I Didn’t Enjoy the Forza 7 Demo

Let me first start by saying I greatly appreciate Turn 10’s gesture in bringing the seventh iteration of their massively popular car collecting software to the home computer – turning what was once an Xbox exclusive into a multi-platform release – as game developers typically don’t do this sort of thing. I also want to mention that I’ve extracted an enormous amount of playtime from the series on the Xbox 360, back when the franchise was arguably at its peak.

And while some scoffed at the release of Forza: Horizon in 2012, and questioned if the right creative decisions were being made on that front, I was what you could call an early supporter of the dudebro spin-off; I held a few opening week records – including the world record on the final boss romp for a short period of time – and played Horizon far beyond completion, almost excessively. Hell, I bought the complete rip-off known as the Horizon Rally expansion and flew through the reconfigured map in just under ninety minutes, so it’s safe to say that I wasn’t going into the Forza 7 demo with any kind of negative bias. If anything, I’ve been advocating for more of these experiences to come to the PC.

But contextually, Forza Motorsport 7 is probably the worst driving game I’ve ever played. Sure, maybe Monster Truck Rumble is objectively a lesser product, but going into it, you knew it would be bad. What’s Forza 7’s excuse? I just don’t understand how a mammoth quasi-first party team with a gigantic budget and near-infinite resources can create something that absolutely does not resemble what it’s like to drive a real car at competition speeds. I have been more entertained at the mainstream pieces drooling over the Forza 7 demo than actually playing the game itself; Forza is not a simulator or even a competent driving game in the first place, but rather a litmus test to see who actually understands vehicle dynamics, and which gaming journalists take the bus to work. I had genuine hopes that Forza 7 arriving on the PC would shake up our genre and offer a valid alternative to the bore-fests that are polluting sim racing at the moment, but Turn 10 really dropped the ball.

So to give you a cliff’s notes version of all multi-day race car driving schools across the planet, any sort of good race car driver that is routinely seen at the front of the pack in their respective classes essentially pilots their car in a very similar manner. They come barrelling into corner entry until they physically worry about their inability to stop, jump on the brakes as hard as possible to both rotate the ass end of the car & set the vehicle on the bottom of the track at the apex (my entire left leg vibrates in our car), and then as quickly as possible, feed the rear tires enough throttle to pivot the car on the outside rear tire. Provided you exhibit the correct amount of throttle aggression in relation to the radius of the corner, corner exit can be completed with a nearly straight steering wheel because you’re basically steering with your right foot and pivoting the car like an athlete planting his foot to make a cut until you achieve full throttle. This is how I drive in real life. This is how I drive in hardcore sims, if not most racing games. This is why I’m fast in basically every piece of software with cars in it. This is a universal competition driving style that crosses continents and disciplines and realities. There, saved you $3,000, if not more.

There’s even a good quote from Tanner Foust on this same subject.

tanner foust.jpg

Forza 7’s problem is that none of this works. And if this was like, a Steam game for $19.99 in Early Access, then yeah, fine, I probably wouldn’t give a shit. But this is Forza Motorsport, the simulator with over seven hundred cars, more tracks than we know what to do with, and the unofficial title of being Gran Turismo’s spiritual successor – as even GT fans can’t quite figure out what Kaz is doing with the franchise that started this whole car collection phenomenon. Oh, and there’s the Porsche partnership, the Pirelli partnership, and even Ford stepped in a while back. I don’t understand how you have this much access to technical data, and the end result is so disconnected and abstract.

First, weight transfer and inertia in Forza is exponentially greater than what you experience in real life. Yes, if you’re unready for the G-Forces or have been out of the car for some time, it can be a bit disorienting at first to launch the car into a braking zone, but it’s 100% a human thing – the car itself remains relatively stable provided you’re not a complete fucking retard and panic with jerky wheel and pedal inputs. The Porsche GT2RS offered in one of the three demo races does not feel like an ultra-refined track day warrior that Christian Grey might take to the Nordschleife when he’s ran out of hotties to abuse, but rather has the stability and precision of a Ford Transit Van. In any heavy braking zone, or drastic elevation changes for that matter that predominantly load up one side of the car – of which there are a lot at the Dubai canyon track – the car just fucking snaps into the trademark molasses drift Forza is known for.

It’s like driving an EnduRacers mod, where the car swings wildly about at the slightest of undulations or wheel inputs or… basically anything that isn’t a straight line, but unlike their notoriously bizarre rFactor 2 mods, you can’t rely on the tires to catch you here. I have never played a racing game where the tires have such an absurdly low limit of adhesion as what’s exhibited in Forza 7. You can be coasting through an uphill corner at 70 km/h in second gear, feet completely off both pedals, and the rear end will just wash out into a skid that makes you look completely incompetent behind the wheel. There is no sidewall flex. There is no lateral grip. It’s a very distinct on/off switch between adhesion, and hitting phantom black ice. This is how Forza thinks tires work, but I can assure you that this is not how they work in the real world, nor in most other simulators worth your time. So the whole competition driving technique of loading up the outside rear tire and powering off with a bit of counter-steer is completely out of the question.

