Review – Forza Motorsport (2023)
One thing I have always been fascinated with the Forza games (as in, the two subseries within the bigger franchise) was the fact that both Turn 10 and Playground Games have always been able to deliver impressive Motorsport and Horizon titles, respectively, in a shockingly short amount of time, usually alternating between calendar years with their outings. So imagine my excitement after Microsoft had given Turn 10 nearly six years to come up with their sequel to the excellent, but controversial Forza Motorsport 7. I had very high expectations from the awfully named “Forza Motorsport“. Sadly, despite still being, at its core, a pretty good racing simulator, I am very disappointed with the end result.
I think it all boils down to the fact that, whilst Forza Motorsport needed a shakeup after the controversial upgrade (as in, loot) system from the 7th game, it didn’t need that hardcore of a career and progression reboot. Most racing simulators are very straightforward when it comes to their career modes and progression: you start off with a somewhat mediocre car, win races, earn money, and invest in new cars or upgrades for your existing rides. This reboot adds in a much slower system, not just focused on the “earn money” part of a career mode, but also… car bonding.
Remember when people used to joke that Forza Motorsport was an RPG? Well, someone at Turn 10 must have not realized that it was, in fact, a joke, and decided to add RPG elements to a car simulator. In essence, each car you own now has experience points which can be acquired by driving properly on tracks. Complete racetrack session at a high speed, without crashing or getting off the track, and you’ll keep earning these points. Partake in ludicrously boring practice sessions (they are not mandatory, but the game sure does try to convince you they are) and you can earn more experience.
You must be wondering, “Forza Horizon 5 had these experience points as well, what’s the big deal”. Sure, those games allowed you to earn pseudo-experience by performing tricks and amassing combos, but they just gave you points which could unlock special buffs in a car-specific “skill tree”: money, cosmetics, lottery rolls, etc. In 2023’s Forza Motorsport, leveling up your car is the only way to upgrade it with new parts. You don’t use money to buy new brakes or a new turbocharger… you use the god damn power of friendship.
You can only upgrade your car with these brand new car points, and you can only unlock specific parts of your vehicle to be unlocked by leveling it up significantly. My question is… why? I get that the game doesn’t want me to simply rack up enough cash, buy a Ferrari Enzo and slap a twin-turbocharger in two seconds (not that I find a problem with it regardless), but car points? Car level? That just drastically bloats Forza Motorsport‘s campaign’s duration, severely affecting its pacing. I find it ironic that a game about driving like a lunatic in a Rimac Nevera at 250mph can also be slow-paced like a snail.
This is a shame, as the career mode is now a tremendous slog, with each race taking too long to end (the game never lets you skip the practice laps automatically, meaning you have to, at least, load it up before skipping it), each car taking too long to be upgraded to a decent degree, and each new competition taking too long to be unlocked as a consequence. This doesn’t mean that Forza Motorsport isn’t a fun game to play, thankfully enough.
The physics have been revamped to make Forza Motorsport more realistic than before. Does this make it a bit less accessible to newcomers? Well, yes and no. Cars feel a bit heavier, and the controls aren’t as loose as before (though they still work wonderfully on a controller), but there are tons of accessibility options and perks to help out newcomers or those who may love cars but aren’t particularly good at the whole racing simulator thing. Forza Motorsport still plays like an absolute dream. At its core, it’s still a great racing game.
Sadly, it almost feels like Forza Motorsport was created without any passion whatsoever. Remember how a game like Forza 4 would feature Jeremy Clarkson commenting about some cars, and even featuring Top Gear-related content and a truly magnificent ad campaign talking about how car enthusiasts were an endangered species? That game oozed “car loving” from its pores. This brand new Forza just doesn’t. It doesn’t feel like a celebration of car culture in any kind, something even Gran Turismo 7, as obnoxious and overrated as it was, managed to provide. Again, very ironic, considering how it forces you to bond with your car in order to level it up.
Menus are too slick, too professional. The soundtrack isn’t comprised of licensed tunes anymore, be it on menus or during races. It’s just some background music meant to replace idleness, but just barely so. The (excessive) narration doesn’t feel excited about the fact you’re supposed to drive around Laguna Seca in a Lamborghini. It borders the limits of being intentionally deadpan. Marvin the Paranoid Android sounded more excited than some of this game’s narrators.
Then there’s the issue with the visuals. Am I going to say that Forza Motorsport is an ugly game? Nope. I may be a guy who needs glasses in order to see properly, but I’m not a blind bat, either. The thing is that Forza Motorsport just doesn’t look as good as expected from its initial trailers. Furthermore, on Series S, the game just looks vastly inferior to other similar, recently-released racing titles, with a drab color palette and vastly reduced asset quality. I get we are talking about a less powerful system, but most visual differences between Xbox versions were limited to resolution and lighting, not something as noticeable as this.
What boggles my mind is that Forza Horizon 5, in theory, should have been the worst-looking racing game of the two. It was developed by a studio just borrowing the engine from Turn 10, it’s an open world game constantly rendering a massive map full of assets and players, it was cross-gen, and it was older. But it still looks better than Motorsport does. Much better. I have no idea how. I expected a bit more from Forza Motorsport, I suppose, considering the six freaking years Turn 10 had between the development of this game and its predecessor. Thankfully, it still runs phenomenally well, and again, it still looks great. Just not as much as other Forzas did for their respective systems.
I would like to preface that, despite the somewhat high score, Forza Motorsport is actually very disappointing. After being given so many years to build upon previous Forza titles, as well as learning from what Playground Games was able to achieve with its Horizon games, Turn 10 focused too heavily on gameplay and progression elements nobody had ever asked for, almost as if they were intentionally padding the game’s length in order to make a Game Pass subscription feel more enticing in the long run. Everything about it feels bureaucratic: the narration feels bored, the UI feels excessively professional, it’s hard to feel like there was any passion in the creation of this title. It’s also ironic, considering how much the game wants to you bond with your car with the power of friendship, almost as if I was playing Kingdom Hearts…
It might be running on a higher resolution, but the drab color palette detracts from its visuals. It still looks very good, don’t get me wrong, but I expected a bit more, especially considering how Forza Horizon 5 looks whilst rendering an open world.
A bit heavier and less accessible than before, but still the best in the business when it comes to car handling on a controller.
No licensed soundtrack in this version, but the sound effects are still good. The (excessive) voice acting in this game sounds incredibly bored, though.
A lethargic campaign and borderline asinine upgrade system hinder what could (and should) have been a return to form for the racing simulator series.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Forza Motorsport is available now on Xbox Series X|S and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.