Holy crap, it’s been a long time. Six years to be precise since the last simulation-focused Forza Motorsport title launched. In that time, we saw a whole new console generation, two arcade-style open-world Forza Horizon titles and even, shockingly, the releases of two Gran Turismo titles, the traditional rival to Forza Motorsport. In fact, the past Motorsport titles were delisted from digital marketplaces in the time it has taken for this seventh game to come out. I know we say this a lot, but there’s an awful lot of expectations riding on this. In some ways, it’s absolutely worth the wait. In other ways, it’s disappointing.
We’ll start with the good, and there is plenty of it. First, and most importantly, the driving is phenomenal. I’ve long favored Gran Turismo, for legitimate reasons as well as having grown up with the series. Among the legitimate-ish reasons was my preference for the driving physics and controls, but the balance may have shifted to favor Forza. The game’s maker, Turn10, boasted about the tire model in particular, which it says is “48x improvement in tire fidelity.” I can’t really confirm that, but everything feels accurate – the way you can hear each end of the tires reacting; the feeling of under- or oversteer. It’s easier to manage the cars, too, thanks to more responsive and precise inputs. And that’s just on a controller.
Speaking of which, the rumble triggers remain an impressively helpful bit of feedback, even if I do wish the Xbox controller had the hyper-fine rumble and adaptive trigger resistance of the Sony DualSense controller. But all in all, driving in Forza Motorsport genuinely has never felt better.
On the subject of controls and gameplay adjustments, Forza remains the leader not only among racing games, but in the video game world at large. The difficulty level of your AI competition can be tweaked across eight levels, and the highest difficulty provides a good but not insurmountable challenge for experienced racing sim players, even on a controller, and you’re rewarded with credits for increasing difficulty. The strictness of damage and penalties has three main levels and there are myriad ways to adjust typical driver assists such as traction control and ABS, as well as virtual braking and steering assists. Additionally, there are features to help players with low or no vision, expanding on options available in Forza Horizon 5. That’s an astounding achievement in accessibility that deserves every bit of praise it will get.
The user interface is much better, too. The Motorsport games, which have always been a bit more serious, were quickly becoming overloaded with loot box-style power ups, rewards and other notifications for every little thing you did in the game. We’re not against rewarding game play, but it became annoying to filter through all these notifications and menus just to get to the part you paid for: the racing. That’s mostly out the window, with rewards coming in a single, clean page at the end of a race, accompanied by a couple notifications as new items unlock that’s done quickly. There aren’t boosters and mini challenges to apply before every race, either. The only gameplay adjustments you can make for different rewards is your difficulty level and starting position. The latter is a bit strange, as you can start yourself as high as third place, no matter your performance during the practice stage before a race, but with the difficulty high, you can still have a challenging and rewarding race doing so. You’ll just have to exercise a little restraint not to set things to easy, start at the back, and rake in the rewards. Or, if that’s what makes you happy, have at it.
The computer AI is quite enjoyable, too. Drivatars, which are AI representations of real-world players, return, but instead of being primarily based on those players’ driving skills, the AI is programmed with more proper driving techniques. This is meant to prevent bad habits created by real-world players (cutting corners, ramming other cars) from ruining the driving experience and also feeling more realistic. Turn10 definitely succeeded. The Drivatars will race pretty cleanly, but they’ll also make the odd mistake, such as a bit of light contact, and they can make some daring overtakes that all keep the racing dynamic and exciting, without becoming horribly frustrating. The championship structure of the career events also makes it possible to complete series without winning every single race, and even allows room for doing so with the odd rough finish.
