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Opinions 21 September 2023, 14:40

author: Darius Matusiak

Forza Motorsport Hands-On: Double Impressions After Demo!

We've finally had a chance to play Forza Motorsport! Our hands-on impressions include two perspectives of two experienced, vidtual racers – the report from digital tracks is brought to you by Draug i DM.

Recently, we had the opportunity to play demo of the long-awaited next installment of Forza Motorsport. We did so in a truly racing format, i.e. in a duo of two racing games afficionados. DM is a seasoned simracing enthusiast, while Draug is our official specialist in racing games.

Therefore, we would like to present our impressions in a slightly different and hopefully more interesting manner of exchanging opinions about Forza Motorsport. We would also like to point out that these are very initial and general impressions. Firstly, the demo was limited to a very short tutorial race on several tracks, and secondly, the preview didn't work on PC, so we played on Xbox Series S with a pad – no steering wheels, sadly.

Lap one – first impressions

DM: One of the developers summarized Forza as "a game to help people fall in love with cars" at the beginning of a short Q&A session. He then also added that the aim was to create a title that "isn't only about collecting cars." The developers describe the new Forza as a "car RPG," a game about modifying your favorite cars, improving them and becoming better at racing.

After brief tests, I think this actually works out quite well. The game has plenty of cut scenes where you can admire your chosen car in some amazing detail. Every minute spent on the track is about gaining XP and learning how to take corners faster and cleaner. This can really be the perfect game to enter the racing genre.

Having been with Forza Motorsport since 2009, its third installment, I must admit that I saw the same game as FM 7, 6, and 5, only with cosmetic changes and a new dose of visual fire crackers. I wasn't hoping for a revolution, but a minimum of growth wouldn’t hurt, considering that Project CARS already had some of these elements in 2015; I mean a camera with dynamic view from the helmet or realistic pit stops as an option. For now, I expect a slightly prettier part seven with a less interesting set of tracks. And what are your first impressions, Draug?

With the right FoV settings and drifting camera enabled, immersion can really be high.Forza Motorsport, Xbox Game Studios, 2023

Draug: Truth be told, as I followed the marketing campaign of Forza Motorsport and I was… ready for the worst. Meanwhile... Well, the way I’ll put it is… it's not the first time I get the impression that the people responsible for promoting this game don't really know what they're doing.

I didn't participate in the session with the developers you mentioned, so I just chuckled at the notion of "falling in love with cars." No, folks, this isn't Gran Turismo. There’s still no car trivia, no descriptions, not even ForzaVista technical data displayed anymore (much to my disappointment). There are only brief presentations at the beginning of each career chapter, but judging by the gameplay and this small sample from the demo, we'll hear nothing but clichés there.

So my impressions are as follows – I was turning up my nose while looking at the menu, by the end of the first lap I was already intrigued (thanks to the beautiful morning mist effects on the track), and after the second lap a smirk already appeared on my face, and I already knew: this was it.

On the surface, it’s very similar to Forza Motorsport 7 indeed, but under the hood, there have been some fundamental changes which should make me spend hundreds of hours with this title over all the years of its development. I have no doubts about it.

DM: Right, the developers talked about how they spent the last six years, which is three times as long as the gaps between the launches of previous installments of the series, analyzing and recreating the driving physics of cars from different decades and improving tire grip simulation in various conditions; in other words, everything that’s "under the hood" in a racing simulator, in the game code. It's a bit difficult to assess it with a gamepad, rather than a wheel, but you could actually feel the differences in track behavior between available cars.

However, I don't really buy assurances about fundamental changes in the behavior of artificial intelligence after I noticed a script straight from Forza Motorsport 7 several times in different races, a short drive off the track, always in identical way. Which under-the-hood changes did you particularly enjoy?

