Forza Motorsport (2023) Review – Chasing The Pack
For the eighth entry of Forza Motorsport, developers Turn 10 decides to reset the count, starting back numberless.
It’s a new era for Forza Motorsport, and it has arrived after six long years of hiatus. A significant amount of time considering there were a cadence of a new Forza game every year, alternating between Forza Motorsport and a Forza Horizon, before this.
A rebuilt game engine that comes with improved graphics and physics, a much-needed total overhaul of the online experience, and a whole new approach to the gameplay loop is what defines the new Forza Motorsport.
It’s an impressive looking and sounding racing game, and with so many gameplay improvements it’s the best Forza Motorsport has ever been.
Yet with so much time spent on rebuilding the engine and not out there accruing valuable track time, Forza Motorsport has a lot of catching up to the pack if it really wants to be the ultimate track racing game for the mainstream gamers.
Forza Motorsport looks good, from what I’ve seen. And what I’ve seen is a game that demands quite a lot of GPU power that my meagre RTX 2060 laptop graphics card just cannot keep up with.
I’m running the game with a wonky, lopsided custom graphical settings that can deliver parts of the graphics I care about (the cars) and still maintain an average of more than 30fps. Because I don’t trust the dynamic settings available, which resorted to putting low on everything and the game looks awful. Sure, the game can technically run at low settings, but you really need a new-ish graphics card on PC to really see the graphics truly shine.
The glimpses of what I saw with this unoptimal setup I have does look good. Cars will have reflections on them even without ray tracing on, but if it’s on then you can see another car’s paint colour bouncing off on another car or down the tarmac.
The dynamic lighting is magnificent. Clouds glow a faint red as dusk turns to night, fogs creep in and out during the cold mornings, rain pitter-patter gently before it starts pouring. The new lighting model does make the visuals a little washed out, as sometimes the sun is out and it is out in full. The glare can be really bright that it can obfuscate your view of the track, and even the glowy driving line assist.
And on the opposite side, some tracks that don’t have full lights around each part of the circuit will get really, really dark. Pray that you remember when to turn in the run-up hill towards the hairpin in Kyalami, or the back straight in Spa-Francorchamps as you head to the bus stop chicane and pass the pitlane. Because you can barely see a thing, as you should when driving in pitch dark.
The stars of Forza Motorsport, the cars, look dazzling up close, but not all cars are built equally. Some have fully rendered engines with their trunk and/or hood/frunk being able to open. Some don’t because the car models are made for past titles and haven’t been updated. Don’t expect to see all of your favourite cars to be rendered in high detail, but they are good details that the devs didn’t skimp on. I’m glad to see the Audi RS2 Avant wagon in this title has the correct Porsche-branded brakes, as any enthusiasts with a penchant for a car’s quirks and features would like to point out.
Don’t expect too much visual customisation on the road cars. Some cars do get aftermarket bumpers and spoilers, but I haven’t found a body kit yet. Liberty Walk is in the credits, so I’m not looking at the right places I presume. But the rest will have the make do with at least one generic Forza rear wing and one generic Forza front bumper. Having roll bars and roll cages appearing visually is nice, but you still have to suspend your disbelief when installing a weight reduction kit that describes so many things being removed, yet the car’s interior remain untouched.
Also, for some reason the reflective hood effect is always on if you’re driving with the hood camera, even if the car paint you applied to the hood is matte. It’s not reflective when on chase cam or replays, so that’s clearly an oversight.
Don’t expect impressive wreckage in Forza Motorsport. Cars scratch, ding and lose their paint but there’s no bodywork-shredding damage here. Even with full sim damage, any wild crash where cars can be up in the air are still something you can drive away from and head to the pits to fix.
*Loud Car Noises*
While the visuals are good, what really captivated me the most when it comes to Forza Motorsport is its audio. The car sounds in the game are heavenly.
The audio team that handles the audio mix gets it. A car enthusiast wants to hear a car’s engine roar, and wants to hear it raw. Unadulterated. Whether that be the raucous roars of an inline 6 from a BMW M3 or the breathy sounds a Mercedes CLS 55 does as it changes gear, or the sweet Yamaha-tuned harmonics blessed by the Lexus LFA, or grunty gnarls of a V8 at the back of the Cadillac LMDh racer, the car sounds are untouched.
