We’re no longer in the dark as to what Forza Motorsport will have to offer, after a huge info drop during E3 2022. But what was the one thing that wasn’t discussed at all about this state of the art racing game? Yep, I just said it – the racing. Not once did Turn 10’s Dan Greenawalt or Chris Esaki mention the actual racing.
And that’s odd given the series’ previous championing of its AI drivers. The ‘Drivatar’ system was hyped for a decade, purportedly learning gamers’ driving styles and synthesising a virtual representation of themselves to race in their stead while they were offline. The system has never been perfected, with one Drivatar often zooming off ahead of everyone else in many Forza titles, unable to be caught.
But more than that, the disparity between car models during races made Forza Motorsport 6 a very disappointing racing experience on its release, even if everything around that core concept was dripping with high-quality Turtle Wax. The racing was way better in Forza Motorsport 7, which is the reason I gave that game a straight 5/5 at review. But even so, times have changed in the five years since then.
Drive to survive
The name of the new game is particularly telling. It’s called ‘Forza Motorsport’, eschewing nearly two decades’ worth of naming convention to deliver a concept rather than a sequel. But if Turn 10 is aiming to definitively simulate motorsport itself, it’s going to have to do a lot more than deliver dynamic time-of-day transitions, detailed scratch damage, and fuel/tyre preservation. It’s going to need to add personality to its racing.
Why? Well, there’s a reason why Drive to Survive has been such a massive hit on Netflix. In 2022, motorsport isn’t about the cars so much as the people. Not only the drivers, but the team principals, the stewards, the medical team, and the TV presenters. Each race weekend is now a media event with cameras everywhere, social media blowouts and votes for Driver of the Day. If Forza Motorsport truly wants to one-up the sublime Gran Turismo 7, it should aim to leverage this angle too, which will be hard considering the series has always been all about the cars.
Of course, some games have tried to do this before. GRID Legends incorporates social media feeds that change depending on race results, which is cool – as is its rivalry system, which allows in-race grudges and friendships to be carried between races. GRID Legends even goes so far as to use real actors to portray drivers that have until now only been shown as names above a computer-controlled drone. It’s imperfect, but any game that attempts to add personality to your rivals really does stick in the mind, though admittedly not always for the right reasons.
Look back through the ages and you’ll hear soundbites from games that did this. “Get outta my way” from Destruction Derby on PS1, or Katie Justice shouting “Watch it, man!” in Dirt 2 are both ingrained into my memory. I’m not suggesting for an instant that Forza Motorsport will use soundbites and have rivals trash-talking you, but it does need something to give its races more emotional clout. Maybe an F1 2021-style engineer to talk to over your headset using voice recognition? That would be ace.
In the past, Forza has been criticised by some people for being ‘simcade’, in that it presents itself as a serious simulation, yet dials down certain elements to make it more ‘arcadey’ and more appealing to the mass market who aren’t as interested in gear ratios as they are in a nice lens flare. With the new emphasis on simulation with the addition of rubbering-in, tyre management, and the new 8-point calculations for each wheel’s physics, wouldn’t it make sense to have a more serious career mode?
That should be optional, of course – there will always be room for Forza’s traditional 5-minute races, hopping from class to class, and even between disciplines every few minutes in order to keep more casual players interested. But what about keeping everyone interested by dropping Drivatars and reintroducing named drivers? The original game had them, after all. Is it so hard to imagine a return to more defined AI for the reboot?
And if so, what about some of the drivers genuinely behaving differently on-track, with some competitors dangerously changing directions under braking, or others playing it safe in order to rack up points with the long game in mind? If the pool of names were kept small enough, you could start to learn which driver will react which way in any given situation. Will the guy ahead give you room seeing as you squeezed him out at the last race? Or will the young upstart always leave it up to you to decide whether or not you have an accident?
The AI and racing experience is the last side to Forza Motorsport that’s being kept under wraps, so I sincerely hope there’s something big yet to be announced. The climate has changed. The technology has improved. And if Microsoft really wants to reclaim the crown from Gran Turismo 7, then this is the area that carries the most untapped potential.
Forza Motorsport is set to release in 2023 for PC and Xbox Series X. While you wait, why not jump into one of the best racing games you can play right now.