear” and “rain”, there are 17 varieties of “weather” that can occur and evolve dynamically during a race. These include everything from light clouds, to drizzle, heavy thunderstorms, fog, and more. When combined with the varying times of day, they create drastically different race scenarios, often evolving during a race. And, best yet, all of the combinations are available on every single track. It’s quite simply, spectacular.
One of the complaints previously levied at Forza was in relation to lighting. While it was sometimes difficult to pinpoint, at times it just felt off, with cars frequently not seeming “set” in the environment properly. Like many of the systems in Motorsport, this has been overhauled as well (essentially an imperative given the new time of day and weather systems). Not only do they work in unison to display stunning vistas at times, but cars generally look far more realistic on the track. There are a few exceptions here and there, but it’s a massive improvement over what Turn 10 has done in the past.
This translates extremely well to the 20 tracks included at launch regardless of the time of day. Sunlight peaks through trees, shadows are realistically cast across the race surface, sunsets create beautiful colors and menacing blind spots, reflections flicker across paint, and spotlights drill through night time haze. And it all shifts realistically as the race matures and light sources move.
Track selection will always be a hot, debatable topic with race fans. At launch, Motorsport features a mix of some well-known classics alongside rarer entries like South Africa’s Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit. There’s also a handful of fictional tracks with the classic Maple Valley returning alongside new entries Hakone and Grand Oak (all of which I truly enjoy). Turn 10 plans to add new a new track once a month with Yas Marina already being announced for November. That said, the classic Nordschleife won’t be present for several months, which is disappointing.
While all of the above make for great racing environments, it wouldn’t matter much if the racing itself was subpar. The team at Turn 10 hasn’t been shy about the new systems they’ve built with regard to racing, claiming huge advancements in overall physics processing and new systems for several specific aspects, such as tire modeling. Fortunately, the work paid off.
If You Feel in Control, You’re Not Going Fast Enough
Driving in Forza has never felt so rewarding and, if I’m being honest, it wasn’t readily apparent immediately. After a few hours of getting acclimated and fine tuning my settings, I began to put several cars through various tests, a few that I have extensive experience with in real life. In each case, the cars behaved generally as I would have expected with dynamics that mimicked their real-life behavior. But it wasn’t until I experienced the full range of tuning and track conditions that I appreciated all of what’s been built under the hood.
Car tuning functions quite similar to past entries, with the menus even looking and feeling familiar but with a few additions. However, tuning is much more intuitive in Forza Motorsport. You can truly feel the changes you make immediately upon setting out, even if they are in minor increments. Perhaps most importantly, the differences in car behavior and how each responds on the track are more noticeable and communicative. If feels as though tuning in prior iterations was broadcast in two-channel stereo, but it is now in full Dolby Atmos.
Layering into this racing feel, of course, are tire wear, fuel weight, the weather and time of day systems, and representation of the tracks. Each aspect works together in Forza Motorsport to present a racing cocktail that has few, if any, peers. And all of that is before we get to the new A.I. competition and penalty system.
While the infamous Drivatar feature is still here in name, it, too, is new. A.I. drivers are driven by machine-learning and, according to the team at Turn 10, make for more realistic races. From my time behind the wheel and playing with varying difficulties and settings, it seems like this is true with a few caveats.
With the 24-car grid and difficulty set that pushes your limits, I experienced racing with the CPU at a level I’m not sure I’ve experienced before in a game; it’s true, all-out, sweaty palm tension for laps on end. And it also allows for the CPU drivers to make mistakes. Sometimes they’ll overshoot corners, take poor lines, or wipe out entirely, but it’s not so often that it feels unrealistic. These aspects are all calculated in real-time (nothing is scripted) and combine to create a sense of realism that is the dream for any racing game.
However, I also witnessed some strange things, occasionally. Cars would sometimes brake unexpectedly for no reason, and, with so many cars on the track, there are situations where all hell can break loose (which is quite funny if I’m being honest). I also noticed some of the classic trappings where the back of the pack would fall off while a handful of cars were the “true” competition at the front. With the machine-learning, Turn 10 has stated this will continue to evolve over time. And, to be fair, even with some oddities I was very impressed by the CPU competition.
