Turn 10's new Forza Motorsport for Xbox Series X is arguably the smoothest-feeling racing sim ever made. At its best, when you're driving a grippy, fast car designed for the racetrack, hounding an online opponent at 60fps or shaving tenths off your times in Rivals mode, it's fantastic. Greater, in fact, than its predecessor, Forza Motorsport 7, thanks to the new dynamic weather/time of day cycles and noticeably slicker rendering. You're looking at not just a showcase for Xbox Game Studios, but for gaming as a whole.
Release date: October 10, 2023
Platform(s): PC, Xbox Series X
Developer: Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
But such highlights don't tell the whole story. The way in which the exemplary game engine is packaged up as a single-player video game experience is a clear downgrade from the hyper-deluxe brilliance of its predecessor. While career mode provides a fan-pleasing focus on modifying so many famous motorcars, it's otherwise vastly stripped down and offers just one very singular, repetitive gameplay loop that simply isn't as enjoyable as what came before.
This loop starts with a menu screen where you spend 'Car Points' on your vehicle. You start with a few hundred and earn more by leveling up your vehicle. Allocating points to mods, you raise the performance value of your car, keeping it within a set limit while maximizing on-track gains. This is easy to follow as they're condensed into four main areas: Speed, Braking, Acceleration, and Handling, each with a value that turns green or red for 'better or worse' as you switch components. If such under-the-hood tinkering leaves you cold, don't worry – there's a handy single button press where Forza Motorsport will do it for you, though the result is sometimes imperfect.
Next, you head to a 10-minute practice session. Yes, for every career mode race. This normally ends after three laps; a quota the game says 'required', though it can actually be skipped (or surpassed), though skipping it does mean you don't earn as many credits or Car Points so it's not advised. There is also an optional target lap time to beat, which oddly doesn't require penalty-free driving. This time is a good indicator for whether you've got the difficulty set right, but it's otherwise unimportant.
At the startline, you can drain unneeded fuel from your tank (which you'll need to do every single time if you care about such weight gains), you're then left – bizarrely – to choose your own grid position from 4th to 24th, with bonus credits and driver XP available if you meet your target despite starting further back.
Then you race in 24-car battles, which is impressive indeed. Depending on your difficulty level, you may have rewinds available, a dynamic racing line or damage to contend with. Damage is mainly mechanical, though paintwork scratches very easily on the 'realistic' setting, with some panel damage evident too, though nothing ever falls off the cars. Usual story there.
On expert difficulty, contact or track limits violations are assessed in real time, with penalty seconds awarded or not depending on the severity of your violation, which is very well implemented. You duly drive for some 10 minutes in this beautifully smooth but often plodding simulation, finish second and move on to start the loop again. And again. And again. Whatever the discipline, career mode always feels the same.
But wait – why did you finish second? Well, unless you get an early run on the leader, there's still that age-old Forza problem where one car zooms off in front. It's been nine years since I complained about this in my Forza Motorsport 6 review, but here it is again, clear as day. It's commonplace to see one AI car somehow 11 seconds faster than everyone else despite a legal and outwardly unremarkable car. It makes no sense. The leader's not always uncatchable, but sometimes there's just nothing you can do.
The majority of Forza Motorsport's solo campaign is spent in relatively slow cars so it's sedate and underwhelming. You heave them through corners, wait with the patience of a saint to get your foot down on corner exits, and inevitably rear-end AI cars as they inexplicably brake in front of you. Spending your Car Points on grip enhancements does make for more fun, and you really can feel the difference even when changing things like the width of your tires. The simulation is great, but the gameplay is not. Career mode is dull for literally days at a time.
This isn't helped by the new presentation style, which does away with the famous guest voice overs, upbeat music, and gloss-heavy menus in favor of what's best described as gray screens with orange bits. After the bombast and ultra-slick enthusiasm of the previous installment, it feels disappointingly basic. The more arcadey features like Mod Cards and the fruit machine bonus spinner are gone, though that doesn't mean it's now a hardcore sim. You won't find qualifying rounds, a flag system, safety car, engine failures, team management, sponsorships, career rivalries, tire warming, or financial penalties for car damage. There's not even any obvious defensive driving exhibited by the AI. Compared to something like EA's F1 series, this is a markedly basic, bare bones racer.
On Xbox Series X, Ray Tracing is disabled on the recommended visual setting, instead appearing as a separate, dynamic but lower-resolution 60fps mode, or as a 4K fidelity mode that runs at 30fps. You do get used to 30fps if you play it long enough, but it is disappointing not to have 4K60 with Ray Tracing on the Series X. What more people will likely care about is the overall look of the game. Far from photo-realistic, Forza Motorsport looks very clean and computer-rendered, with cars often looking plasticky, especially at night.
The day/night transitions update the lighting and shadow positions every 18-25 seconds (and you might notice the jump), and the dynamic skies appear to be a series of static skyboxes compared to Forza Motorsport 7's pretty, moving clouds. The overall effect is still frequently beautiful as morning fog burns off or the setting sun's glare increasingly encroaches into your vision as the race progresses, but it doesn't feel as freeform or organic as the still-great weather system of the original Project CARS.
One standout feature, however, is the way Forza Motorsport rewards you for driving well. Tracks are split into sections and you're graded out of 10 for every sequence of corners you complete, reminiscent of a now-ancient game called Need For Speed: Shift. Good marks level up your vehicle, unlocking new mods and Car Points to spend on them. No mod is ever really 'bought', as you can roll back to a cheaper unlocked part without penalty.
It's clear that Forza Motorsport wants you to be as smooth as it is, rewarding gentle, progressive inputs over secondary taps of the brakes and blipping the throttle (more Prost than Senna), though a fantastic overall exit speed does appear to trump everything else. Either way, Turn 10 really gets why people love racing games: it's about self-improvement just as much as beating the rest of the field. While you're pootling about in the rain in a 1990s touring car, this rating system becomes a game in itself. It certainly makes things more interesting, if not any more exciting.
Forza Motorsport is available via Microsoft's subscription service, making it one of the best Game Pass games for racing fans.
What is massively exciting, however, is the online mode. Echoing Gran Turismo Sport's timed-event entry system, you choose an event, practice for it while a timer ticks down, and choose your moment to perform up to three laps of qualifying. Then the race begins, with wonderfully solid, tense, close racing. Penalties and license level changes are applied for poor sportsmanship, making this a serious and meaningful online experience. It's so, so good.
Time Attack is dressed up as 'Rivals' mode where you take on rival gamers using online leaderboards and ghosts, and there's certainly fun to be had there, especially as you can focus on faster cars that respond well to quick inputs, resulting in an exemplary driving experience. But beyond the car dealership and free play, that's basically it. It's a pared-back experience, feeling smaller and emotionally flat compared to the superlative, exhaustive Forza Motorsport 7.
I said in my Forza Motorsport 7 review that the racer had "firmly set the bar by which all other racing games will be judged," so naturally this iteration has to be held to its light. The game engine here is demonstrably better than Forza Motorsport 7's but, in terms of breadth of gameplay, presentation, general excitement, and enjoyment gleaned from racing the AI cars, the older, now-deleted Forza Motorsport 7 is clearly superior. More content including tracks and event series will be added over time, so it will certainly improve, but right now the career mode here is so sedate and one-note, it's hard to recommend Forza Motorsport's offline mode over any of its peers.
Forza Motorsport was reviewed on Xbox Series X, with code provided by the publisher.