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Forza Motorsport review - a weighty and welcoming racer, packed with pleasures

Wheel life.

Forza Motorsport screenshot, showing a yellow and black 2023 Cadillac V-Series.R, in a showroom.
Image credit: Xbox Game Studios / Turn 10 Studios
A generous and lavish racer, with thrilling driving, that wants you for the long haul.

In the view of Forza Motorsport, cars are serious business. This you can tell from the score, by Kaveh Cohen, Michael Nielsen and Peter G. Holmström, which is laden with hammer blows and ticking synth. It sounds like the work of Hans Zimmer, and you could lift it out and lay it snugly over a Splinter Cell or a Deus Ex - one of those tech-infested thrillers in which the world is redeemed by hardware, and the solitary souls who guide it. (Such is racing, I guess, in the eyes of its admirers.) This approach differs from that of Gran Turismo 7, the chief rival of Forza Motorsport in the mainstream simulator stakes. That game presents its races in a café, amid the glint of coffee pots and the steam of lightly brewed jazz. Slotted together, both works spin and blur into a similar conviction; when you apply the brakes, you notice that they lie at opposing ends of it. Do cars make life worth living, or does life make cars worth driving?

Spend an afternoon with Forza Motorsport, in its thuddingly epic air, and you may stagger away convinced of the latter. But think of the efforts that it makes to welcome you. We are ushered into a string of races, as though it were no big deal. The difficulty is dampened by default, with brakes that kick in to carry you around each bend. The career mode is approachable - wrapped into parcels of races. The Legacy Tour. The Power Tour. The Enthusiast Tour. Within these you find themed events: Practical Performance, Super Sedans, Built For Sport. Start one of these series, and you get a potted history lesson, albeit with a steely edge: "Modern high-performance hatchbacks have evolved into serious street and track weapons," we are told by a stern narrator. You'll never look at a Renault Megane, loaded and cocked in a Tesco car park, the same way again.

The developer, Turn 10 Studios, is determined to be a courteous host. Thus, it's only as you progress in the career mode that you turn up the difficulty - increasing the AI challenge of your opponents, lowering your starting position (therefore boosting your potential winnings), and, if you dare, removing the litany of assists that soothed your early drives. One by one, like Jenga blocks. The battles of Forza Motorsport are won and lost on its corners. The game is at its best when you are clinging onto the track, wrists juddering with understeer, trying to accelerate out of your troubles and press on. It's like a scene from Shadow of the Colossus, as you grip the back of some beast of rock and grass and unforgiving angles, trying desperately not to get thrown from a hard shoulder.

Forza Motorsport trailer.Watch on YouTube

The Forza series has always been good at coaxing you in, making you believe that realistic racing is a gas, not a chore. In this new instalment, you will find over five hundred cars at launch, with more on the way; twenty circuits to race; and menus that bristle with customised brake pads, anti-roll bars, suspension coils, and spoilers. It's exhaustive, but it wouldn't dream of tiring you out. If you wish, you can press the Quick Upgrade button to instantly buff your chosen ride - watch its acceleration, speed, and handling click upwards in satisfying decimals.

The most telling comparison is perhaps to Forza Horizon, the sister series to Motorsport, made by Playground Games, whose strategy is to throw cars at you as though they were confetti. The most recent entry kicked things off by putting you in a bright-yellow Ford Bronco and dropping you from the belly of a cargo plane onto the rim of an active volcano. Hospitality of a different sort. Here your garage will not bristle with supercars at quite the same lick; you are encouraged to stick with one vehicle for each event, putting in practice laps to learn the curves of the circuit before each race, and warming to your chosen weapon. And yet, it doesn't feel ungenerous - the joys that you are being offered are slower, lying dormant for longer, but the payoff is a far richer eruption.

Forza Motorsport screenshot, showing a 1992 Ford Falcon GT, in navy, as it sits in the pits, waiting to race.
Forza Motorsport screenshot, showing a stream of cars slowing as they round a bend, with trees in the background.
Forza Motorsport. | Image credit: Xbox Game Studios / Turn 10 Studios

Strangest of all to report is that Forza Motorsport happens to boast the superior cinema. It may not arrive teeming with cargo planes, but Turn 10 is a master of direction, of drawing out moments of real drama from modest parts. Try pelting along on Watkins Glen International Speedway, with belts of rain gusting across the tarmac and pearling on the camera lens, and a silver gush frothing from your wheels like the wake of a power boat. There is no music while you race, unless you count the automotive kind, so you're left with your thoughts - or, better yet, with the brain-emptying quiet that sets in when you're in focus. One of the most quietly moving moments in games this year arrived as I was improving my times with practice laps on the Nürburgring (which Ian Fleming once described as "the long, green scream"). A sudden bank of fog oozed over the road, as if it had been shipped in from Silent Hill, and I had no choice but to roar into the mist, trying to beat my own ghosts.

Forza Motorsport screenshot, showing a 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI, in a showroom, with its doors and bonnet open.
Forza Motorsport screenshot, showing some fireworks above the Hakone racing track at night.
Forza Motorsport. | Image credit: Xbox Game Studios / Turn 10 Studios

The developers at Turn 10, I suspect, are familiar with this feeling. The previous outing, Forza Motorsport 7, boasted many innovations on its forebears; the new game, by contrast, is one of refinement, rather than radical change. We get the return of the delicious Rivals mode, where you attempt to best the lap times of an online leaderboard, posted by other players. There are featured multiplayer events, organised around specific schedules. There is the excellent Career mode, of course. And there is Free Play, wherein you can race however you wish. All of these, aside from the last, are tethered to the internet, and it's clear that Turn 10 wants you for the long haul. The Career is described, in the menu, as "ongoing and ever-growing." The wish, presumably, is that it will also be true of your investment.

It's up to you if that investment is monetary. At launch, the in-game store features a "VIP Membership," (five exclusive cars and double your XP payout), a couple of vehicle packs, and a "Car Pass," which gives you thirty cars at the rate of one a week. These microtransactions don't feel as obnoxious as they might. In part, this is because your time is untrammeled if you choose to go completely without. And in part because the idea is that Forza Motorsport is something that you install not just onto your Xbox (with its storage-busting 130GB) but onto your life - to be studied and picked away at in the months and years ahead. Whether that sounds like a weight or a welcome invitation will depend on your sensibility. For Turn 10, cars and life are inextricable, worthy of each other, and deserving of a tribute such as this.

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