The last factor in making racing truly competitive is an accurate penalty system. Also using machine-learning, the new penalty system uses a range of calculations and studies a period of time to determine what occurred. It’s a far more advanced system than other games that simply dole out penalties in the form of “Your car hit their car, so here’s a penalty” without any context. It’s a little forgiving in its current state, but I’ve been thoroughly impressed otherwise. And, at the end of the day, it makes for more realistic racing, particularly in multiplayer.
Man, there’s a lot that goes into making a realistic racing game. Remember this when people blow them off as “just a racing game!”
Built Not Bought
A couple of the core themes from the team at Turn 10 with this new entry are the ideas of “Built not bought” and “Finding a new favorite car.” They want players to worry less about collecting a wealth of cars and instead fall in love with a few. With over 500 cars at launch, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do so. Not only are many of the returning favorites here, but there are some fabulous new additions as well, right up through current releases. And, unlike another game I won’t mention, notable classics are actually attainable at any time and for a reasonable price.
As you would expect, car detail has improved noticeably as well. Combining the new lighting system with the addition of ray-traced reflections, paint shimmers with a definition that will have you rushing to photo mode regularly. Numerous small details are present as well, such as the “Emira 1” badge being present on the Lotus Emira, just like the limited “first editions” in real-life.
There are still some issues, though, where things don’t look as realistic as they should. It feels as though some leftovers of prior entries are still present, and the lighting system can also behave strangely at times. One moment a car will look like a picture on a page, and the next it will look like a plastic toy. It’s odd and, from what I can tell, simply has to do with how the lighting is reflected in certain environments. Fortunately, no such issues are present with the sound design.
Being a car lover means appreciating a wide-range of mechanical noises. And, of course, over the decades there have been powerplant sounds that make us enthusiasts weak in the knees. I could listen to a Carrera GT or LF-A run laps as the soundtrack to my day every day of the year. It’s also an area in which Forza needed to improve as a franchise.
It has, impressively so. Engines and exhaust noises are far more accurate to their real-life counterparts than they’ve ever been, with small details that are simply remarkable. From wastegates expelling air to turbos sucking it in, superchargers whining, straight-cut gears, and all the lovely varieties of engine-types, they are incredibly well-represented. And, most importantly, they are well-defined on a crowded track as well. Blaring down a long straight with a C63 roaring in front of me and an 812 screaming next to me will never get old. And the clarity put forth in full, 3-D sound is exquisite.
What I expect will be the most controversial new approach in Motorsport is car leveling. As you drive, you earn points for how you race as you level up your car from 1 through 50. Leveling unlocks car points which you can then use to buy modifications for that specific car. This means that to modify and tune a car how you want, you must level it enough to unlock that capability.
One of my traditions in Forza is to immediately buy an E36 M3 and 944 Turbo. I then modify them to almost exact replicas of my cars I owned in real-life and take them for some races around my favorite tracks. That, quite literally, cannot be done now. I would have to spend at least a few hours with each before I could modify them to mimic their counterparts. While I understand the desire to have players fall in love with cars and learn how upgrades change them over time, it feels far too restrictive for veterans of racing, or even just the series in general.
The ideas behind scoring your segments as you race and constantly challenging your best times through key corners of a track are well-implemented. And I could even see an argument for upgrading cars with “car points” while saving currency for purchasing cars outright. But locking time and points to each model independently is a poor choice that I hope is changed in the future.
An Engine Searching for a Chassis
So then, you may be wondering: How’s the rest of the game? Well this is where my review takes a pit stop, because there is no rest of the game. What I’ve detailed above is the new Forza Motorsport from top to bottom. You might be thinking about the fact that I haven’t talked about career progression, player details and/or customization, stat-tracking, player and friend records, accomplishments, or anything that goes along with your persona in this digital racing world. And you would be correct in noticing, because none of those things exist in the game as it stands today.
