It's been quite a while since we've had a Forza Motorsport; the last one being back in 2017, when it released alongside the Xbox One X to showcase the console's power at the time. In the six years since, we've had two Forza Horizon games and a new console generation, and this has afforded developer Turn 10 Studios to rethink what a modern racing sim should be. A big part of that modernization is moving to a live service model, where Forza Motorsport is now more of an ongoing platform built to support consistent updates and content drops instead of having distinct releases at a regular cadence. Hence the new--and now numberless--Forza Motorsport.
After playing a preview build of Forza Motorsport, I saw not only the vision of how the game can thrive under this new framework, but also why it has to. Creative director Chris Esaki told me, "This is not only a reboot but a complete rethink of the whole franchise. This is it. There may be a sequel in the future, but that's just not our current plan." He explained that, "From an architectural and code perspective, with so much of it server-based, we can change things on the fly [like] updating physics parameters [and] changing content. From the start, we had to make sure we were agile."
It's a stark contrast to Forza Motorsport 7, which came out just as live service-style game design started to permeate the industry. As Esaki stated with regards to the previous entry, "All the technology we built was for these two-year cycles. [Then] we were trying to update it every month, and man, it was just really, really hard. None of us were built for that." And so, a lot of development resources went into creating something sustainable for the long-term; "We needed to rethink how the whole engine worked to allow us to quickly iterate on content and listen to our players to help us get that feedback," he concluded.
The question then becomes, what does that live service model in Forza Motorsport look like? Esaki confirmed the studio is not doing battle passes or a traditional seasonal structure, but will instead release updates including features like new cars and tracks, which can then be fit into existing career mode content. Additional cups and race series can also be implemented, as well as other free updates to multiplayer. And, as he mentioned above, the studio can even make changes to physics and gameplay systems without having to hold off for a new entry. Although we couldn't get into specifics, some of that additional content will be available around the time of launch.
This model then feeds into the actual flow of playing Forza Motorsport, where so much of its career mode is about building your cars as opposed to simply collecting cars and pumping money into them for high-end parts. It's the sort of RPG (or "car-PG" as they say) idea where individual cars level up as you drive them, and experience points are gained based on how well you perform on the track with that specific car. It's not just about gunning for first place, however.
Forza Motorsport is extremely intricate in how it grades you with its Segment Score system, which is based on an internal algorithm that calculates the potential of the exact car you're using, factoring in the upgrades you have installed, against how fast you get through a turn. You're graded on each corner and sector of a track on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0, and awarded car XP accordingly throughout the race. Esaki likened corners and sectors to enemies in an RPG, and that's the mentality I had playing through the handful of tracks available for the preview. It genuinely changed my perspective on how I approached races. I felt myself honed in on defeating these "enemies" by driving the best I could, and accounting for that feedback in my performance to help me improve with each subsequent lap. It works because of the feedback loop of XP and having a consistent and accurate grading system to tell me whether or not I'm getting the most out of my car in real time.
One of the goals of this new Forza Motorsport, according to Esaki, was to emphasize the player's relationship with individual cars. Putting the focus on leveling up cars and really learning how to drive supports that idea, and so does the new car points system. Gone is the grind for cash to soup up a new ride with all the top-tier aftermarket parts right off the bat--car points are earned by performing with a specific car and works like a pool of points to allocate for upgrades. This lets you swap between parts as if you respec your build in an RPG for different stats, perks, or abilities--having recently played Armored Core 6, it felt like re-tooling my mech for certain fights.
For example, I can spend my car points on a pro-grade exhaust, intake, and manifold for a speedy track with straightaways, then swap out those parts to get my car points back and re-allocate them for better tires and suspension for a track that has tight turns. Or I can create a setup of mid-tier upgrades to balance engine and handling performance, and making the most of it race to race. Thus, the process for making a high-performance supercar out of, say, a Nissan 350Z (as is my case in every racing game I play) takes time and effort, but I don't lose out on anything by picking up incremental upgrades along the way.
These may seem like small changes on paper, but it noticeably shifts how I engage with my garage of cars and the races within the Builder's Cup mode (effectively the single-player career mode). My results on the track aren't simply beholden to how much money I can pour into upgrades within the performance index restrictions, and the car points system emphasizes learning the intricacies of racing with certain cars. Maybe this isn't what some want from their racing games, but for me, this is the change of pace I've been waiting for. Not only does the game seem to be built to encourage me to get better on a granular level at the track, but also grow alongside a handful of cars I actually want to keep using.
It's rather exciting to be back into the groove with a racing sim--for as much as I loved 2022's Gran Turismo 7, I didn't feel particularly motivated to stick with it after I had my fill. Forza Motorsport has an improved physics model that accounts for the complexities of each car and a more realistic AI system that behaves much closer to professional drivers, but those aspects are tougher to tease out with the short time I had with the game. Right now, it's the new gameplay systems and mechanics that offer minor but impactful changes, and the foundation of a proper live service model with long-term potential, that entice me most.
Judging from the introductory cutscenes and tutorial, there'll be a bunch of different cars to take to the track, like expensive supercars and classic whips--there's even a tease for old Formula 1 cars with a quick shot of legendary F1 driver Niki Lauda's Ferrari. We'll be able to find out what's in store and hit the track soon; the new Forza Motorsport will make its first impression when it launches on Xbox Series X|S and PC on October 10, 2023.