The audio level isn’t levelled out, smushed down to be of a certain loudness as you would do for podcasts, no. They sound LOUD. When you hear all the cars blasting through as it goes green, IT BECOMES LOUD ENOUGH THAT YOU WANT TO SPEAK LOUDER BECAUSE you can’t hear yourself.
It gets better though. The car sounds don’t cancel each other. Rather, the many different sounds, emitting from the side of your speaker exactly where you expect them to be on the road, builds up on top of each other. As more cars revving really high comes to your vicinity, the audio splendour just builds up louder and louder into a cacophony that can be euphoric to a car pervert, and an irritation to anyone else.
As you bolt in exhaust and engine upgrades, the engine sounds change to reflect it. And what camera angle you drive in also affects the audio character. Hear more of the exhaust note when in chase cam, hear a bit more of the drivetrain whine on the hood cam, and if you’re driving through the cockpit view, the sounds get appropriately deaden.
Who needs a license soundtrack when you already have an excellent soundtrack on track?
Speaking of soundtrack, you do hear music when you’re not driving. The main menu themes, all original music, cycle between a few instrumentals, all of which has this aethereal quality by mixing in just enough soothing synths, piano plucks and violin strings. And they do build up tension and simmer down to calm stillness according to which part of the menus you are in.
But more importantly, it’s catchy. I faintly remembered Forza Motorsport 7 having some vaguely rock music for the menus and it was awfully cheesy. The music in new Forza is classier, sleeker, refined, which befits it better.
Forza Motorsport, in its 2023 form here, is undoubtedly built for this generation of consoles. It has pulled out all the stops to make an outstandingly beautiful representation of the cars and environments, both in audio and video. It’s also a good reason to upgrade the PC’s graphics card.
Forza Motorsport wants to be a racing sim, and that shows in the improvements made to the physics system.
In general, cars do feel a bit understeery, too planted and doesn’t seem to want to turn at high speeds. And that’s mostly due to the Stability Control assist. Turn that off, and then you can feel the traction breaking as you force and finagled a car to get it turning at the cost of using up tyre grip.
Still, with that turned off, the general handling physics still has a slight understeery feel to it. For a comparison, Gran Turismo 7’s handling is more compliant and approachable, letting you chuck cars into corners with ease. Forza Motorsport (2023) requires you to consider a lot more on how your car is positioned as you a approach a turn. Otherwise you won’t make it. It rewards the Jenson Buttons and Carlos Sainzs of the world, those that can gently coerced cars into hitting the apex like a smooth operator would.
Race cars like the GTD/GT3 spec cars do not feel that much understeery with Stability Control off, as they should.
I only played Forza with a controller, the Xbox Wireless Controller to be precise. And on the pad, the handling works well. The default sensitivity settings are good enough for making slight inputs. Even with ABS on so that brakes don’t get locked up, you still need to feather that trigger to slowly engage the brakes, slamming it hard will just make you brake worse. You can feel the grip of the tyres barely holding on through vibrations, and you can “catch” and correct an oversteering slip.
There’s definitely a specific characteristic to Forza’s handling model that makes it stand out, for better or worse. If you are acquainted with it from past games, or are open to adapt to a different interpretation of “realistic” handling physics, it still can be fun to learn and master.
Box Box Box
This new Forza Motorsport emphasises on tyres, fuel and pit stops. So you can have long endurance races with pit strategy in play. The feature isn’t new, but it is forefront in the game’s career mode though I have not encountered any race that requires any pit stops. Sure, tyres wear and fuel consumption is there, but the races are never that long to require pit stops. There’s a ruleset to force mandatory pit stops, but from my experience, it’s never used.
And sadly, pit stops are still barebones like Forza Motorsport 7 was. Sure, the opening intro bit shows you a full crew servicing that Cadillac, but you don’t see any humans touching the car during pit stops in normal gameplay. You can specifically pick how much fuel or what tyre compound or what repairs you want to do, or pick the recommended option. Don’t pick the recommended options. In a custom time-based endurance race, I have to box for fuel, needing two more laps worth of petrol. I accidentally picked the recommended option and the game opted to… not put fuel at all. The car stopped trackside, unable to progress further, so I waited until the timer goes off, idle in the car.
