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Xbox Preview - 'Forza Motorsport'

by Eric on May 21, 2004 @ 4:15 a.m. PDT

"Forza Motorsport" gives Xbox gamers who are passionate about cars and racing the opportunity to own, customize, and race their favorite cars in a realistic driving simulation. From sport compacts to LeMans prototypes, players use earnings from hundreds of races to buy upgrades and aftermarket parts so they can transform real production cars into high-performance race cars.

Genre: Sports/Racing
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Microsoft
Release Date: TBA

For years now, we have been waiting for a true Gran Turismo killer to come out and knock GT 3 off of its pedestal, and take the racing sim crown. There have been many attempts at this, but so far none have been able to dethrone Sony's masterpiece which has really stood the test of time. Not only that, but the latest version in their GT series, GT 4, is due out later this year, promising online play as well as an updated list of features. Before E3, it looked as though Sony would once again be the lead in sim-based racing titles without much challenge from anyone else. That all changed with E3, when, seemingly out of nowhere, Microsoft announced and showed off Forza Motorsport. It was clear that MS was going right after the racing sim crown with Forza, promising a feature-packed online racing sim that is the most realistic out there. While the video they showed looked great and the features did sound impressive, we all know it takes a lot more than that to be dubbed the most realistic racing sim. After seeing many racing titles promise so much and then end up not delivering, I was pretty skeptical about how good Forza would actually be. I got my chance to find out at E3 itself, and after putting in quite a bit of time with this title, all I can say is that GT's days appear to be numbered!

Forza Motosport has been secretly in development at an internal MS game studio for almost three years now. In that time, the team has crafted one of the best sim based racers I have ever had the pleasure of playing. They have worked extremely hard to make the cars as realistic as possible and have even had people on the Ferrari racing team come in and check to make sure that the cars in Forza are performing as close to real life as possible.

After getting behind the wheel and taking Forza for a test spin, I can safely say that all of that hard work the team has put into this title over the past few years has really paid off. I have never experienced a driving sim that felt and handled this realistically before. I have logged many hours of GT 3 in my day, and while good, Forza feels much more realistic in terms of how the cars handle. In Forza, the cars really feel like they make contact with the road, as different surfaces really affect how the cars handle. Depending on the track, the tires you select may mean the difference between winning and losing.

Besides its great handling, Forza also sports the most advanced car customization and upgrade system ever seen in a racing game. Each car has dozens of different body kits for each part of the vehicle that you can buy. Not only do these kits really make your car look good, but they also improve performance. On top of that, you can also tweak and upgrade your engine, shocks, transmission, suspension and even add some nitro to your ride to get the most performance out of it. Taking the car customization even further, there is also a paint shop that allows you to add custom paint jobs to your car as well as put different stickers and graphics, so you can REALLY "pimp your ride." The possibilities in making a unique ride are almost endless. This is an amazing feature by itself, but when you factor in the online support over XBL, you can really see how great this feature can turn out to be. You can buy a stock car, upgrade it and tweak it to make it as fast as possible, then pimp it out and customize it with body kits and paint jobs to make your very own unique ride to take online and show off while you race.

Speaking of online play, right now Forza is set to accommodate eight players over Xbox Live. That number might go up some if the team can get the game to run stable with a few more cars on the screen, but right now it looks as though that will be the limit. The team also has not revealed the final number of licensed cars in the game, but from what they said, it will be in the hundreds. Some of the guys I talked to hinted that the number might be as high as 500, but others suggested a more realistic number would be around 200. They did say though, unlike the GT series, that every car in Forza will be a car that people will want to drive. Also, Forza won't have four or five different versions of the same car, as in the GT series. When they say hundreds of cars, each one will be an entirely different car. This has been one of the biggest problems with the GT series to date; out of the 200 cars in the game, you could care less about 75% of them. Also, that number is further decreased when you factor in that a lot of the cars are just different versions of the same car.

We didn't get to see much of the single player portion of the game at E3, but it will be set up much the same as GT 3 and other sim-based racers. You start out with a little bit of money and buy a car in one of the lower classes and race in different cups and events to earn money to upgrade your car and eventually buy new ones in higher classes that will give you access to new cups and events. I am a big fan of this type of system, and if what MS has done with the other parts of this game is any indication, the career mode should be very impressive.

The graphics in Forza are easily some of the best seen on Xbox. The overall look of the game is very realistic, and the attention to detail is amazing. The cars are spot on and feature some nice touches like self shadowing; even the driver inside will cast a shadow on objects inside of the car. The lighting in the game also looks very realistic, and they have really done a great job in mimicking the way sunlight looks. The specular lighting on the cars is very realistic and not too shiny, like in many other racers. The tracks themselves look great and feature a good amount of detail as well. Right now, the LOD system could be pushed back a bit more, as you can see things change from low detail to high detail pretty close to the car. Some objects on the track also pop up as well, but this will probably be fixed entirely by the time the game ships.

The most impressive part of the graphics by far is the damage system. The damage models for the cars are amazing; you can inflict multiple levels of damage to all areas of the cars. Not only does it look great visually, but damage will actually affect the performance of the cars greatly. You do, however, have the option to turn this off if you so desire.

Rounding out the nice graphics are a few other really cool touches. When you hit a wall in the game, your car will actually leave paint on the point of impact on the wall. Not only will the paint be the same color of that portion of the car that hit the wall, but it will also be there every lap throughout the race. The same goes for tire marks on the track itself; the cars will leave tire marks on the track which will stay there lap after lap and build up over time. Again, the attention to detail is amazing.

Right now, Forza is running at a very steady 30 frames per second and that is not likely to change before it ships. MS, like Bizzare Creations with PGR 2, is going for a high image quality over high frame rate. Before you frame rate whores start to go off on the fact that it is not running at 60 fps, let me tell you that the sense of speed in Forza is extremely fast. I had no idea the game was running at 30 fps until one of the developers told me. It really looks like it is going 60 fps, it is that fast.

Another really cool graphic-related feature that Forza supports is the ability to link multiple Xbox's and TV's together to render a full panoramic view from the car. It's similar to Sega's F355 arcade game, for those of you who remember that. At E3, they had a three-monitor setup that had the standard front view on the center monitor, and the other two monitors were rendering the side views out each window of the car for a full 180 degree view. A fourth monitor was actually running reply cameras of your car during the race. This was a really neat feature to see in action, and it was a blast to race on this type of setup, but this will probably not make it into the final version of the game due to not many people actually being able to use it, as you would need one TV and one Xbox for each additional view.

Overall, I walked away from Forza Motorsport extremely impressed. Not only does this game look great, but it plays great, handles well, and has more depth than any other sim based racer I have had the pleasure to play. The sheer amount of customizing that you can do to your car is truly amazing. I have never seen a racing game with this much depth put into this part of the game. Forza Motorsport already feels great, but the team still has about six months to continue to fine tune the game and perfect it even more. If it plays this well now, I can only imagine how good it will be when it is finished.


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