Whether you’re driving the Porsche GT2RS around Dubai, or the SuperGT-spec Nissan R35 at the Nurburgring GP circuit, what ends up happening is that you pussy-foot around at much slower speeds than what these cars are capable of, under-driving to such an extent that any prolonged period of play is going to actively diminish your skill set when it comes to other simulators. I’m under the impression that Forza’s physics engine was designed with pad users in mind, basically as a way to encourage teenagers and casuals to play it safe and focus on smooth driving lines. In the hands of someone armed with a steering wheel and real world competition driving experience, it is objectively the worst driving game on the market. Cars don’t drive like this. Tires don’t work like this.

I look forward to the Metacritic aggregate of 95 it will undoubtedly receive come October, from guys who either take the bus to work, or whose previous driving experience can be listed as “I play Mario Kart as a drinking game with my old college friends when we meet up.”

So I think a lot of Forza fanboys will kick and scream that my wheel wasn’t configured correctly. Actually, I spent the first hour or so with the game fiddling with the options menu, and above are my G29 settings to give people a very good indication as to what in my opinion feels sensible behind the wheel. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about Forza’s force feedback over the years, but to give this game a proper shakedown I worked to find settings that were optimal for me. Obviously I would like to know why a monolithic company with hundreds of employees are shipping a game with default steering wheel settings that are completely unusable and might be the source of several refunds for the more casual racers among us, but I felt I was able to get something that felt right with the tools at hand – so I’ve provided my personal configuration to ensure as few people get stuck as possible. Again, my complaints are with the physics engine itself. Even with a wheel configuration that I found to be perfect, I just didn’t enjoy the actual on-track experience. It was fucking terrible.

It’s also noteworthy to mention that nowhere in the demo are you allowed to fiddle with car setups. Yet while the Forza fans may crucify me for ripping on default setups that are notoriously bad, and maybe the game becomes infinitely better once garage options are opened up, the question needs to be asked why a team of such high caliber insist on packaging their cars with setups that are completely preposterous and actively work against one’s enjoyment of the game. Either the crew behind Forza have precisely zero idea as to what’s needed for an enjoyable end-user experience from the word go, or as mentioned earlier, the physics just flat-out suck. I will gamble and say it’s the latter of the two.

And while I was already choked to discover such an abysmal driving experience, the marketing department really competed for the focus of my attention during the inevitable tirade that would be published on PRC. The restart race button has actually been excluded from the demo, meaning that the process of me physically testing out different wheel settings – and then taking a journey back to the options menu after only a few turns – was increased by an exponentially large amount.

Once you’ve either finished or outright quit an event, the game plays a semi-unskippable cinematic sequence displaying the plethora of awards Forza 7 won during E3 2017 of this year, and running down a list of supporting features before finally giving you the option to dismiss it all about fifteen to twenty seconds later. Of course, you’re not even thrown directly back to the menu so you can continue to fuck with your wheel settings and repeat the process ad nauseam, you’re then taken to a screen in which you’re given the option of pre-ordering one of the three variants of Forza 7. This was absolutely painful to sit through.

And maybe it would have been acceptable if behind the wheel, Forza 7 was pretty competent, and didn’t require a solid hour of tweaking. My problem is that I’m forced to watch a game brag about awards that I personally didn’t understand how it received in the first place. In my almost twenty years of PC sim racing, some titles have come unbelievably close to what it’s like to drive in a competitive setting. Forza Motorsport 7, by comparison, is the furthest from reality I have ever experienced. I still think a lot of people will have some fun with it for the light RPG and car collecting aspects, and that’s fine. But after my time with the demo, anyone who honestly sits down and tries to say Forza 7 is anywhere near realistic, or drives anything like an actual car, is an actual idiot. I fail to understand how there’s this much money and hype pumped into what’s basically a first-party Xbox title at this point, only for the on-track product to be so farcical.


Forza Fans Tear Turn 10 a New Asshole After Pre-Order Announcement

So unless you permanently live under a rock and cling to your Pentium III running Windows 98 as if it’s some sort of metaphorical children’s blanket or teddy bear, obviously you know that E3 2017 is in full swing, and Turn 10 Studios have taken the wraps off of Forza Motorsport 7 – which will be landing on store shelves this November. Boasting upwards of 700 cars at launch – including Porsche and Volkswagen, which were either added in much later via downloadable expansion packs, or left out entirely – as well as something like 38 unique locations, dynamic weather, and avatar customization, Forza Motorsport 7 will easily become the most anticipated racing game of the next two years.

Considering the simulation will also be available on the Windows 10 marketplace for PC owners – a first for the core Forza Motorsport franchise – a whole lot of people are looking forward to messing around with the limitless Forza experience on home computers, as the sim racing scene has traditionally been dominated by no-nonsense software that has remained virtually unchanged since the days of F1 Challenge 99-02. Offering a full career mode, car collecting meta-game, extensive upgrading system, and unique community features that even the big titles like iRacing and Project CARS have yet to scratch the surface of, there’s a lot of hype for what Forza brings to the table – even if the driving model is a bit simplistic as we touched on in our review of Forza Motorsport 6: Apex.

Yet upon revealing the pre-order options to the general public – which offer three distinct ways to purchase the game, with an increasing amount of pre-order “perks” with each tier – Turn 10 is facing an immense backlash from the Forza Motorsport community, and as the title of this post suggests, they’re basically being torn a new asshole at this point. Comments on the official Forza franchise Facebook page are overwhelmingly negative, criticizing Turn 10 for blatantly ripping off their customers with a shady downloadable content plan that puts a time limit on the season pass people are paying extra for, resulting in two waves of DLC; the latter of which is not covered by the already expensive ultimate edition.

