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ups: Spot-on controls, sounds are great,
downs: In menu music is hit or miss (but better than predecessor), some aliasing present

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Forza Motorsport 2 Demo: In-Depth Hands-On
preview
game: Forza Motorsport 2
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
developer: Microsoft Game Studios - Turn 10 Studios
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date posted: 08:28 PM Fri May 11th, 2007
last revision: 01:16 AM Sat May 12th, 2007


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Click to read.Remember: this is just the demo. This is not the final product and many of the final product's features might not have been implemented--I don't know, I don't have the final build yet, but from the Demo I have a good idea of what to expect.

Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox redefined, for this gamer, what a racing game was. It straddled the line of sim and arcade racer, leant slightly toward the former. There were hundreds of cars, hundreds of real-life, beautifully rendered cars. The AI was brilliant. The tracks were slim-pickins but inspired. And the customization level was...a stroke of genius. For me, it set the bar for console racers and was the best racing game in my opinion since 24 Hours Le Mans on the Dreamcast. Forza Motorsport 2 continues this tradition.

Sure, you probably didn't play 24 Hours Le Mans on Dreamcast, but if you did, you would have played one of the finest racing games ever created. Not only did it have real-time weather and day time effects, tire-wear (finely tuned for the day and age), and fuel drain, but the game was, to me, likened to a zen experience. You listened to the rev of the engines, felt the rumble as your car lost traction, and learned the lines on each track. Cars became lighter as the tank of gas emptied, and traction became better. And there was the endurance 24 hour mode...as I said, it's pure zen. It also had possibly the best AI in any racing game, ever. It was too bad the career mode was difficult to get into and the car selection was only that of the Le Mans cars (well...you can't fault it for that, can you?).

Both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport did a similar thing, combining real life physics and trying to make it still playable to the casual gamer. But these two games brought many more cars/tracks/and/or customization levels to the racing genre. Le Mans wasn't as forgiving as GT or FM--FM was less forgiving than GT. So you can see there's a hierarchy of difficulty versus casual gaming inherent in these games.

The Forza Motorsport 2 Demo leaves one wanting more. Not because it's not a great demo, because it is, actually, a quintessential demo. It gives enough for the gamer to play, to experiment with, and lets him decide whether or not it is worth it. You are given one track, Mugello, Italy and three classes of car (C, A, and R2). The idea is that you'll have a nice taste of the lower, mid, and upper end of the car performance.

Starting with the C class, you'll notice that the graphics look good, but not great. The cars are all sorts of shiny and are beautifully detailed, but there is this small concern of aliasing--the cars don't look entirely aliased. Not sure why. Still, that only seems to matter when the car is sitting still, doing nothing. Once moving everything looks fine. As for the backgrounds, the one track is pretty, but nothing to write home about. Texture detail is wonderful, but the people on the sides of the road are stiff cutouts (again and again I find this the most irritating thing in racing games, I do not know why, as it has nothing to do with the gameplay--and I fear there is no real solution.) In any case, Mugello, Italy looks pretty. In the final build, what I'll look for is how the tracks distinguish themselves and feel different, but I can't do that now.

The different cars in the C class have their own "personality" if you will. They all drive different due to the varying drive trains, engine placements, weight, torque, and horsepower. Everything about the cars is detailed and accounted for--and I recommend everyone go into an instant replay and check out the telemetry data. The PC has seen this much detail with GTR2 from 10tacle Studios, an excellent sim racer.

So far, the attributes of each car are distinct and the differences while cornering/accellerating are monumental. The C class isn't the best or fastest class. Many of these cars control like crap in a race setting, but keep in mind these are unmodified stock versions of the cars, and do not have all those fancy, shmancy upgrades which fill every Forza diehard's wet dream. (I feel dirty now, I confess.) Weight of each car is important and each car controls beautifully, realistically. Some people have argued that Gran Turismo controls more "realistically" but this doesn't seem to be the right judgment--Gran Turismo controls more "casual gamer friendly" and actually fuses many sim elements (or omits things like damage). GT fans might disagree, but I'm still waiting for Polyphony's racer to lurch further over the line of sim/arcade, closer to Forza and closer to GTR2. That said, GT:HD looks better, crisper, than Forza 2.

Try the A class and immediately you'll notice that these cars aren't toys. They're heavier, but fitted with better upgrades (still stock, but better) and that they generally control better. My favorite so far in this class is the Dodge Viper, it seems to grip better in stock when you're coasting and allows you to slingshot around corners while maintaining a decent speed--breaking minimally is always good. In this class, you'll have a better time drafting (negating wind resistance by sharing the car in front's driving line). Drafting feels much better in Forza 2 than in the prequel--and there is no silly "draft indicator."

The R2 class cars are amazing. It's too bad that the track is so short that the race is over too quickly. These grip the road tightly, remain loyal to the road, and are absolutely moot in the dirt. Let's just say, keep it on the road, champ. It's also worth noting that the R2 class exhibits the game's use of decals. The decals are very sharp on the cars, which is good considering all the time I'm going to be spending detailing my rides. And, actually, I always thought cars looked cooler with designs, anyway.

One major thing I've been looking forward to in FM2 is car damage. In the Forza 1, the cars actually scraped along rails and barriers and left paint. This time around, I didn't notice that happening, although I saw that the damage models were pretty cool. The demo does not give the option to set the damage to "Simulation" as will be possible in the final build. We can see, however, that the damage models can be fairly complicated, and the cars with the long hoods can curl and deform up all the way to the tires. It is said that in the final version you can actually destroy your car so much it will be a heap of metal and smoke. I can't wait.

Just a quick final note: the music in the menu is better than the predecessor, but still is a little hit or miss. At times I feel it is perfect, a combination of rock and techno/house. But at other times, I felt that it got a little annoying--perhaps there are only a few songs available in the demo and the final will have more. I'm itching to find out.

As for sound effects, the screeching tires seem a little loud on my system without some minor tweaking. But that was the same in Forza 1. Engine sounds are just perfect and, man oh man, listening to that Ferari hit redline makes me shiver all over. I always found that the crash sounds were pretty authentic (having been in a crash myself once...) but when in a crash you still can't flip the cars over. Oh well.

Forza Motorsport 2 will be in stores May 29th.

-Chris

(Quick UPDATE: Having now tested the game on a standard TV, I can say that the cars look, strangely, sharper. The aliasing is not noticeable. Also of note is the "suggested line" which appears lighter and less obvious than in the previous game, the effect is that the suggested line doesn't look like an eyesore anymore.)

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