I love racing games, but I’m not really a racing game kind of guy. What that means is I enjoy getting beyond the wheel of a flashy car, whether it’s a half-million-dollar Ferrari or a souped-up Subaru hatchback, and trying to hug turns while grazing past the competition. What I don’t particularly care about is getting lost in the minutiae that racing fans love: geeking out over pristine car models, comparing brake pads, or seeing how realistically the rain dries on Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Fortunately, Forza Motorsport, out October 5 on Xbox Series X/S and PC, nails the first part. It seems pretty good at the second one too, but car and racing culture is vast and my knowledge of it is not. Where racing games speak to me isn’t in their hyper-precise visual fidelity or sprawling arsenals of licensing deals with car manufacturers and race track associations, it’s the way they recreate the exhilarating tension between power and control of a real-world death machine within the safe and unremarkable constraints of a 2D display. Everytime the rubber hits the road, Forza Motorsport feels great.
It’s been six years since Forza Motorsport 7, which, because of all the licensing deals having expired, is no longer available to buy. During that time, Forza Horizon, the more arcadey, free-wheeling cross-country spin-off, surpassed its mother series to become the face of the Xbox franchise in the eyes of many players. Its celebration of car culture was more approachable and forgiving, and felt more like a party than a gate-keepy simulation. Is there still room for Horizon’s stuffier predecessor? After 10 hours with Forza Motorsport, my answer is “absolutely.“
The time Turn 10 has spent on the latest entry, the longest of any in the series, comes through acutely in every moment on the race track. The way tires grip the pavement (literally 48 times more accurately than in the previous game), the feel of the car buckling as you break into a turn before accelerating out, feels as good as any action you can perform in any other game, from the shooting in Destiny to the uppercuts in Mortal Kombat. Forza Motorsport’s simulation goes as deep as paint thickness and how it chips off during a race, but these esoteric details haven’t distracted from how all-around great the incredibly fine-tuned physics make it feel to hug the track.
If a Mario platformer is just a long, complex sequence of jumps, a Forza racing game is just a long and varied sequence of turns. Some are long. Some are sharp. Some are back to back, requiring you to re-calibrate halfway through or risk smashing into the wall. In most games you can see the obstacles in your way and how to overcome them. In a racing game you have to feel your way around them, making a mental map of the invisible acceleration curves of each one that will maximize your lap time. Forza Motorsport does this as well as any game in the series ever has. Probably better.
The graphical upgrades (it looks nice but not amazing on my Series S), new host of accessibility options, and bigger multiplayer events, including real-time race weekends, are all welcome improvements, but it’s the painstakingly crafted feeling of briefly losing control while trying to rapidly redirect 3,000 pounds of bespoke engineering around a 90-degree bend that has me wanting to keep playing this game that wasn’t truly meant for me.
That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of an identity crisis within Microsoft’s latest big first-party Game Pass exclusive. One of its three pillars, the single-player Builders Cup Career Mode, is carefully designed to onboard players who are new to both Forza Motorsport and car racing in general. So much so, that it locks tuning options behind level-ups you earn by driving, requiring you to invest lots of time into particular makes and models in order to gain access to the full suite of parts to tinker with.
This RPG-like progression that can feel satisfying for newcomers, but as many other reviews have noted, including one by our sister-site, Jalopnik, it can also feel unnecessarily prohibitive and grindy for longtime fans and connoisseurs who want to get right into swapping out drivetrains and tires. You can earn credits to purchase the cars you want, but you’ll still need to invest time with them on the track before they become fully customizable. This helps you build a relationship with your favorite hatchback or grand tourer, learning its intricacies before you start meddling under the hood. Unfortunately, these requirements also carry over into the game’s free play and online multiplayer modes, initially limiting your toy box no matter your past experience level with the franchise.
However, for someone like me who’s content to just race and slowly tinker with a few of my favorite cars, the confines of the XP system for unlocks are easy enough to overlook, and seeing the car level go up every couple laps in a practice session or full race is a nice little hit of dopamine. Forza Motorsport has just over 500 cars, 14 tracks, and 20 total circuits to start off with, stats that may leave some fans slightly overwhelmed at launch. But the platform itself is sturdy and compelling, with plenty of room for Turn 10 to continue updating down the road. I’m excited to see where it goes.
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