How physics and race weekends will define Forza Motorsport


While the Xbox vs. PlayStation debate has kicked back into life with the launch of the latest generation of consoles, it’s felt like the tussle over who has the best racing game has been put on hold for the last half decade. Now, with Gran Turismo 7 out on PS4 and PS5 and the next Forza Motorsport due in spring 2023 for Xbox Series X|S and PC, the discussion, the comparisons and tribal preferences can come to the fore once more.

In truth, Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport have always been two sides of the same coin. They both get lumped into the ‘sim-cade’ subgenre of racing game, they both espouse driving and motorsport culture and feature a collectathon style of garage filling, but the US-based Turn 10 Studios and the Japanese Polyphony Digital have come to share this common ground from two very different directions and have had their individual style and tone. To put it in film terms, Forza is the big modern Hollywood production of ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’, while Gran Turismo is more understated like Steve McQueen’s ‘Le Mans’.

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To see where Forza Motorsport – the eighth of its name but lacking a number – is heading, we have to first look back at Forza Motorsport 7. Turn 10 had several ambitions to fulfill with that game, but none was more important than needing to lead the way as a spectacular visual showcase for the Xbox One. Getting the very best out of the original Xbox One hardware was one feat, but FM7 launched alongside the Xbox One X, allowing them to push for native 4K, HDR, feature show-stopping, thoroughly emotive weather effects, and more. That was built on some very familiar foundations and gaming trends of the time – a career made up of short and snappy race events, AI drivatars that first appeared with Forza 5, loot boxes for gameplay modifiers that sucked, resulting in a rather grindy in- game economy.

It hits the right notes in many ways, but in retrospect it felt quite safe and even outdated when compared to Gran Turismo Sport which launched a few weeks later and how Polyphony sought to really engender positive racing etiquette alongside matchmaking and more curated race events.

From the five minute look at gameplay during the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase over the weekend, and last night’s Forza Monthly stream (as well as the news drops over the last year), Turn 10 has set out some more of their vision for the new Forza Motorsport. They’ve effectively hit the reset button on the franchise, and it now really sounds like the second part of the game’s title is finally going to mean something.

Turn 10’s new game engine is allowing them to push the Xbox Series X beyond what the PS5 and the cross-gen Gran Turismo 7 can achieve. Not needing to cater to the last generation is enabling them to push the visuals quite a bit further where Polyphony compromised, either through idealogical or technical necessity. As they’ve rebuilt the tracks and laser scanned real locations, they’re now leaning on photogrammetry to capture environments and construct their fictional circuits. All of the circuits are made with dynamic lighting, the 24 hour clock and changeable weather conditions in mind. Beyond that, ray tracing will feature within the actual racing, with ambient occlusion and real-time reflections adding more realism to the environments.

But every sim racer will tell you that it’s the stuff that you can’t see that matters more. Forza Motorsport has a new physics and handling model, with the catchy promise of 48 times the fidelity to the physics engine. A seemingly random figure that’s derived purely from how each tire now has eight points of contact with the track surface and their simulation now runs at 360Hz instead of 60Hz.

Tires will come in three different compounds, each with different grip and wear characteristics, and tracks will gradually rubber in as you drive and race, creating a racing line that’s grippier than unused parts of the track – the ambient temperatures and weather will also affect this level of grip.

There’s improvements elsewhere, though – tires are important, but they’re not the only thing to consider, and Forza Motorsport will come with a new, realistic simulation of real world suspensions. They aim to keep the “Forza feel” so expect a very visual representation of suspension travel and weight transfer, but also expect the end result to be closer to reality.

Forza Motorsport Cockpit

The key thing at the end of it, though, might be how all of this is relayed to the player and their chosen controller. Forza has always been a controller-led racing series, to the extent that players taking part in the Forza RC esports circuit almost universally play with a gamepad instead of a racing wheel. It’s been the outlier for the past decade, but with the new physics and handling model, and changes to the game structure, it feels like Turn 10 are getting back to the curve.

Forza Motorsport’s single player career will be one thing, and Turn 10 will go in-depth on that as and when, but they’ve already spoken about what to expect online. It’s here that I feel the motorsport moniker will start to mean something again, as the game starts to incorporate what amounts to a full race weekend structure. In contrast to the short and sharp races and matchmaking ‘hoppers’, they’ll have a calendar of active and upcoming race events online that you can sign up for. Each features an open practice session and qualifying session that, in playtests last year, were open for player to practice and qualify at times that suited them, leading up to a scheduled feature race where they could put everything learned about the conditions, tires and strategy into practice.

It sounds like a closely related cousin to the Sports mode found in Gran Turismo 7 or the stricter structure of an F1 or MotoGP title, and I’m absolutely here for it, especially if it’s an option for the single player career as well.

Forza Motorsport Car List Guide

As eye-catching as the new graphics engine is, the most exciting things about Forza Motorsport for sim racing fans are the prospects of the greatly enhanced physics and the multiplayer “race weekend” structure. Put all of that together, and the partisan rivalries between Forza and Gran Turismo could be hotting up in 2023.

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