Outside of a recent highly enjoyable (if somewhat stressful) experience playing against pros in Gran Turismo 7, my experience with sim racers is quite limited. That brief but intense hands-on time certainly helped me finally “get” sim racing, but I’ve been fairly busy in the weeks since, so I’ve been looking forward to developing that nascent interest when possible.
That’s where Forza Motorsport comes in. I didn’t really know much about the game outside of a briefing in June, so the opportunity to go hands-on in a New York preview was appealing. Here, I was able to really appreciate everything that developer Turn 10 was saying months ago about making this an approachable entry point for all players.
Right away, Turn 10’s intention becomes clear through the simplified Forza Motorsport title, which moves away from the numbering scheme of the preceding seven Motorsport titles that have been released since 2005.
“We knew we wanted to sort of invent the thing from the inside out, and so that meant starting on the second-to-second experience, the actual racing itself,” explains Dan Greenawalt, general manager of Forza Motorsport. “Of course, that meant innovation in physics, which led to a lot of innovation in the AI, but also just the way that you learn in this experience so that you’re building on a natural learning environment. So the physics have nuance and that new nuance is rewarded in the Car Mastery system.”
What that means is introducing an RPG-like progression system for each of the game’s 500-odd vehicles, which are all rendered through the stunning photorealistic 4K visuals you’d expect. As you race, you earn CP (car points) that can be used to customize your ride with new parts and upgrades surrounding everything from rim style and tire width to anti-sway bars and spring and dampers. Of course, a lot of that didn’t mean much to me as an amateur racer, so I appreciated the quick upgrade option to let the game figure out the best setup for my car. After all, it can be a bit daunting.However, Turn 10, to its immense credit, offers an alternative for those who aren’t so much into the little details. The returning Drivatar system lets you instead fine-tune the overall racing experience with a level of depth I wasn’t expecting. This comes down to an eight-point scale that controls just how well the other racers perform. Leveraging the advancements in AI that Greenawalt referred to, Forza Motorsport ensures that your CPU-controlled opponents will be able to realistically drive based on your Drivatar setting, making more believable mistakes accordingly. You can also choose between different rules to ensure your car doesn’t take actual damage (this will only be reflected cosmetically), Forza‘s signature rewind mechanic, reduced penalties for errors and different levels of assisted braking and steering.
While experienced racers will get more CP bonuses for playing with some of these options turned off, I appreciated that Forza Motorsport doesn’t punish you in any way for using these assistive tools. It’s simply Turn 10 being welcoming to players of all skill levels, including relative noobs like myself.
Of course, part of that is bringing in a suite of accessibility options for players with disabilities, especially as the Motorsport sister series Forza Horizon has received significant praise for these efforts. While Greenawalt notes that not every feature can simply be lifted wholesale from Horizon, which features an open-world structure, the same philosophy applies here. That includes bringing in consultants from various disability communities to provide feedback and adding options like audio cues and narration for blind drivers, one-touch inputs for those with mobility restrictions, and highly customizable subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“There’s a whole bunch of features you can turn on and off and they help me, too,” Greenawalt points out. “I turn some of those features on because I actually like how they show me the boundary and the edge of the track, and that helps me be faster and more successful.”
He says he has a personal connection to accessibility due to his own dyslexia and a nephew who is missing a few digits. Ever since, he’s tried to bring that empathy to Forza. “If we come up with a cool solution, the nice thing about accessible design is that accessible design is good design,” he says. “It brings more people in, but also, usually, those features are helpful for other people.”
Once you have your desired setup, you can appreciate the aforementioned Car Mastery system. What’s great about this is the game gives constant feedback and rewards as you race so players of all levels can continue to up their game. It’s that dopamine rush you’d find in an RPG of getting that XP, but applied to successful turns around sharp corners, beating your own lap times, and the like.If anyone’s concerned that the game is perhaps getting “too” RPG, though, rest assured that these are only additive elements.
“We’re not trying to make an RPG or even trying to make a sim; we’re trying to have people fall in love with cars. And we believe the physics and the AI are going to help that. So there are tools that are a means to the end. Now, there are great RPG games, and they have mechanics, and I don’t add the mechanics [to Forza] ‘because RPG,’ I add the mechanics because I think they’re going to boost your bond with that car, or they’re going to get you to have a natural kind of risk-reward system, or perhaps they’re going to naturally teach you, ‘Oh, I want to do better here.’ It’s going to incent me to try a little bit harder.”
During my time with Forza Motorsport, I certainly felt that incentive, and it’s carried over in the weeks since. I’m looking forward to playing more of the game when it releases on Xbox Series X/S and PC (plus Xbox Game Pass) on October 10th.
Image credit: Xbox