Good to know you actually can stop dead in your tracks when there’s no fuel. But not putting love to pit stops is a missed opportunity.
And on that note, I am so disappointed to learn that mixed conditions racing here is rather tepid. I should have seen this with the racing tyre compound options missing an Intermediate option. Sure, the track surface becomes wet and look slippery, but it’s just a slight decrease of grip level. The puddles are there just visuals, no aquaplaning or having to drive off line where it’s still wet when on wet/intermediates as the track dries up. No need tip-toe through treacherous variations of grip levels as a track gets wetter or drier. I vaguely remember Forza Motorsport 7 making a big deal that aquaplaning as a feature. But turns out the game slowly removed them from being a feature.
In new Forza, what we have left is shiny, useless, vanity puddles. I hated GT7’s rain visuals, but not gonna lie, mixed conditions racing in endurance races is such a thrill in that game that I had hoped Forza would do it better, but it didn’t.
No More AI Rammers
The new Drivatar AI in Forza Motorsport (2023) is a blessing. They don’t drive like the players they are based of this time and it’s for the better. The AI drives fast, brakes at the right places for the most part, and is aware of your presence. All the time they have to leave a space if they see you going side-by-side or divebombing to the apex. Sure, they still do a little bit of “rubbing is racing” especially during the first lap, but they won’t be sending you off to the shadow realm. They can make mistakes and go off track.
But I do feel the current AI is a bit too neutered. They are so content at sticking at the back of my bumper, even if I deliberately drive slowly. Any attempt of an overtake by the AI can simply be thwarted by a block and a brake check. In fact, I probably got away with a couple of small taps, brake checks, and squeezes that render them going off track or into a barrier, scot free. And there have been instances of me effectively conducting the Trulli train by simply blocking any overtake attempts, which the AI will always back down from, leaving the leaders 40 seconds ahead of a gaggle of 12 or more cars behind me.
At the tail end of Forza 7’s life cycle, Turn 10 created Forza created what’s called the Forza Race Regulations (FRR). It’s essentially a penalty system to penalise corner cutters and rammers, two big infractions in the racing world that has went rampant to the lack of any rule enforcement previously. Which probably led to the overly aggressive Drivatar AI in past games.
I like how the UI for the penalty system works. When it detects an infraction, be it a collision or an instance of a car going off-track, it beeps immediately to say it’s investigating. You get instant feedback knowing that the incident is being flagged. But the judgement comes a bit later. Depending on what’s the outcome of the incident you can get no penalties or a time penalty added to the overall time at the end of the race. During that buffer time, if you slow down enough, you probably can get away with not getting a penalty.
While the FRR works good on paper, the fact that I get to bully the Drivatars and get away with it, like indirectly causing them to wreck from brake checking or squeezing them off track, is a bit worrying. What if Forza’s dedicated rammers evolve their tactics to be sneaky like how I bullied the AIs? Something for the live team to really have a look at once the multiplayer servers are filled with players.
Forza Motorsport’s single-player Career mode, called the Builder’s Cup, takes you across 108 events spread across five tours and 25 events. The first four tours are permanent fixtures, while the Open Class is part of the live service, regularly updated with new events.
It’s an interesting twist to the usual career mode or single-player content you’d expect from a racing game like Forza. Rather than giving you a buffet of events and free reign to pick and choose what you want, Forza Motorsport’s career is carefully curated and guided.
To continue to food analogy, the Builder’s Cup is an omakase, where Turn 10 guides you to a gastronomy tour for you to experience. Well, a different kind of gas, but it is a tour. The tours are designed around to highlight different ingredients, in this case different cars, whereas the tracks serve as the medium for you to enjoy them.
Each series of events, a series, has you partake in a championship format of 5-6 races, where you pick a car, and commit to it for the whole series. You’re likely be given a selection of cars that start at level 1, stock. And that’s fine. The championship format is designed around you levelling up the car each race, and putting in more and more upgrades as you progress. The PI limit (that’s Performance Index, think of it like a gear score) in most series increases over time to encourage this.
A race in the Builder’s Cup is structured like a track day, where drivers go do the practice session first and then line up the grid for the race. So you can expect to do practice laps during the morning only for the race to take place at dusk, or have the practice session in clear weather only for it to be pouring come race time.
