Despite a rather tepid stack of releases last console generation, I still have a soft spot for the Motorsport line of Forza games. While Forza Horizon has dominated the market with its perfect mix of arcade gameplay and race sim elements, the once-mainline Motorsport was a more sedated, and confined experience. Six years since the last one, however, this Forza Motorsport review may find itself playing for an empty crowd.
This is the latest release from American studio Turn 10, and the long-awaited reboot of the Forza Motorsport series, last seen in 2017. While the Horizon series saw you take your driver across exotic locales and destroy the ecological infrastructure, Motorsport tasks you with long-haul races across several esteemed circuits known around the world. Curating several varied championships across all types and flavors of cars, it’s you against the best, from Silverstone to Suzuka.
If you’ve ever played a Forza Motorsport game before, then the introduction should be no stranger to you. The music simmers with quiet strings beginning to rise, there are sleek shots of hypercars in darkness, and a gorgeously-voiced narrator telling you about “the essence of speed”, “the thrill of the exhaust hum”. It’s both a nostalgic exercise, and an exhale of the new style, as Forza Motorsport prepares to show off its current-gen muscles.
The result in that regard is stellar. Racing games have long since been the go-to for what a console is capable of graphically, and as always, Forza Motorsport knocks it out of the park in fidelity, feel, and creating a new-found immersion. Pairing with the sound design, and mechanics like day/night cycles or dynamic weather, the effort is there for all to see. It’s rare that a game can charm me with its super-shiny graphical stylings, but it’s just so seamless and gorgeous here.
Mind you, it’s not wholly realistic. What Forza Motorsport showcases is an angle, a singular aspect as to what’s possible with their chosen console, and in motion, the paint begins to peel. The damage models in particular can only bother to show chipped paint jobs, no matter which damage model you choose, or how hard you slam into the back of a BMW. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Mazda MX-5 Miata, or a McLaren F1 GT, it will always look like someone keyed it.
The cars can still feel unique to each other, however. Of the 500+ vehicles you have the opportunity to toy with, Forza Motorsport makes a legitimate statement for each and every one to exist, and all of them have their own language in terms of sound design. Some have monstrous gear downs, their back end buckles a little bit – others whistle across the tarmac, unable to be bothered by bumps or dips in the road. It helps a lot in regards to convincing players that it’s not “just a racing game”.
The accessibility options highlight this perfectly. Since its inception, the Forza series has struggled with what can be classed as a difficulty or accessibility option, and Forza Horizon 5’s pleasantries were obfuscated by its open-world format. Here, however, the circuits are able to provide an experience that anybody can acclimate to, whether it’s the racing lines, ABS, screen narration, or using rally terms for short-sighted players to understand the severity of turns.
With that said, despite Xbox’s continuing strides in universal accessibility allowing anybody and everybody to play their games, the actual core of Forza Motorsport's content is insipid. The variety of the cars is there, but the tracks and their designs aren’t. Some of the new debutants, like South Africa’s Kyalami, or Japan’s Hakone, offer the same challenges that other tracks already have, with those two in particular heavily reminiscent of Suzuka Circuit.
There’s also a tremendous lack of energy in the world around the cars and their championships. No build-ups or rapturous finales, despite how they’re included in Forza Motorsport’s Career mode. It’s always on the cusp of endurance racing, but never able to push past that barrier of daylight changing into the harsh night, even with their touted day/night cycle.
It feels like the game is just so frightened to do anything that may seem unruly, or illegal. Stuff like the car leveling system, which has now been tortuously tied to the upgrade system, lacks the warranty that it did in previous titles, becoming an awkward obstacle you work around. It leads to a mechanic of growth that hasn’t been fully realized here, forcing you to play with what is tantamount to Hot Wheels without the ramps.
Still, this is something you could choose to create with friends in Forza Motorsport’s multiplayer module, but a lot of it tends to play out exactly like the single-player proceedings. You do your qualifying laps, you race for 5-8 laps, and that’s it, a small podium, an offering of coins and XP, and you move on, no fanfare or glory. It’s more like a job you clock into than an exciting fantasy, and that’s Forza Motorsport’s biggest issue.
When people consider the logistics of what a racing game is, simulation or arcade, they tend to forget it’s more than just wheels going around in circles. A good racing game can establish an identity, whether it’s how Project Gotham Racing established its London scenery, or Assetto Corsa’s Black Cat County – even Gran Turismo was able to make Laguna Seca its own for a time, and Forza Motorsport ended up becoming the definitive way to play it.
Forza Motorsport had an identity. Outside of its brilliant emulations of real-world circuits, it was New York, Fujimi Kaido, the Bernese Alps, Camino Viejo, Rio De Janiero, Maple Valley – these unique touches of track design that weren’t just lip service to a culture. The only one that returns for this supposed reboot is Maple Valley, but even that is muted in the wake of Forza Motorsport choosing to chase the trend of reality-breaking graphics even further. Hell, there isn’t even a drag strip, or training ground to hone your craft here, a staple of not just any Forza game, but any racing game, period.
When I said that Forza Motorsport showcases an angle, I meant it, but I cannot stress enough how acute that angle is. This is the bare minimum of what a racing game has to be to thrive, and the fact that its newest and shiniest entry can only barely get past that threshold is worrying. This is the first time in the series’ history where its existence is born out of an obligation rather than a reason to co-exist alongside its bigger – and now better – Horizon series.
Forza Motorsport Review | Final Verdict
It’s hard to find the hope in Forza Motorsport when it doesn’t want to move past simply looking the part. Yes, it’s a welcoming sight to see Microsoft make sure anyone and everyone can play their game, but what does it offer beyond that and good looks? Cars that can’t be acclimated to the slim offerings it hosts? Tracks that suffer from feeling like strict race days with no fervor? Yeah, you can be the prettiest ride on the lot, but if you ain’t got the fuel to cover it, don’t make the trip.
Forza Motorsport was reviewed on Xbox Series S with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 40 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Fantastic accessibility options
- Graphically stellar in terms of fidelity
- Cars' and their unique proponents are a standout
- Mechanically univolving, and woefully uncreative
- Track designs suffer from a lot of deja vu
- Content is sparse, lacking crucial elements
- While graphically stellar, it's aesthetically lacking