The music and vibes of the menus bring back warm and fuzzy feelings from Forza Motorsport 6.Forza Motorsport, Xbox Game Studios, 2023

Tinkering under the hood

Draug: That would be changes in the driving model and artificial intelligence. Although I'll be able to draw deeper conclusions after playing with a wheel on PC, I can already see that the cars behave completely different – that is, much better – than before. Driving is more intuitive, losing of grip feels natural, and even the pad seemed to quite precisely convey some of the feel of tires sticking to the track (or not; then the vibrations alarm you, making it easy to sense the vehicle is losing grip). We also receive excellent "feedback" thanks to the various sounds from underneath the car.

The real change, however, occurs when we encounter curbs or grass. The Mugello track available in the demo was perfect for comparisons. In FM7, getting off the asphalt usually led to the car being dragged ridiculously to the side, especially in case of grass. Nothing like that happens in the new game. The wheels noticeably overcome the bumps of a curb, but this isn't associated with such drastic losing of the driving track. Meanwhile, the grass deprives us of traction – but hooking over it with a wheel no longer ends in a slide towards the barriers.

All these nuances combined make the new Forza Motorsport seem much more "sim" than "arcade," and the driving is pure joy. The only unwanted relic from previous installments that I detected in the physics was the drift that is difficult to control with the pad – sometimes the center of gravity shifts too quickly from left to right and back, making it difficult to react properly and control the skid. This flaw is even stranger given that Forza Horizon deftly got rid of it in the fifth installment.

As for artificial intelligence, I’m not sure I can agree with you. Opponents falling off the track in FM7 usually looked like the computer "forgot" to let the gas off and hit the wall. In fact, no equally bizarre situations occur here.

As the developers promised, in the new installment, drivers have many more tracks than before, which often leads to them taking corners from the inside or going too wide and crashing into the shoulder or landing in the sand. To me, it all looks natural and not scripted.... leaving aside how realistic it is that at every other corner, someone makes one of these mistakes.

The Challenge the Grid system lets you choose you starting position in order to adjust the size of the prize you'll get.Forza Motorsport, Xbox Game Studios, 2023

Either way, the result is exciting races that rival GRID Legends in intensity. I had a lot of fun fighting in the middle of the pack on high difficulty levels, just like in the aforementioned Codemasters studio game. However, that doesn't change the fact that artificial intelligence still has problems that need to be addressed – above all, it’s clumsy when it comes to overtaking, and sometimes also detecting and avoiding other cars.

Speaking of difficulty levels – didn't you get the impression that winning races is no longer as easy as in previous installments?

It's tough to get on the podium

DM: Yes. During my short tests, I think I won only once, and usually finished somewhere around 3rd to 5th. A lot depends on the avatar speed setting and the starting location. I like that there’s no rubber banding – the cars at the front aren't waiting for us to make a dramatic finish, and those at the back don't suddenly get an afterburner to chase us. On the other hand, I wasn't particularly impressed with the Challenge the Grid system, in which we set our starting position before the race, affecting the number of credits we earn – the further back we start, the bigger the win.

The problem is that the short, three or four-lap races from the campaign don't give you enough time to get from the end of the pack to the front, especially when we set reasonably fast avatars. The differences between the lowest and the highest rewards were also not significant. For some reason, the developers wanted to avoid the qualification stage in the single-player campaign and created an alternative that optionally dropped this decision onto the player.

I understand the intentions, although in my opinion, the result isn't perfect. Perhaps a better idea would be to base the starting position on the times achieved during practice. Turn 10 copied an idea from Codemasters' F1 series, and now we get to know the track before the race, completing a few challenges during three laps. Good idea, but why are these challenges always the same? If I don't see more creativity in the full version, it'll again be an element done a bit half-heartedly.

Cockpits don't look very current-gen, or it's just the charm of Xbox Series S?Forza Motorsport, Xbox Game Studios, 2023

Shiny body and unsettling noises

DM: What else do you think is worth commenting on after these short tests? What did you particularly like and what left a slightly bad impression?

Draug: I agree about the qualifications, which are begging to be added – although I would see it as an optional way to determine the starting order, as the Challenge the Grid system was appealing to me. I like the freedom to customize the challenge to my own preferences.

