PC players are spoilt for choice when it comes to racing games. From open-world to arcade to simulation, there are options galore, but after spending plenty of hours on the track for this Forza Motorsport review, it begs the question of where exactly Microsoft’s flagship racing game falls on the spectrum.
Despite it being a PlayStation exclusive, comparisons must be drawn to Gran Turismo 7. Sony’s phenomenal racing game launched to critical acclaim, and Forza Motorsport forgoes taking a single leaf from its book, instead opting for a whole hedge. However, it’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi that makes Gran Turismo 7 such an elegant, masterful experience, and this results in Forza Motorsport being a bit of a bumpy ride.
Gran Turismo 7 is a game that celebrates the beauty of motorsport, but Forza Motorsport is more bold and brash. It’s not quite as in your face as its open-world sibling, Forza Horizon, but where Sony’s crème de la crème features classical, operatic music as it teaches you about the history of automobiles, Forza Motorsport opts for a montage of hard racing clips, with the sort of dramatic, tense soundtrack you might expect during a fight scene in the latest John Wick.
This continues once you get behind the wheel. It’s tough to put a finger on, but there’s something about the racing here that feels raw, like it’s a meaty cocktail of engines and drivetrains. Handling is perhaps its biggest strength; every wheel dipped in the gravel, every kiss of the bodywork against a wall, every passing competitor on the track is felt with a crunch. It does a brilliant job of making you feel like Jann Mardenborough – if he batted for the green team instead.
Forza Motorsport truly starts to shine when you turn off all the assists and put yourself behind an actual racing wheel. It doesn’t hold a candle to the fully-fledged simulation games in the genre, such as Assetto Corsa and iRacing, but it’s competitive with the more accessible racers in the genre. The downside is that it’s missing some elements of truly authentic racing games, the types relicant of real life.
By default, there is no timings screen in single-player. It must be enabled via the settings menu, and even then, it only displays times up to a tenth of a second, rather than the thousandth-of-a-second precision you’ll see in pretty much every racing series on the planet, and indeed most serious racing games. It may seem insignificant to those reading who are not avid racing game players, but it is vital to know whether you’re closing the gap on the car in front – or losing time to the car behind – to such a precise degree. You can get this level of detail in multiplayer, just not in the career mode, sadly.
In single-player, there is also no option for qualifying sessions during the various events and tournaments on offer. You will simply complete three practice laps, with a car XP bonus for setting a lap time quicker than what the game expects based on your difficulty level, before getting straight into the race. One interesting mechanic is how you can choose where on the grid you start the race from. Except for the front row, anywhere from third onwards is available thanks to the lack of qualifying, and you’ll receive higher rewards if you place on the podium from further back on the grid, including car XP, driver XP, and credits.
Qualifying does exist in multiplayer, where you have a ten-minute period to set the fastest lap you can, along with completing any practice laps you desire. So there doesn’t appear to be any reason for it not to also feature in the career mode. At least it has standing starts though, something missing in Gran Turismo 7’s career mode, despite being the pinnacle of racing game ingenuity in almost all other aspects.
One of my biggest bugbears with Forza Motorsport is its lack of character. While the racing on track may be its strongest quality (though still not best in class), you’ll spend your time between events in the menus, navigating from one to the next. And that’s all there is. Flick through a list of events and pick the next before getting onto the track again. Where in Gran Turismo 7 you have menu books to progress through, which are essentially challenges to complete in exchange for new cars, and a world map to explore via various racetracks, Forza is missing that charm.
At the end of the day, this isn’t something that will determine whether Forza Motorsport is a solid racing game or not, because it absolutely is. But it will help players stick to the career mode and feel like they’re working towards something, rather than simply earning credits to buy new cars, which in turn only earn credits so you can buy new cars.
Another aspect that is very similar to Gran Turismo 7 is how car upgrades work. Instead of PP, you have PI, but rather than buy whatever parts you need to upgrade your car outright – or downgrade it in the case of event restrictions – you must level the car up enough to unlock the ability to purchase specific parts. This isn’t done with credits though – those are saved for buying brand-new cars – it’s done with car points, which are earned by leveling up your car.
It’s an unnecessary hoop to jump through that will no doubt make the game at the later stages a much bigger grind, just for the sake of leveling up new cars in your garage. On the plus side, the information you’re given when selecting upgrades about how it affects the car is presented in a much more manageable way. True petrolheads may complain it’s too dumbed down and not in-depth enough, but it does make it more accessible for racing game beginners to understand how different parts affect each aspect of the car.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the PC port, it leaves a little to be desired in terms of performance. For context, I conducted my review on the following build: i7-9700K, RTX 3080, and 32GB DDR4, which are considerably better specs than the recommended Forza Motorsport system requirements, but despite having a ray-tracing capable card, enabling it would drop the game to below 30fps. Following this, turning ray-tracing back off again wouldn’t bump the frame rate back up – only a full game restart would fix the issue. With everything set to high, I was averaging around 80fps on most circuits at 1440p, but bumping it up to ultra made that shoot down to the mid-40s, which is almost unplayable for a racing game.
All this is to say that the game is certainly playable if you meet or exceed the recommended specs, but do not expect a racing game that blows the competition out of the water. Car models don’t look quite as crisp as Gran Turismo 7’s, despite that game being limited by console hardware. While the rain looks stunning as it hits the windshield or third-person camera, you can count the individual pixels on the particle effects when cars in front kick up standing water.
There are a couple of other small issues to consider. For some reason, replays are entirely broken for me – the cars are stationary on the grid, but if you rewind the replay, they will sink into the ground and fall through the world. Fast forward it and they’ll skyrocket through the floor, soaring into the clouds, before plummeting back down to earth. It’s hilarious the first time but frustrating when you want to take a look at your sweet overtake for first place on the final corner of the last lap from another angle.
In multiplayer, when the winner crosses the line, a two-minute countdown begins till the end of the race. But if you cross the line ahead of anyone else, you cannot spectate; you’re stuck staring at the final standings instead, which can be a long two minutes if there were any particularly poor drivers in your lobby.
Forza Motorsport is a solid racing game, but it is by no means a great one, and it hasn’t quite matched my expectations when it comes to Microsoft delivering a worthwhile racing sim contender. On PC, there are better options for less serious racing such as GRID Legends or Project Cars, and there are much better choices for those who want to try their hand at sim racing, such as Assetto Corsa Competizione and iRacing.
As a result, Forza Motorsport sits in a hole where it isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. It’s a gateway racer, one that is a valid entry point for those who want to be serious about racing but aren’t quite skilled enough or don’t have the patience for anything more in-depth. It’s also one that is unlikely to be anyone’s favorite racing game due to its lack of character and flourish when you’re anywhere but behind the wheel.
Forza Motorsport is an adequate racing game, one that delivers on the track but doesn’t come with enough bells and whistles to be considered a true great in the genre. There are better options in almost all racing sub-genres on PC, but when you’re in the cockpit, the driving itself is ferocious and raw, with plenty to enjoy.