Forza Motorsport (2023) hands-on preview: A new platform to help us fall in love with cars

Official screenshots of Forza Motorsport (2023).
(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

The Petersen Automotive Museum contains within its walls — adorned with abstract silver swirls and swatches of vibrant red — over a century of automotive history. On each floor, you can find the most legendary, historically important, noteworthy, and otherwise unique cars to ever exist, but there's also a peek at the future. On the roof of the infamous museum in a private penthouse toward the end of August 2023, Forza Motorsport (2023) was shown to a select handful of invited press. I was lucky enough to be included among them.

It wasn't the only sign of Forza in the museum. Several floors below, an entire exhibit filled with high-end gaming rigs allowed visitors to play Forza Motorsport 7. I wasn't interested in the past, though, with FM7's release now six years gone and the game not even available to purchase for nearly two. Instead, I had my sights on what Turn 10 Studios and Xbox have been carefully working on since the last controversial Forza Motorsport release.

The experienced Forza Motorsport team went back to the drawing board, evaluated its roots, observed the trends of modern gaming, and cultivated a cohesive vision to deliver a true next-gen simulation racing game to Xbox and Windows PC players. After going hands-on with Forza Motorsport (2023) both in Los Angeles at the Petersen Automotive Museum and within the comfort of my home, I'm more confident than ever that gamers, racers, and car lovers will adore what's next for the Forza franchise and the best Xbox racing games.

Read on for my in-depth preview of Forza Motorsport (2023), as well as moments from my interview with Turn 10 Studios General Manager Dan Greenawalt.

Disclaimer: This hands-on preview was made possible by travel and accommodation provided by Xbox to fly me out to Los Angeles, California. The company did not see the contents of the preview before publishing.

Learning each car as you progress

My Xbox degraded my HDR-enabled Forza Motorsport screenshots, but the game can look this good. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Before we were set loose to play Forza Motorsport (2023) on any one of several Xbox Series X consoles and LG OLED TVs, we first heard from Turn 10 Studios Creative Director Chris Esaki and General Manager Dan Greenawalt. They spoke about the passion with which the team crafted this game, the excitement behind the impending release, and how we were the very first people outside the studio to play Forza Motorsport. They also shared one of the core philosophies of the next generation of Forza, something that I heard repeatedly and saw reflected in the game during my time with it.

We're going back to the Forza Motorsport 3 and 4 era, you know?

Dan Greenawalt, Turn 10 Studios

There will be over 500 cars in Forza Motorsport (2023) at launch, but Turn 10 just wants you to fall in love with the ten or so that truly speak to you. Unlike Forza Horizon 5 and its gargantuan car list that encourages you to collect and hoard as many vehicles as possible, Forza Motorsport is designed to help you fall in love with a select few cars, master them through multiple races, carefully upgrade them for each track or event; above everything, Forza Motorsport (2023) wants you to love the cars you drive.

"We're going back to the Forza Motorsport 3 and 4 era, you know?" Dan Greenawalt told me during an exclusive 30-minute interview. "Like the [Xbox] 360 era of falling in love with that car, upgrading that car... But with a modern design of connecting communities and bringing people together." Immediately upon starting my Forza Motorsport review, I recognized this philosophy.

In the Builder's Cup, you'll master your cars in a variety of themed events. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

The initial intro to the Builder's Cup — Forza Motorsport's redesigned, expanded, and constantly evolving single-player campaign — had me choose between a Honda Civic Type R, a Subaru STI, and a Ford Mustang. For the next hour, I took my car of choice through three different races set on three different tracks. In general, Forza Motorsport's campaign will follow the same four-step formula: take your car out onto the track for some practice laps to help you learn the car, configure your settings, difficulty, and assists, complete the actual race event against Forza Motorsport's massively improved AI, then move on to the race results, rewards, and options to upgrade or tune your car before moving on to the next event.

