More than any other game released this fall, Forza Motorsport has become my new obsession. I’ve spent days tuning up cars and perfecting my racing skills, all while throwing music on in the background and zoning out. It’s one of my favorite video game experiences I’ve had this year. Judging by that, you may assume I’m your average car guy who’s simply won over by all those shiny, digital vehicles. That’s not the case; I don’t even have a driver’s license in real life.
The beauty of Forza Motorsport is that you don’t need to be an automotive fanatic to enjoy its elegant simulation gameplay. That’s because the racing game is built around a collection of simple pleasures that both pull from the best video games and entirely subvert them. Whether you’re a car enthusiast or not, there’s video game joy to discover in Forza if you’re looking at it the right way.
At a passing glance, Forza Motorsport doesn’t look all that special. It’s a standard racing simulator where you zoom around tracks in incredibly realistic cars. It’s the prettiest game in the genre, right next to Gran Turismo 7, but only seasoned driving sim veterans are likely to see any of its nuances initially.
I was largely in that boat until I started playing for myself. The most immediate hook comes from Forza Motorsport’s RPG system, which has players earning experience points and leveling up individual cars to improve them. It’s a simple progression loop, but one that goes a long way towards gamifying a straight racing simulation.
Turn 10 Studios accomplishes that through an ingenious “corner by corner” philosophy. Every track is split up into multiple chunks. Each lap, racers get graded on how well they handled the segment, with extra experience awarded each time they improve their best time on each chunk. That idea gives drivers a much more tangible goal within races that don’t require any real knowledge of racing simulations. Instead, it’s a simple objective: Focus on beating that “fight” faster next time. It’s a more tangible way to think about racing skill, almost turning corners into enemies to be thwarted.
Once I blurred my eyes enough to just see Forza Motorsport as an abstracted RPG where cars are a stand-in for swords, I became laser-focused on the deeper mastery that I’d usually have trouble reaching in a game like this. At first, I was a terrible driver. I couldn’t stay on the road and I kept smashing into cars as I tried to boost forward at top speeds and turn at the last second. But the more serious I became about mastering individual turns, the more I began to realize what really clicked with me: Forza Motorsport totally inverts the way I think about skill in games.
I’ve always had trouble really latching on to most games and genres that have a high skill ceiling. In Call of Duty, I simply don’t have the reaction time needed to whip around at a moment’s notice, line up my crosshairs on a moving target, and take them down before they can get me. When playing something like Mortal Kombat 1 online, I always find that I get my butt kicked as I simply can’t execute combos fast enough to push my momentum against skilled opponents. I’ve been able to reach great heights in games like Tetris 99 or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it takes a lot of energy to get there.
The peaceful joy of Forza Motorsport, and a lot of racing simulators at large, are the ways they invert that instinct. If I want to master a track in Forza, I’m not going to accomplish that by constantly moving the joystick or slamming my fingers down on the triggers. Instead, a successful race requires a gentle touch. I barely want to move my joystick at all when I don’t need to. Rather than harshly hitting my brakes and gas, I need to get comfortable with giving both the lightest touches. The skill comes from carefully easing off the gas, sometimes just letting the car coast along a corner with its own momentum. It’s more about knowing when not to press buttons.
That lends Forza Motorsport an almost trance-like gameplay flow that few games offer me. I can sink into my couch and almost zone out behind the wheel once I’ve really mastered a track (something you very much should not do with a real car). It’s like the anti-Dark Souls, trading in lightning-fast reaction time for delicate control. You don’t have to love cars to appreciate that chilled-out experience; you just need to let the road guide you.
- Xbox’s 2023 games feel like the Series X launch lineup we never got
- Xbox and Bethesda’s Developer_Direct: how to watch and what to expect
- Turn 10 Studios bans Confederate flag in Forza Motorsport, Forza Horizon games