“It’s the marketing that gets you.”
The Forza series is in… a tough spot right now. It’s been six years in the making for Turn 10 Studios’ to release a brand new mainline Motorsport game for the current generation of consoles. Its sister brand, the Horizon series, has hit the skids with a disappointing 5th showing, the reviewers’ startling early scores masking a ton of technical problems and a relatively dull landscape despite it being 50% bigger than the incredible Horizon 4’s interpretation of the UK. And don’t get me started on Hot Wheels…
Across the pond, their direct competition in Polyphony has also struggled with Gran Turismo 7. A game with a strong core gameplay loop, but a horrendous infrastructure that strayed away from the formula that made the franchise great, and the ugly bloat of microtransactions and a grindset for rare cars have led to a solid, but stagnant game. Ask Roflwaffle on YouTube after finishing his 17th hour of critiques.
Turn 10 was given an open goal to land the first, true, franchise racing game for this generation. It teased the audience with the now infamous phrase “Built from the ground up”. I’ll spoil the ending for you. It’s swung and it’s missed. I’ll explain how.
Style Isn’t Over Substance
For full disclosure, I was playing this on PC and I use an Nvidia 3060 Ti as my CPU. Let’s get into the graphics and presentation first. And first impressions… pretty good. The game at its best looks pretty damn good, even if you can choose how far you want to push those settings. You can either lean towards performance, aiming to keep those frame rates at 60 or more, or you can add more ray-tracing to the cars and environments and play at nearer 30.
At least that was the idea, but this game has been unstable for me since launch, hovering anywhere between 30 and 100 FPS, mostly hovering around 70. There have been multiple crashes in sessions I’ve played the game in (Roughly 2 hours at a time), to the point where progress isn’t saved, even when the game claims it has. It’s a major error that still hasn’t bene fixed at Update 1.1.
And it feels like the game hasn’t been fully optimised on PC and needs more work. A lot of their assets are stunning when stable, but then it’s marred by a texture that doesn’t load in properly. At full capacity, with car reflections and the extreme weather the game can throw at you like thick fog and thunderstorms, the game can be gorgeous, but at a cost. I like to use Driveclub as the barometer for graphical power in racers, and we’re still not past what they were doing in 2013.
The game’s overall presentation is again fine, but nothing we haven’t seen before. For all that talk about ground-up building, some very familiar cars and car models are in this game that were in Forza 4 on the Xbox 360. That familiar fancy showroom vibe from Forza 5 and 6, the subtle and smooth menu soundtrack, the slick voiceover work and car segments that look straight out of a Top Gear shoot. It’s fine, but not particularly compelling, especially when you’re doing your 10th series and you want to skip the filler as quickly as you can. It’s safe and familiar but nothing spectacular.
The one thing I’m pleased to report is that the revamped driving model in Forza Motorsport is outstanding. I have loved the purity of the driving experience itself. I played with a gamepad and the feel was excellent right out of the box.
In Forza 7, I zoned out of its driving experience quickly because you never knew what the biting point of the car was. You felt a disconnect between yourself and the driving. Not a problem in this game. The model for grip is excellent. You can feel the weight of the cars moving on the pad, but the changes of direction still feel authentic and realistic. And when you start losing the battle of adhesion, the scaling of that is more realistic and you can fight and adapt to it better.
When you put a wheel on the grass, you feel that drop off in grip much more than in previous games. It gives you confidence that if you know what you’re doing in a car, it’ll react according to how you think it will and you can drive fast with relative ease. It makes you want to push and I love racing games that make you want to play that way. I can’t comment on the wheel directly as I don’t own one, but people I trust have told me it feels clunky by default and you’ll likely need to tweak some settings for it to work, but once it does, it’s very good.
You’ll likely spend the first 30 hours of play on the game’s main single-player career, the Builder’s Cup. The game’s mentality is very similar to Tony Stark’s – Great cars aren’t born, they’re built, and that’s where the emphasis of the game’s primary gameplay loop lies. There are roughly 25 four-to-six race series where you buy a car then race specific categories amongst the games roughly 500-car roster, and race in a Championship format.
