A game as nuanced and detailed as Forza Motorsport 6 can't be properly tested in a crowded and busy environment such as the E3 show floor. And while the best-case scenario would be spending hours behind the wheel checking how every aspect and facet has changed and how differently cars respond/behave when placed in different scenarios, at least the recent event held by Microsoft at the Madrid-based Circuito del Jarama allowed us opportunity to gather much more information and experience several races in more accommodating surroundings.
The demo was the same as the one Turn 10 took to Los Angeles, and it's pulled from a version very close to the one we'll see in final game -we don't expect the experience to change all that much in the final two-months before launch. The circuits available were the most suitable for reflecting the new features coming this year: the vibrant daytime race in Rio with the amazing supercar Ford GT (or the calmer classic Ferrari 250 GTO), a night race at Sebring International Raceway with the powerful Lamborghini Huracán, and a soggy race around Brands Hatch behind the wheel of an Audi TTS Coupé. Fortunately, half of the available test stations were equipped with a Thrustmaster steering wheel and pedal combo, all built into a comfortable Playseat. We didn't want to try the simulator with the Xbox One controller, although some do say that the new Elite Controller enhances the experience via the rear paddles.
We performed the first test on wet asphalt, to see how they've tweaked the weather effects in terms of both the visual atmosphere and, above all, how it affects grip. The truth is that it shows, a lot. Perhaps even too much. The difference when racing on a dry surface can be felt in the first corner, and then with each application of the brake thereafter. The vaunted "3D puddles" may indeed cause aquaplaning in a way we haven't seen in previous games, but the effect may well be somewhat exaggerated (though let's wait and race with other classes of cars and tweak some settings before complaining or praising this big new feature). That said, their visual recreation is great.
The other new setting comes via the nighttime races, which in turn are divided into two types: those lit only by the headlights of cars ("with claustrophobic feeling," as described by franchise manager Chris Bishop) or night circuits that are fully lit, where you can see everything around you perfectly, but where the reflections of the lights and the number of light sources completely change the experience. The race with the Lambo was the former, and of course the changes are not noticeable in terms of driving/handling (the Huracán response was as expected based on other models available in Forza Motorsport 5), but they are when it comes to visibility. It's no doubt an interesting addition, but we remain unconvinced that the lighting compares favourably to the beautifully realised sunny stages. Although it may also be that the circuit chosen by the developers is a little uninspiring in itself.
For these reasons we really, really enjoyed racing in Rio, first with the brand new Ford GT, which could be considered the 'protagonist' of the game (it's the cover star, was announced alongside the game, and it came out of the ceiling during the E3 presser), and then with a Ferrari from the sixties. Bishop boldly claimed that it's probably the best track from the entire Forza series, and the truth is that having tried it ourselves we can confirm that it has that special something that invites you to race around it again and again; it demonstrates the expertise of the studio when it comes to realising dry daytime tracks, and it's a good way to show off what can happen in the new 24-car races (instead of 16). With this increased car-count both the feeling of achievement and the strategy required in each event are emphasised, although we really hope that the AI of the Drivatars are also improved, leading to more exciting and realistic challenges. That much we've been promised, with better learning, adjustable aggressiveness, and further considerations regarding the actions of players in new situations such as rain and night racing.
The colours, warmth and emotions of Rio, the rain and the darkness, plus the fact that we got the chance to sit behind the wheel of the Lambo Huracán and the unique Ferrari 250 GTO , have inevitably reminded us of the brilliant Forza Horizon 2 from last year. The franchise manager confirmed that Turn 10 have not only been inspired by that game's more stimulating visual approach, but that Playground Games' title also served as a reference point when implementing many improvements elsewhere. While the weather is not as dynamic as it is in the open world racer, the big difference is that the so called ForzaTech engine produces smooth a 1080p/60fps experience, something essential in a simulator.
During these tests we couldn't even begin to assess the important audio aspect of the game (a pity that the ambient noise of the event somewhat drowned out the roar of the engines, essential when considering gear and engine control), but it seems that the musical tracks that feature in the menus continue to be of the most neglected parts of the game.
The latest addition of particular interest is what they're proposing for the new Career Mode. It's great that they are finally discarding the formula whereby you begin with pokey boy racer type cars, drive in them for hours just so you're able to buy a proper one, because while it might have been fun back in the day, today it makes for a dull approach. Now they've focused on recreating moments from the history of motorsport, such as the rivalry between Ferrari and Ford in the '60s, and they've arranged a series of events of this kind to keep jumping us between classes so we can experience a wide range of cars from the garage across more than 70-hours spent in the main mode. We're looking forward to getting to know the new Career Mode in more detail.
In short, behind the wheel we've noticed little change at this point, maybe some slight adjustments on what was already an excellent simulation model, improvements that will be further studied during more extensive testing. Where we noticed change - mainly when driving on wet surfaces - it may even have been too much, but the team still has time to find a more accurate and realistic balance. Where Forza Motorsport 6 does convince at first sight is with the numbers, with content. With its 450+ ForzaVista cars at launch, 26 tracks, 24-car races, and in its renewed campaign mode, it seems like it might be the complete current-gen racer that Forza Motorsport 5 never quite managed to be. We're heating up our engines and hoping to confirm this in September.