I’ve been playing racing games longer than I’ve been able to reach the pedals in an actual car. Three consoles and two PCs later, I thought I’d seen it all, but 2016 is turning out to be the year I’m proven wrong. The sheer diversity and quality of the titles available across platforms is better than it’s ever been, but it’s the whole “across platforms” thing that’s making this an interesting year in gaming.
Assetto Corsa, a racing sim that’s been PC-exclusive since its inception, and Forza Motosport 6, an Xbox One exclusive, are swapping platforms this year. AC will be out next month on Playstation 4 and Xbox One but Forza Motorsport was just released two weeks ago to the PC market for the very first time. Being Hooniverse’s resident PC
loser gamer, I’ve had a go with the latter.
Before I jump in with what’s awesome and what sucks, Forza Motorsport 6: Apex as it’s called is a free-to-play open beta. Things aren’t finished, a lot of features aren’t implemented yet, it’s not super stable, and it’s cut down dramatically on content compared to the full console release. To put it bluntly, it’s very far from perfect but still very interesting. It’s not your typical Forza Motorsport game to say the least, and in a way it’s not even your typical PC game.
Let me explain…
Make no mistake, Forza Motorsport venturing into PC gaming is a big deal. Until now, the only way to play Forza Motorsport was to buy an Xbox. Microsoft loved being able to plaster a huge “only on Xbox” sticker onto every copy of Forza Motorsport sold, just to remind everyone that their console platform was best. Everyone was guilty of that and all it did was segregate gamers based on their chosen platform as not everyone could afford to buy more than one of them.
For the sake of uniting gamers across multiple platforms, Forza Motorsport and Assetto Corsa going cross-platform is a huge step forward. So with that said, what is Turn 10 Studios’ olive branch to the PC gaming community like?
The gaming experience
As mentioned earlier, it’s free-to-play and technically an open beta. It’s not meant to be a full game like Forza Motorsport 6 was on the Xbox One. It’s like a rebuilt and slimmed down technical exercise meant to show you what they’re capable of on an all-new platform with as much potential as Microsoft allows for.
However, there’s some heavy emphasis on “slimmed down”. Forza Motorsport 6 launched on the Xbox One with over 450 cars and 23 tracks (not including separate track layouts). Forza Motorsport 6: Apex, however, has just 63 cars and 6 tracks. There are several different variants of each track though and they do include night and rain settings at least, but it’s not exactly rich in content.
[Forza Motorsport 6: Apex will now be referred to as simply Apex because I’ve gotten too lazy to keep typing it all out]
As far as what you can actually do with those 63 cars and 6 tracks, you get a career mode of sorts with a 12-event “Showcase Tour”. This takes you on a tour through every class of cars available and each track with the racing getting faster and more intense as you go.
Once you’re done with that (which only takes up an hour or two of your time), Apex also has a “Spotlight Series” with several time-limited events. The game doesn’t have to end after the last Showcase Tour event and that’s the way it should be. Completing each event gets you points and medals which you can use to increase your driver level and unlock cars.
Yes, you do have to unlock almost all of the cars in the game. If anything, it gives you an incentive to play through the thing and perfect each event. As long as you complete objectives and earn those medals, there’s always a car for you to use in the next event. Or you can support shady game industry practices and buy your way into a car instead for $.99. It really isn’t that hard to unlock cars, so if you actually play the game you won’t need to throw any money at the game.
And when you do unlock your favorite car, there’s no option to customize it or apply any kind of custom livery like you can in the full release. It does come with a paint store with manufacturer colors and special colors (the ones that let you paint wood paneling on a Ferrari), but nothing else.
It being undeniably light on content is simply the nature of the open beta. Turn 10 Studios plans to release updates and content all throughout the summer, but chances are it will never have as much content as the full console release for as long as it’s free. But despite it being low on content, it’s still a Forza game at heart. It’s gorgeous, easy to learn but difficult to master, and any long-time fan can feel right at home with Apex even in its beta state.
Making the jump from Xbox to PC
But perhaps more importantly, what’s Apex like to play on a whole new platform for Forza? The jump from consoles to PC is about as hard as it can get due to the very nature of PC gaming.
In console gaming, developers build games to run on exactly one system configuration. Every Xbox One in the world is built with the exact same hardware and behaves exactly the same as the next. In PC gaming, developers have to make a game that can run on a near infinite combination of hardware configurations. Hundreds of different CPUs, thousands of different graphics cards, and many, many more PC components are on the market which make it a real challenge to get a game running well on everyone’s system. Plenty of studios have done PC ports correctly but plenty more have done it terribly – big studios with big budgets, no less.
In that regard, Turn 10 Studio has done a good job with that for the most part in Apex.
They’ve opened up all of the graphics settings typical for PC gaming so you can adjust settings to get it running just right, but more impressively, they’ve simplified that whole process in a brilliant way. In Apex, you’re given the ability to let the game decide those settings for you with a Dynamic option that can change graphics settings in real time as you play. You can either let it pick everything for you or adjust certain values manually.
Personally, I had to manually set a few individual options because the game thought I could run everything in much higher quality than I actually could (which made my first race a wonderful experience), but otherwise it does an excellent job of getting every bit of power out of the available hardware while sustaining a good frame rate. But it doesn’t take system temperatures into account… If you’ve never seen your CPU temps approach 90°C like I just did, keep it that way. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s the most brilliant feature in Apex and I hope it becomes an industry standard.