Once you get to the track, you’re encouraged to take part in a practice session to get used to the car and track, earning XP to level up your car. More on that later. Then using those practice times, you can set your starting position on the grid, anywhere from 3rd to 24th. The further back you start, the more credits you earn IF you can finish on the podium. Don’t make it to 3rd? You don’t get your podium bonus.
The AI itself you race against is… not great. It still suffers the Forza 6 and 7 problem that the cars don’t know how to pack race and are ignorant of your location in large groups, and as a result, the front two or three cars pull a massive lead early and you have to chase them down. It’s such a shame because the Risk/Reward system helps diversify the racing itself… in theory.
If you want to challenge equally quick cars at the front, you can jack up the AI difficulty and race hard for the win right from the start. I picked a Lamborghini Huracan STO against a much faster KTM X-Bow GT2 and it led to some great racing at the front of the field where I was pushing really hard just to give myself a shot. But you can also have a GT7-esque sprint where you start from the back and work your way up by passing slower cars. It’s a nice touch but winning from the back isn’t as hard as it should be because the slow backmarkers will be cleared within a lap or two due to the poor pack racing AI, it takes you out of the experience a touch. Doesn’t help when the inevitable collisions that come from close-quarters racing feel unnatural, like you’re stuck to the other car. The damage model has regressed too, with only scratches coming through, even after heavy contact with the Armco.
As your series progresses, you’re encouraged to upgrade your car. And this is where the game’s biggest shortcoming lies.
The cash you earn in the game is ONLY used to buy cars, with upgrades now directly tied to a new XP system that’s very RPG-like ala Pokemon. As you drive, if you hit your guideline times in practice, as well as follow the racing line via “segment scores”, you gain XP and level up your car from 1-50. As you level up, you unlock Upgrade Points and the options to upgrade your car, from engine upgrades like exhausts and camshafts, up to the big stuff like aspiration conversations and engine swaps.
I get what the game was trying to do, wanting that experience of slowly building your car up (The series you race in increases its performance cap on class performance as they go on, like C to B or S to R for example), and experimenting on taking parts on and off. Still, it turns the game into an unnecessary grind. Driving for hours to get to the meatier upgrades like weight reductions and engine swaps for every single car isn’t fun, it’s grindy and repetitive. And the Builder’s Cup works against you in that goal.
Doing a series with one car generally gets you to Level 20-30 depending on how well you drive and how many races the series has, and the mode is very linear in how it progresses. You likely will only be using a car once to complete a series, with little reason for a second showing outside of the Class categories. You quickly go from driving a Ford Focus hot hatch to a JDM classic saloon like a Mazda RX-7, to a one-make Corvette series. Distant variables compared to games like Gran Turismo where clever purchasing could lead to one car doing multiple series. I’m not a fan of racers where you’re forced to march to the beat of their drum.
Now in the game’s defence, in Update 1.0 they’ve drastically lowered all the level requirements of the car upgrades, maxing out at 25 rather than 50, making it roughly one Builder’s Cup series. It makes a lot more sense this way, and you can gain XP ANYTIME the car is on track, including Multiplayer, but it’s still a clunky, uninspired Builder’s Cup main mode that lacks creativity and fails to fully utilise its full roster of cars.
And it’s a weird roster in general, not anywhere near as wide or diverse as sister brand Horizon, even if 500 cars is still solid, but maybe lacking the full potential it could have had. Remember, Horizon 5 is getting close to 700 now.
By the end of the Builder’s Cup (Including the first DLC tour they’ve added focused on track cars), you’ll likely have a 30-car roster of cars around Level 30… and that’s it? That’s not fulfilling from a Forza career mode, where they normally stack the deck with events and a variety of events at that.
