Forza Motorsport: The Kotaku Australia Review

Forza Motorsport: The Kotaku Australia Review

I need to start this off by saying that I love Forza. Forza Motorsport 2 was the first game I got with my Xbox 360, and the obsessiveness with which my friends and I played it every day shaped the way I’ve interacted with games and cars ever since. The Forza Motorsport franchise, and later Forza Horizon (my gaming true love), are exceptionally important to me, so I fully acknowledge that I came into Forza Motorsport with extremely high expectations.

With that in mind, I’m a bit disappointed in the new Forza Motorsport, because it feels like it’s missing a couple of key ingredients that could elevate it. Like, it’s brilliant at the one thing that it’s trying to do, but I’m not sure that one thing is going to be enough to maintain my interest long term.

What’s good in Forza Motorsport?

This year’s Forza Motorsport is all about finding a few cars you love, building them up, and then racing them in endless laps of the same courses. And nothing else. Which is mostly great! It’s meant that all the resources were put into making a great racing experience.

You start off by picking a car that you would be thrilled to be able to afford in real life, but seems a bit crap in a video game, and then race it around some of the world’s most beautiful tracks. During each race you’ll earn driver XP, car XP, and a variety of credits and upgrades. Then, between each race, you’ll upgrade your car to make it better.

I really love this whole system of finding and improving a car, going for “built, not bought”. It allows you to find a car you enjoy, get attached to it, and then have it grow with you.

I also really like that different segments are graded, and you can see how you improve, and also see how much you have to improve. Getting a perfect 10 feels like a true achievement. Though, I do wish it gave more feedback on what you were marked down on, so you know exactly how to improve, rather than just the game saying “you sucked at that” and then no other notes.

The game has a big learning curve, and the new steering and handling system feels truer to life. It took a while to adjust to, but once I did adjust, it felt thrilling. This is how cars in games should handle, and it’s an absolute pleasure to experience.

I also think Turn 10 needs to be applauded for how in-depth the accessibility features are. I still think it’s ridiculous that they didn’t implement all the d/Deaf accessibility features from Horizon, but the blind accessibility features are an incredible innovation. They’ll make a huge difference for gamers who need them.

What’s missing from Forza Motorsport?

Racing car on a course
Image provided by Turn 10 studios

Everything else that isn’t doing laps.

Given that the focus this year is on getting you to upgrade your car and truly understand it, I think it’s wild that there isn’t something like a separate ‘Forza Academy’ mode that takes you through what each part of the car does, and the difference all the adjustments make, right from the beginning of the game. There’s just big blocks of text next to each item that are difficult to absorb because of how it’s formatted.

Having a full-blown mode that holds your hand and lets you feel the difference without having to spend 1000 years jumping between menus would make the customisation process feel exciting, rather than just a chore you have to do to progress. Including new players and drivers in the process of what it means to change each thing, and then showing them examples of what it feels like to make minor tweaks would elevate the game so much.

It feels like the developers forgot that not everyone has an innate understanding of cars. I don’t own a car, I do all my driving in Forza these days and I’ve spent the last 16 years just downloading tunes made by other people. I have a tenuous understanding of what everything does, and I was excited thinking that Forza Motorsport’s focus on building would include teaching players how to build.

I also think it’s a shame that there isn’t an easy way to test drive the different cars when you’re presented with different car options to buy at the beginning of a race. Sure, you can jump out and go into freeplay mode, where you can rent cars to try them. But if I’m buying a car in the real world, I’m allowed to take it for a drive around the block. This isn’t a car accumulation game, it’s a game about falling in love with specific cars, and it’s a missed opportunity to not allow for easy test driving without having to go through a laborious process.

Another thing I would like as part of the car selection process at the start of a journey with that car would be a little history of each of the suggested cars. Again, this is a game about falling in love with specific cars instead of catching them all, tell me a story about this car. Beyond it feeling nice and going fast, is there an interesting fact. We get an interesting fact about the category each time, it would be great if that could go further at the point of selection (rather than just later).

It’s great that it feels like Turn 10 is taking Forza Motorsport deadly seriously, but it also feels like they’ve been around too many car experts for too long and forgotten that their player base can and should be broader than people who already know everything.

The cars are incredible, and the tracks are beautiful, it’s all the best I’ve seen in a Forza game. But I also need more than just driving in circles. It doesn’t have to be car bowling, it just has to be meeting players where they are with their level of knowledge and experience and then helping them get better. Help induct me into the car lovers club. Tell me a story. Educate me on what I’m doing. Do something more than say “here’s a car, pay for it, tune it (you know how to do that right?), then drive with the great skill I assume you have”.

Another thing that is frustrating is that the AI drivers still seem to have the same issue as in Horizon – if the car in first place gets out of sight, it’s like the physics of the track or the car stop being applied to it, and it’ll just zoom off impossibly. It’s particularly noticeable in Motorsport, given that you can select your place in the starting grid for extra credits, and starting at the back will just seemingly launch the lead car into the stratosphere if you haven’t caught up by turn 5.

Let me explain this problem to you in the form of a convoluted metaphor

Cars parked on a racing track
Image provided by Turn 10 Studios

For just a moment, I need you to imagine the world of racing games (Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon) like a family. This will make sense, I promise.

The Gran Turismo franchise is like your strict grandparent who has money now, but still has some PTSD from The War and is exceptionally strict. If you don’t practice your piano perfectly, do all your homework and eat your vegetables, you will be punished severely. There is no time for fun.

Forza Motorsports 1-7 are a slightly more laid-back grandparent on the other side of the family. They, too, can be strict at times, but they want you to succeed at all the things you’re practising, and they’re so proud when you do a good job. They also take you out for ice cream every now and then to encourage you, and they want you to do lots of art projects.

Forza Horizon is the wine aunt your parents sometimes leave you with. Horizon lets you jump on the bed, play paintball, and always has a ridiculous idea for activities. You’ll do a bit of homework, they’re not a monster, but they’ll also let you eat lollies and do flips on the trampoline until you throw up.

The Crew is the cousin that moved overseas a while back and you keep forgetting they’re part of the family.

But, lately the Forza Motorsport grandparent has been through a midlife crisis. Their child, Horizon, has gotten too good at all the weird stuff Motorsport used to do in their youth, and it’s made them uncomfortable. So, Motorsport has decided to go back to the basics, and reinvent themselves as a fully serious person who still says they like fun, but in the way that they think of homemade kale chips as a treat. The only activity they offer when you visit their house is driving their model trainset. You can help with the trainset once you know how it works, but they’re not going to teach you how to do that. And that’s fine, you love the model trainset, but you still remember when they were more fun, and you wish they’d take the time to teach you what they know.

Forza Motorsport verdict

Car motor up close
Image provided by Turn 10 Studios

There are all the building blocks for a completely brilliant racing game here. But it comes across as just a base for something to be built on as the developers get feedback from the community. All the fundamentals are basically perfect.

I love the concept of the game, but Turn 10 hasn’t gone far enough to make it inclusive of people who aren’t yet fully into cars. However, this is clearly designed to be a live service game, so hopefully there’s still time to change, adapt, and improve. I want to love it, but the further I got into it, the more left out I felt, and the more it started to feel like a chore.

It is a completely brilliant racing game. The racing is absolutely excellent. If you already know and love cars, you are going to have an incredible time. But it is a very specific game, for a very specific kind of player, and it doesn’t seem all that interested in helping people become that specific kind of player.

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