Tuesday 19 September 2017

Forza Motorsport 7: Demo

About a year ago I wrote about my history with the Forza series of games and how I found the state of the series with the PC beta/test release of Forza Motorsport 6: Apex.

We are two weeks away from Forza Motorsport 7 finally providing a full track experience outside of the closed console ecosystem and a demo (a three event series which has been used to show off the game at events but now runs outside controlled environments) has just been released. There are already a few concerns about FM7, from loot crates (including exclusive player customisation rewards) taking a prominent role to the Auction House and several other features being missing at launch (they are coming later but this does feel like an XB1X launch game they're pushing out early), but I'm sure we'll be able to get into that next month when we actually know exactly what's in that final retail experience.

I am no Forza pro, the sharpest end of the global leaderboards are beyond my skill levels, but I do enjoy a bit of a spin with assists off and the AI tuned up towards the top difficulty. The rewind options in solo play allows fast development of skills because you can constantly work at the edge of your skill level for that car class. The assists mean you can slowly turn off automation and get used to something new to master while the way those assists limit your performance give a reason to want to drive without them, even at the sharper end where reaction times are being tested. None of that can really be drilled into in a three track demo that fixes the vehicles (this is the introduction that tutorialises the start of the campaign in FM7) but we can get a feel for how it runs (on my ageing PC - hurry up Intel, release those mainstream hexacores) and if it feels significantly different to the previous Motorsport entries.

From a technical standpoint, the dynamics settings allow for a smooth 60fps v-sync on my system driving 4K with 4xMSAA (you can decide which things are static so you can enforce MSAA constantly rather than having it tweak on the fly - there is no temporal AA here to accumulate sub-pixel accuracy over time) but something about it feels off. I can view my replays and see the locked 60fps presentation often without dropped frames around the areas of concern (and what looks like even time-steps on my fixed-refresh screen) but it feels like a micro-stutter. My best guess at this point is that in the points where I feel it, the car is starting to shake on the track (at speed or over corners) and the more reactive camera causes this oscillation to combine with the framerate in a way that feels like stutter. I have tried changing the Camera Motion Effects but that only appears to change how the chase-cam and HUD shake - inspecting the replays shows the cockpit camera is still bouncing around inside the car whatever this setting is configured as. Something about it feels new and possibly something I'll need to get used to in the high-end vehicles before I can feel comfortable.

There are also some areas of actual stutter that I'm finding under extended play; perfect 60fps frame pacing that suddenly stalls for 5-6 frames in a row before catching back up, which is hopefully an issue they're tracking and not a sign my CPU isn't fast enough for the simulation. You can see a slightly concerning stall (10 frames long) just before the lap change in the video above but it's very rare that it drops more than an occasional single frame - completely different to the mess that was Forza Horizon 3's launch.

Edit 21/9: So I actually looked at the performance logs to see if I could find what was happening when the GPU stalled out for these up-to-a-dozen-frame blocks in the demo and just having task manager open made it obvious - I need more RAM. Due to my PC being over six years old, the motherboard no longer accepts multiple RAM sticks (again, weeks away from Intel responding to Ryzen and then I pick which system to buy) so I'm stuck on 8GB. Forza (at least with the settings on Ultra-Dynamic) plus OS (nothing else in memory, even video capture turned off) seems to want at least 10GB of RAM so these stutters (as seen above) are from RAM evictions/shuffling to pagefile.

The new more-forward cockpit position option is great, giving just enough of the dash to read the instruments (although a custom-FoV option would be appreciated to give a bit more control) without losing 50% of the screen to rendering the inside of the car. Everything feels good. In this demo there is no customisation, no sense of how the progression is, but as a small taste then it runs, if anything, better than Apex does. There are a few tweaks that should happen before release (icons for the vehicles on the mini-map rather than opaque rectangles is presumably a texture load issue) but this is looking like a solid platform on which they have hopefully built enough tools to keep everyone happy.