It’s been roughly six years since Xbox’s leading racing franchise, Forza Motorsport, last graced our screens. The series has taken a backseat ride re-discovering and reworking itself and, after a long hiatus, Forza Motorsport is finally back with Turn 10 Studios is promising a new direction for the series.
Forza Motorsport has always pushed boundaries as a console showcase delivering breathtaking visuals on all fronts with each release. Turn 10 has taken a long gap here, bringing the series back into the factory to rebuild it “from the ground up” as a new-generation racing title, and it does on most fronts. From the get-go, Motorsport puts you straight into the hot seat – something we’ve been accustomed to with most Forza titles including Horizon. The team is clearly keen to flex their brand-new machine to players and you’ll be wowed from the jump with insanely-detailed cars and beautiful tracks.
Forza Motorsport’s tracks feel more alive than ever and sport an incredible ambience compared to most racers, with fog on-track, dust kicking up and details in the world around the racing itself adding to the effect. There are visual flourishes here that would be a an afterthought in most racing games but are absolutely nailed in Forza Motorsport. The dynamic weather in particular looks gorgeous on the Xbox Series X running in its 4K/ray tracing mode and it’s often hard to believe that this is a game running smoothly on a console – again, those first moments in the game’s introduction are a stunning showcase of what’s to come.
Once the game opens up, you’re free to run through the new Builder’s Cup campaign or dive into any of the single player or multiplayer modes on offer, but the Builder’s Cup is the main meat-and-bones of the single player experience. After the intro, you’ll kick off your career with Builder’s Cup as it features different classes and themes. Each Cup has its own unique flavour, offering up standard street hatches through to super sedans at the beginning before jumping straight into the higher-tier classes. Each cup has roughly about five or six races as you buy and choose your car to take it through the series, and there’ll also a rotation of Builder’s Cup events kicking off from launch so players will continue to have a fresh batch of races to compete in over time.
Forza Motorsport introduces a new car levelling system which has been something of a talking point within the community since it was revealed. Like an RPG (or car-PG?), each car has its own levels and you can only start modding and tinkering with your car once you unlock certain levels, regardless of how much money you have. Want to engine swap your new R34 GTR? You’ll have to spend more time with it before earning the privilege.
Thankfully, you can level your car in just about every mode including multiplayer and private test drives. If you have a favourite car, you can easily spin up your single player session and level it through that. Up front, the new levelling system might be a bit of a rub for fans or casuals who just want to grab their car and start modding. I was definitely unsure as to how this would all pan out when it was first announced, with Turn 10’s justification being an emphasis of the connection between the driver and their car/s.
Testing this upfront, I picked up the Nissan Skyline GT-R 34 in a bayside blue and ran with it for a few quick races to see how fast the levelling system is. The downside is, yes, there’s another layer of progression you have to go through and, yes, it can be annoying to have to put in extra work, but the upside is that it all happens relatively fast. Each race had my car gaining two-to-four levels at a time and, after just a few track sessions, some of my cars were quickly reaching up to level 10. While every Forza game has an extensive list of cars available, it’d be unexpected for most players to run 20-plus different cars at any given time. There’s a focus here on feeling connected to a handful of cars and it works.
Motorsport features a beefy lineup of 500+ cars at launch. Most of the popular manufacturers are here and there’s enough of a wide range to please the majority of fans. However, some manufacturers don’t get enough love, such as Toyota and Hyundai, which feel strangely lacking when their hot hatches are some of the most popular cars in real life. Australian fans can rejoice once again as both Ford and Holden have a few cars to play with at launch, so we still get a bit of love despite the game missing the iconic Mount Panorama track. Forza Motorsport is primarily focused on track racing – at least at launch – so you won’t find vehicles for drifting, off-road or street racing here.