The Autoclub events from previous events are gone. The car bowling is gone. The wide variety of specialised races based on body shape, manufacturer, continent or class are almost entirely gone, with just four, four-race series a the end of the cup that’s class-wide. Forza 5 had more variety, even if its events were checkbox exercises. Forza 4 had a hand-holding guided tour but you could step off at any time and take on the huge amount of events underneath the surface, with its entire fleshed-out roster of cars getting their moments to shine. This reboot is so far backwards for the series, it’s infuriating.
The Multiplayer though, is redeeming. It’s very good. It takes F1’s race weekend format of practise, a three-lap qualifying shootout and then a race, and adds elements like tyre compound strategy and potentially variable weather. It’s simple but effective, similar to Gran Turismo 7’s multiplayer with set times for designated races and some variability in the lobbies, such as either letting Forza balance the books for you in terms of car performance or set races with custom upgrades and tunes.
It’s worked very well for me, stable when actually racing, and the Safety Rating has seemingly worked well enough, with races mostly clean and the AI penalty system firm, but mostly fair. Thumbs up all round here.
It does stretch the game’s tracks just a tad though. The game starts with 20 locations on the disk, with some fun original tracks like Grand Oak Raceway, to the staple real-life tracks like Le Mans, the Nurburgring GP circuit and Road America. There’s more coming soon too with Yas Marina coming in November, another track for Christmas, and the Nordschiefele promised for Spring 2024. It’s a good start with room to improve, even if again, it’s a step back from Forza 7. And yes, despite there being a paid one-off VIP status tag for double money and some suits and cars, there are no other rolling micro-transactions and the tracks will be free. Nice.
Foundations To Build
The verdict is a complicated one. The marketing department shot the development team in the foot in my opinion. It reminds me a lot of when Slightly Mad Studios made Project Cars 3. The franchise’s tag, one built on the back of accessible hardcore sim racing on console, was used to sell a third game that felt more like Need for Speed Shift 3, a franchise that straddled that simcade line more, and alienated a hardcore fanbase that wanted a game more like its “predecessors”.
Forza’s made the same mistake. By dropping the number in the name, and proclaiming this was a new game built from scratch, after 6 years in the works, this just doesn’t represent that time span and promise. People hoped and wanted this to be a classic. And it’s just ended up decent, but ultimately a little cold and not functioning properly.
This isn’t 6 years of work to me, and I hate that Forza Motorsport has fallen into all the classic AAA gaming pitfalls we’ve seen in the last decade. Lack of polish in a rush to get to an over-ambitious release date. Live service models. Promise to fix problems later when you only get one chance to make an impression. Taking content out that made previous games great.
There’s the core and foundations of a genuinely excellent racer here. Accessible and immensely fun at its heart, where anyone can pick up and play, and have a good time suited to their needs. The physics and racing are outstanding and genuinely good multiplayer helps too. But the package around it just isn’t good enough and there’s a good chance it’ll end up like Forza 7 where the exciting new ground will tail off quickly. If this game was released in a more popular genre like Cyberpunk 2077 or Madden *insert number here*, it would be roasted over an open fire, but no one mainstream cares about racing games anymore.
It’s so frustrating because I keep coming back because that racing experience IS so good. But the Builder’s Cup career mode is the weakest in any mainline Forza game so far, and the RPG car upgrade system harms the game’s versatility and adds unnecessary grinding to a game that hasn’t got the luxury to make that prospect appealing. Add in the lack of PC optimisation and it makes the game hard to recommend.
My advice? Get the PC Game Pass for £8, download it, play around with it and see how you feel. Like I said, there’s a good game here that can be built upon. But Forza Motorsport needed three months more polish and a rethink on the core of its single-player experience.
- Genuinely brilliant driving experience
- Good risk/reward qualifying system
- Strong Multiplayer
- Excellent graphically…
- …When it works, sketchy on PC
- The car Upgrade System doesn’t work properly
- AI is unimproved
- Single-player career is series lowlight
Dre’s Rating: 6.5/10 (Decent)