Six years. That’s how long it has been since the last Forza Motorsport. In the intervening 2192 days, Playground Games’ open-world Horizon has blossomed from a spin-off to the franchise’s lead series.
The brand’s parents, Washington’s Turn 10 Studios, meanwhile, have been skulking in the shadows while the plucky Brits steal the limelight. To mark its return, the eighth title in the Forza Motorsport series has been rebuilt from “the ground up,” so claimed Creative Director Chris Esaki.
According to walking hyperbole machine Dan Greenawalt (actual job title, General Manager), “This is the most technically advanced racing game, ever made.”
Such is the leap forward promised by this new entrant, that it deserved a fresh moniker. One that really shows to the world that it’s deserving of such bravado. So instead of it being called Forza Motorsport 8, it’s called… Forza Motorsport. It’s an 18-year-old legacy, rebooted.
Barnstorming opening stages
The challenge this latest game faces is steep. Since Forza Motorsport 7, the racing game market has taken great strides. Steering wheels are commonplace, ‘sim racing’ is commonly used parlance and the competition is stronger than ever. Hence, a reinvention.
The show-stopping introduction takes a leaf out of the Horizon games, a slickly produced blast that wows you with the best it has to offer. The Cadillac GTP race car, a hybrid Corvette a new fictional track and night racing, with a voice-over straight out of a 2010s Guy Ritchie movie.
At this moment, the step change between this and prior Forza Motorsport titles is hard to comprehend. Developer Turn 10 has done it, pulled off a reinvigoration, a masterpiece.
Soon after, you’re dowsed in car points, credits, experience and achievements – something the series has always excelled in, creating a moreish reward loop like one of those duo chocolate bars. Come on, you’re going to eat both parts in one sitting, aren’t you?!
That sheen takes about two hours to wear off.
Build a car
The Builders Cup is the main single-player career, and thankfully it has a clear structure grouped into themed event series. It may be lithe sports cars, American muscle or hot hatchbacks.
The linearity is striking, initially, it feels like one event set simply unlocks after another, although you’ll later learn you can jump around a little bit following the first two or three completed blocks.
On the one hand, this is a satisfyingly regimented path, on the other, unimaginative. There’s also not a lot to it, with just 25 series to complete.
Reminding us heavily of the ill-fated Project CARS 3, each individual vehicle in your collection earns experience points while you drive, levelling up along the way. This is accrued by driving the ideal racing line around tracks or completing practice before every race, with an always-visible counter at the top right of the in-race display.
Credits, or in-game cash, earned based on your race result are augmented by electing to start further down the grid, reducing driving assists and increasing your rival’s intensity.
Unlike a traditional approach, see Ride 5 for example, credits earned are not spent on car upgrades. They are purely used to buy new vehicles.
To enhance your whip’s performance, you instead use car points. These are tied to each car, so there isn’t a running total across your entire collection like credits. Each time you purchase a new ride, you receive 300 car points, spent in the upgrade shop and rewarded at the end of every race.
Yet, even if you have amassed enough CP to unlock a sporty appendage, you cannot buy that desirable rear wing because it’s locked until car level 12, with matching side skirts at level 15, for example. Engine swaps are level 40, drivetrain switches at 50.
It would be fine if you could use one car across multiple different Builders Cup events, but for the most part, you cannot. Each series uses a curated set of vehicles, such as the country they are made in, powertrain or class.
For example, we purchased a Nissan Z for the ‘Built for Sport’ series. Starting at car level 1, by the end of those six races we were at level 23. But, as far as we can tell, there’s only one other series we could use it for and that’s unlocked significantly further down the line. We’d have to repeat the same cup over and over again, with the same vehicle, in order to level up enough for engine swaps.
There’s a platform here with the potential to enjoy developing a car through multiple classes and compete with it across the Builders Cup. Unlocking parts is satisfying, seeing performance improve compelling. But the campaign is structured in a way that you don’t need to really care, after a few rounds it’s all too easy to simply hit the auto-upgrade button and move on.
The game will receive weekly new single-player events in the featured section, but we can only base our opinion on what’s there right now. At present it all feels as if it’s set up to keep you subscribing to Game Pass as long as possible first and foremost, rather than making the most of the car upgrade system for those who purchase the game outright.