The car roster remains strong at more than 500 models of a wide variety in age and country of origin. The list will expand in the future, as well. But this is also where we start seeing some of the disappointing aspects of Forza Motorsport. The biggest problem: a lot of the car models – the 3D models, not the literal make/model of car – are frustratingly out of date. Many cars are still using models that look one to two console generations behind. They’re clearly borrowed from the Horizon games, which themselves have been recycling models for some time. This has already been an annoyance, but at six years since the last Motorsport game, we were really expecting better. The models aren’t as bad as say, the “Standard” model cars in Gran Turismo games on the PS3 (those were taken from the PS2 games and given light updates), but it’s more than time for fully redone cars. Adding to the issue is the fact that there are many cars missing from the Horizon list, and since there are clearly models taken from those games, it feels like they’re holding back vehicles for later DLC packs. The body mods are also disappointingly weak for many models, with many consisting of a generic front splitter and a generic rear wing.
Speaking of things that are coming later: tracks. There are just 20 to start with, which is a bit less than GT7 had at launch. That will be bolstered in the future, and there are some very good inclusions at the start, such as Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Virginia International Raceway and Lime Rock, among others. But there are odd omissions, the most significant of which being the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The Nürburgring GP circuit is here, but not the Nordschleife. The Green Hell has already been confirmed to be coming later, and it seems to be a case of Turn10 rebuilding tracks from the ground-up. Certainly GT7 has been adding tracks since release, too, but we’re again left wondering, “How come this wasn’t prioritized in the six years since the last Motorsport came out?” We do like the full dynamic time and weather system, and that it’s applicable to every course, we just wish there were more locations to try it out on.
Graphics, while very impressive in curated screenshots with more high-detail car models, are also a bit lackluster during actual gameplay. It’s neat that you can have ray tracing on even during races, something that GT7 disables to ensure a high framerate, but the effect isn’t as astounding as you’d hope. And on a PC, you’ll need high specs to enjoy them with a good framerate during gameplay. And broadly, lighting generally looks a bit flat and dark, and ray tracing only helps so much. The lighting issues are particularly prominent on cars, mainly the lower-detail car models we’ve already discussed. Keen car enthusiasts will also spot the odd textures in and on cars that aren’t quite right, like interior panels that should be a semi-gloss metallic and not chrome. Trackside detail is impressive, but going deep into in-fields or real-time reflections aren’t what you’re going to be looking closely at during a race.
There are other strange gameplay quirks, too. No longer is the only hindrance to upgrading a car your bank account. Now you must drive each individual car in multiple events to level it up and unlock different kinds of performance parts. There are some minor benefits. It encourages experiencing a car in stock, or nearly stock form, to get a feel for what it’s like as-is. You purchase parts with your experience points, which saves your money for cars, and you get credits back when you switch to different replacement parts, so you’re not losing money buying lower-tier parts. The problem is that you can’t quickly build up a car for a specific purpose, whether dictated by race requirements or just because you want to. It’s even worse if the car you want to upgrade doesn’t have any unlocked series to enter, thus leaving you to farm quick races. You’re also at the mercy of what types of parts Turn10 decided were allowed to be unlocked first. There were multiple times I was dying to get different tire compounds or a limited-slip differential that would really help me out, but had to make do with paltry power adders and suspension changes that weren’t as useful. Plus, it’s annoying to have yet another currency to manage and earn
Finally, the event options are a bit slim right now. Among those present: the main career mode where all of its events are championship series consisting of normal races with practice sessions before each one. They highlight a broad array of car types, which is good for helping people experience many vehicles. There are time trials you can run against other players’ ghosts for each track and each car class. Then you have your various multiplayer lobbies (public, private and special developer-designed events). There are also single-player quick race. Still, it would be nice to see other events. For instance, GT7 has unique challenges for setting lap times, overtaking a number of cars in a set number of laps, driving efficiently and even drifting. Forza offers racing and hot lapping, and that’s it.
If you’ve made it this far, it may seem like the negatives are outweighing the positives, and that’s not quite right. This genuinely is my favorite Forza to race in, just for the driving physics and AI alone, and it does still offer an excellent range of cars. For that, it’s still worth picking up. And like the Horizon games, Forza Motorsport will likely be well-supported for the immediate future with additional content, so, like GT7, it should just keep getting better and better. I just wish it was so much more out of the gate, especially after such a long wait.