Yes, doing at least 3 laps (or 2 laps or lower for longer courses) is required before you can go racing. Unless you find the “skip practice” button buried deep in the pause menu. And there’s a point to it.
New to the new Forza Motorsport is car XP, seperate from the Driver XP. And no, it’s not like how Forza Horizon does it. In Forza Motorsport, you need to increase your car level to unlock new car upgrade options. The ability to change suspension, tyre compound, wheels, bumpers, exhausts upgrades and more requires you to level up that car you’re driving. And you do so by, simply driving. Each time you take a corner, the game rates your performance against a theoretical best time that car can do based on your difficulty level (I noticed higher levels will have the game set a faster time to beat in the same car with the same upgrades).
Getting a 10 score means pushing the car to its limit and that usually means sticking to the racing line. The faster you are, the higher the scores you get, the more car XP you gain and the faster your car level bumps up. And what better time to raise the car XP then to do the some practice laps.
The scoring system works. I tried a car and track combo I’m intimately familiar with, an Audi R8 GT3 race car at Spa-Francorchamps. And I’ve been scoring 9s and 10s easily, vindicating the many, many times I have been doing that one-hour endurance race in GT7 was worth it. I do drive fast here, and the game knows it too, so I trust the system when it tells me how awful I’ve been taking that hairpin turn at the Nurburgring GP.
So throughout most of the Builder’s Cup, you will get intimate with cars in their stock form and develop that relationship where road cars starting as low as an E class can rise up to A class or beyond. The real chef in this omakase is actually you. Like a Korean BBQ, you do the cooking, you prepare the ingredients your way by picking the upgrades you like and the tune settings to your driving taste and preferences.
And most fascinating of all, you don’t need to win all the races. Simply finishing a series will unlock the next series, and the reward car that awaits at the end of each tour. It’s the rare racing game where you can set realistic goals, fighting for positions in the mid-pack where placing something like P10 is an incredible achievement.
The new Forza is all about getting better at driving, and doing so at your own pace. You can change up the difficulty (how fast the Drivatar AI drives and the how strict the sim/rules aspects are) at any time. You can pick whatever position you want to start from the grid outside of the front row before each race. Again, you do the cooking. Turn it up or down at your liking before the start of each race.
The curation of the Builder’s Cup events is great. The series offered in Builder’s Cup shines a spotlight on various types of cars that’s part of the 500+ car roster at launch. Most of them are some kind of sports car, it is called the Builder’s Cup after all and you are expected to turn them into racing machines. So you get fun little sports cars like the Mazda MX-5, Group A homologation specials like the OG BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz 190E Hammer, modern sports cars like the Porsche 718 and Toyota Supra Mk V, modern muscle cars from the trifecta of US marques and more.
The Builder’s Cup clearly doesn’t cover them all, however. As they are other fascinating selection of cars in Forza Motorsport.
The game is using an RPG structure in an unorthodox way. Usually, the RPG curve for a car/racing game is that you start with racing slow econoboxes and over time, by accruing more money, you get to buy upgrades to make cars fasters, or buy faster cars. It’s a continuous, steady climb until you reach the top.
Forza says no to this. The Builder’s Cup isn’t designed as a one big mountain to climb, but a series of smaller hills where you frequently get to experience the highs and lows more frequently. It’s not one big journey, it’s a bunch of trips.
It also means that you are pushed into committing to only a selection of cars.
Forza Motorsport asks you to heed away from building a car collection harem, and asks you to commit time to only a select few. Which is a wild ask when you consider the game has this huge of a car list. What do you mean I should fall in love with only 10 cars?
And as weird and counter-intuitive and deal-breaking of a point that is on paper, make no mistake, you can collect cars Forza Motorsport. In fact, I’d argue it’s easier to collect cars than the game that only levels you up by how much you’ve spent growing your harem. There’s no arbitrary limit to stop you from buying any car outside of the four reward cars that awaits you completing each tour in Builder’s Cup. And those you’ll get to keep for free once unlocked.
The car prices? No cars listed on the Buy Cars menu at launch goes beyond 500,000 credits. And two laps of racing in free play gives you about 7,000 credits. An hour of racing at Spa earned me 47,500 credits (not counting the VIP bonus I have). For finishing dead last (it was the same race I ran out of fuel mentioned earlier).
