It’s been six years – almost to the day – since Turn 10 Studios released Forza Motorsport 7. For those seeking a satisfying digital racing experience in the Xbox world, this has long been the console’s flagship franchise. Now we have Forza Motorsport, the next-gen racer made specifically for the Xbox Series X/S and PC. The good news? It’s better than its predecessor. But is it six years better? That question is hard to answer.
Before diving into gameplay, here’s a quick overview of the notable details. At launch there are 20 tracks and over 500 vehicles available. Cars have completely new physics dialed in for more realism, and returning tracks have been rebuilt for more accuracy. New tracks include Eaglerock Speedway, Grand Oak Raceway, Hakone Circuit, Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, and Mid-Ohio.
As for cars, you’ll find plenty of familiar favorites amid some of the latest supercars and performance machines like the C8-generation Corvette Z06 and Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing just to name a few. A full list of cars is available on Forza’s website.
As for visuals, Forza Motorsport offers adjustable settings for quality and performance with ray tracing up to 60 frames per second. This is easily the best-looking title of them all, whether you’re racing from a chase view, snapping car pics in photo mode, or watching a replay to see where you can shave an extra tenth off your lap time. Racing from the cockpit view now offers head drift settings, automatically shifting the view left or right in turns and drifts. And here’s a neat detail for long-time Forza players: The digital steering wheel in cockpit view now spins beyond 90 degrees left to right when turning.
And there’s more of everything on the way. Turn 10 Studios views this launch not as a comprehensive game, but rather, as a strong foundation to be updated with fresh content for years to come. Some of those will be freebies, while others appear as downloadable packs to be purchased. Turn 10 Studios isn’t ready to share a specific update calendar just yet, but we are told that the Nurburgring’s 12.9-mile Nordschleife loop – which isn’t included in the title at launch – will arrive in the spring of 2024 as a wholly remapped digital track.
If you played FM7 or any of the recent open-world Horizon titles, you’ll be very comfortable here. Vehicle upgrades are grouped the same, though now you have to unlock them bit by bit before virtually bolting them up. You also use points to acquire upgrades instead of credits, and the only way to earn points and unlock upgrades is – you guessed it – drive cars. And it’s car-specific, so even if you’re a level 100 driver with a V12-swapped Honda S2000 in your garage, you won’t get sport exhaust or race tires for your new Porsche 911 GT3 until you turn laps with that exact car.
You’ll also find a few new settings to tweak when it comes to tuning. Suspension geometry helps you dial in body roll along with squats and dives. For those racing with a steering wheel, there are some basic feedback settings that are vehicle-specific. And the settings seem to be more accurate as well. For example, adjusting brake bias no longer leads to seemingly random changes in stopping distance.
For the automotive artists out there, creating custom paint jobs and designs is identical to previous Forza games. You can import your old creations for use here, and all designs are still sharable if you so choose. On the flip side, you can now disable custom liveries on opponents’ cars should you grow tired of seeing Toyota Supras with tribal decals, orange Dodge Chargers with flags on the roof, or white Volkswagens sporting the number 53.
Not A Sim, Not Quite Arcade
Here’s where the whole six-year thing comes into play. After spending several hours in my racing cockpit clipping apexes with a modified Logitech G920 wheel, I’m left feeling a tad disappointed. This isn’t a technical sim racing title in the vein of rFactor 2 or Assetto Corsa Competizione, and to be blunt, it shouldn’t be. The hardcore sim racing community spends thousands of dollars on equipment in the pursuit of a realistic experience, whereas you can have plenty of fun with Forza Motorsport using a basic Xbox controller. Even with all of the driving assists turned off, cars are relatively easy to manage.
Unfortunately, that user-friendliness means those seeking a greater challenge are left unfulfilled. Case in point: I climbed behind the virtual wheel of a Koenigsegg Jesko with all assists off at Le Mans, and with just a couple of practice laps I did a circuit of the old course in 3 minutes, 31 seconds. Granted, it’s pretty easy to turn a fast lap at Le Mans in a car that goes 270 mph down Mulsanne. But we’re talking about 1,600 hp to the rear wheels with no assists, setting a time equal to the Ford GT40 era of the mid-1960s. At risk of sounding like a meme, one doesn’t simply go to Le Mans and run a 3:31.