When I went hands-on with Forza Motorsport (2023) in LA, I chose the 2018 Honda Civic Type R as my vehicle. When I played the same preview build back home on my own Xbox Series X, I chose the 2018 Ford Mustang GT. In both cases, I actually saw myself slowly improving with the specific vehicle as I learned its strengths, weaknesses, and the directions in which it could be upgraded. "In Forza Motorsport 5 through 7... You get in the car and immediately upgrade," Greenawalt said. "Now, we actually want you to upgrade it over time, learn its limits... You're making a choice, almost like 'speccing' a character."

Now, we actually want you to upgrade [your car] over time, learn its limits... You're making a choice almost like speccing a character.

Dan Greenawalt

During these races, you'll progress in a number of ways. You'll learn the intricate ins and outs of the cars you're racing; you'll evolve your driving assists, preferences, and race settings; you'll go up in Driver Levels as a universal mark of progression; you'll earn credits which can be used to purchase new vehicles for your collection. More important than all of that, though, is how each car has its own distinct Car Level — the more you race with a specific car, the more XP you earn. As you level up your car and achieve mastery with it, you'll earn Car Points that can be spent on upgrades, which are steadily unlocked through the levels.

While Forza Motorsport (2023) will still allow players to max out every car's upgrades and just focus on speed and power, the game carves out a path and encourages players to follow it: learn your car, upgrade it slowly, and find its peak. Invest time in the cars you truly love to drive, and the game will reward you.

Brute force driving won't net you a pedestal victory, but it will bang up your car. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Flit from car to car, never landing on any of them, and you may struggle to evolve your skill as a racer or remain competitive in multiplayer races. "If you jump right into [Forza] Motorsport and expect 'I can bomb around a track, smash it on the controller, and win,' you won't," Greenawalt told me, referring to the wide-ranging improvements Turn 10 Studios made to physics, driving technology, AI opponents, Forza's racing regulations, and the inherent, foundational game design of mastering specific cars you love in order to progress.

I'll speak on these technical improvements later on (spoiler alert: they're really impressive), but for now... How does Forza Motorsport (2023) feel to play? Well, it feels incredible. This is the most refined, responsive, and consistent handling I have ever experienced in a racing game, and it forced me to look at each car as if I was actually driving it, to not just master each vehicle but also to learn every corner and segment of the tracks. It's genuinely an awesome driving experience, which should be at the core of any racing game worth its salt.

If you jump right into Motorsport and expect 'I can bomb around a track, smash it on the controller, and win,' you won't.

Dan Greenawalt

I've historically not been drawn to simulation racers in the past, but the latest Forza Motorsport has a precise balance of approachable game design and assists, deep and intricate handling and driving systems, thorough progression and subtle incentives, and believable AI opponents that simply race, attempting to out skill you without relying on cheats or hacks. The finished package feels fun to play and gives me plenty of reasons to keep coming back for the next race, the next event, and the next car I hope will steal my heart. With just one three-race event and a short intro driving sequence, Forza Motorsport (2023) hooked me.

It's all part of Turn 10 Studios' plan to create a vibrant, engaged community of racers and car lovers, which will empower the team to improve Forza Motorsport over time. After all, this isn't Forza Motorsport 8. It's a reboot of the entire franchise, and it's a pivot for Forza Motorsport from a numbered series to an evolving racing platform.

You can view some of the screenshots I took during my time with Forza Motorsport (2023). Unfortunately, the quality of the screenshots was degraded after capture, possibly because of the game's locked-down pre-release state, cloud uploads being prevented, and HDR activation. Even so, the game still looks good.

Building a platform for a community of car lovers

Turn 10 Studios is seriously committed to creating a passionate community of car loving racers. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

"It felt like a spiritual reboot from the very beginning, and we took our time to do it," Greenawalt said. "Our ambitions are more like a platform." Forza Motorsport (2023) drops the numbered moniker and deviates from the series' history. Now, Turn 10 Studios is firmly embracing the games-as-a-service strategy that sits at the core of its sister studio, Playground Games, and the Forza Horizon franchise. Of course, Forza Motorsport is a fundamentally different series, and that means its live service elements are also completely different.