It’s less of a grind than you would think.
Speaking of grinding, the whole Car Level system where car upgrades are unlocked by levelling up cars is also not much of a grind. It’s just a test on how well you know, understand and truly love the car. If you truly have the experience of driving fast on a given car, and know the track you’re driving, you’ll easily get Car XP from scoring 9s and 10s through corners and segments. Car Level maxes out at 50, with most of the core upgrades unlocked by level 20 or so (a few upgrades that boosts HP as well as conversions are locked further up).
I finished a handful of Builder’s Cup series, that’s 5-6 races worth, with cars starting from Level 1 and ended up at Level 30. Of course, I did put extra time in doing more practice laps. But the grind isn’t as excruciating or deal-breaking as what the system implies. If you’re good, prove it, and you’ll breeze through and have all the upgrades to mess around with available.
Now, having to repeat that process for a duplicate car is silly. It’s literally the same car, why should I be grinding from level 1 again if I want a handful of the same cars but with different tunes? I proved I know my way around a Lotus Emira already. And if I buy another, from a video game standpoint, it’s a copy of the same car with the same characteristics. I think if Turn 10 compromised by having a shared car level across the same duplicate cars you have in the garage, this should alleviate some concerns fans had with the game becoming a grind for no reason.
It’s a fascinating paradigm shift that I personally glad the developers are bold in trying to do this… But the racing game fanbase are not prone to fundamental shake-ups like this. I too am part of that. I was not onboard at first with the idea, fearing that it adds unnecessary grinding by locking features (in this case, car upgrades) that never been locked like this before for no good reason. Now, it makes sense.
There are certainly aspects of Forza Motorsport (2023) that I feel that the game could have done better. And the change in philosophy to get intimate with a selection of cars is fine, though I doubt everyone is onboard with this change. But overall, what the new entry adds to table has vastly improved the on-track racing, which I count as a net positive.
On paper, Forza Motorsport (2023) is another title where the quantity of content has regressed due to being the first entry in a new console generation. But with 500+ cars and 20 tracks at launch versus Forza Motorsport 7’s 700+ cars and 32 tracks, it’s not too much of step back. It could be worse, Forza Motorsport 5, had to scale down to about 200 cars and 17 tracks.
And the selection here is impressive. There’s plenty of Formula 1 cars. Nothing modern from the 2000s and later, but there’s a bunch of them from the 60’s and 70’s, plus they have the dominator of the late 80’s, McLaren MP4/4 plus a rival to match it (a 90’s Ferrari F1 so not really a fair match per se, but it is relatively of the same era). There are also racing cars from the Group A and Trans-Am era, a few Can-Am machinery with their overly tall spoilers, a smattering of endurance machineries from the early days and the heydays of Group C to the early LMPs and modern Hypercars. You’ll be spoilt for choice. If you follow various kinds of motorsport of the good old days or the current era, there’s something you might recognise. Hopefully more events post-launch will make use of these machines.
And yes, there is a good selection of Toyota cars in Forza Motorsport (2023). Though it has only one Alfa Romeo, but at least it’s there and hopefully more will be coming post-launch. The Car Pass DLC confirms at least 30 new-to-Forza cars are expected, and at least two free cars are being added per month by completing Featured Tours and the Open Series Tour.
The selection of tracks here is, despite not being enough, is decent. You get tracks that are really fun with regular sports cars like VIR, Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio, and there are world-class circuits like Circuit de la Sarthe (Le Mans) and Spa making the cut. There are some good choice of oval tracks as well. And the fantasy tracks are fun, they have a lot of long, sweeping corners which Forza’s handling physics really are built for.
But let’s be real, 20 tracks in a modern sim racer isn’t going to cut it, even if it totals up to 48 different layouts. A lot of series staples are missing here like Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta and Mount Panorama. Also, no street circuits at all for now. So hopefully the post-launch team is hard at work in bringing back some tracks that didn’t make the cut for launch. The Nordschleife part of Nürburgring is already confirmed coming later in 2024, and the first post-launch track addition is Yas Marina.
Forza Motorsport wants to be a platform, and I sure hope the live updates continue to improve the game as well as continue dropping more content.
