THE ‘WHEEL’ DEAL
Forza Motorsport REVIEWED BY HARRISON FLOYD ON A SERIES X
As I cross the finish line in a somewhat modest 5th place, a gradual realization dawns upon me: my jaw aches from the relentless clenching it endured throughout the race, and my body had been unconsciously leaning into every curve. Oddly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The release of a new Forza game always marks a momentous occasion it seems. Whether it’s the adrenaline-pumping introduction of Forza Horizon or the sophisticated showcase of Forza Motorsport, narrated by a suave British voice that instantly elevates your sense of elegance, these games are designed to immerse you in the celebration of all things Forza.
The game commences with a series of hot laps, practice runs, and races, all while providing in-depth tutorials on car upgrades and the impact of different components on your vehicle’s performance. A “quick upgrade” button allows you to swiftly apply new parts if you prefer not to delve into the nitty-gritty details.
Continuing a trend seen in recent fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, the developers have made this Forza iteration the most accessible yet, offering a staggering array of options, assists, and difficulties to tailor the experience to your preferences. Making Forza more approachable doesn’t mean it’s easier; the simulation aspect remains as robust as ever. The only change is that you might find it easier to convince your friends to join you on their first Forza adventure.
HIT THE TRACK
Career mode is comprised of multiple series’ highlighting different car types, classes, and manufacturers. Most of these are fairly standard for the genre, but Forza introduces a few flourishes to keep things fresh
Before each race in a series, you must complete three practice laps, allowing you to test your car’s build and earn Car XP and credits, more on these later. Strangely, you can’t modify your car parts during practice; you can only fine-tune the tuning. I do like the chance to practice with my car build prior to a race and the bonus goals and XP awarded for finishing a lap by a certain time. I only wish you were not forced to complete three laps every time if you hit your bonus goals prior to completing said laps. These practice laps draw out how long it takes to move through a series. Compared to online mode, you do not have to complete qualifying laps but rather can choose your starting location which comes with bonus credits the further down you decide to begin the race at.
Completing these races not only grants you credits, which you can use to purchase new cars but also awards Driver XP, contributing to your overall driver rank. Additionally, you earn Car XP, which serves as points for upgrading your vehicle and acquiring new parts.
As a veteran of the Forza franchise, I can confidently assert that the handling in this game is the best it has ever felt. Transitioning back to Horizon or the previous Motorsport entries highlights the stark improvement in physics. Cars no longer exhibit under/oversteer tendencies and don’t slide around, resulting in the ability to drive faster and more easily once you master the controls. Along with that, the audio here is the best the series has ever seen. Gone are the days of certain engines sounding like angry bees attacking a vacuum.
One fantastic addition to the racing experience is the introduction of “segment scores.” Each track is divided into several distinct segments, and as you drive through each one, the game immediately provides you with a rating for that segment, alongside your best time through it. This feedback is great, allowing you to mentally note areas where you can strive to improve your time or score on subsequent laps. It adds an exciting sublayer and challenge to each race and practice lap.
THE CALMING OF THE DRIVATARS
For newcomers to the Forza franchise, Drivatars represent Forza’s answer to AI opponents. Drivatars consist of random players and, on occasion, your friends. This means you can now compete passionately against AI representations of your friends, adding a fun and competitive twist to the experience.
The Drivatars in this iteration have undergone significant improvement. In Forza Horizon 5, they occasionally exhibited erratic behavior, at times resembling drivers who should have their licenses revoked. I still vividly recall nightmarish moments when my friend’s Drivatars appeared more interested in ramming me off the track than actually racing, much like their real-life counterparts. Their difficulty level also presented challenges, often oscillating between being too easy and too hard, often rubber-banding to ensure they stayed competitive regardless of your performance.
Fortunately, in this installment, those issues seem to have been effectively addressed. Drivatars now generally behave like they should and I found their difficulty level to be much more balanced and engaging. Personally, I set my Drivatar difficulty at level 6, and I typically finished races anywhere between 2nd and 8th place. Importantly, finishing in 8th place or worse never felt unfair or cheap as it sometimes had occasionally been in the past.
Perhaps the most divisive aspect of this Forza Motorsport installment is its approach to car upgrades. In previous iterations, all parts were available from the start, granting players complete freedom to purchase and upgrade as they saw fit. Now, an RPG-like system governs car upgrades, requiring you to accumulate XP for a specific car by participating in races or practice runs. Each new level unlocks additional car parts for that specific vehicle. On average, I found myself reaching levels 15-20 with a car at the end of each series, the max level being 50. You earn “car points” for each vehicle, which can only be used on that particular car; they are not transferable.
This system seems designed to encourage players to become more familiar with a select few cars and, dare I say, “main” them. In my case, after 20-30 hours in Horizon 5, I had identified my preferred cars and didn’t experiment much further. The new system aims to promote this playstyle. Progressing through a series with a stock-standard car and gradually upgrading it provides a rewarding sense of mastery and car improvement.