We’re also befuddled by the inconsistent visual qualities throughout. There is a clear and obvious difference between the details of newer and older car models.
Where is the detail in this headlamp for example? Or the rear lights on this BMW are just a flat picture with no depth. The Ford Focus RS proportions are awry, either the bonnet is too high or the headlights are too big. The Lamborghini Countach looks like a kit-car facsimile of the real thing.
The aforementioned Cadillac race car or the cover-star Corvette look incredible, but some of the models are clearly borrowed from previous Forza titles. They are out of place in a current-gen-only game, clashing with the ‘ground up’ rhetoric.
Yet, it didn’t need to be that way, if the car-building system had been implemented in a more rewarding way, the team could have used 200 highly detailed vehicles instead of over 500 of varying quality.
Improved physics, but not genre-leading
Still, ahead of its release, the development team went to great lengths to explain the all-new tyre physics system that has eight times the number of contact points and a refresh rate that is six times quicker than its predecessors. Thankfully, the experience matches the hype, when compared to Forza Motorsport 7 at least, and it retains a Turn 10 staple – savage engine noises.
While that may be true, the driving experience isn’t even close to being a simulator, just bear in mind that if you have an Xbox Series X|S, the handling pales in comparison to Assetto Corsa Competizione.
There is a reassuring solid feeling when driving racing cars, but rear-wheel-drive road cars exhibit wayward characteristics. There’s corner entry understeer by default, followed by snap oversteer that often results in a spin at the exit. Thank goodness for the ability to rewind time.
You can use a steering wheel peripheral, but the game behaves best when you use a gamepad. Keep the driving assists switched on and your rival’s abilities to a medium level.
Of note, when using the cockpit camera, the steering is one-to-one, but only up to a point, the animation stopping before the full lock is applied. The effect is disconcerting when trying to catch a lurid slide, something that even The Crew Motorfest manages to avoid.
This is enjoyable, just so long as you don’t take it too seriously and that’s the key point. Under scrutiny, it doesn’t live up to the serious pretence. In some ways, the development team could have leaned into the more explosive nature of racing. Like Codemasters’ GRID Legends with its exaggerated damage, fireworks and jumps, instead of something po-faced yet shallow beneath the skin.
The multiplayer saves it
But cometh the hour, cometh the feature – Forza Motorsport’s online multiplayer is its saving grace.
Ranked events start every few minutes across four main categories. They offer close and clean racing with an element of tyre and fuel strategy. Penalties are handed out for overly aggressive manoeuvres to try and keep a lid on anti-social behaviour, plus there’s an overall rating based upon your race results.
At last, the car building progression system makes more sense, as you can carry across experience points between single-player and multiplayer. Suddenly, it clicked.
While it’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be an on-screen radar available, which would help mitigate turning in on a rival by accident, so far the racing is a lot more competitive than prior Forza Motorsport titles outside of organised leagues. The penalty and ranking system is very much inspired by iRacing, and that’s a bad thing because…?
A first for the Forza series, and for current Xbox owners outside of F1 23 or MotoGP 23, the featured multiplayer mode delivers much-needed competitive racing without the need to sift through forum threads and Discord groups. It just works, and the racing so far is brilliant.
We also particularly enjoy the practice and qualifying format, the latter allows you to set the best of three laps before each race. Just remember to set your fuel level, the game always seems to give you way too much, whether that’s in the campaign or online.
Now, as to whether it will attract a big enough community to sustain a vibrant multiplayer scene remains to be seen. But, it’s part of a Game Pass subscription on day one, so there’s every chance.
While we have our reservations about where it sits in the market and the pre-release jargon – after all, it releases on PC where there’s a wealth of more detailed simulators we’d recommend over and above this – if you only have an Xbox, Forza Motorsport is worth a download alone to try and raise your online driving level. Just, don’t take it too seriously.
|Developer||Turn 10 Studios|
|Release date||10th October 2023|
|Available platforms||PC and Xbox Series X|S|
|Best played with||Gamepad|
Full disclosure: A game code was provided by the developers for review purposes. Here is our review policy.