The hostility originally stems from how the massive studio handled last years’ Forza Horizon 3 pre-order bonuses. Like what has been depicted above in the Forza 7 pre-order breakdown, Turn 10 gave fans the option of paying a premium price – upwards of $100 USD – for an “Ultimate Edition” of Forza Horizon 3, essentially paying up front for all of the game’s car packs and expansion bundles, which would then automatically be downloaded into the user’s game the moment they became available. It’s obviously a steep price to pay for the standard video game entry fee of $60, but the additional price was advertised as a convenience of sorts; users making one sole transaction ahead of of time for all downloadable content that would be released for the game.

Yet in a highly questionable display, Turn 10 put a finite end to the Ultimate Edition’s perks. Users thought they would receive all Forza Horizon 3 downloadable content for the price of the Ultimate Edition they pre-ordered as early as July of 2016, only to discover the “car pass” that came with the Ultimate Edition was only valid for the first handful of DLC releases, and better yet, did not apply to both the Blizzard Mountain and Hot Wheels expansion packs. As one user on Facebook explains, he had paid $130 up front for an alleged premium edition of Forza Horizon 3 whilist under the impression all of this content would be included in his purchase, only to be stiffed by the company and told there was a second wave of DLC the premium edition didn’t cover, which took another $68 out of his wallet.

So for those who wanted the full Forza Horizon 3 experience, they were out a whopping $190 USD. This is an absurd price to pay for any video game considering the market has soft-locked the cost of a new piece of software at $60, and you can purchase an entire used console from this generation for roughly the same price as acquiring all content in Forza Horizon 3. And this wasn’t the first time Turn 10 had pulled this stunt; it also occurred in Forza Motorsport 6 – Turn 10 sold a premium edition of Forza 6 bundled with a season pass, only to continue pushing out DLC well after the season pass had expired.

It’s blatantly nickel & diming customers far beyond what they should pay for a single piece of software.

“If you don’t like the DLC, don’t buy it” – Forza Motorsport Fanboy/Shill

This is a common argument I see across the Forza Motorsport community, and here’s why I feel it’s not valid in the slightest.

The Forza franchise is at it’s core a game that relies on mass car collecting as one of it’s main gameplay elements. People love opening up the showroom, scrolling through a list of cars, and handing over the in-game credits to call one their own and put it through it’s paces. That’s just part of the fun in car culture games like Forza or Gran Turismo; it’s not so much the racing or the driving physics or the offbeat challenges; it’s the act of opening a virtual Hot Wheels display case, and saying “that one’s mine, and I’m going to upgrade it and draw dicks all over it.”

So the principle of placing a portion of this experience that’s the life and soul of the Forza franchise behind a paywall, and then doubling said paywall by imposing a bogus expiration date on the first paywall, is a diabolical way to manipulate gamers into giving Turn 10 far more money than that experience is actually worth. Remember, this same car culture experience that we saw in Gran Turismo 4, and previous iterations of the Forza franchise, has now been inflated to $200.

People generally don’t mind forking over an additional $30 for a season pass on top of a $50 game because they know in the end it’s at least adding to an integral portion of the game – car collecting – but going a step further and metaphorically tipping these individuals upside down so all the change falls out of their pockets and they wind up spending almost the whole cost of a console for a few more virtual Hot Wheels in their collection, that’s dirty as fuck. Come on, Turn 10. You are the leading racing game developer across the entire video game landscape, and yet at the height of your popularity, with the most money the company’s ever made in your history, you respond to your financial & critical success by “thanking” the fans who helped you get there with an intrusive DLC scheme that only benefits the company’s bottom line and makes your loyal fans question how much they’ll spend this year?

Naw dude. That’s not cool.

Here’s to hoping that the public backlash Turn 10 are receiving for the Forza Motorsport 7 DLC plan will make them re-calculate their approach and go back to a more reasonable all-encompassing season pass format in time for the game’s launch this fall. If not, they only have themselves to blame for the inevitable Jewish conspiracy memes that will no doubt flood their forums once the second batch of Forza Motorsport 7 hits in the spring of 2018, angering season pass holders who were under the impression their special pre-order perks would go a lot further than just six uninspiring car packages, conveniently running out just in time for the pricey title expansions.



It’s Not Terrible: An Evening with Forza Motorsport Apex

We know we’ll be playing Forza Motorsport 7 on Windows 10 later this year, which makes Turn 10’s free trial version of Forza Motorsport 6 even more relevant than when it was first released.

Originally intended to be one of the many incentives for users with powerful PC’s to upgrade from their trusty copy of Windows 7 into an unknown world of Cortana and the Microsoft App Store, Forza Motorsport Apex felt like a slap in the face to all hardcore sim racers. Many of us had been secretly wishing that the flagship Xbox racing franchise would make it’s way onto home computers, providing us with a drastic change of pace from the all-too-familiar smorgasbord simulators by letting us dive into a mammoth career mode and robust online world, but we were instead given a bare-bones teaser of a driving game that included none of the bells and whistles that Forza Motorsport has become known for over the past decade. There was talk of controller support being woefully inadequate, a handful of DLC packs quietly arriving to split the title into free and premium versions, and after Forza Horizon 3 arrived on the scene – warts and all – the majority of sim racers completely forgot Apex existed. It was the awkward bastard child quickly pushed aside once people figured out it didn’t quite belong.