Once you get past buying cars, tuning them, and racing, Forza Motorsport has nothing left to offer at launch. Naturally, I recognize the irony in saying “this racing game only features excellent racing,” but there comes a moment while looking through the menus that you realize just how bare bones it is. Also keep in mind that when I say, “racing,” I’m referring to circuit racing. No off-road, drift, or drag racing is present at launch, either. When Turn 10 said that this was a new foundation for the future of Forza Motorsport, they weren’t lying. I simply expected it to be further down the road.
While I’m not clamoring for extensive distractions or meaningless modes that have no bearing on racing or the love of cars, I’m honestly not sure how the game is launching without something like a player profile page. At the bare minimum, you should be able to reflect on in-game accomplishments, your best times at specific tracks, favorite cars, miles driven, and multiplayer statistics. Some sort of tracking of your race career and journey within the game should be present. But outside of a general player level (which is nothing more than a number) and your online ratings, there is nothing else represented. It’s honestly almost…strange.
Given this being Turn 10’s platform for the future, I expect this to evolve and improve over time. The road map for weekly events alongside track and car additions looks solid. But I sincerely hope it won’t be long before some depth is added in the player and career aspects to flesh out the overall experience.
Across the Finish Line
Forza Motorsport is the racing game I’ve been waiting for, but it does come with a few caveats. On one hand, it’s a successful reboot of a nearly twenty year-old franchise that accomplishes the vast majority of what it set out to do. It provides a racing experience that in many ways is unmatched, and I foresee myself losing hundreds of hours toying with cars and racing online. On the other hand, some strange decisions and missing features that by all accounts would be considered “basic functionality” in 2023 result in the experience ringing a little hollow at times.
I’m extremely excited for the future of Forza Motorsport. The direction to take a step back, rebuild core systems from the ground up, and move forward with a strong, new foundation was the correct one. And because of that, the variety and quality of racing experiences it presents are fabulous. With ever-evolving events, monthly car and track additions, and long-term growth plans, it could very well evolve into the definitive racing game on the market. I just hope we don’t have to wait long for the overall career aspects to be expanded upon and some minor issues to be touched up.
Now it’s time for me to suit back up. I’ve got a few ghosts to chase down. See you on the track.
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Performance: I played an extensive amount on both an Xbox Series X and my PC (I9-13900K, Nvidia 4080, 32gb DDR5 RAM) at max/ultra everything and ray-tracing at 1440p. Performance on both was fantastic, and I experienced no technical issues at all. There were a few minor graphical hiccups at times, but an update as of October 3rd seems to have resolved those. So no matter where you play, it should be a great experience! And thank you to Xbox for providing a code for me to cover the game on both platforms.
Accessibility: I wanted to make sure that I touch on the accessibility aspects of Forza Motorsport as they deserve specific mention. The teams at Turn 10 and Xbox Accessibility have gone to great lengths to make their games playable by the largest percentage of players possible, and it shows yet again in Forza Motorsport.
There is a long list of options for assists that aid players of all skill-levels to be able to compete, and it’s a joy to see. Knowing that some of my friends will be able to enjoy a racing game like Forza (who may otherwise struggle) deserves applause, and I will continue to shout out any and all development teams for tackling this.
Wheel-Play: I also wanted to comment on Forza Motorsport from the perspective of players who use a wheel and pedal setup. I began the review period using a basic Logitech G920 and began to tune away at those settings. Then last week I picked up the Moza R5 bundle to get a better feel for the game and the differences between an entry level belt-driven wheel and a direct-drive setup.
I’ll have more to say on this in the near future via a separate video, but I want to call out that Motorsport has extensive settings for wheel users with a dedicated menu that lets you tune a long list of options. I’ve played around with it quite a bit, and I believe that I got the Moza to a good place now. But I want to spend more time with it, particularly in multiplayer when it’s properly populated (it was challenging to get proper races during the review period). So there’s more to come on that front. But just know that it’s a focus for Turn 10, and it has very solid support out of the gate.