The Drive to Succeed
I know I can nail this hairpin turn. I know I can zoom past this guy ahead of me. I know I can achieve a podium finish despite starting the race in 18th place.
These are the thoughts rolling through my head every time I play a Forza game. I can win every race on every major racetrack on Earth through patience, practice, and mastery of every car I drive. All of it looks and feels so real. Amid such hyper-realism, however, Forza Motorsport has allowed me to experience the most outlandish of fantasies: being able to drive a motor vehicle competently and confidently.
Though I’m nearing my mid-thirties, I do not have a driver’s license, nor have I even taken a driving lesson in nearly a decade. Obviously, as someone who has spent almost my entire life in New York City, it’s not necessary for me to drive (or even own) a car, but even beyond that I’ve never felt comfortable behind the wheel. I’m already prone to anxiety, and the thought of controlling a large metal death machine doesn’t exactly help, especially since I’ve had to learn in a city most suburbanites wouldn’t dream of driving through.
In addition, I strongly dislike car culture in America. Besides the obviously negative environmental impact of so many vehicles on the road, most of the U.S. lacks proper infrastructure and investment for decent public transportation. The majority of this country’s major metropolitan areas have no other decent, affordable options outside of car ownership. I have zero interest in living anywhere other than NYC, but even if I did, how many other cities could I enjoy living in without driving a car?
Yet, when I put my hands on an Xbox controller to play a Forza game (either Motorsport or the tremendous and superior Horizon series), none of that matters. I don’t think about the pitfalls of car culture or my own ineptitudes at all. All that matters is the next turn, reaching top speed, improving lap times, and the glory of a first-place finish.
Back to Basics
Forza Motorsport, the latest in Microsoft’s decades-old racing simulator, serves as a reboot of sorts, doing away with traditional numbered sequels and streamlining the experience for players new and old. Unlike other notable game reboots, however, the basic mechanics and formula remain intact, with notable changes including gorgeous visual improvements, enhanced physics, and a new approach to player progression in Career mode. This is a modern but straightforward racing sim, for better or worse.
Gameplay-wise, Forza feels expectedly great. The actual driving mechanics sing (as always), and the classic track designs feel more focused and detailed than ever. Racing on straight, slick roads during a rainstorm requires a different approach than a dry, windy track on a bright and sunny day. Even seemingly little things, like a minor collision or braking a little too late, can have an incredible impact on you and your competition, so you’ll have to drive carefully no matter what.
All that matters is the next turn, reaching top speed, improving lap times, and the glory of a first place finish.
In terms of content options, Forza Motorsport has the basics covered. There’s the single-player Career mode, online races with strangers (which require the player to complete qualifying laps before entering the race at a specific time), private matches with friends, practice mode, and Rivals mode, which allows players to compete against the ghost clone of another player who has established a time goal for a particular course and vehicle. There are no extra bells and whistles to be found here: Forza Motorsport is a pure racing sim, and everything you do is in service of getting better behind the wheel.
Nothing New in Forza Motorsport (8)
Herein lies the only major disappointment I have with the latest from Turn 10: Everything feels great and looks great, but it’s nothing I haven’t played before. This is the eighth game with Forza Motorsport in the title, and while I’d say it’s an upgrade from previous franchise entries, it continues to lack the exuberance and excitement of Forza Horizon, the open-world spin-off.
In the newest Forza Motorsport, there’s still no story, no in-game music during races, and no named characters to speak of. I understand that Motorsport appeals mostly to hardcore racing fans, but I wish there was more character and greater stakes.
Career mode, the centerpiece of Forza Motorsport, tasks the player with competing in tours, each involving multiple series of races focused around a single vehicle. The more you drive each car, the more you level them up. The higher your level, the better you perform, unlocking additional parts and adjustments. You also earn credits (in-game currency), which you can use to purchase higher-end cars for future series.
While all of this sounds fairly standard, there are a couple of notable updates. First and foremost, the newest Forza Motorsport tasks the player with driving two or three practice laps around the course prior to each race. How fast you complete these practice runs determines how well the game projects you’ll finish in said race. You can choose to skip practice if you’d like, but you lose out on the opportunity to earn more credits.
Also, unlike in previous titles in the series, you get to choose your starting position in each race (outside of the top two spots). The lower your starting position, the more credits you earn from reaching or exceeding your projected finish.
Embracing the Change
Some may bristle at the idea of being compelled to do practice laps instead of diving straight into the action, but I love the change. It may not be mandatory, but I always do it anyway, as it allows me to familiarize myself with the track and see how my chosen car reacts to it.
