Forza Motorsport is nearly as old as the Xbox brand itself, but it's had a surprisingly extended absence since its last entry in 2017. In its place, the less simulation-focused, open-world Forza Horizon series has flourished, despite not offering the technical track racing that the core series of the franchise once excelled in delivering. Forza Motorsport is a reset of sorts for the series, with the time away from the track used to refine its scintillating racing and fine-tune its progression system. The result is a streamlined simulation racer that puts all of its focus toward on-track action, delivering one of the most exhilarating racing experiences you can find on any platform.
Forza Motorsport wastes no time getting you on the track, throwing you behind the wheel of its cover car, the 2024 Corvette E-Ray, on the tarmac of the Maple Valley Raceway, a throwback to the series' oldest fictional track. This short showcase, somewhat similar in presentation (but not tone) to the openings found in Forza Horizon, makes it immediately clear how much work has been put into Forza Motorsport's visuals. The golden sunset lighting and autumnal colors around the track contrast beautifully against the glinting blue metal of the roaring hypercar at your fingertips, with the subsequent race at a cherry-blossom-laden track in Japan showcasing gorgeous nighttime lighting as dozens of polished liveries careen around corners. Each one of Forza Motorsport's faithfully recreated cars is a treat to behold when out on the track, while equally standing up to scrutiny when you take the time to investigate their intricately recreated interiors. If you obsess over the finer details of exceptional automotive engineering, Forza Motorsport raises the bar for what you will now expect from other games in this genre.
Both in the showroom and on the track, Forza Motorsport is accentuated by an attractive implementation of ray tracing, which is even featured in one of the game's performance modes to mitigate any feelings of compromise to enjoy the game looking its finest. While it's difficult to appreciate accurate reflections at breakneck speeds, the collective effect helps to ground each car to the track in a way that makes previous iterations seem a bit strange by comparison. It's not a faultless implementation--there were numerous instances in rain-soaked conditions where reflections would routinely break when ray tracing was enabled--but there's no question it's a transformative change that elevates Forza Motorsport's presentation to new visually pleasing heights.
At the heart of Forza Motorsport is a revamped career mode that pulls in elements from older entries in the series and blends it with a new set of mechanics designed to establish a deeper bond between you and your selected cars. The Builder's Cup is a collection of championships with theme-specific events and distinct showcase events. Each one celebrates the beauty of the automotive industry through the lens of its theme, limiting your choice of vehicle based on a specific time period, a collection of region-specific manufacturers, or a particular class of consumer car. Each event (typically made up of a handful of races) usually requires a new car, either from your existing collection or from the selection of over 500 that you can purchase throughout your time with Forza Motorsport. Bouncing between new vehicles not only gives you the familiar, rewarding sensation of learning the limits of a new, speedy machine, but it also now lets you customize each car based on the amount of time you spend with it.
Every action you make with a selected car in an event contributes towards its own level, with developer Turn 10 layering a light role-playing system of sorts on top of traditional progression. As your car levels up, you unlock new categories for upgrades, letting you spend accrued "Car Points" to install upgrades that affect characteristics such as top speed, acceleration, handling, and more. The total number of points you have to spend is also determined by how much you use a particular vehicle, and can also be recouped at any point if you want to take your tuning in an entirely different direction. The interface for this critical part of your progression through Forza Motorsport is wonderfully designed, giving you a clear view of how your current choices will impact your car while carefully reminding you about the importance of a balance. Easier still is the ability to have all of these upgrades applied automatically in-between races, with the system doing a remarkably good job at finding a pleasing configuration. This customization is crucial not only in the Builder's Cup, but eventually in your multiplayer racing career, too, with all your changes carrying through to the more challenging online events to really cement the rewarding nature of the new changes.
The style of progression revitalizes the most basic principles of simulation racing. The reward of shaving off a few tenths of a second on a lap time might still be rewarding enough for most players, but having that coupled with the tangible reward of new parts for your vehicle, and hence the opportunity to post even faster lap times, creates an engrossing feedback loop that is difficult to pull away from. Practice sessions before races are no longer just about learning a track layout; they're critical interludes between competitive events that let you learn more about your car while improving its capabilities for the next race. As you race through each sector, you'll be rewarded with XP for how well you complete it, handily indicated by a score out of 10 that pushes you to make the best of every single corner. Some act as miniature time-trials too, letting you gauge your performance lap after lap and revel in the perfect one once you've linked each sector up perfectly. These are all facets of simulation racing that have been at the core of why enthusiasts have loved this genre, but it's refreshing to see Forza Motorsport contextualize it in a way that will make it just as engaging to an entirely new crowd of players.
Individually progressing each new car you purchase also allows you to build a distinct relationship with each one, given that the characteristics between a consumer hatchback and luxury sports car require you to approach them differently. Each car you purchase is completely stock the first time you experience it on track, before quickly turning into a precise weapon you can use to attack each apex after customizing it to your liking. This evolution isn't a laborious one, with the generous amounts of experience that actions reward you with letting you make a significant change to each new car in just a handful of races, so it doesn't make the required hopping between new vehicles a slog. Instead, it allows you to be frequently reminded of the rush that accompanies the moment when a car starts clicking with you, giving you the confidence to push it to its limits and whip around circuits miles faster than you were just a few races ago.