This prompted me to explore the sim-versus-arcade aspect further. Stab the throttle on a 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 in second gear and you get no wheelspin in a straight line. Yeah, no. Similarly, high-powered race cars have a shockingly high level of grip, allowing for late braking and full-throttle charges out of corners in pretty much any gear but first with assists dialed back. Clearly, Turn 10 Studios doesn’t want the experience to be too intimidating for players. But after six years and multiple arcade-themed Forza Horizon titles running wild on streets, couldn’t we get something more realistic for race tracks?
And yet, it’s not wholly an arcade experience either. Vehicle physics are notably better than FM7 and far better than Horizon, especially between different vehicles and powertrain platforms. Launching into the Builder’s Cup (essentially the tutorial series) with a Subaru WRX STI S209, I could gauge understeer far better than before. This is accomplished through force feedback as well as sound, which by the way, is exceptional here. Chattering tire noise accompanied by tugs and vibrations on the wheel make it easy to identify scrubbing rubber, and the same kinds of corrections you’d do in real-life work in the game.
I switched to a front-wheel drive Hyundai Veloster N for the second racing series. It was a delight to rotate the hot hatch through a corner with some lift-throttle oversteer followed by a dab of throttle steer. I could both hear and feel when the tires had grip, and the same held true for a rear-wheel drive Toyota Supra. This is a clear improvement from FM7; the accuracy makes Forza Motorsport thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying when you get it right. Unfortunately, getting it right is just a bit too easy.
It’s possible the easy nature might be of benefit for multiplayer events. In the past, venturing online in the Forza world was more like a case study of how to either punt other cars off the track, or be punted by someone who didn’t like your screen name. In theory, user-friendly control with better feedback should lead to better drivers for online competition. But for those who prefer bouncing off walls and other cars, Forza Motorsport utilizes a far more complex and harder-hitting (pun intended) penalty system.
Every collision and off-track excursion is analyzed on a case-by-case basis, even extremely minor contact. Some might say the analysis is a bit too sensitive, but the end result is either being cleared of penalties or getting docked time. If you push your way to the front, that can add up in a hurry. And if you’re a repeat offender, certain online challenges may not be available to you at all. It’s certainly more than just a passing effort to give players an improved online experience, but we won’t see how that plays out until the game launches in full.
Forza Motorsport Versus Gran Turismo 7
Forza Motorsport was never going to woo the hardcore sim racing crowd on PC, but if you’ve been holding onto $600 trying to decide between this or Gran Turismo 7 on Sony’s PlayStation 5, it’s a tough decision. I’ve had only limited experience with the latest GT title, but it still feels like the superior choice for console racers looking for more simulation in their digital racing lives. Turning good laps takes a bit of practice, and GT7 makes you work harder to get that awesome supercar you want.
Meanwhile, buying the premium version of Forza Motorsport Premium Edition dumps a plethora of high-powered racers into your garage on day one, and then you still get enough credits to buy just about anything you want right off the bat. I say that not as a bad thing, because some players just don’t have the time or desire to spend hours building up skills and credits with a Mazda Miata. But, there’s something to be said for learning to walk before running.
If that’s not your style, Forza Motorsport will absolutely let you run right from the start. And its casual feel is still realistic enough to elicit grins when you drop a half-second off your lap time. And there’s a sense that it will ultimately grow considerably larger than GT7 in the months and years to come. That kind of variety is certainly appealing to gamers and racers who seek individuality in a larger virtual world. It can open the door for a plethora of customization, something not so easily done in the world of digital online racing.
Forza Motorsport launches For Xbox Series X/S and PC on October 10. It will be available through Steam and to Xbox Game Pass members, though folks who purchase the Premium Edition will have access starting October 5.