It feel like we’ve been waiting forever for the latest in the Forza Motorsport series. Simply titled Forza Motorsport, it’s a reboot of sorts, some six years in the making. But don’t worry: the result is something not all that far away from what’s come before, for better or worse.
The biggest change here is how you progress and upgrade cars in Forza Motorsport’s career mode. There are still multiple tours to complete, each featuring a number of championships focused on a certain type of vehicle. It might be cars of a certain class, for example, or maybe sedans. Initially your championship options will be limited, but as you complete one you’ll open up another, and perhaps yet another in a separate tour. While you’re not totally able to decide which championships and tours you complete first, then, you do have some leeway.
When you’re in a championship, it’s no longer just a case of powering through a number of races: now you have to engage in a practice session before each race, too. Aside from getting you familiar with the track, this is also because of Forza Motorsport’s new car level system that sees upgrades being barred behind your familiarity with a vehicle. Out on the track, you’ll gain car experience for everything from completing sections of the track to overtaking your opponents. And upon leveling up, you’ll not only unlock parts that can be used to improve your vehicle’s performance, but also points with which they can be equipped.
It’s quite a departure for the series, which has historically made you use your hard-earned cash to upgrade your vehicles. As long as you had the cash, you could purchase pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want. You just had to make sure your vehicle didn’t exceed a race’s maximum Performance Index rating. The same applies here, but with upgrades made available over time and generally not enough points available to max everything out, you have to think about your choices. You feel the changes from your upgrades from race to race, and it makes you more aware of how they impact your vehicle.
With practice sessions being mandatory in career mode, you might also think you have to take part in qualifying, too. Not so, and it’s all because of the game’s focus on risk versus reward. Like in previous Forza games, a wealth of assists are available, as well as difficulty-adjusting options such as Drivatar AI. The harder you make things for yourself, the more credits you’ll earn, allowing you to more easily buy more desirable vehicles. Before each race, you’re now also able to choose your position on the grid – choose somewhere up at the front and you’ll have more chance of winning but won’t receive much of a bonus payout. Start at the back, and each race becomes much more lucrative.
Of course, as meaty as it is, there’s more to Forza Motorsport than just its career mode. Free play allows you to create your own events, with all cars and tracks laid out for use. And for those who like pushing themselves to their limits while also competing against others, Rivals mode lets players compete against ghosts, aiming for the top spots on leaderboards. Then there are the game’s multiplayer options, where some might be disappointed, and others overjoyed.
While it’s easy to create a private lobby so you can race with friends, there’s seemingly no way to make one open to the public. Instead, if you want to race competitively with the general public, you’re forced to enter what is called Featured Multiplayer. Anyone that has played GT Sport or perhaps Gran Turismo 7 will be familiar with the setup here. Basically, a number of scheduled events are available, and players must register for them if they want to compete. Unlike in career mode, practice and qualifying are available here, too, with the latter determining your position on the grid when the race actually starts.
Also a factor in the game’s career mode, safety is of utmost importance in Featured Multiplayer. Your actions on the track will be analysed via machine learning, and so if you intentionally crash into other players or try to cut the track you will be penalised. When playing online, your safety rating and skill level will be taken into account when matchmaking. So, race dirty, and you’ll soon find yourself matched up with others of a similar behaviour. Or that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. With a limited number of online players before launch, it’s hard for us to truly judge at this point. The intention is there, though.
All of this would be rendered pointless if Forza Motorsport played like a dog, but fortunately it doesn’t. In fact, this is easily the best entry in the series yet when it comes to handling and physics. You feel like you have a real connection with the road, allowing you to push each car you get into to its limits. If you make a mistake, you know it’s on you. Also, playing with a controller, your inputs are immediate and precise – you never feel like you’re at a disadvantage because you’re not using a wheel. The AI of your competitors is better than ever, too; they don’t just feel likes drones going around the track.
As you’d expect with it being current-gen only, Forza Motorsport looks absolutely sensational. A trio of graphical presets are available, and we’ve settled on the performance ray-tracing option which offers a solid 60fps during play while also enabling some ray-tracing features. It looks stunning, and while the resolution is dynamic to cope, the visuals are always sharp, even when the track is packed with vehicles. As good as the in-race visuals are, though, it’s a shame they’re overshadowed by the in-engine cinematics that accompany each event, which actually look real.
Forza Motorsport has been worth the wait. While this isn’t a huge departure from previous entries in the series, changes have been made that make it more rewarding. It’s a racing sim that caters to both those who want serious online competition and single-player fun. And what’s more, it aims to make players better drivers with its safety rating system and its approach to car upgrades. Throw on top noticeably improved physics and sublime visuals, and you have one of the best racing sims currently available. With more content set to arrive after launch, it’s only likely to get better, too.