In theory, this new system appears promising. In practice, it presents a different story. In past Forza games, I would manually upgrade my car, but in this Forza, I often chose the “auto upgrade” option, knowing that I would unlock new parts after the next race, rendering my time spent selecting parts relatively futile. With a roster of over 500 cars, this new system discourages experimentation with different vehicles. The maximum rank for a car is 50, and reaching this rank requires completing at least three to four series, which can take up to an hour each. Additionally, once you reach rank 50, the customization options available are essentially the same as those in previous Forza games, which were accessible from the beginning.
I sympathize with the tuning creators within the Forza community, as this new system demands hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to maintain their output from previous titles. With one prominent Tuning creator, Don Joewon Song, commented on Twitter that it would take an estimated 3675 laps total to apply a specific part to every car in the game.
RACING SERIES’ AND FRIENDS
The online mode takes an enjoyable turn towards a more immersive experience. You and fellow drivers are placed in a series, mirroring the single-player experience. However, here you have the opportunity to complete qualifying laps. Each race begins with unlimited practice sessions, and when ready, you commence your qualifying laps, determining your starting position for the race. And while waiting for others to finish, you can continue to pursue hot laps. The drawback here is that each practice session is limited to a 30-minute timer, and the race won’t begin until everyone has qualified or the timer runs out. This sometimes leads to spending an additional 10 or so minutes on practice laps depending on when you join the lobby. But, I never really minded this extra time as the subtle competition of who can put up the best practice hot lap kept me engaged.
A significant point of contention in Horizon games was the prevalence of collisions and unsportsmanlike behavior in online races. This issue has largely been addressed here, as you receive penalties for collisions and track/corner cutting. Most of the time, these penalties function effectively, but there have been instances of quirks in the system. I’ve been spun out without the aggressor receiving a penalty, I’ve T-boned someone who was spun out by another player and received a 5-second penalty and experienced minor corner cutting resulting in a 0.5-second penalty, only to then engage in more egregious corner cutting without receiving a penalty. It’s a bit perplexing. I also wish some of the penalties were stronger. As in some extreme circumstances I’ve seen someone finish in first place 28 seconds ahead of second place, but finish with 12 seconds of penalties. And make no mistake, finishing with more than 8 or so seconds in penalties is usually hard to do…unless you’re doing it purposely.
REFLECTIONS HAVE NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD
Forza Motorsport offers players three distinct graphical options to choose from. The “Performance” mode delivers a smooth 60fps experience at 4k resolution. The “Performance Raytracing” mode maintains ray tracing at 60fps, albeit with variable resolution. Finally, there’s the “Visual Mode,” which boasts a 4k resolution with ray tracing, albeit at a slightly reduced 30 frames per second. Impressively, all of these options perform exceptionally well, meeting their intended benchmarks.
Personally, I predominantly played in the “Performance Raytracing” mode, and I can attest that I never once witnessed the game drop below 60 fps throughout my extensive gameplay, which is a remarkable achievement.
Speaking of ray tracing, it’s abundantly present throughout the game. While Forza Motorsport is visually stunning across the board, it truly shines, especially during nighttime races or in wet conditions allowing you to appreciate reflections in a game in a way you never would in real life. Man, we all love a good reflection. The 24-hour day/night cycle for tracks is also incredibly impressive.
The only real rough spot I found graphically in Forza Motorsport is that the graphics in rearview mirrors are astoundingly bad. Outside of the mirrors, there are some tracks that look remarkably worse during specific times of day usually early afternoon.
OTHER PERSONAL QUABBLES WITH FORZA MOTORSPORT
Customization has always held a significant place in the Forza series, whether it involves transforming a car into a realistic racing machine or adorning a delivery van with Taylor Swift’s likeness. While I may not be the type to spend hours crafting unique graphics for my vehicles, I have certainly dabbled in some extensive car customization in previous titles. The livery editor, in past iterations, was notably user-friendly.
Regrettably, it seems that the livery editor has taken a step back in this installment. Notably, you can no longer adjust the lighting while editing, and achieving specific colors has become quite challenging. As some users have pointed out, it can be surprisingly difficult to paint your car pure black in certain situations. The image above is from my main car in Horizon 5. Doing the same thing Forza Motorsports is proving to be a tad more challenging.
Another issue worth noting is the absence of career mode events featuring dedicated “motorsports” cars. Currently, every career series revolves around real-life vehicles you’d encounter on the streets. Although, I’m sure this will be remedied soon.
Some car interiors look to be a downgrade from Horizon 5 as well. But maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me.
YEP, IT’S FORZA MOTORSPORT ALRIGHT
All in all, it’s a Forza game. But you probably already knew that. While the game stumbles a bit in the progression, the actual racing is the best in the series and continues to set the bar for what we should expect from a racing game. The true litmus test for a Forza game is whether it leaves you with that “just one more lap” feeling, and in this regard, does this game check that box? Absolutely.