One of the biggest draws of PC gaming is the extra power that can be put into video quality. Apex can run in resolutions up to 4K. I couldn’t get close to that, but in standard 1080p it never stopped looking spectacular. I can honestly say it’s one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played. I haven’t spent too much time with Forza Motorsport 6 on the Xbox One so I can’t say if it looks much better through personal experience, but fortunately the guys at DigitalFoundry put together an excellent comparison video to demonstrate how much better it is, albeit in some ways not everyone would immediately notice.
And the cherry on top would be cross-platform mutliplayer which is sort of teased here. That’s been all but confirmed as a possibility and Apex has already taken a great first step by letting you race against Drivatars belonging to Xbox One players. I’ve already seen several friends on track when I know for a fact that they’ve never touched Apex.
Why Apex is still a beta
But as I mentioned earlier, it’s still far from perfect. Take a look at the known issues with Apex for starters. They range from the simple little bugs to the nearly game-breaking flaws.
One that’s affected me in a most annoying way is “Hybrid GPU laptops may experience [screen] tearing”. I’m having to play this on a “gaming” laptop which has a Hybrid GPU setup, and despite it being built for the sole purpose of running resource-intensive games, it’s going to get screen tearing no matter what until it’s fixed. Even with V-sync enabled, a feature designed exclusively to prevent that, I still see screen tearing every time I pan the camera, which kind of looks like the image above. Screen tearing is when frames are rendered faster than the monitor can handle. And for those with high-end gaming rigs with GPUs and monitors that can handle more than the standard 60 frames per second, there’s no way to disable V-sync at all. That goes down to a flaw in the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) in which it’s built on. More on that later…
Another huge drawback is the lack of wheel support. This one is a bit hard to comprehend because Forza Motorsport 6 supports steering wheels on the Xbox One and its predecessors did as well (the exception. Every other racing game I’ve ever played on PC supports steering wheels. It’s an open beta, yes, but who thought it was a good idea to bring Forza to PC for the first time and not support something that’s such a common accessory? You can use controllers with Apex without issue as long as it’s an Xbox controller and Turn 10 says wheel support will come further down the road, but I think it should have been there from day one. It would be one thing if there were simply no wheels that could work with the hardware, as was the case with the new consoles for some time, but literally every single USB-connected racing wheel in the world can work with PC, so racing games on PC are kind of expected to support them.
In terms of performance and stability (keeping in mind of course that it’s a beta), for the most part it runs just fine as long as the settings are right. But Apex has crashed on me at least a couple dozen times now, mostly when I’m going into photo mode with more than one car on track. In that regard, Apex is already a true PC game.
Apex as a PC game [nerd rant ahead]
But in a way, it really isn’t like other PC games. That Universal Windows Platform I mentioned above is the reason why. Forza Motorsport 6: Apex is built, installed, and run more like a phone app rather than a traditional desktop application. It’s only available on the latest OS, Windows 10, which poses a problem for people sticking with older versions like Windows 7 for the sake of stability, functionality, and privacy. There are undeniable performance gains with Windows 10, thanks primarily to DirectX 12, but it too feels like an open beta.
Annoyingly, Apex’s installation files exist on your computer but you can’t access them. There’s no executable, no files to tweak, and no way to actually see what’s installed. It’s like buying a car and finding that the engine bay is welded shut. It also means third-party apps like Steam (which has a useful in-game overlay) and Fraps (a popular recording and screen capture app) won’t work with the game. There are tons of incredibly useful tools that will simply no longer work with games built on UWP.
The reason PC gaming is even as popular as it is is because of the freedom that comes with it. You can build things your way, play games the way you want to, and have near complete control over the gaming experience. To build a PC that meets Apex’s recommended requirements, you’d need at least $700 for the CPU, GPU, and RAM alone. Other basics like a motherboard, power supply, case, monitor, and peripherals add even more to that price. People don’t spend that kind of money on gaming PCs to have options taken away from them.
UWP in its current form does exactly that, and sadly, the only way you’ll ever get to play Forza Motorsport on PC is to follow Microsoft’s rules.
This is a car site, so let me put it this way. You could spend $40,000 on a brand new, nicely-equipped Chevrolet Camaro. It does everything you’d ever need it to do and it does it well. It’s fun and it works (like an Xbox or Playstation). Alternatively, you could buy a Mazda MX-5 project car and quadruple the value of the car with performance mods to make it do exactly what you want it to do and no less (like a PC). That’s PC gaming in a nutshell, and UWP is like (for the sake of argument) a proposed regulation that would prevent you from turning that project into what you really wanted it to be.
Normally this is where I’d use an advanced scientific method to calculate a rating on the Lada scale. But for Apex, it felt wrong to give it a Lada points due to the nature of it. It’s advertised as an open beta and it’s never going to be a full Forza Motorsport game no matter how many updates they can crank out over the next few months, so there’s no sense in comparing it directly to other complete games.
But I’ll sum this up by saying Forza Motorsport 6: Apex is a powerful, beautiful, and entertaining sign of things to come, but it comes at the expense of a lot of the wonderful things that made PC gaming wonderful. Apex is still a great way to kill time with 63 of the virtual cars you love. If you love racing games, you’ll enjoy Apex. If you’re a miserable bastard of a PC gamer like me, you’ll still find a way to enjoy it while looking for Windows 7 ISO files.
You can download it from the Windows Store right now for free if you were one of the ones forced to update to Windows 10. Be sure to check system requirements at the bottom of this page on Turn 10’s site before you get started.
[Sources: DigitalFoundry, ForzaMotorsport.net. All images are captured directly from Turn 10 Studios’ Forza Motorsport 6: Apex]