Normally, I’d attempt to insert a “witty” introduction here. A brief moment to lighten the mood and set the tone. But not today. I’ve been waiting too long for this. Today, we’re going to get right to the point: Forza Motorsport is bloody excellent. Five long years have passed since the release of Forza Motorsport 7, since which Turn 10 have seemingly gone back to basics and have done so with huge success. This is circuit racing at its best. With 24 competitors on (or quite often off) track at any given moment, it’s a hard fought battle to the finish line against determined, often ruthless opponent drivers that has had me glued to the metaphorical steering wheel for the last week.
The presentation shown here couldn’t be further from the bright, bold intensity that we’ve been more recently accustomed to from the sister series, Forza Horizon. Instead, there is a peace and thoughtful calm to the menus and overall ambience. This is the quiet, more studious big brother to the hyperactive and joyful excitement of Horizon. A clean, sharp, confident style. The contrast to the moment to moment, bumper to bumper action on the tarmac couldn’t be any more obvious.
Cars feel lithe and eager on track, requiring a subtle, nuanced touch to keep things barely under control as fellow competitors jostle for position on tight track corners, the bodywork flexing and sparks flying. As you feel the back end start to slip after an unexpected PIT manoeuvre, it’ll require deft fingers and quick reactions to keep your car from spinning out into the gravel lining the track. But it’s do-able and you’ll feel fantastic for having pulled off that last minute save. No two ways about it, it feels fantastic.
Career mode will see you taking part in over 30 race series at launch, with more timed events to be added further down the line. Each series is softly narrated with a small piece of history and background before you’re provided the opportunity to recklessly throw insanely expensive, exquisitely designed cars around a selection of twenty tracks at frankly ludicrous speeds. And my, do these tracks and cars look simply gorgeous.
No matter how hard I might try, I don’t think I can do justice to the sheer glory of seeing the sun hanging heavy in the sky, god rays streaming through the branches at Maple Valley Raceway. Or momentarily losing sight of the optimum racing line as the rain pelts down at Silverstone, wipers clearing your vision for a few precious moments at a time. The weather and lighting systems here are just astounding. Even after hours of play, I still gawp at the reflections of my virtual driver in the windshield, my driving suit appearing in momentary flashes as the sunbeams glint off the glass. I swear that I can feel the warmth of the sun as the cockpit was bathed in the golden glow.The exceptional dynamic weather, ray traced lighting and realistic day/night cycle have fast become my favourite features.
The same level of graphical excellence is proudly on show with the car models themselves, with over 500 beautifully rendered machines to pick from. Should you choose to (and you should), the option to take an even closer look at your machine of choice is available via ForzaVista mode. You can almost smell the pine air freshener and tan leather as you stroll around in first person, poking your head into the nooks and crannies of a Porsche 911 GT3, peering just a little too closely at the speedometer. Each detail is as pristinely rendered as you would hope.
The same level of love and care has been given to the audio, the squealing of rubber barely gripping the asphalt as you desperately hold on for dear life through Eau Rouge at Spa. The deafening roar of V12 engines, bass heavy as you await the green light. This is a soundtrack designed to show off your sound system to your neighbours, whether they want to hear it or not. One change here from previous outings is that there is no soundtrack while actually racing, which I assume is an active choice by Turn 10 to show off the environmental audio. While not a problem personally, I can see how others might lament its exclusion.
Returning to the Forza Motorsport career mode, there’s an element of “CaR-PG” as your chosen motor is levelled up through usage. Points are awarded from varied actions such as overtakes, clean and fast sector times and beating set lap times in practice sessions. Whilst these practice laps aren’t compulsory, gaining further points makes each lap a worthwhile endeavour. Combined with a marking system out of ten and a record of your personal best for individual sections, it has become a compelling mini-game I’ve been inclined to complete every time.
Before each race, these points can then be allocated against upgraded parts for your vehicle, with later upgrades, including engine swaps, aero parts and body kits gated behind your overall car level. I can see this being a potentially controversial choice for those who want to jump right in and tinker but I’ve enjoyed the continued sense of progression, the system encouraging you to stick with a few favourites rather than chopping and changing cars every 5 minutes.
