Forza Motorsport hands-on preview: a career mode with welcome layers of strategy and risk

A yellow cadillac
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Last week, I got a taste of Forza Motorsport’s opening career mode segments via an early Xbox Insider build, and I came away wishing I could’ve revved my engines in more than just a single cup.

Forza Motorsport returns the franchise to its sim racing roots after a couple of back-to-back entries in the Forza Horizon subseries. While the Horizon games excel in offering a casual-friendly, open-world driveabout, Motorsport dials it in for a much more focused, calculated circuit racing experience across tracks both real and fictional. It’s one of the most anticipated upcoming games for Xbox Series X|S, PC players and Xbox Game Pass subscribers, and thankfully, its career mode sets a stellar first impression.

After a couple of introductory races behind the wheel of its flagship cars, the No. 01 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R and Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray, the build introduced me to the Builder’s Cup, the first stop on Forza Motorsport’s lengthy career mode. Effectively acting as a very hands-on tutorial, the Builder’s Cup had me choosing my first car, improving it via upgrades, and learning various points of strategy to help me get an edge against the competitive AI racers. 

Boy racer

Red and blue sports cars clash mid-race

(Image credit: Microsoft)

As mentioned, Forza Motorsport places great emphasis on building up experience with your chosen car. The game helps you achieve this by easing you into things with an open practice session before a race begins. Here, you’ll be required to complete a set number of laps of the circuit, as well as aim to beat a target lap time.

Open practice is where you’ll also be introduced to Forza Motorsport’s new Car Mastery system, which rewards you with experience points based on your overall performance. It’s most apparent when taking corners, as the game will score you out of ten and reward EXP based on how well you performed through the section. Not only does this encourage clean and efficient racing, but it also helps you learn each circuit’s racing lines for better lap times in the future.

Car experience is especially important, as by improving your car’s level, you’ll have access to better upgrades for it. What I really liked, though, is that upgrades alone won’t see you to podium finishes, as you’ll have to remain within a certain threshold to maintain car class criteria for any given track. This is much different from the Horizon series, which largely adjusts the classes of race events based on your current car’s power. It’s a change I really like, too, as it seems to encourage drivers to test out and get comfortable with a wide range of cars. Not just that souped-up S2-class Nissan Skyline you’ve cheesed through the entire map with. 

A selection of the vehicles on offer in Forza Motorsport

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Races then offer further layers of strategy. For one, you can lower the amount of fuel in your car to reduce weight and increase pace. Additionally, in a move that would undoubtedly have the FIA breaking into a cold sweat, you can choose where you want to start on the grid; the further back you are, the greater your rewards should you achieve target placement. While pit strategies weren’t available in the preview, I imagine that future cups will likely require players to carefully choose their tire compounds for the most efficient race possible.

What I liked most about this whole process is that it genuinely allowed me to grow an attachment to my car. As opposed to Forza Horizon 5, which rewards cars at such a blistering pace that it’s hard to feel much for any of them, Forza Motorsport dials things back to ensure you’re driving fewer cars, albeit for longer periods of time for a deeper overall connection between you and your machine.

This feels like an excellent way for players to get used to a wide range of vehicles with varying top speeds and handling models. And hopefully, this will better prepare players for Forza Motorsport’s competitive online suites by first getting them familiar with racing lines and circuit layouts, all while rewarding them for doing so.

We don’t have much longer to wait until Forza Motorsport’s October 10 launch on Xbox Series X|S and PC. While I’m sure a sizable portion of its audience will keenly dive into its online suites, I’m hoping its career mode continues to be as involving, and polished, as it was in that initial Builder’s Cup. And with over 500 cars at launch, the game’s career mode is likely to keep eager racers busy in its opening weeks. 

Got a taste for the track ahead of Forza Motorsport's release? Check out our list of the best racing games for top recommendations ahead of the sim racer's launch in October.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.