Forza Motorsport Review - Pure Racing
After a much longer break between entries than players are used to, it has been a long time coming for Xbox racing fans, but Forza Motorsport is finally here. What originally started as Xbox’s answer to Gran Turismo became a franchise that blossomed into its own unstoppable juggernaut that includes a successful spinoff that is probably even more popular than the core franchise. But that’s not to say the core franchise was forgotten because here we are, the 8th entry and one that does away with numbers, simply going back to the original name. There is some significance in that fact because this is a ground-up new title, a new engine, new tech and new hardware means this is a fresh start for the franchise and it seems that Turn 10 has grabbed this opportunity with both hands.
For those that never jumped in or that only know Forza from the wider-appeal of Forza Horizon, Forza Motorsport is a racing game that takes on the sim mantle for Microsoft’s supported systems. This isn’t about collecting cars and racing around stunning scenery on public roads, this is pure, sim-style racing with events focused on improving driving on every single turn. This is a game that accepts your abilities for what they are, but at the same time pushes them forward, guides them and teaches them, until you reach the pinnacle of your racing powers. This is a game that wants you to get better, to be the ultimate driver and it does everything it can to make sure that happens.
It is, in my mind at least, Forza Motorsport’s greatest achievement. In almost every racing game I have ever played, I find a difficulty level that suits me and offers the challenge I am looking for. I then stick with that level for my entire time with the game. With Forza Horizon and its massive suite of ways to adjust the difficulty, I find myself constantly pushing that challenge up just that little bit at a time because each time I race I am becoming a better driver. Forza teaches these driving skills in some interesting ways. Firstly there is the “race section” mechanic. This breaks each track down into sections and racers are graded out of 10 on how well they complete each section. Nail the corner, brake and accelerate at the right times and follow the ideal racing line and you will get a high score. Go off track, crash, bump the opposition and you can expect low numbers. Once your grade comes in you are awarded “Car XP” based on your performance, which then goes to unlocking new parts and gear for the car you are currently driving. It is a smart system that forced me to constantly improve and strive to do my best, no matter how well I was doing in the race, simply because it makes every corner, straight and bend count for something.
The second way the game encouraged me to up my driving abilities is the ease at which adjustments to the level of challenge can be made and the rewards for doing so. There are a host of ways to make things tougher or easier. You can adjust the AI skill, change your position on the starting grid, toggle cosmetic or realistic damage, engage driving assists or switch to a manual car. All of this can be done between each and every race and every time a player makes things tougher, they get improved rewards at the end of the event. By giving players all of these options that are so easily accessed, it really allows racers to tweak things to suit, increasing the challenge where they are doing well, without making things they are struggling with too tough.
This leads into practice laps which is another nice learning tool. Each event has a required practice session that consists of 2 or 3 laps around the event’s track. It gives players a target time to beat which is based around their currently chosen difficulty settings. This target time is a good indicator that players will be competitive in the event proper so if it can’t be beaten, it is wise to drop some of those difficulty settings down a notch or two. It is also a great way to get a feel for the current car being driven before taking on the main race. There is so much variety in each of the hundreds of different cars that chances are players will need some time to adjust to their strengths and weaknesses. I do have one gripe with the practice mode in that it can feel a little onerous at times. Most events require a three-lap practice run and that can add a significant chunk of time to the event. I would have preferred the option to drop that to maybe one or two laps, simply in the interest of customising the time commitment for an event.
Speaking of cars, well there are a metric tonne of them to choose from. That is no surprise in this sort of game, but the new tech that the game is built on really makes these speedy (and not-so-speedy) machines come to life. There is always a joy in finding a car you once owned in a game like this so I went hunting to see if any fit my past real-world driving history. Sure enough there it was, a 1992 Ford Falcon in a horrible dark green, my first car. Granted the Forza version was the V8 model not the straight six I owned, but it was close enough. It even had the terrible spoiler that I thought was oh-so cool when I was 19. I can tell you it looked way better than mine ever did and even after a 10-lap event with a host of bumping and grinding, it had fewer scratches. Of course, driving my dodgy old Falcon is not the reason I am here, so thankfully the range of cars is enormous. Racing cars, rally cars, high-end street machines and supercars are here in abundance, all unique to drive and all absolutely stunning to behold.
I have to continue to rave about the new tech that this game is built on. Not only do the cars look amazing, but it runs as smooth as butter too. On the Xbox Series X, there are three modes to choose from, Performance which is a straight 60fps, Performance RT which uses scaling tech to incorporate ray tracing and keep the game at 60fps and a Quality mode which has full ray tracing but locks at 30fps. Honestly, the Performance RT is perfect and even on my giant TV the difference between the Quality mode was minor and I didn’t have to sacrifice 30fps to get it. On the PC things are obviously a bit more complicated but it does include a high-quality benchmarking tool as well as an accurate system analysis that automatically sets the game at ideal settings.
The tech continues to impress with the weather and track conditions. There is a noticeable difference in handling depending on the weather and that doesn’t just mean it is slipperier in the wet. Temperature, wind, light conditions and time of day can all change how the track handles and those changes can be dynamic throughout the race. It is a wonder to take part in an event that starts in a thunderstorm and slowly dries up as the race progresses, the driving conditions change as it happens and adjustments need to be made on the fly. This holds true for long events as tyre wear along with rubber on the track can make cornering tougher and top speeds harder to reach. I am not what anyone would call a motorsport diehard but even a casual fan like myself can appreciate the pure attention to detail that this highlights. Clearly, Turn 10 has made it their goal to capture every nuance of racing that they can while still making the game enjoyable to the widest audience possible.
The next thing I want to talk about is possibly a little bit more based on personal taste and that is UI and associated menus. Simple and utilitarian is the best way to describe it. There are no fancy locations to visit like Gran Turismo and there are no showrooms to ogle cars. This is a straight-up menu with ease of access to the things that matter most, racing and car customisation. I like it, but others may find it a little bland. Speaking of menus, one of the truly exciting things is the complete lack of microtransactions. That’s not to say they won’t come down the track, but as of right now, there are no transactions being shoved down your throat, something that Forza Motorsport has been guilty of in the past.
Simply put Forza Motorsport is the best version of this type of game I have ever played. It is highly customisable to individual skill levels, yet remains easy to access. It places a huge focus on helping players improve their skills in meaningful ways and the tech behind it is second-to-none. It is clear that the delays and extra time have been put to good use because it runs like a dream on both Xbox and PC while showcasing the sort of graphics most games can only dream of. Sure it may not have the everyman appeal of Horizon but thanks to the convenience of Gamepass I hope there is a host of people that dive in, try it out and realise just how much fun this more sim-focused racer can be. Forza Motorsport is a fantastic game and one I see myself diving in and out of for years to come.
Forza Motorsport was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Xbox Australia