Beyond tweaking the overall AI difficulty and various driving assists, there’s an additional new difficulty option added to Forza Motorsport in the form of grid positioning. Here, you’ll choose your starting position and you’ll be informed of your expected finish. Completing this will award you extra cash to spend on bigger and better cars from the showroom, with higher values awarded for starting further back on the grid. It’s a neat little touch allowing for micro adjustments to difficulty. Should you get a little too complacent and continually finish on the podium, the game will give you a small nudge to increase the AI difficulty level. I’ve found that this has kept me on my toes, continually pushing myself harder and stopping me from turning each race into a glorified time trial session.
As you would expect beyond career mode, there are options for free play, allowing you to tweak each race’s settings to your heart’s content. Want to race Suzuka for 100 laps in a thunderstorm, at 4x day/night cycle? You go for it, friend (just don’t ask me to join in!). My personal favourite mode returns in the form of Rivals. It’s here that you choose a car class, a track and finally a layout before attempting to beat other racers’ best times on the online leaderboard. I have lost hours tirelessly chasing sector bests, scrubbing mere milliseconds from my lap times in an attempt to slowly climb through the list of competitors. It’s endlessly addictive and I recommend that everyone give this excellent mode a chance.
Multiplayer has gone through a number of changes compared to previous outings and has taken more than a few pointers from Gran Turismo. The hoppers of Forza Motorsport 7 have now been replaced with set time races, with each consisting of practice, qualifier and finally the headline race itself. There has also been an overhaul of the penalty system which, in my experience so far, has seemed more than fair, with penalties having been only awarded for attempting shortcuts beyond track limits or when shunting other racers maybe a little too aggressively. As to how well this system will hold up to the prodding and poking, smashing and scraping of thousands of online racers remains yet to be seen. Online players are ranked on two separate values, both their safety and their skill level. Following three introductory online races, clean and fair racing will see you rise through the ranked lobbies, providing a balanced challenge no matter your own level of experience.
Having spent a number of hours racing online, I haven’t come across any glaring issues, with races running just as smoothly as you would expect and I would hope that this trend continues when the servers open up to the masses later this week. However, It’s not all champagne and gleaming, gold trophies. Playing on an Xbox Series X, I’ve noticed a few instances of sluggish loading times that I’d have expected to be a distant last gen memory. It’s an issue that I’m sure will be addressed in patches further down the line but it did surprise me that it was noticeable at all. The controller rumble has also been dialled down a little from previous titles, so while still offering a decent level of feedback on the current state of your tyre grip (or lack of), it’s definitely more subtle than you may previously have been used too.
In my experience, the AI in Forza Motorsport suffers from the same flaw that we have seen in previous titles, whereby after fighting through the pack, you’ll finally spend three laps chasing down the first position driver. Once you finally pass them, they seem to just fall behind to a safe distance, allowing you to pull away to your heart’s content.. It’s an area of the game that I’m torn on as in many situations, the AI can feel very human, aggressively jostling for position, closing gaps and squeezing you hard to maintain it. The strange behaviour of the first place drivers feels so at odds with the satisfaction of moment to moment battles, it’s hard to miss.
Beyond the minor grumbles, Turn 10 has crafted a game that genuinely feels like it’s been made just for me. No pretension, just pure, unadulterated, exhilarating racing. No, it’s not perfect but the few gripes that I have could easily be patched over the coming months. For anyone with even a passing interest in racing games (and especially those with Game Pass, to which it will be delivered day one) , this is an experience not to pass by. An excellent companion piece to the open-world, frantic off-road action of Forza Horizon, Forza Motorsport is the next generation of racing that I’ve been waiting so very long for.
An unmatched feeling of speed
No frills, no fuss presentation style
A return to pure racing
Some odd AI behaviour choices
A few slow loading screens
I have to go to work/sleep instead of playing Rivals mode 24/7