Forza Motorsport Xbox preview: The driving sim opens its world with riveting results

PREVIEW: As Gran Turismo is to PlayStation, so is the Forza series to Xbox. 

A console-exclusive series that's progressed onto the PC world but never stepped over the hallowed edges of the gaming divide, Turn 10 Studios' racing simulator game has become synonymous with not only high quality, but immersive driving. 

The latest iteration of the Forza franchise, Forza Motorsport, carries on that tradition, but while it may initially present itself as a serious car game, it soon dispels the notion that you need to be an expert and know your camshaft from your axle to get the best out of it.  

It's easy to see how hard it must be to keep the Forza experience fresh, but the preview build made available presents a compelling argument for picking it up on the next-generation console. 

Firstly, it looks sensational - light bounces off the freshly polished bonnets of the cars as you hurtle around the various tracks. Sure, the cars look great in cutscenes, but you'd expect that from the Turn 10 Studios developers. But when they're not looking like showroom models buffed to within an inch of their lives, light dances off them - be it natural light or streetlights from the tracks, it all shows the power of the next-gen console, and why there's a good reason to get the latest game. 

It's a gorgeous sim for sure, but what becomes clear with Forza Motorsport is just how easy it is to control when on the track. While there were only five tracks up for playing during the preview (two of which couldn't be played again), it's clear the details have honed into what makes a racing simulator truly work. 

After racing around Maple Valley (a stalwart of the series) and taking to a fictional track based on a Grand Prix Japan style, the game settles into its first career mode racing series - the Builder's Cup. 

Forza Motorsport is coming soon.
Forza Motorsport is coming soon. Photo credit: Xbox

Consisting of three tracks and offering you a choice of a 2019 Subaru STI S209, 2018 Honda Civic Type R, or 2018 Ford Mustang GT, Forza Motorsport comes racing out of the pits, with rubber and dust flying off in its rearview mirror. 

The ethos of this game is clearly about ensuring accessibility for all comers to a racing simulator: from the very start as the game pushes you into three practice laps, it's aimed at making sure you get the feel of what it's like behind the wheel. 

While the Mustang's grunt is impressive, it was obvious the moment the Honda Civic Type R took to the tracks how the slightest of tweaks can make the biggest of differences in how races are tackled. 

Sure, there's the usual chance to go low level and rewind errors or drive down a more punishing route with an unforgiving AI (Artificial Intelligence) and permanent damage, but what Forza Motorsport makes abundantly clear is that either of those approaches are perfectly fine for gamers. 

Be you tinkerer or casual gamer, Forza Motorsport's preview hits the spot.
Be you tinkerer or casual gamer, Forza Motorsport's preview hits the spot. Photo credit: Xbox

And that is a great thing - especially when you toy with the likes of Gran Turismo that clearly feels like it is for the elite driving world, rather than the casual racing fan. 

While Forza's cousin, the more arcade-like Forza Horizon, is about hurtling through open worlds and smashing down things and generally hooning it up, Forza Motorsport's latest outing really wants to showcase the craft in the most accessible way possible. Yes, you can tinker repeatedly under the hood between races and adjust fuel levels and fiddle with shock absorbers, or you can simply press a button and let the AI do it for you. 

There is a gradual learning curve installed in all of this. Whether it's from the auto-tuning or adjusting how you race once you've practised, Forza Motorsport rewards all levels of play. In terms of being on the track, it feels like the grip of the tyres has improved since the last outing too, with cars reacting differently on surfaces - shoot off the side of the track and suddenly the car doesn't handle as well. 

It is subtlety that's the big winner here - and while casual fans may not appreciate or even notice it, the dyed-in-the-wool racer will get some real kicks. 

Forza Motorsport arrives in October.
Forza Motorsport arrives in October. Photo credit: Xbox

It's always tough to garner from a curated preview just how the final game will be - there was no multiplayer option in this preview, nor much hint of what's to come after the Builders Cup (aside from other tracks), and there was no indication of the hundreds of cars being added to the game. All of that will no doubt come on October 10. 

But what there is offers much hope for a simulator that's back after some seven years away. 

It's in pole position to shake up the racing game, but whether Forza Motorsport races away from the pack or sinks back into the middle remains to be seen. One thing is for sure - thanks to its ease of play, its ability to morph into more than just a tinkerer's paradise, and its simple beauty, this looks to be well worth the ride. 

Forza Motorsport releases on Xbox on October 10.