Yet knowing that Forza Motorsport 7 is in the closing stages of development, most likely intended for a fall 2017 release, now’s probably the perfect time to evaluate Forza Motorsport Lite, and determine whether it’s worth getting excited for the full enchilada of Microsoft’s car collecting simulator.

And to my surprise, Apex isn’t the disaster I once assumed it to be, but a surprisingly competent budget racer that offers a bit more than its Italian indie counterpart. As a stand-alone game, there’s an impressive amount of value in the package, and as a preview for something much larger in the pipeline, I’ve gone from being apathetic towards Forza Motorsport 7, to being a bit optimistic. There’s not much Turn 10 need to fix between now and November.

Assetto Corsa fans will kick and scream at my willingness to compare Apex to the Indie racing simulator from Kunos Simulazioni, but truth be told, when it comes down to raw features, both games are on relatively equal footing, and it’s kind of hilarious when you pull both apart and realize just how similar they happen to be.

Just under 80 vehicles have been snipped from Forza Motorsport 6 and placed into Apex, though some are locked away for you to earn through completing the rudimentary campaign tour, which shouldn’t take spirited sim racers more than sixty minutes to breeze through. The cars are a pretty good mix of what the big Forza has to offer, stretching from shitty hatchbacks and mid-range sedans through supercars and hypercars to GTE and Prototype entries, but the selection remains exclusively populated by tin-tops, as the open wheel stuff is nowhere to be found. Like Assetto Corsa, there’s a very good mix of brands, as well as multiple cars in each class for variety’s sake, though Porsche is absent for obvious reasons.

Compared to the full offerings seen on the Xbox One, there’s not much of a career mode here; only a string of themed races (above) akin to Assetto Corsa’s own Special Events, though a basic medallion system allows you to feel some sense of progression as medals are awarded based on your level of difficulty, points earned per event, and the number of assists you disable. You’ll be visiting the same five locations over and over again – Rio, Brands Hatch, Spa, Sebring, and Abu Dhabi – but there are enough alternate layouts between the five environments to see something new each race, and the tracks are all relatively enjoyable in their own right, to keep things fresh. Provided you purchased the $20 premium edition of Apex, you’ll also be granted access to a solid yet non-laser scanned version of the Nordschleife, as well as the significantly less popular Grand Prix circuit. We’re spoiled with laser scanned renditions of the iconic German countryside across multiple games, but what appears in Forza isn’t a noticeable downgrade by any means, and the increase in visual fidelity makes up for it’s lack of authenticity that trained eyes will undoubtedly spot.

The real kicker here is that even if you omit the premium content – which adds fourteen cars and the Nordschleife to Apex – on paper, Turn 10 were able to give away a game for free that Kunos Simulazioni charge anywhere from $30 to $60 for. Like the console versions of Assetto Corsa, there’s not a whole lot to do in Apex aside from jump into a few themed races, partake in your own custom race against a field of AI bots, or slug it out on leaderboards, so in my opinion the existence of Apex as a free game on the Windows 10 app store justifies the overwhelming array of complaints talking about a half-finished PS4 game as seen on the Assetto Corsa Facebook page. Turn 10 felt Apex is such a barebones product they gave people the option of paying for it, whereas Kunos took largely the same experience and put a hefty price tag on it.

For those reasons alone, I have to give credit where credit is due; Apex is an insanely good deal, offering the same general package as Assetto Corsa, for exponentially less. I can’t say I felt ripped off paying $20 for it, as I’ve spent significantly more on Assetto Corsa for largely the same type of driving game. You know going into it that Apex is an elaborate tech demo, whereas overzealous fanboys try to convince you that Assetto Corsa is this underappreciated masterpiece, so on that front Apex impressed me with just how much shit you got for opening the Windows Store and clicking a download button legally.

However, Turn 10 immediately send you on a scavenger hunt through the menus to unlock the full potential of the Forza engine, and that kind of pissed me off.

It was a bitch to configure, and clearly designed with pad users in mind, no doubt about it. There’s no wheel rotation option, no field of view slider, no seat adjustment configuration – forcing you to deal with a cockpit view that wastes most of the screen on drawing insignificant interior details – and hefty deadzones are built into your controller configurations, so you’ll probably want to take a look at those in the appropriate options menu before you even think of turning a lap with a steering wheel. On my Logitech G29, the pause button was mapped to R2 by default, race music was set to on, and as I launched the game for the first time, it gave me a horrendous automatically generated Xbox Live Gamertag that I had to spend a couple of minutes figuring out how to change.

Force Feedback was initially far too strong, and I think I dropped the two main sliders down from 100 to 25 and 40, respectively. Menu design has placed creativity over functionality, so I found myself snooping around much more than I should have needed just to set everything up. Though Forza has always been advertised as a hardcore simulator – and this is echoed in Apex’s voiceover a few minutes into the campaign – Turn 10 assume everybody purchasing Forza is a complete idiot and have basically designed every default preset with the Call of Duty crowd in mind.

Thankfully, you only have to do it once, and upon completion of your scavenger hunt, there’s a satisfactory driving model that awaits.

