Earlier this month, I penned a critical examination of the shortcomings of "Forza Motorsport 6," and how I'd like to see things change in "Forza Motorsport 7." The full game doesn't release until Oct. 3, but Tuesday, Turn 10 Studios released the demo on Xbox Live, and I snapped it up, keen to learn as much as I can about what the final product will be like.
Yes, there's only so much one can learn from a game's demo, but having played it in its entirety more than once, I have gotten a feel for parts of the completed product. That said, a more comprehensive review will have to wait until after release, as Turn 10 Studios and Microsoft have not acknowledged our interest in press copies.
The demo itself is the same one they showed at E3, so if you've already tried that demo, there will be nothing new for you. It allows player to try any of three two-lap races, which include Dubai in the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Mugello in a Mercedes race truck, and the rained-out Nürburgring GP Circuit in the Nismo GT-R.
Loading into the GT2 RS race hearkened back to one of "Forza Motorsport 5" and one of its weakest points: load times. Between choosing the race in the game's menu and actually being able to start the race, I recorded my load time into this race at 75 seconds, a time which was matched by the GT-R race, though undercut by the Mugello race, which timed at a 45 second load.
As a mostly assist-free player, I found coping with the game's 700+ horsepower hero Porsche tricky, doubly so due to my unfamiliarity with the Dubai track. I am glad to report that Dubai isn't the bumpy mess that was FM6's Rio track, but it is equally as confusing, and nailing the track's flow, I suspect, will be tricky. I speculate it will have some shorter variants, going by a blocked-off side road in the third sector, but with the lack of photo mode available, I have no real way to peek over the wall. Dubai is split somewhat equally between wide, fast sections, and narrow, slow corners, but as with Rio, the transitions are so rapid that being at all off the racing line will ruin your chances of being quick. I'm no fan of the Dubai track so far, but as far as I know, my opinion is of the minority.
Mugello in racing trucks is equal parts joyride and traffic jam. It's a narrow track, and with almost a dozen huge trucks between you and the race lead, overtaking is a pain on all Drivatar difficulties. The Drivatars themselves, I am sad to report, are equally as dimwitted, slow, and black flag-baiting as in previous games, even on Pro difficulty, and with aggression limits toggled on. On lower difficulties, I swear that they don't even open the throttle fully on circuits. Even the most novice of drivers don't make that mistake on a real track day. Drivatars take corners at less than nine-tenths, and make frustrating defensive moves when you go to pass them. It's a system that is still in desperate need of attention, as I believe that with proper development, it could occasionally be better than racing online when the meatheads decide to play bumper cars.
The Nürburgring race gives me another positive to report on: the game's adaptive weather. No longer is the Nürburgring a mess of red flag-worthy inland seas. There are still larger bodies of standing water, but they won't instantly hydroplane your car as they did in FM6. Gauging your braking distance is a challenge, even with the braking line toggled on, and oversteer, even in the 4WD GT-R, is easy to cause with too much throttle.
As for the driving experience as a whole? It's a case of two steps forward, one step back. The new cockpit sound model is magnificent; I can hear the clutch slap the flywheel when I change gears in the Mercedes truck, and the Nissan cocoons you in the rattly, almost tinny sound inherent to almost every race car's interior. I can only imagine how great this game would sound with a quality headset. Small additions, like how the tachometer flashes red when you exceed the redline as a reminder to upshift, and improved camera movements during acceleration, braking, and cornering make the game more immersive.
The physics feel markedly improved, but the feedback through the controller is not as good as in previous games. Rumble from oversteer and understeer is so minute as to be nearly absent, whereas with FM6, you knew exactly when your tires were on their limits of adhesion. The steering with the controller feels slower, more linear than in previous games, which meant that it was common to find myself driving at seven tenths instead of nine or ten, because I can't figure out where the understeer threshold is.
Many of the problems I whinged about in my commentary on "Forza Motorsport 6," which I wish to see fixed in 7, cannot be commented on yet. I have no experience with multiplayer, hotlapping, the game's complete single player experience, or side attractions like tuning, photography, and livery design. Those will have to wait until I get my paws on a release copy on "Forza Motorsport 7," which is still close two weeks out. Now, if Microsoft would only answer my emails...