This goes hand in hand with the hyped, but controversial progression of cars and their tuning. We can invest time in improving the car's performance to increase our chances of winning, but no one is forcing us to do so (goodbye, damned FM7 homologation!). We might as well lower the difficulty or start closer to the front of the pack. Whatever floats your boat, mate.

It’s also necessary to reassure those who are worried about the grind. Leveling cars up is very efficient and after three short races I had a car around level 20 (out of 50), which gave me access to a wide range of parts. However, what’s essential – the better we drive, the faster we rank up. That's a good motivation to polish your skills.

Now I will finally answer your question. The part of the game that made me particularly happy – besides the changes to the driving model and AI – was the addition of Field of View (FoV) adjustments. It may seem inconspicuous, but this option is a real game-changer, so to speak. It significantly improves the feeling of speed while indirectly determining the distance of the view from the car or the steering wheel (depending on the perspective). And it works great in combination with the drift camera enabled – it takes immersion to a level unattainable for Gran Turismo. If only the driver would turn his head towards turns, like in the Project CARS...

The single-player campaign consists of individual, short events once again.Forza Motorsport, Xbox Game Studios, 2023

Alright, now to the bad impressions you mentioned. First of all, I'm worried about the poor list of tracks and modes planned for the release – although it has nothing to do with the demo. I was surprised by the number of oversights in the provided gameplay sample. There were too many for a product that launches in less than a month. These aren't critical bugs, and we have to remember the build we played might have been older, but FoV settings resetting every race, non-functional performance simulation during tuning, or lack of control over the camera when modifying the car's appearance can be infuriating. Did any unusual errors catch your eye? And what did you enjoy?

The last straight

DM: In general, I didn't spot any errors, but my joy remains somewhat moderate. After removing FM7 from the offer, the obvious advantage of the new version is that it… will be available again, and PC and Xbox will get their Gran Turismo equivalent allowing us to race in simcade mode. I think that despite assurances of advanced physics, the developers are targeting a slightly more casual audience. Hence, for instance, the absence of the arch-difficult Northern Loop from the track list. It can work well as a "race driving lesson," an introduction before entering the world of Assetto Corsa or iRacing.

In other news, what will the online mode look like? Will it turn into Destruction Derby again, or do the developers have an idea for how to uphold some order during races?

Forza Motorsport has disappointed me a bit so far. I think what I'm most happy about is that it'll be rather easily – and cheaply – available on Game Pass. For me, apart from the modest content, it's too similar to the seventh installment, which visually hasn't aged at all. I missed bold changes in the campaign because going through these short thematic segments for the umpteenth time bored me a long time ago. There’s a lack of immersion in the single-player mode, and the absence of VR support on PC, which probably every racing sim on the market already offers, including older ones, kinda hurts.

I complained, but I'll play the full version anyway – maybe I'll change my opinion to a more positive one. Time for your last word before heading down to the pits and waiting for the review version!

Draug: At this point, I can say that this demo is a godsend for me. It broke the skepticism that I had been falling into more and more over the last few weeks and reignited my excitement for Forza Motorsport. Even if the depleted content on release is to creep into early access, at least it'll be early access based on solid foundations.

Turn 10 Studios would do best to make a sample of the game available to everyone. Flashy (mini)trailers, scant gameplay footage with assistances, and director Chris Esaki's remarks full of lofty slogans aren't the proper way to win players over, many of whom have been discouraged by years of waiting. This quality in the driving model and artificial intelligence, totally new to the series, must be experienced in person, though.

I remain hopeful that the full version will defend itself and not shake my just-regained faith in the developer. Fortunately, everything will become clear in less than a month.

Darius Matusiak | Gamepressure.com

Darius Matusiak

Darius Matusiak

A wannabe fighter pilot, racing driver, and a spec-op; an adventurer and a space marine – hence, a gamer. I’ve been playing games since Wing Commander, and writing since Destiny.


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