It honestly drove like complete dog shit out of the box; the vehicles feeling ridiculously heavy compared to other simulators, while skidding around far too frequently unless you were willing to tip-toe into corner entry. This too, turned out to be another scavenger hunt; Forza’s default vehicle setups fill your tires to 30 PSI (or 2.1 bar) regardless of the toy you’ve taken to the track, which is utterly preposterous for race cars and slightly retarded for the numerous passenger cars on the vehicle roster. Dropping pressures to 21 PSI (or 1.5 bar) warranted an instant night-and-day change to the driving experience, meaning not only do tire pressure changes have an enormous effect on vehicle characteristics like they should (so kudos to Turn 10 on that front), but now that I could finally turn laps in something that felt like a proper simulator, it unlocked the actual potential of this engine.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim Apex is some hidden gem among a sea of mass market simcade titles and that everybody needs to give the franchise a second chance, but it feels very similar to Assetto Corsa; as if the entire game is one third party mod, designed by the same payware team. Considering Forza Motorsport 7 will probably ship with something like 650+ cars and multiple massive campaign modes both online and off, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Though weight transfer is a bit more unforgiving if you get your lines or braking points wrong, the tire model feels almost exactly the same, and there was a strange sense of familiarity when lapping the Nordschleife in one of the quicker street legal rides.

The rumors about all cars in Forza Motorsport feeling roughly the same are one hundred percent false. The 70’s muscle cars you’re thrown in at the start of the game are big, floaty, understeering boats. A race or two later, the hatchbacks are light and nimble, though their short wheelbase allows you to get crossed up a lot easier. Supercars and hypercars feel the most refined and honestly drive very close to their counterparts in Assetto Corsa, whereas the purpose built race cars and prototypes available at the end of the campaign are stiff and vague, but allow you to power out of corners and bang through the gears like nothing.

It wasn’t an enlightening experience like the first time we all tried Assetto Corsa, but many instances throughout my playthrough of Apex I struggled to see why an abundance of hardcore sim racers had written this franchise off. With each passing class, I found myself thinking “yep, I would enjoy racing these in a lighthearted online league”, because their dynamics seemed both reasonable from a driving standpoint, and in line with what I’d come to expect from other simulators. With Forza being about more than just the driving, but also packing modes on top of modes on top of features into this all-encompassing car culture game, it’s an acceptable set of physics.

The competent driving model is complimented by what’s easily the best artificial intelligence in a modern racing simulator, meaning you can actually get some satisfaction out of offline races. While the Xbox One rendition of Forza Motorsport 6 is a complete shitfest thanks to using the drivatars of random plebs who swap Bugatti engines into stuff that shouldn’t hit 200 mph and promptly crash into every wall within the immediate vicinity, Apex appears to have been carefully crafted so as to not include these types of AI cars, as the on-track experience is miles ahead of anything else on the market today.

You can actually race and have battles with the AI cars that resemble what you’d see in a moderately composed online lobby – as they attack, defend, make mistakes, and most importantly, they’re aware of your presence. Compared to other simulators, where the AI are blissfully ignorant of your existence, and follow each other in a uniform line as if they’re on rails, Forza’s AI is a fantastic change of pace – and they’re also bloody quick. I find myself hovering between the Pro and Unbeatable settings depending on how comfortable I am with the car I’ve selected, with the latter producing phenomenal offline races that lead to epic battles among the top five drivers. If NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is the gold standard of oval racing AI, Forza’s has set the bar pretty damn high when it comes to road racing.

At the midway point of the game’s campaign, you’re treated to a one-on-one battle at the Top Gear Test Track against none other than The Stig, and it really highlights how great Apex can be when firing on all cylinders; once you come to grips with just how insanely powerful the Koenigsegg Agera is with all assists turned off, the lone AI combatant puts up a hell of a dogfight. I was genuinely impressed, though I wonder if it’s because Forza’s AI is that good, or the AI in modern racing simulators is that bad.

The icing on the cake comes with the game’s superb car-to-car contact physics, which allow you to beat, bang, and trade paint with other opponents in a manner that doesn’t threaten to break the game. Unlike isiMotor simulators, contact is not an unpredictable, awkward death sentence that shifts your car around in an extremely unnatural manner; you can fuck with the AI cars and be a bit of a cunt to them, and it all feels like something you have complete control over.

Wet weather driving is where the game falters, however, as the AI cars can shoot through massive puddles without detriment to their performance, whereas the player car will be instantly shot sideways if you do so much as breathe upon them. In an online environment I could see driving in the rain being a lot of fun, as it certainly doesn’t feel like a simple reduction in grip to simulate a wet road, but watching the AI shoot through puddles while you cautiously swerve around them is a bit demoralizing, and it’s something I hope gets fixed in time for Forza 7. Occasionally the AI do maneuver around the puddles when running in isolation, but during the opening lap when racing in a pack, it’s clear there’s some bullshit operating under the hood that allows them to rampage through hydroplane situations that would otherwise cripple the player.

There’s not much left to talk about, because there’s not much that makes up Apex. Like Assetto Corsa, you’re handed a bunch of cars, about ten unique track layouts you’d actually want to drive on, and some themed races to vaguely tie it all together if you’re not creative enough to make use of a custom event screen. The main difference is that you’re not forced to pay for Turn 10’s creation unless you really want the Nordschleife and a couple extra GT cars, where Assetto Corsa offers basically the exact same experience for a significantly higher sum. As I’ve mentioned above, that speaks volumes about Assetto Corsa; other developers don’t charge a dime for a Chris Harris simulator.