"Our team really focused on that word 'platform.' We want a competitive racing platform. We want a community of people to fall in love with cars," said Greenawalt during our interview. Forza Motorsport's foundation has been completely rebuilt from the ground up to not only offer a more comprehensive and competitive racing experience centered around the cars but also to expand and evolve over time. "There's a certain amount of flexibility... which we built into the back end," Greenawalt explained. "We can change things out in this game much more rapidly than we have in the past."

It felt like a spiritual reboot from the very beginning, and we took our time to do it.

Dan Greenawalt

That means the Builder's Cup single-player campaign can expand with new events, tracks, and vehicles, giving offline players reasons to return. Of course, multiplayer will enjoy the same benefits, with the possibility of community-wide thematic events and celebrations. Turn 10 Studios will be looking for ways to improve Forza Motorsport's features, but the team is extremely confident in the base they have built, with Greenawalt firmly describing Forza Motorsport's launch as being extremely "polished and shiny." At least in the limited preview I had, there was not a single bug, glitch, or rough edge anywhere to be found.

Working with the community, Turn 10 hopes to be able to focus on new content, rapidly injecting it into specific parts of the game. Forza Motorsport (2023) is a huge departure in this respect from the Forza Motorsports of old, as its launch is far from the end. However, there has been concern that the latest Forza Motorsport will be afflicted by the same unfortunate licensing limitations of previous Forza games, which leads them to become permanently delisted from all digital storefronts a few years after launch. Greenawalt wouldn't give me firm commitments but assured me that matters have changed since Forza Motorsport 7 and that the next Forza Motorsport game is a completely different beast.

As an evolving live service platform, Forza Motorsport should be around for years to come. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

"What's changed in the last 20 years that I've been making these racing games is that the licensors themselves... They now see us as a majority," Greenawalt said. "Gamers are multi-generational, multilingual. Gamers are all around the world." In the past, it seems that the many diverse licensors that help make ambitious racing titles like Forza Motorsport happen (for cars, tracks, liveries, and more) were reluctant to grant long-lasting licenses to video games, merely seeing them as niche toys or passion projects. Today, it's undeniable that video games are an integral facet of modern society, being one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world.

For Greenawalt and Turn 10 Studios, this shift in thinking directly influenced Forza Motorsport's direction. "Part of building a platform is not just bringing the community together, it's actually bringing the licensors together as well," he told me. "They need to be a part of this. They're not something used by us or for us, they're a part of the discussion with the gamers and the car lovers." Again, there are no firm confirmations regarding Forza Motorsport's lifespan, but the cohesive vision for a simulation racing platform alludes to a long-lasting game that'll be updated (and remain available) for years to come.

We want a competitive racing platform. We want a community of people to fall in love with cars.

Dan Greenawalt

Over and over again, though, Greenawalt and I circled back to this idea of "community." The Forza Motorsport community is at the heart of everything Turn 10 Studios has been doing, and much of what has been done for Forza Motorsport (2023) is a direct result of that relationship. The future of Forza Motorsport as a platform is also dependent on this, with the multiplayer half of the game being completely redesigned to include more types of races, be more flexible in terms of new content and events, and be more fair to players of all skill levels. From weekend-long racing events with full qualifiers to endurance races to quick online matches, Forza Motorsport is well-equipped to engage the community for a long time.

I wasn't able to preview Forza Motorsport's new multiplayer experience, but the team seems confident in it. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a sneak peek at Forza Motorsport's multiplayer elements. We'll have to wait longer for that, but the team at Turn 10 Studios is ecstatic about what they've built. Forza Motorsport (2023) incentivizes players with a proper progression system and a rock-solid base of incredible driving, but it'll hook players with the persistent pursuit of skill and developing relationships with their favorite cars. Eventually, Turn 10 Studios hopes to cultivate a lasting, thriving community of highly skilled, professional racers.