On release the game features 20 tracks with the promise of Nordschleife “North loop” track coming in 2024. There are plenty of iconic tracks here at launch that many racing fans will appreciate such as Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Silverstone, Laguna Seca and more. A few fantasy tracks have also been added to the game which returning Forza players will recognise, such as Maple Valley. Each track is beautifully created, again boasting the ability to showcase Motorsport’s dynamic weather system.
The biggest changes to Forza Motorsport come with its gameplay. I’ve been playing this title for a bit from early previews through to the final build and have to say, the on-track feel is a standout result of the new direction and the added realism in racing is more than welcome. The entire physics system has been overhauled and feels excellent. This is the most grounded Forza Motorsport title I’ve played, and as a result cars just respond better overall, feeling far less floaty than in previous entries. It leans towards full-on simulation territory, but only by a bit. If I had to compare it to anything else, I would say it sits quite close to Project CARS or the Need for Speed Shift series, which each provided a semi-simulation experience without going too hardcore.
In saying that, the experience with Forza Motorsport is also very accessible to newcomers or casual fans. Players coming from the more “arcade” Forza Horizon series may find the shift a little daunting initially, but the level of customisation when it comes to overall difficulty and in-game assists is quite deep. You can make a complete Sunday drive out of things, if all you want to do out of the box is drive pretty cars around pretty tracks, with the freedom to progressively turn the heat up and make it a more challenging experience. Fuel and tyre wear are welcome additions for sim fans, adding another level of strategy to the racing if you want it.
If you’re keen to take your skills online, Forza Motorsport features online public and private multiplayer mode. Before jumping into the big races, Featured Multiplayer will have you going through three qualification events to determine your Skill and Safety rating. These ratings are calculated and help the game determine your matchmaking. Are you a clean and fast driver? You’ll be put with the best. Drive dirty? I mean, you see where this is going. Your ratings will also update as you play online so you’ll have to keep those lines clean. My hands-on time with multiplayer was limited pre-launch as there were only a few sessions going, but barring any drastic changes on release the experience has been solid.
There’s a lot to like about the new Forza Motorsport, then, but there are a few things that hold this title from back being truly excellent. While significant improvements have been made to the experience of racing when it comes to visuals, physics and audio – the AI drivers are a different story. Almost entirely unpredictable at times, the AI will consistently disrespect the racing line, side-slam your car and even brake check you during races. I’d expected some tight corners and some shunts here and there, but in nearly every race I was avoiding the AI racers with a ten-foot pole. In one instance, an opponent’s car had lost control and spun out off the track only for the game to fully send it back onto the track and T-bone me into retirement. As it stands now, it’s fairly immersion-breaking and something I hope is on top of the list of fixes for launch and beyond.
During my time with the game I’ve been switching between the Xbox Series X and PC to check out Motorsport’s racing wheel support (my sim rig is PC-based), given Forza’s underwhelming wheel support is something I’ve been fairly disappointed with in the past. After running a few cups on PC with my Logitech G29 though, I’m quite impressed at the out-of-the-box support for the wheel, so that’s a great sign.
Forza Motorsport’s new direction won’t revolutionise the racing genre, but it does provide a fresh start for the series itself. The new physics, gameplay and focus on circuit racing are a good baseline to build this series into something bigger in the future, whether through consistent updates, larger add-ons or even future releases. Turn 10 clearly wants to differentiate itself and the Motorsport series from Playground Games’ over-the-top Horizon franchise by putting the focus on the love of the machinery and the experience of track racing, and holding that line.
Forza Motorsport ticks all the right boxes for just about any racing fan – honing in its focus on the love of cars and offering up a balance between approachable racing and hardcore simulation. Progression changes might rub some the wrong way, and its AI drivers desperately need more practice time, but a long hiatus for the franchise has birthed a solid baseline for the future.
Physics and car handling feel hugely improved
Incredible visuals and great performance on the Xbox Series X
Big improvements in racing wheel support
Tons of accessibility and difficulty options to cater to a wide range of players
AI behaviour needs a lot of work
The new car levelling system feels like an unnecessary grind