But intentionally provoking comments aside, Apex has made me optimistic about immersing myself into Forza Motorsport 7, whenever it comes out. It’s a pain in the ass to unfuck all of the dumb presets Turn 10 have built into the game by default, but once you embark on a literal scavenger hunt for every last piece of the puzzle to unlock the potential of the engine, you’re treated to a simulator that doesn’t deserve a lot of the flak it receives from the hardcore sim community. It drives more or less like Assetto Corsa, and unlike the current array of simulators, is able to offer a competent and compelling field of AI cars to race against – which is something countless developers in our genre have struggled to nail over the last decade.

Knowing this kind of satisfactory experience will be complimented with a massive car collecting meta-game, online leagues, multiple campaign modes, player profile progression, in-game livery editor, and a massive tree of upgrades, is extremely exciting. At this point, I’m more or less convinced that the general animosity from PC sim racers towards the Forza franchise is just a mass display of their insecurities; either jealous that they can’t obtain a PC powerful enough to run a Forza title, or using their time spent on obscure simulators as a “status symbol” for message board dick-waving.

Provided Turn 10 can implement both cross-platform play, as well as cockpit viewpoint adjustments into Forza Motorsport 7, this might be a racing game we’ll all have a hard time putting down. The base they’ve laid is pretty impressive, you just have to dig to discover it.

Milestone’s New IP is Basically a Portion of Forza Horizon 3

gravel_pacific_island_05Trophy Trucks, Dune Buggies, and miscellaneous rally cars? Check. Wide-open, brightly-colored, easy-going circuits surrounded by colorful banners and some sort of fictional automotive festival sharing the name of the software itself? Check. An emphasis on a simcade driving model to try and reel in the largest number of customers possible? Check. If this sounds like Turn 10’s Forza Horizon 3, you’re unfortunately mistaken – it’s actually Milestone’s new intellectual property, operating under a name that’s just as much of a knock-off of superior titles as the gameplay itself – Gravel.

comp-2The Italian developer, known for their officially licensed MotoGP and MXGP releases, as well as Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo and a string of WRC games on the Xbox 360, have now basically taken a portion of Forza Horizon 3 without changing much of anything – most notably the trackside objects indicating a large, fictional automotive festival is taking place & the random array of off-road vehicles competing on semi-closed circuits and point to point events in an open world – and shamelessly built an entire game around it. Don’t get me wrong, I love trophy truck racing, and I definitely miss those late 90’s off-road titles such as Monster Truck Madness 2, which turned you loose on these elaborate fictional courses that were unlike anything the world of sim racing has to offer, but I also like variety. Initial footage of Milestone’s Gravel is almost indistinguishable from Forza Horizon 3, to the point where I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if the team ran into legal problems, and the game fails to see the light of day when all is said and done.

There’s a difference between many sim developers all including the Nurburgring Nordschleife and the McLaren 650s in their flagship racing titles, versus what Milestone have done with Gravel – creating a new franchise with the exact same style, theme, and content of a product already on the market, and just sort of hoping people don’t notice. Even the skill points have been carried over from Forza Horizon 3, which rewards drivers for power-sliding around corners and destroying trackside objects. It’s really absurd the title got this far in development without a single person at Milestone’s studios saying “hey boss, what we’ve been making kind of looks identical to this other game… so what would make people buy our game over theirs?”

forza-horizon-compariosnGravel will boast around fifty vehicles and a number of diverse environments, offering a simplistic approach to off-road racing, reminiscent of old-school arcade racers such as RallyCross for Sony’s first PlayStation console. There won’t be a lot of thinking or practicing required with this one; it’s designed to be a game you can jump into and have fun when you’re tired of trying to extract that extra tenth out of your favorite car in Assetto Corsa. I obviously dig a good simcade title, as evidenced by recent articles on PRC.net, but here’s the thing – out of the box, Gravel simply looks boring. There’s nothing to this game that sets it aside from the aforementioned Forza Horizon 3, the Motorstorm series, or its most direct rival: BAJA: Edge of Control HD, which was announced yesterday by THQ Nordic.

The biggest problem I’ve found after examining some of the YouTube videos depicting Gravel in a semi-completed state, is that as a cohesive game, it appears to be extremely bland. Nothing about the reveal makes me excited for the game – it’s like a half-assed attempt was made to bring back something with the depth of Sega Rally Revo, when the market has already voted by and large with their wallets that it simply doesn’t work, and you need significantly more than just “cars on a track.” Not to mention, the AI are ridiculously slow and reduce their speed to a crawl for gentle bends in the racing surface, while the track layout previewed in the above footage doesn’t appear to be challenging in the slightest – any semi-competent driver would be wide open for the entire duration of the lap, and that’s not a compelling experience for anybody who likes racing games. Vehicle selection screens on display near the end of the video promise a diverse array of trucks, sport utility vehicles, and rally cars, though customization options are most likely related to just alternate liveries according to options listed on the menu.

forza_horizon_3_off_road_racingMilestone also don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to pushing out competent pieces of software, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Gravel runs well. Though the team have acquired the rights to MotoGP and MXGP, and pushed out officially licensed WRC titles for several years, none of them were all that stable. Most recently, the PlayStation 4 version of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo has a framerate issue on certain stages that renders the game completely unplayable, where you can physically feel the force feedback de-sync from the picture on screen. All of their games are traditionally left in this state, receiving only a single patch before the team moves on to the next project. It’s pissed a lot of customers off, to put it bluntly.

