Review: ‘Forza Motorsport’ and ‘Crew Motorfest’ hit reset on racing franchises

'Forza Motorsport' goes back to the basic in its revamp. — Microsoft/TNS

The biggest change with “Forza Motorsport” comes at the end of the name. It lacks a number and that omission says a lot.

This latest entry to the venerable racing sim is both a reboot and a new approach, one that takes advantage of ray-tracing and artificial intelligence but also acknowledges the way games are evolving into living and breathing entities that stand the test of time.

That means the launch of “Forza” isn’t the finish line for developers at Turn 10 Studios, but the beginning of a long race. That’s part of the reason that the 2023 model feels so limited compared to past entries. The team eschews the buffet of car culture fun and “Top Gear” integration. Instead, it doubles down on the racing sim elements and role-playing-game-inspired upgrade system.

Realism turned up to 11

That will make the latest chapter a little sterile for some, but for hard-core gearheads and competitors, “Forza” provides one of the most realistic racing experiences on the market. The developers upped the ante on its graphics with real-time ray tracing (for gaming rigs that can handle it). Players will come across moments when reflections off the car make it hard to distinguish video game from real life.

Although fans will appreciate the stellar coat of paint, the inner workings of the racing sim also were improved as Turn 10 revamped the physics and also improved the AI and used it for new ways to keep racers more honest. Players feel the weight of the cars more as it careens down a hill. Fuel weight and tire wear become important in longer races and are calculated in how a vehicle performs.

Even the weather adds another extra layer of unpredictability. Turn 10 already showed how rain can influence a track, creating wet spots, but now heat impacts tires’ grip and adds another variable that makes driving more realistic.

Rethinking upgrades to bond with vehicles

With this renewed emphasis on racing simulation, the team refocused how it presented upgrading and tuning vehicles with its Builders Cup Career Mode. Instead of being promiscuous and jumping from one car to another for each race, this new campaign encourages players to pick a car and build a relationship with it.

The team tied the upgrade path for vehicles to the level that players have with the car, and those figures go up depending on how often you drive the make and model. Moreover, Turn 10 added another resource called Car Points that governs how much players can upgrade a car. They are much more scarce and players have to judiciously spend it. Now, credits are mainly devoted to purchasing new vehicles.

All of this creates a situation where players bond with their vehicles over a race series and learn its ins and outs. In the process, they can figure out what upgrades are needed to complement a driving style or what they see as a vehicle’s shortcomings.

Dealing with so many parts can be intimidating to novices, but “Forza” unfurls the upgrades in a steady way using the leveling system and Car Points so that non-gearheads can get a sense of what parts do and how to improve their vehicle. Of course, there’s also an auto upgrade button but this way feels more organic and it makes the cars players drive feel less disposable. If players pick a car, they really have to invest not only credits but time into it.

Multiplayer and AI

When it comes to multiplayer, “Forza” tries to create a more live event feel. That’s aimed at building a community around competition. To help improve that race experience and nudge players to drive cleanly, Turn 10 leveraged AI to create a sort of referee that punishes drivers who collide with others or unfairly cuts through the track. It’s another way of ensuring fairer competition and a more realistic racing experience.

The only issue is that even with 20 rebuilt tracks and more than 500 vehicles, the offerings still feel sparse, and that’s where “Forza” has room to grow giving players more options and modes for play. It’s a reminder that the race for this entry has just begun.

Welcome to Oahu

If you are looking for a racing experience on the opposite end of the spectrum, look no further than “The Crew Motorfest.” Ubisoft’s latest racing game is unabashedly inspired by “Forza Horizon,” the sibling of the aforementioned racing sim. It takes players to the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where organisers have built a celebration around anything that has an engine.

Ubisoft hit the reset on 'The Crew' series and created 'The Crew Motorfest.' — (Ubisoft/TNS)Ubisoft hit the reset on 'The Crew' series and created 'The Crew Motorfest.' — (Ubisoft/TNS)

Not since the days of “Test Drive Unlimited” have developers created such an ambitious re-creation of the island. It’s not an exact replica, but players will see familiar sights and even some made-up ones.

Visually, the game isn’t as impressive as anything that the “Forza” franchise has to offer, but “Motorfest” has its moments. Hawaii is a beautiful environment to wheel around in and players will pause the game to admire a sunset or the waves hitting the shore.

More arcadelike racing and diversity

The racing is more arcadelike though it does offer options to the drive manual and it covers all sorts of disciplines and styles. Players can dabble in Japanese-inspired street racing or they can just cruise around the island in vintage cars. They’ll uncover offroad races and even closed courses ones where pitting and tire wear have an impact on longer competitions.

Similar to “Horizon,” variety is “Motorfest’s” strength and it gives players plenty of ways to race and explore the Oahu countryside or its industrial areas. Although the game wears its inspiration on its sleeve, Ubisoft Ivory Tower tower team offers its own twists to the genre. The developers incorporate showcases showing off players’ rides to others in the Main Stage of the event. The developers also offer interestingly designed vehicles as part of its live events. Similar to the new “Forza,” “Motorfest” appears to be a living game, so expect a constant series of races to cycle through each week.

Better yet, Ivory Tower included a fun feature from the “The Crew 2.” Players can switch vehicles on the fly as they explore the world. That means players can be driving a Suzuki motorcycle and then run off a cliff, switch to a boat and land in the water safely before taking off as a plane afterward. It’s not realistic but it does making exploring the island and reaching events much more enjoyable and easier.

Ideally, “Motorfest” is the closest that PlayStation fans can come to experiencing something akin to the wonderful “Forza Horizon” series. Ubisoft’s latest effort is good facsimile of the concept, and it’s a move in the right direction for a franchise that was overly ambitious with its open-world racing game. – The Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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