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Forza Motorsport
game: Forza Motorsport
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Microsoft
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat Dec 18th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat Dec 18th, 2004

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Release Date: Feb 1st, 2005

When it comes to racing games, everyone is familiar with Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer, perhaps even Sega GT 2002, Rallisport Challenge 2, and Project Gotham Racing 2.  The racing genre has been recently dominated by arcade-style racing games such as Burnout 3: Takedown and Need for Speed 2 Underground.  Despite the plethora of recent arcade racers, we've yet to find the perfect racing simulation.  And, though we're yet to see the final build, Microsoft may have gotten the formula right with Forza Motorsport.

The Gran Turismo series, which is currently in its 3rd installment, has thus far offered the definitive racing experience: amazing physics and playability coupled with a multitude of autos, mind-blowing photo-realistic graphics, and amazing attention to detail.  Sony's king-of-the-road was also a difficult racing simulation, forcing players to adhere to strict apexes or find themselves face-first with a wall.  But then, there are some things that Gran Turismo lacked.  Car damage and customization, for instance, were two details Gran Turismo never touched on.  I love Gran Turismo.  It's one of those games that car enthusiasts like myself can be proud of, hug on occasion, and maybe even sleep with, significant others permitting.  The Xbox has had its share of great arcade racers, but the sim department has been almost entirely overlooked.  Project Gotham Racing 2 and Pro Race Driver 2 are the only games the boast the sim feel for Microsoft's black box.  But now, Microsoft seems to have a solution; that solution is Forza Motorsport.

Redefining a genre?

Forza Motorsport is aiming to be Microsoft's answer to Sony's Gran Turismo, and though it has some huge shoes to fill, things are looking up for the big M.  There are some things that must happen in order to redefine a genre.  First, the game must add something to the genre that has previously been ignored or unthinkable.  And second, while doing this, all other features need to be at least up to par with the industry leaders.  The area in which Forza Motorsport is hoping to innovate is in customization.  FM boasts over 100 layers of customization on each side of the car, not to mention brand-name body-kits and aftermarket parts.  It seems Microsoft's idea of racing is, if you can think it, you can build it? -- a rather ambitious idea.  I'm anxious to see how things stack in the final build.

Then there's the collecting and trading aspect to Forza.  Buy your car.  Customize it.  Race it.  Trade it for other cars.  The rarity of each car is displayed in the car selection menu, and the idea is to collect every creation possible.  Think Pok√©mon meets Gran Turismo.  This is another ambitious aspect to the genre which will likely appeal to the racing enthusiasts out there, or, in the very least, the collecting nuts.  Personally, this is one of the features I'm most excited to see implemented, and there's no doubt that Xbox Live will be involved.

It's all about the cars:

The 12 cars I got to try out were:

2003 Nissan 350Z Track 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII GSR 2004 Acura NSX 2005 Chevy Corvette C6 2004 Ferrari 360 Modena F1 2003 Porsche 911 GT3 1999 Dodge Viper GTS ACR 2001 Audi #1 Infineon R8 1999 Toyota #27 GT-ONE TSO20 1999 BMW Motorsport #15 V12 LMR 1996 Ferrari #12 Kisi Competizione F333SP

Right off the bat, the graphics are amazing.  The cars are realistically detailed and smooth.  Each car looks exactly like its real-world counterpart, from the hood to the tailpipe.  The one level that I was able to drive around in, the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, was detailed in the way you'd expect a racetrack to be, detailed desert area, with some trees here and there, and an unflinching draw distance -- there was no pop-up whatsoever.  Just looking at the tarmac you'll notice an incredible amount of detail: tire tracks remain through the race, worn areas of the track guide you through apexes, and light reflects realistically.  At this point, though, it looks like the demo videos of Gran Turismo 4 are crisper and more photo-realistic.  The graphics in Forza are great, but GT might end up slightly ahead.

One thing that has always annoyed me about all driving games is the lack of detail in the crowds watching the race.  Almost always, Gran Turismo included, the spectators are nothing more than immobile cardboard cutouts.  And, unfortunately, the same thing looks to holds true for Forza.  Minor gripes aside, the game is looking gorgeous.

There will be 200+ cars available in Forza, and even though Gran Turismo will have around 500 cars, it's the customization aspect that will keep Forza in the spotlight.  However, this customization feature in the demo of Forza Motorsport is limited to a simulation of what customizing would be like, adding a body kit and a paint job and the like.  This customization demo only worked for the first four cars on the list,so it's difficult to say how well this system will work in the actual release. 

I wanted to see all the different options for customization, but I was dissapointed that they weren't included.  At first I hoped that the cutomization demo was a random selection of parts, but, upon a second try, I discovered that it was pre-configured.

