Skip to main content

Forza Motorsport hands-on preview: a return to form, and possibly even more

Shifting the franchise's focus on circuit motorsport culture seems to hit the mark so far
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

Forza Motorsport 7 is now six years old, and it feels like it was released a lifetime ago. A more casual, open-world version of the racing game – the Forza Horizon series – has seen two entries since then. That's why developer Turn 10 Studios had to come up with a different, bold vision for the Motorsport series to keep making sense.

Considering that the last couple of games have proved particularly divisive among the community, the question here is: is there still a place for Forza Motorsport, now that Forza Horizon 5 has proved to be the most popular game in the franchise? Turn 10 strives to answer that question by completely rebooting the series' purpose and philosophy. Sport and caRPG are the two keywords, with a lesson or two learned from Playground Games' formula.

Forza Motorsport preview press kit screenshot

Forza’s career mode, Builders Cup, has an intro that’s full Forza Horizon style. An emotional video asks why we race, and is followed by two races between Maple Valley and Japan, letting us get the grips with the controls. Complete with a driver editor, our demo then allowed us to give a peek into the robust Intro Series.

Here we met three cars, and the tracks: Subaru STI S209 (2019), Honda Civic Type R (2020), Ford Mustang GT (2018), and Kyalami Circuit, Mugello Circuit and Grand Oak Raceway respectively. Choose your difficulty level by changing up the Drivatar level, AI speed, and how strict the rules should be, and you're good to go.

In Forza Motorsport, the race involves a free practice session so you can test the circuit, try out set-ups, manage tires and fuel. As you do so, you complete required objectives and bonus objectives, and you gain Car XP to level up your car. You get a grade for each 'segment', which could be a turn or a set of turns, and with those, the car levels up in real time. You can check that as it happens through an XP bar on the right side of the screen.

Forza Motorsport preview screenshot

You can get as many laps as you want within a time limit, with a minimum of three laps for the mandatory goal. As your car levels up, you unlock parts to upgrade it in your garage: if you want to upgrade your car, you need CP (Car Points), not credits, which instead only go towards buying new cars.

Driver Level as well as the credits awarded after races remain a staple in the game, only a little more on the sidelines: the focus seems to be placed more on the car you're driving, and on the relationship you establish with it - not simply on you as a driver or a collector of cars. If you want that, you have Forza Horizon right there.

The Intro Series doesn't feature qualifying sessions, so you automatically start from P13, which makes it extremely tough to win the race. You can pick your own starting spot via a pre-race menu, but the further back you start, the greater the credits bonus for a podium finish.

Forza Motorsport preview screenshot

Forza Motorsport feels like a true reboot, and that much is clear as soon as you hit the track for the first time. The experience is now decidedly motorsport-oriented: you have well-defined, AR-styled track limits, pit lanes and pit stops, F1-like UI with time remaining for completing the free practice session and penalties calculated in real time, drivers leaving the pits and re-entering right in front of you, causing traffic on the track, and more.

It's also nice to see how both trail and traffic influence lap times just like in Formula 1, and it’s cool how authentic and dynamic AI drivers are on the track. We've often seen cars make mistakes and go off-road, or maybe just put a wheel on the grass and lose a few tenths of a second unexpectedly.

The game is imbued with motorsport culture, even featuring the names of tracks' turns, which you're shown crossing them for a fast lap (San Donato at Mugello Circuit is a good example of that). When you get close, a lap timer starts showing you the gaps from your previous best time, and that further proves how the free practice system encourages you to perfect your time on individual sections. Even from this, you can see how Turn 10 wanted the sporting dimension of racing back in the game, in a way that feels reminiscent of the first two or three Forza games - while pushing it even further into uncharted territory.

Forza Motorsport hands-on preview

Behind the wheel, looking at other circuit-based racing games, your car has a more nervous energy than, say, Gran Turismo 7. You can feel the suspension at work, with a lot of micro-corrections in and out of corners that make the car's behavior unpredictable - and that goes for the opponents as well. When you're in hot pursuit, spotting these uncertainties is crucial to understanding when to attack, and that happens a lot when you're in P2. You can either ram your opponent off the track (don't), or you can bide your time and take your chance. Needless to say, the latter is a far more satisfying approach.

The driving model feels very good. You can see the weight being well distributed along the body of the car, and when in turns, you need to nail the apex if you don't want to make mistakes and lose precious tenths or worse. If you have a sequence of turns in front of you, making even a slight mistake in the first one compromises your whole lap.

With a basic setup, you can suffer from understeer and oversteer easily, and in that respect, even the three starting cars feel widely different: the Honda Civic is much more balanced when entering turns, mainly thanks to its rear wing, at the expense of a few points in acceleration.

Forza Motorsport hands-on preview

Getting into the turns the right way is key, and to do so, there are different strategies depending on the car. In Forza Motorsport, it's greatly rewarding to pick one based on the data acquired during the free practice.

You might feel as if you’re battling physics, but you’re always in full control of every part of the car, and this is particularly noticeable in Builders Cup's Intro Series, as almost the entirety of the tracks here features long, medium-sized turns.

Each track also comes with its own look and feel, and it's never just an aesthetic touch. Grand Oak Raceway has a deep contrast between dawn light and mist that is evocative, but makes it hard to see right in front of you in a couple turns and requires caution. Kaylami Circuit is played at night, with the headlights piercing the darkness and creating deceptive effects.

Forza Motorsport hands-on preview steering wheel

The new system evaluates your on-track behavior, and applies penalties in tenths or seconds. Based on our demo, it feels like the system is closer to American racing series rather than F1, so we've seen a quite high tolerance for unsportsmanlike behavior. This means that touching a direct competitor from behind to gain an advantage won’t usually be detected as a violation.

We'll come back to this in our full Forza Motorsport review, but in the meantime, the game features three graphics modes on Xbox Series X: 4K at 60fps, dynamic 4K at 60fps with ray tracing enabled, and 4K at 30fps with ray tracing. All of them look delicious, but of course, 60fps is the way to go if you want the best sense of speed the game has to offer.

Shifting the franchise's focus on circuit motorsport culture seems to hit the mark so far, and the same can be said for prioritizing car development over a bloated garage. Forza Motorsport is feeling great, and we look forward to completing our run on Builders Cup and testing some online gameplay in time for our review.