Without the players, it's kind of pointless.

Dan Greenawalt

"We need to build that groundswell of players that have a great speed rating and a great safety rating, and the Forza Race Regulation AI [needs to be] working great," Greenawalt told me when I asked him about any potential esports plans for Forza Motorsport. "We need all those foundation pieces to work great, to have a strong upper echelon before we build the upper echelon. Basically, we need to have the community excited and fast and driving great."

Turn 10 Studios is focusing on what matters right now, and that's building a community of car lovers. "Without the players, it's kind of pointless," Greenawalt said. All the parts are there, though, and it's on this front that Forza Motorsport (2023) is ceaselessly impressive.

Innovations in tech, accessibility, and game design

Forza Motorsport boasts brilliantly intuitive game design bolstered by dozens of consider accessibility options and features. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Back when Forza Motorsport (2023) was first announced, I wrote that it could be a technical and visual showcase for Xbox. Nothing I've seen since then discredits that claim, with Turn 10 Studios releasing regular, transparent updates on the technology and features of the latest Forza Motorsport. This is a consistently impressive simulation racing game, and it's immediately apparent when you first start driving. The entire driving experience and physics engine have been rebuilt, and it shows.

I won't rehash absolutely everything that Turn 10 Studios has done (it's a lot), but you're looking at revamped braking, tire physics, handling, vehicle damage, and much more. Even Forza Motorsport's suspension models have been rebuilt, with the new physics engine rendering every individual piece of a car's suspension for a more realistic, responsive feel. The new Forza Motorsport engine processes far more information and is faster to process that information, resulting in a driving experience far superior to any previous Forza game.

We've got a single vision of people falling in love with cars for skills and competition, and everything flowed out of it.

Dan Greenawalt

I can't overstate how excellent the driving and racing experience is in Forza Motorsport (2023). Every car I drove felt incredible, and every race against AI opponents felt fair and challenging. Difficulty settings and driving assists are now more granular, too, giving players far more control over how challenging and realistic the driving is in Forza Motorsport. The lack of scalers reduces the game's attempts to artificially raise the difficulty over time, too, a common complaint with older Forza games. Now, players are encouraged to find their own sweet spot, with natural incentives to explore customizing various driving assists and challenge themselves by betting against the grid or altering the skill level of their AI opponents.

In Forza Motorsport, you'll be able to choose how you play and how you level up your skills. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Greenawalt described to me the fundamental difference between pitting yourself against extremely fast opponents and starting higher up in the starting grid versus challenging yourself with less skilled opponents but starting farther back in the grid. No matter what, the game will reward you with various bonuses for your specific setup. You won't be penalized for using any difficulty or driving assist, but you will be rewarded for challenging yourself and increasing the difficulty as your skills improve. Overall, there's a significantly lower entry point for casual players, but the difficulty ceiling has also been dramatically raised for hardcore racers.

"Back to that point of this being called Forza Motorsport, it's like we've got a single vision of people falling in love with cars for skills and competition, and everything flowed out of it," Greenawalt said. This vision also includes getting more people than ever before to experience the joy of Forza Motorsport. To achieve this goal, Turn 10 Studios considered both approachability and accessibility from the very beginning. I'm very happy to report that Forza Motorsport (2023) is the most accessible Forza Motorsport game of all time, and I love to see it.

A really strong, accessible design doesn't treat any person as a single thing.

Dan Greenawalt

Forza Motorsport includes a huge number of granular settings, controls, and sliders that feature concise descriptions and offer countless ways to customize your experience without changing the core of the game. "People are different, people have different challenges... That changes how you go towards a game," Greenawalt explained Turn 10's strategy. "I think a really strong, accessible design doesn't treat any person as a single thing." This means avoiding packaging accessibility features as widespread, sweeping toggles that affect a ton of different game elements.