But still, even if Forza Motorsport (2023) expands its current car and tracks selection over the course of the next few years, I still feel that this game is… lean. You’re playing Forza because you want to race online, or do a series of 5-6 races. There’s no big rewards for completing the campaign (other than the stated three reward cars). There’s no story. There’s little to do outside of racing. Maybe create liveries and custom tunes for the community? And that’s about it.
I kind of respect how focused Forza is in that regard, it’s like how fighting games were so focused on gameplay and adding content revolving the core gameplay to keep its core fans happy. But the keyword here is “were”. Fighting games these days have expanded its content offering in order to make them more approachable to casual fans and newcomers. If I have no interest in cars, I don’t know what’s going to make me keep playing Forza after the first few championships. Yeah, that intro sequence is cool, but that’s about it that’s appealing to non-car people.
It’s really missing something. Heck, I would welcome some history blurb on each car to contextualise why it existed. Forza has done that in the past. Though the race engineer will sometimes spout facts about the track you’re racing, including some history facts. I want to see more of that. For cars and tracks. Don’t be afraid of being a museum.
As it is, the people who will get the most enjoyment out of the new Forza are dedicated fans and racers who are looking to improve themselves. It’s the journey, not the destination that matters. There’s really only three reward cars to chase, but the real chase is working on your pace and racecraft, leveling up cars in the process, and then perfecting the tune.
(Fighting games and racing games do share a lot in common, these are the few vestiges of niche genres with a specific fanbase that still remain in the gaming mainstream.)
The Builder’s Cup is also too one-note. The event structure never got spiced up as you proceed further into the tours, despite the game having tools to shake up the monotony. The custom race settings allow for team racing, multi-class racing, timed races and mandatory pit stops for short races, none are being used in the Builder’s Cup events I participated. A missed opportunity.
Also, there is no Car Auction in Forza Motorsport. But the livery editor and custom tunes, including the ability to download creations from the community and import your creations from past Forza games, is in tact.
I played a lot of racing games, just not much of any Forza Motorsport game. I mean, I can’t go back and play the old titles as they are all gone, wiped, delisted from the face of all legal digital storefronts. And I don’t have an Xbox to hunt a disc version of the past games.
So this review is being written from the perspective of a Gran Turismo fan. But don’t call me a Forza hater just for that: I’ve sunk about 40 hours in Forza Motorsport, and you should see what I’ve written about Forza Horizon 5.
I’ve been comparing notes, and playing a bit of GT7 to compare and contrast what I like and don’t like about Forza Motorsport. And there are clearly aspects of one game does better than the other.
Forza has more cool race cars of the past, tools to guide players how to drive faster and the car noises make me feel things. Meanwhile GT7’s handling feels fun immediately, more realistic wet weather driving experience and the game is very interested in educating its players on car culture and history.
I think both titles are equally valid in how they took different approaches for what is essentially a car racing game. Either games have its pros and cons.
I am bummed out about the lack of depth in mixed weather racing, the wet tracks isn’t doing it for me despite it looking really gorgeous. But I am okay with the whole car levelling thing.
The review build I spent 40 hours in was not the ideal experience, with so many technical issues. But the version you’ll be playing once it’s live should be more stable and works as intended, as a new game update just arrived ahead of its “early access” (or rather, “play early”) release that have fixed a bunch of issues folks reviewing the game has faced.
So did I enjoy my time with Forza? Sure? I mean, the experience could’ve been better, and I am well aware I have biases before coming into the game. I definitely had some fun, the game is solid. I wish it was spectacular.
Forza Motorsport (2023) does a lot of things right. The new driving physics can be fun to learn and master. The track mastery system makes you want to get good and get faster. The graphics got a big upgrade, and the audio is undoubtedly sublime.
The online racing, with its new penalty system, should encourage clean racing to be more of a thing, hopefully. And the AI in single-player mode will race you good but not race you too hard.
However, its paradigm-shifting gameplay loop is still room-splitting, and the Builder’s Cup career mode becomes stale rather quick. The wet weather driving feel is also meh.
Yet still, despite its flaws, there’s a solid foundation for Turn 10 to continue improving. Forza Motorsport (2023) as a video game release has not reached its full potential yet. It’s still chasing the pack and catching up. But if it can continue this pace as live service, maybe it’ll get there as one of the finest track racing games for the mainstream gamers.
Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by the publisher.