So like many others who have purchased their products and been burned by the lack of polish, I would prefer Milestone to get their current stable of games right, before expanding to new ones – and a blatant rip-off such as Gravel doesn’t give me hope that there are many creative minds left in the studio.

Get That Arcade Shit Out of Here

screenshot_2017-01-12-08-29-45-1What you’re looking at above is the ultimate display in sim racing elitism. As of today, Facebook’s largest group for discussing our little hobby – over 7,500 users strong – have voted to ban all discussion of both the Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo series, with users who create posts featuring either of the two titles in the future to have their submissions removed at once, and potentially banned from the group altogether after repeated infractions. The latest in a string of incidents which prominently showcase how toxic our community can be to those who refuse to blindly worship obscure PC simulators and broaden their horizons with software constructed for mass market appeal, a survey completed by just 1% of the Facebook group has effectively told a significant portion of our hobby that two perfectly competent simulators are taboo topics because they’re too successful.

Or something.

Earlier this week, I published an article stating I believed the downfall of sim racing was due to iRacing convincing the community that the hobby should be treated as an exclusive online country club rather than a $60 video game, and it appears some of my sentiments are being reflected in how these online groups are being moderated. I feel this is complete bullshit for the community to act in this manner. Both Forza Motorsport 6, as well as Gran Turismo 6, are virtually no more or less hardcore than titles such as Project CARS, Assetto Corsa, and iRacing; refusing to even acknowledge their existence or label them as “arcade games” is pretty hilarious when you actually pick apart the technical aspects of each console release.

Gran Turismo 6

Let’s start with Gran Turismo 6, because I really want to ruffle some feathers off the bat in this post. While many sim racers got their first real taste of the racing simulator genre with the third and fourth entries in the series on the PlayStation 2 before moving onto the Windows gaming platform, Gran Turismo 6 enters the ring as Polyphony’s flagship modern simulator.

The Gran Turismo series, dating all the way back to its inception on Sony’s original PlayStation, has been all about car collecting and JRPG-style grinding, with the core driving experience taking a back seat to garage management and progression elements. Aside from the endurance championships near the end of each game, most races are three lap sprints against an underwhelming artificial intelligence, which are placed well ahead of your starting position to generate a challenge that otherwise wouldn’t be there on a proper starting grid, so it’s certainly not an authentic Le Mans Prototype experience until the final portions of Career mode – and that’ll indeed make some believe it’s an arcade racer.

But there are ways to turn Gran Turismo 6 into something significantly more recognizable as a hardcore sim nerd. Each vehicle in the game comes with tires that are simply too sticky to be realistic, and Polyphony automatically enable most of the driving assists by default – meaning the Gran Turismo 6 most of you have played out of the box is vastly different than a hardcore sim racer’s custom GT6 profile. Taking thirty seconds out of your day to configure your steering wheel, turn off the numerous driving aids, and equip a harder tire compound than the car’s default, Gran Turismo 6 produces a driving experience on-par with most PC simulators. Lap times at Brands Hatch in the GT3 Spec BMW Z4 mirror what the rFactor 2 Endurance GT Payware mod cars are capable of, and the virtual recreations of locations such as Spa, the Nordschleife, and Laguna Seca are phenomenal.

gran-turismo-6-online-3-e1386199093439-638x360Yes, there is a problem with some of the car setup options in Gran Turismo 6 – running no camber at all generates an instant boost in speed when this would instead destroy your tires in real life. However, this exact same bug is present in Project CARS, a game which was financially aided by 35,000 hardcore sim racers. And though the single player events are designed to fuck with gamers via unfair AI head starts and bogus sprint races that almost never bring tire wear or fuel into account, the robust online functionality of the title offers hardcore sim racers the ability to conduct their own events, with proper practice & qualifying sessions, and a traditional rules package that can make use of standing or rolling starts upon the request of the user. Assetto Corsa, on the other hand, currently does not allow PS4 or Xbox One owners to host their own custom lobbies; they are at the mercy of whatever configurations Kunos Simulazioni have put into the dedicated server rotation.

Gran Turismo 6 has been deemed to be an arcade racer and not worthy of discussion by the same community who financially contributed to a different game exhibiting the exact same camber bug as Gran Turismo 6. This same group of people also neglect Gran Turismo 6 despite offering more functionality for hardcore sim racers than a game whose tagline is Your Racing Simulator.

v8supercarsford5falconfgwmforza6Moving on, let’s look at the other title wrongfully thrown under the bus, Forza Motorsport 6. The Forza Motorsport series originally launched in 2005 as Microsoft’s answer to Gran Turismo, but since it’s introduction to the scene a little over a decade ago, most people believe the Forza series has objectively become the better game. The car roster is a great deal more diverse than the fifty different Nissan Skylines and Mazda MX5’s taking up needless space in Gran Turismo, the livery customization elements, auction house, and setup building marketplace have added a virtual Barrett-Jackson element to complement the racing experience, and last but not least, there’s an enormous amount of shit to do in the game.

