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Forza Motorsport preview: A warm welcome for casual racing fans

I’ll admit that, between Forza Horizon and Forza Motorsport, I’m more of a Horizon player. I’m interested in driving and crashing beautiful cars in exotic locations, and occasionally entering a low-stakes race, rather than perfecting my times on professional tracks with top-tier equipment. Despite this predilection, I’ve had a lot of fun tinkering around in the first few hours of Forza Motorsport’s serious, car-obsessed world.

I played a near-final version of the new Builders Cup Intro Series, which features three tracks and three cars — a 2019 Subaru STI S209, 2018 Honda Civic Type R, and 2018 Ford Mustang GT. On top of the actual races, the Builders Cup career mode includes a robust vehicle-customization system and the Challenge the Grid betting module. Developers at Turn 10 Studios have discussed this section of the game at length, but the preview marks the first public playtest of these roads, cars and systems.

Put simply, they feel fantastic.

Forza Motorsport
Turn 10 Studios

Turn 10 knows how to build a smooth, responsive racing game with dynamic vehicles and tracks. Forza Motorsport is the ultimate showcase of these skills. Each car in the intro series handles differently, but none of them feel unwieldy. The Ford can’t cut corners as sharply as the Subaru or Civic, but it’s a powerhouse on the straightaway; the Civic is more floaty than the Subaru; the Subaru can handle quick braking better than the other two. These unique features are baked into each vehicle, but the customization screen also allows for fine adjustments that truly affect the way they drive.

The beginning of Forza Motorsport is inviting in numerous ways. It offers a difficulty slider, three modes of play, a bounty of training and real-time assist options, and a rewind button (my absolute favorite feature). In Driving Assists, I turned the Global Presets down to light, set the Suggested Line on for braking only, and I kept ABS on, with automatic shifting. This configuration helped me feel in control on the tracks, and the customization made me comfortable experimenting with new angles and turn speeds in practice laps.

Forza Motorsport
Turn 10 Studios

This is also where the rewind button became my best friend. If you’re new to Forza, rewind might seem like a silly feature for a game that takes racing so seriously, but it’s absolutely necessary for the pacing of practice rounds specifically. Rewind allows racers to mess up and quickly reset without leaving the track, and it encourages players to try, try again. It encourages play, and it’s a lovely feature — one you can turn off at any time, if you think gaming should be pure punishment.

One of the main reasons Forza Motorsport feels so great is its framerate. Motorsport runs at 60 fps on all platforms, including Xbox Series S, and I didn't notice any dropped frames during my playthrough on that console. This is vital for a racing sim, but feels especially notable when many AAA games today are either locked at 30 fps or fail to hit 60 fps on Series S. Microsoft requires feature parity between the Xbox Series X — the most technically powerful console on the market — and the Series S, Microsoft’s less powerful, cheaper and most popular option this generation. In the case of games like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Redfall and Starfield, developers have prioritized high resolutions in big, dense worlds over framerate, often to the detriment of combat and animations on the cheaper console.

Responsiveness is paramount in a racing game, and Turn 10 clearly knows this. The studio prioritized the proper things in order to hit 1080p and 60 fps on Xbox Series S, and the result is a game that looks pretty, but plays beautifully. Ray-traced global illumination and dynamic lighting make the cars and roads sparkle, and the environments along the tracks are busy without being distracting. So far, Forza Motorsport offers a strangely serene, high-octane experience, and I’m eager to dive into the full game.

Forza Motorsport
Turn 10 Studios

There was drama recently over some features that won’t be in Forza Motorsport at launch, namely spectator mode, AI racing in featured multiplayer, and splitscreen — and that last one is a sensitive topic for Xbox owners. In August, Baldur's Gate III creator Larian Studios had to delay the game's Xbox versions because they couldn't make splitscreen work on Series S, despite it running fine on Series X. Larian eventually worked out a deal with Microsoft and it plans to release Baldur's Gate III on Series S without the feature later this year, but Xbox players still remember that sting.

After playing Forza Motorsport's Builders Cup intro series, I’m finding it hard to be concerned about the missing features. Turn10 is crafting a solid racing sim that nails the basics of responsiveness, customization and accessibility. It's a clean, polished foundation for years of DLC to come, and there’s already plenty to mess around with in the game’s first hours.

Forza Motorsport is made to be replayed. After 18 years and seven installments, 2023’s Motorsport is the final game that Turn 10 plans to release in the series, and it’ll serve as the foundation of a live-service system. The goal is for Motorsport to be a hub for regular content drops (new maps, vehicles and challenges) over the coming years, with social and sharing features built into the experience. It makes a lot of sense for the franchise.

In the game’s introductory stages, Motorsport strikes a compelling balance between customization and complexity, making each track bingeable off the bat. The game’s forgiveness stems from its malleability; nearly every setting is customizable, from vehicle upgrades, to AI difficulty, accessibility options and actual driving mechanics. This means that, when something goes wrong during a race, it doesn’t feel like the game’s fault. Forza Motorsport offers a true, repeatable test of player skill. Plus, it’s really pretty, even on Xbox Series S.

Forza Motorsport is scheduled to hit Xbox Series X/S and PC on October 10.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at
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