This streamlined system of upgrading your car doesn't come at the expense of the nitty-gritty options that you might expect from a simulation racer either. Beyond the selection of parts, you're able to fine-tune the most minute details of each vehicle to the same degree as before, switching up anything from your brake bias to gear ratios and more. These, as they have been before, are squarely suited to those with an in-depth knowledge of cars and how the smallest changes can have a big impact on the track with the right driver behind the wheel. With Forza Motorsport's varied options for difficulty, there's opportunity to make these settings vital if you're planning on playing with most driving assists off and pitting yourself against the highest level of AI drivers, nevermind potentially faster opponents online.
Outside of the Builder's Cup, Forza Motorsport features several series-standard modes. There's a free-race option, where you can set up a race with some quick presets or dive deep into a customizer and create an event with incredible detail, from the different types of weather that can occur during the race and how fast the day/night cycle takes place, to how much rubber has already been laid down on the racing line to determine grip. Cars that you've purchased can all be used here, too, which gives you another chance to increase their respective levels, but you can also choose to rent a car (and accrue no XP for it) for no fee, which is a nice touch if you're just looking for a quick test drive.
Competitive multiplayer in Forza Motorsport is largely consolidated in Featured Multiplayer, which packages up lobbies into real-time race weekends. Each event unfolds simultaneously across the globe, indicating how much time you have left to enter before the feature race kicks off. The more time you have before that happens, however, the better, as two pre-race sessions will have a massive impact on your overall performance in the race. The first is an unlimited practice session where you can tackle the course you'll be racing and inspect other player times to get a good sense of where in the pack you might settle into. Qualifying puts that practice to the test, giving you just three laps to set your fastest time and determine your starting position on the grid. The feature race is where the time you spent prior is put to use against everyone else in the lobby, resulting in exhilarating and highly competitive sprints to the finish with a collection of players far more versed with the course in front of them than if just dropped into a race from the start.
That doesn't mean that race-altering collisions don't occur anymore, but Forza Motorsport is quite heavy-handed in its approach to in-race penalties. Colliding with other players unnecessarily will summon a penalty calculator that does a relatively good job of dishing out a time penalty proportionate to the impact cause, both to the other car in question and their new position in the race. Other infringements, such as cutting corners, are also penalized, with a nice tabulated view of all racers and their pending time penalties shown during a race to keep you in the loop. Sometimes the in-race penalty isn't enough which is where an overall player safety rating comes into effect. This value rises and falls based on your ability (or inability) to race cleanly, and determines matchmaking with other players based on that. Frequent collision offenders will eventually find themselves in lobbies with other similarly-behaved racers, letting frequently courteous ones enjoy the company of others more often.
Multiplayer events are also varied by the category they're found in, specifically Spec Racing or Open Racing. Spec racing features events where everyone is given the same car to race, leveling the playing field and letting raw skill determine a victor. Open Racing is almost the complete opposite; you're still confined to a certain class of vehicle, but which one you choose is entirely up to you, including whether or not you use previously upgraded vehicles from your collection. The multi-stage aspects and time-sensitive nature of multiplayer events leave a lasting impression, be that the satisfaction of a hard-fought win or the disappointment of a race weekend that went all wrong in the dying moments. The variety, coupled with the aforementioned Rivals mode, establishes a rich multiplayer foundation that can be enjoyed for a long time before developer Turn10 decides to expand upon it with new content.
With so much racing to undertake, it quickly becomes apparent that Forza Motorsport features a smaller number of tracks than you might expect. There are only 14 tracks, with 20 viable circuits when you take into account alternative layouts on some tracks. There are familiar standouts, such as racing around 130R at Suzuka in Japan, or scaling Eau Rouge with your foot flat on the gas in Spa, as well as new tracks like Kyalami in South Africa. But there's also a surprising lack of representation from whole regions, such as the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi or one of the two Italian Formula 1 tracks. Forza Motorsport is being positioned as a platform that Turn 10 is planning to update over the future, but that doesn't change the fact that it has less than half of the circuits Forza Motorsport 7 eventually had.
Forza Motorsport has been gone for a long time, but it's evident that Turn 10 has used the time to reevaluate its formula and implement some striking changes that will likely ignite a new passion for simulation racing for petrolheads and bring in a swathe of new players. The inclusion of car-specific progression creates a stronger relationship between you and each car you own in your garage, with the methods of leveling each on up pushing you to hone your racing craft in the most rewarding way the series has delivered thus far. Forza Motorsport does this all without forgetting its heritage, delivering a standout simulation racing experience that looks and sounds stunning, while feeling reliably accurate and satisfying on the tarmac. It would be nice to have more locations to enjoy Forza Motorsport breadth of vehicular content on, but it would be a lie to say I didn't have a massive grin on my face during every lap that I completed.