"We worked towards this blind driving assist, but it's not a blind driving assist. It's a collection of assists that empower blind drivers that also empower people that have other issues. That's the strength of it," Greenawalt said. It's true, Forza Motorsport (2023) features splendid blind driving assists to help visually impaired or blind players experience the full joy of racing. It's not just one option, though; it's a huge selection of different settings that can all work together or individually, and it's beautifully put together.

The technical side of Forza Motorsport is endlessly impressive. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Accessibility and approachability are different, however, and Turn 10 Studios was aware of this from the beginning. Amazing accessibility features can greatly improve approachability, but considerate and intelligent game design is most important for easing players of all skill levels, backgrounds, and challenges into a historically uninviting genre of hardcore games. Referring back to the thoughtful progression and incentive systems that both challenge and cater to all kinds of players, Forza Motorsport (2023) does feel consistent in how you navigate the interface, engage with the game's various features, enjoy the gameplay loop, and beyond.

We looked at modern design outside of everything. It would feel limiting to me to only look inside racing.

Dan Greenawalt

Making this the most accessible and approachable Forza Motorsport of all time was a mighty challenge, and it took that singular vision to make it happen. Turn 10 Studios also didn't limit itself to just how the racing games genre has been innovating since the release of FM7. "We looked at modern design outside of everything. It would feel limiting to me to only look inside racing," said Greenawalt. "There's so much great design going on in games and entertainment in general."

Turn 10 and Xbox aren't pulling any punches when it comes to Forza Motorsport (2023). Not only does the game's massively improved physics and AI systems scale far higher (while still staying realistic) versus previous Forza Motorsport games, it also scales to encompass the various challenges and issues that millions of players live with. Hardcore racers will be ecstatic with what the new era of Forza Motorsport is, but the game will still remain approachable to anyone who loves cars.

A note on steering wheels and force feedback

In-game steering wheel animations haven't changed, but at least real-life steering wheel support has improved. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

When Turn 10 Studios revealed the PC requirements for Forza Motorsport (2023) and opened up Steam preorders, it also detailed many of the PC-specific features Forza Motorsport is bringing to the table. Among this breakdown was an overview of Forza Motorsport's steering wheel support, including the addition of DirectInput support for improved compatibility with more steering wheels and controller types, as well as per-input control binding for players with unique setups.

Better steering wheel support has been a long-time request for Forza fans, especially when it comes to force feedback. I spoke to Greenawalt about what exactly Forza Motorsport improves in this area, and I ended up having a rather in-depth discussion on the complex technical aspects of simulation racers, steering wheels, and force feedback. "We've been trying to be very transparent. Actually, there's no goal being vague here," Greenawalt told me. "It's difficult to explain, and it's different in different wheels based on how they poll and how they get those forces in."

The Forza approach is not to tune things to feel better, it's to get to the causes and conditions of physics that are making it not right and fix that.

Dan Greenawalt

Greenawalt explained to me that the actual physics of force feedback is extremely simple in-game, but it's how the game translates that information to your physical steering wheel where various complications arise. Every steering wheel is different, and Forza Motorsport (2023) has to account for these differences in polling rates or how quickly the steering wheel can give or receive information, the gaps in those polls, how the steering wheel provides that feedback to players, and more.

Bespoke simulators designed for specific vehicles and setups, like for the F1 team, have the advantage of direct control over the force feedback since they can account for every part of the driving experience and the steering wheel. Ideally, Forza Motorsport would also enjoy the instantaneous feedback of direct control, but it's simply not possible when accounting for the vast array of cars and the countless setups players may use.

"Generally, the Forza approach is not to tune things to feel better, it's to get to the causes and conditions of physics that are making it not right and fix that," Greenawalt summarized. The Forza Motorsport team has done a ton of work to elevate the steering wheel experience to support more setups and provide better force feedback. "It was 10 small changes that come together to actually end up in a big improvement," Greenawalt said. Only time will tell if these improvements show in the finished product, but Greenawalt was at least extremely knowledgeable on this subject and was eager to walk me through the Turn 10 process. I certainly learned some new things.