The extra laps are also therapeutic; I get to bask in the beauty of each raceway, zipping through without much concern for failure. Sure, if I do badly in practice, the game will project that I’ll do badly in the race itself (and I might miss out on some bonus credits), but racing against no one and racing against 23 other cars are two completely different games. Experiencing a course in optimal conditions is great and all, but I still have to prove myself against everyone else.
Additionally, choosing your own starting position, while potentially a dilution for some, fits perfectly with Forza Motorsport’s broader philosophy toward difficulty and accessibility. Much like being able to determine the “siminess” of the controls, the skill level of other drivers, and the harshness of in-race penalties for collisions and off-track movements, creating another layer of risk-reward further underscores Forza’s penchant for letting the player set their own goals and create their own version of success.
Adapt or Die
Extra practice and new kinds of difficulty adjustments aren’t just nice additions to a familiar concept; they’re perfectly in line with Forza Motorsport’s essence. What separates this game (and series overall) from its racing sim brethren isn’t its realism and style, but rather how it wants every player to feel the joy and exhilaration of racing on their own terms. Practice laps and choice of starting position continue previous trends established by longtime Forza games; they don’t overturn them.
Ultimately, the streamlined game modes, wide variety of challenge options, and emphasis on repetition and training work to Forza Motorsport’s benefit. These improvements create new ways for players to discover the essential feeling of being a racecar driver, something I am so very far from in my actual life. Even if the game appears just like a tweaked version of older games, those tweaks enhance the fundamental experience in ways I didn’t expect.
Practice laps and choice of starting position continue previous trends established by longtime Forza games; they don’t overturn them.
Final Thoughts: More Than a Feeling
Video games can provide a window into the grandest of dreams, but even when those dreams seem attainable in reality, you know deep down you’ll never be able to experience them yourself. I can play a game of pickup basketball, but I’ll never be able to sink three-pointers like Stephen Curry unless I play NBA 2K. I can buy farmland and spend the rest of my days growing crops like a real-life Stardew Valley, but I know I’ll never actually do that.
Perhaps one day I’ll get over my insecurity and lack of motivation around driving. Maybe I’ll get over any fear of harming myself or others in a freak accident, or I’ll tire of taking commuter rails anytime I want to travel upstate and eventually take matters into my own hands. Until then, Forza Motorsport lets me feel the thrills of high-speed racing and, more importantly, gives me confidence that I can drive a car as well as the best of them. The game doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it provides more of those amazing feelings.
What separates Forza Motorsport (2023) from its racing sim brethren isn’t its realism and style, but rather how it wants every player to feel the joy and exhilaration of racing on their own terms.
LIGHTNING ROUND THOUGHTS:
- The graphics, sound design, and mechanical tweaks in Forza Motorsport are all extremely impressive. From a sonic and visual perspective, this is one of the most “next-gen” games out there. It’s also one of the most precisely designed games I’ve ever played, though I could have said that about any Forza game in the past.
- More on the visuals front: The Performance Mode with ray-tracing is astoundingly good. The light flickering through trees and around corners is gorgeous and makes everything feel just a little more immersive. Sure, you get a little more pop-in because of that, but it’s barely noticeable mid-race.
- When upgrading car parts between races, you have the option to simply press the X button and have the game make optimal changes automatically. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about cars and just wants to get back to the racetracks as quickly as possible, I very much appreciate this system.
- Also new to Forza Motorsport are segment grades, where you get a notification in the top-right corner after every portion of a racetrack grading your performance on that segment. The best part of this change is that I have more ways to track my personal improvements; the worst part is that I get miffed every time I think I nailed a turn and actually get a 6.8/10.
- The online multiplayer works fairly smoothly, and I actually do like that you have to perform well in qualifying laps before joining races, which each occur at set times. I’m just personally not a big fan of racing games online for whatever reason, so I’ve mostly avoided this part of the game.
- I appreciate that, after all these years, Forza games still have the rewind mechanic (which allows players to go back a few seconds in time with the press of a button). The more realistic games become in terms of physics, the more easily a single wrong move could completely derail your chances at a podium finish.
- Having recently purchased a Backbone One, I am delighted to say that Forza Motorsport works fairly well on the cloud! I initially expected that a racing sim with precise inputs and realistic physics would be a nightmare to stream, but it plays pretty damn well on my phone (though the visuals do take a hit).
Forza Motorsport was released on October 10, 2023, for Xbox Series X/S and PC. It is also available on Game Pass.