Like Gran Turismo, but directly addressing GT’s shortcomings, Forza Motorsport gives users several different ways to play through the game – though most of them are intended to appeal to a casual audience. Online races are short and sweet, perks or handicaps can be applied each race to exponentially increase your post race rewards, thus allowing you to accumulate a comprehensive collection of cars, and some of the engine swaps can get pretty absurd. It’s very easy for a hardcore sim racer to become turned off by the flashiness of Forza.

But it’s just as easy to ignore it all. Buried within the career mode are several Endurance racing events which can be entered with only light progression through the main experience – which most wise sim racers will partake in anyways to dial in their wheel settings and explore some of what Forza 6 has to offer. A pretty solid selection of multiple hour endurance races can be attempted using a vast array of modern racing machinery, with the game’s Free Race feature allowing you to configure your own races with virtually any piece of content in the game – which also pay out cash prizes and continue to your career progression. There is nothing stopping you from configuring a 14-lap race at the Nordschleife in any of the historic Formula One entries available in Forza Motorsport 6 to bring Grand Prix Legends into 2017, and if IndyCar is your thing, 50 laps at Long Beach may not be full race distance, but it’s more than enough.

forza-6-enduranceThe aforementioned perks and handicaps can be disabled entirely, and you can even select the number of mandatory pit stops for each race, generating a Forza Motorsport 6 experience decidedly different than the dudebro culture-infused mainstream gameplay you’ve probably seen demonstrated in various videos from annoying YouTube personalities.

Behind the wheel, it’s also not terrible to drive. A good friend of mine owns Forza 6, and I’ve logged many laps with his Logitech G920 exploring everything the game has to offer because that’s what you do on a Friday evening before raceday. Truthfully, it resembles how Assetto Corsa felt about a year ago. The cars are just a hair too planted in all situations, and though it’s something I can forgive considering the scope of Forza and how it’s intended primarily for mass-market appeal, I find it hilarious when Assetto Corsa owners knock Forza Motosrport 6 for somehow being “less serious” of a racing simulator – in this particular case, an arcade game. Forza, as it stands right this minute, drives how Assetto Corsa did on the PC in the spring of 2016. Unless you’re a phenomenally inexperienced driver who cannot possibly begin to diagnose car handling discrepancies, or just that ridiculously determined to become part of some exclusive PC sim racer club because you desperately need something to belong to, I’m a bit lost at how Forza Motorsport 6 is being labeled an arcade game when it feels roughly the same as Assetto Corsa once did.

Especially given some of the other bells and whistles found in Forza Motorsport 6. The Long Beach Street Circuit still hasn’t been completed for iRacing – instead being sold as an unfinished tech track with barely any scenery – and if you see it in YouTube videos by any chance, it’s a bit embarrassing. On the other hand, operating on inferior hardware compared to modern PC’s, the Xbox One version of Forza Motorsport 6 boasts a beautiful rendition of Long Beach, as well as the 2016 aero kits for the Dallara DW12, while iRacing still operates using an outdated 2012 model. Forza Motorsport 6 also includes in-game functionalities for livery and setup-sharing, whereas iRacing members are forced to download a third party program and manually browse the forums just for a whiff at custom content. And though the game does not ship with a safety car, caution flags which serve a purpose, or the ability to jump the start, the first two features are not functional in Assetto Corsa. Instead, owners of Forza Motorsport 6 get to play in the rain as compensation – a weather variant only found in rFactor 2 and Project CARS.

This somehow warrants Forza Motorsport 6 being labeled an “arcade game.”

maxresdefaultIn conclusion, it’s frustrating to see the elitists of the sim community deem perfectly decent alternatives to hardcore PC racing sims as arcade games that are against the rules to talk about in very large sim racing communities. Forza and Gran Turismo are solid titles, both of which I personally enjoy, and while I’ll obviously stick to my isiMotor stuff for competitive league racing, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what Forza or Gran Turismo bring to the genre. Both series make a genuine effort to accommodate the hardcore users alongside the casual audience, and it’s very bizarre to see sim racers outright ignore these elements.

Gran Turismo 6 has infinitely more online functionality than Assetto Corsa, generates the same lap times as rFactor 2, and exhibits the same bugs as Project CARS, yet Assetto Corsa is the game sim racers are masturbating over, Project CARS is the game they’re throwing money at to help develop, and rFactor 2 is what they’re shitposting about on every message board that hasn’t banned them for their viral marketing efforts, all while calling Gran Turismo an arcade game.

Forza Motorsport 6 admittedly does slightly more to cater to the casual players, but all of these little diversions to the core experience can be set to off, and you can still play Forza as a modern substitute for GTR 2 or Assetto Corsa – with plenty of hardcore endurance events to select from, as well as your own custom races even counting towards your profile’s overall progression. Yes, there are stupid perks, three lap sprints, prize wheels, and a whole bunch of assists enabled by default. You can scrap all of those and run three hundred laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway, or 50 laps at Road America if you’d like.

Yet nobody ever dares to mention any of this.

It’s as if I wasn’t kidding when I said sim racers want the genre to be an elite online club so they can finally feel like they belong to something, rather than a selection of driving games which require a slightly higher base level of skill to be successful at.

Gran Turismo 6