A couple hours in Forza Motorsport just made me want more

Forza Motorsport (2023) could be a huge success for Xbox, as long as the multiplayer experience is great. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios | Twitter)

"Natural learning is a really important component to me, how we actually encourage people to learn and go through things. Then that vision from Forza Motorsport 1 through 4. To me, those are the two main components looking back. Why did people fall in love with cars back then? What was the role of upgrades? How did that happen? Really go experience that, then look at modern trends, accessibility, approachability, incentives and rewards, and natural learning — and create this community."

Toward the end of our interview, Greenawalt rather succinctly summarized what we had been discussing. Forza Motorsport (2023) is a true reboot for the franchise, rebuilding the simulation elements while refocusing the series on falling in love with cars and building a community of racers and car lovers. It was awesome to listen to both Dan Greenawalt and Chris Esaki speak with such excitement, passion, and confidence about what they and the rest of the Turn 10 team have been working on for the last six years.

Look at modern trends, accessibility, approachability, incentives and rewards, and natural learning — and create this community.

Dan Greenawalt

I played the Forza Motorsport Builder's Cup intro, approximately an hour of playtime, atop the Petersen Automotive Museum, surrounded by Xbox and Turn 10 members and my fellow press. Then, I came home and played it again, this time from the comfort of my couch. Both times, I was struck by how good it felt to simply drive. Forza Motorsport (2023) has truly nailed that feeling, and it makes me eager and impatient to play more. A couple of hours wasn't enough; I need the whole game.

Yes, the steering wheel animation is still locked to 180 degrees, not the 360, 540, or even 720-degree rotation that simulation racing fans have requested for years. Some of Forza Motorsport's car models are still older scans, too, despite the entire audio experience being revamped (it sounds wonderful, by the way). The latest Forza Motorsport doesn't immediately bowl you over with incredible, vibrant visuals, either, with a more natural color pallet and lighting making the game look paler in comparison to the saturated, larger-than-life Forza Horizon 5.

I'm so excited to dive into Forza Motorsport and master every track. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

That doesn't mean the visuals aren't a huge positive for this game overall, though. Forza Motorsport is extremely detailed, beautifully rendered, and looks positively stunning in the right weather and lighting. It also ran flawlessly for me on Xbox Series X, too, with three performance modes. You can maintain a rock solid 4K resolution and 60 frames-per-second or adapt a variable 4K resolution in exchange for in-game ray tracing at 60fps. If you truly want the best visuals, you can drop the framerate to 30fps but enjoy a consistent 4K resolution with all the highest settings. It's the perfect array of choices, and all of them looked and played great. On PC, you'll have even more options for resolution, framerate, field-of-view, aspect ratios, and more.

I'm very excited for Forza Motorsport (2023). Following the resounding success that is Starfield, Xbox is poised to secure two massive victories at the close of 2023 with Turn 10 Studios' impending masterpiece. I'll still need to do an in-depth analysis of the finished product, including the single-player Builder's Cup campaign, online multiplayer, free play, and rivals gameplay modes, to truly know if Forza Motorsport (2023) has what it takes to stand as a simulation racing platform for Xbox and Windows PC. From the little I played and the sheer confidence on display from the Forza Motorsport team, though, I have little doubt it'll release as one of the best Xbox games of 2023.

Forza Motorsport (2023) is now available to preorder on Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC ahead of its official release on Oct. 10, 2023. There are three editions from which to choose, and those who preorder the Premium Edition will enjoy five days of early access (beginning on Oct. 5, 2023) alongside a ton of in-game goodies. Like all first-party Xbox games, Forza Motorsport is also permanently joining the Xbox Game Pass library from day one, so you can experience the next generation of Forza without paying full price.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.