Forza Motorsport preview: does the reboot solve the series' biggest problem? | Top Gear
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Forza Motorsport preview: does the reboot solve the series' biggest problem?

We get our hands on an early version of the first Motorsport title in six years

Published: 12 Sep 2023

The danger when you're rebooting an established series is that you are so busy starting afresh, that you lose some key aspect of what made the series great. To borrow an ancient idiom, you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Well having played a preview version of the now more aerodynamically titled Forza Motorsport, which arrives on Xbox Series consoles and PC on 10 October, we're pleased to report that the baby is safe and well. Though, full disclosure, there is a fair bit of the bathwater still sloshing around in the tub too.

Based on our time with an hour long taster of the career mode, this definitely still feels like a Forza Motorsport game. There's the slick, clean title screen that feels a bit like you've wandered into a high-end medical facility and an obsession with smoothing off the rough edges of the sport that occasionally makes the game feel like motorsport as regarded from a great distance by a curious alien.

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Take the new Builder's Cup format, for example, which in theory is designed to bring you closer to your favourite handful of cars by encouraging you to upgrade them far beyond their stock capabilities. While you can dig into the minutiae of individual components won in races, there's always the siren lure of the Quick Upgrade button which will instantly optimise your machine using the parts available. It's the path of least resistance, sure, and it's vital for people who don't know their exhaust from their elbow, but it does make the process feel more like upgrading a videogame character's stats than tinkering under the hood of a beloved car.

So, you might be forgiven for wondering, with the series' broad strokes philosophy basically intact, is this really a reboot at all? The answer is yes, in the most important way of all. Our biggest criticism of the previous game in the series, Forza Motorsport 7, was the wayward handling. For the most part it was convincing, if a little floaty, but often as you approached the limit, you'd bounce off some unexpected quirk of the physics engine and end up gliding off the road.

Not a problem here: the sense of connection between the tyres and the asphalt is vastly, immeasurably improved. There's the sense that at some point during this reboot's protracted gestation, developer Turn 10 Studios has plunged a fist deep into the heart of this game and pulled out all the wiring to start afresh. While the experience on a joypad is transformed, the most telling evidence of the work that's been done is that the game now plays beautifully and intuitively on a wheel and pedal set, something that was always a stumbling block for the series. Inputs on a wheel are responsive and precise and the feedback is hugely communicative. Regardless of your control preference, there's a very real danger that once you pick Forza Motorsport up, you won't be able to put it down.

If you're looking for a crystallisation of everything this new Forza Motorsport is about, we've got an example for you. Qualification for races has been removed, in Builder's Cup at least, in favour of a more videogamey option to pick where you start on the grid, with greater rewards for starting farther back. Instead of qualifying, there's a mandatory practice session where you have to turn a minimum of three laps and hit a relatively generous target time. On the surface, that might sound like a tedious chore compared to racing doorhandle to doorhandle, but instead you'll often find yourself carrying on beyond your allocation because, with the involving new handling, it's a genuine pleasure just to turn laps all on your own.

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We've long maintained that everything in a racing game – fancy raytraced graphics, hundreds of cars, even gamified career modes – is secondary to the fundamental way it feels to drive. With Forza Motorsport it feels like that final piece of the puzzle has dropped into place and we can't wait to absolutely gorge ourselves when it arrives next month...

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