Forza boasts an extensive damage modelling system.  The damage models are good, but I'm skeptical after what I've seen.  I tried to wreck my car to the point of busting the engine or wheel, but I only succeeded in denting the hood or shattering the back window.  Nothing I could do to my car seemed to affect its performance in the least, which annoyed me.  Ramming a wall should affect my driving, and I hope it does when the game is done.  I'm expecting Microsoft to up the damage system for the final product, and that the demo I played was just meant to showcase basic damage models.  But here is where Forza needs to shine, because if I can knock off my hood and wheels, or those of someone else, then there's a one-up on Gran Turismo which will help Forza Motorsport to distinguish itself.

Drive, baby, drive!

What would a racing game be without the racing?  Well, an auto show.  But an auto show Forza Motorsport is not.  While the physics in Forza is slightly more forgiving than that of Gran Turismo, making the turns correctly is still the key to taking 1st.  Pull your breaks too late, turn early, or ram a car and its curtains.  But luckily, it's not impossible to get back in the race once you've careened into the dust.  Also, it seems that turn-slinging (when a car bumps the side of another in a turn and uses it to sling around the corner) is all but eliminated.  I tried a few times to take out the head car and gain the lead through the last turn, but the best I managed was spinning out into gravel.  Once I took the head car out with me, but mostly he got away, temporarily slowed down.

As for the Xbox controller, the controls are very responsive and each car feels like I would assume is its real-world counterpart.  The Xbox analog sticks work like a charm as they have before in games like Project Gotham 1 & 2 and Rallisport Challenge 2.  In the build I played, there was no ability to toggle the hud, which, I guess, would add or subtract things like the speedometer or the track map.  The gas seems a bit touchy, but pressure sensitive in the right way.

Each car controls different depending on weight, wheelbase, torque, height, and stopping power.  The slower cars (the first four on the list) seemed to be much more difficult to drive than the faster cars (the last four on the list) which I guessed was due to the specialized parts defaulted to the last four cars (they were cars of Le Mans).  Adding better brakes and engine parts will be available in the final build, but for now I was unable to experience it.  Oh, the agony of anticipation!

It's important to know your car in Forza Motorsport.  I ran through a number of races with each car and found that once I got the feel of each, once I realized what the drive train was of each (Front, Rear, or All), things became easier and I began to compensate depending on the needs of my car.  Certain cars perform better by breaking earlier and accelerating earlier, like the Dodge Viper.  It is also possible to configure your car to do specific things, like powerslide.  For instance, the Acura NSX is a rear wheel drive, front engine car, and needs to be slid through some of the tougher corners.  To do this I turned off the STM (Stability Management) and the TCS (Traction Control System) and I was able to powerslide with more precision.  For the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, I kept the system default, or just turned off the STM, which seemed to allow more give in taking turns.  The WRX STi is not meant for sliding, it is an All-wheel-drive car that can recover more easily from going off-road than a front-wheel or rear-wheel car.  Since the WRX STi has more traction than some of the other cars, more precision is needed to negotiate some of the sharper turns.

You also have the option to turn off the ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), but I don't suggest it.  The ABS keeps your car on the road instead of screeching off into the dust.  Just for kicks, I gave it a shot and I was sliding all over the place.  I quickly learned to drive with it, but I suppose that turning it off could yield its own rewards.  With ABS off, the tiniest of pressure on the analog triggers will put that much break pressure on.  If you can learn to feather the brake, you would have an insane amount of control over your car.  However, for the average Joe, ABS is the way to go.

Driving around Laguna Seca was a blast, but Forza seems to want the driver to get to know the course as well as their car.  I took probably around 12 laps in Laguna Seca before actually negotiating the L-turn (90 degrees) right before the finish line.  In this way, Forza Motorsport is challenging, but rewarding, in much the same way Gran Turismo is.

Something to look forward to:

The demo packaged in the Holiday 04 (issue #39) of Official Xbox Magazine (OBM) gives enough of a taste of what we can expect from this anticipated racer.  With the February 1st release date not too far away I was salivating even more at the idea of tricking out any one of the 200 + cars, tuning them, and then taking them online to race against others. 

Last but not least, Forza Motorsport is looking to dominate online racing.  There are supposedly going to be 1700 leaderboards on Live (say that with me, 1700!), and also the ability to create your own club.?  Ever wanted a Ferrari club?  Now you can.  How 'bout Toyotas only?  Sure.  How the online functions will work in the end are yet to be seen, but if this is any indication, Forza Motorsport might be for online racing games what Halo 2 was for online console first person shooters.  What the final verdict will be when February 1st races along is still yet to be seen, but from what we've tasted of Forza so far, things are looking good.

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