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Xbox Preview - 'Forza Motorsport'

by John Curtis on March 28, 2005 @ 1:23 a.m. PST

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: May 3, 2005

Pre-order 'FORZA MOTORSPORT': Xbox

Since Microsoft first announced the upcoming Forza Motorsport for the Xbox, racing fans everywhere have been marking off the days on their calendars until the game's release. There have been quite a few racing simulators released on the Xbox console since its debut a few years ago, but none of them have had the hype or the development time of this game. With over 125 people working together for over two years, it's no wonder that everyone is dying to see this modern-day gaming marvel. So when Microsoft sent us a build of the game, we were very excited to take this game for a test drive ourselves, and needless to say, we were impressed. Stunning graphics, crazy-mad realistic physics, damage effects (something that always seems to be missing), and tons of gameplay options let us know that this title is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Microsoft, looking to take the almighty thunder from Sony and their racing simulator giant Gran Turismo, has promised that Forza Motorsport will be the most technologically advanced driving simulator to ever grace the gaming market, with support of up to four players on a single Xbox and up to eight players via Xbox Live. Added bonuses include 480p support (30 frames per second) with anti-alias, top notch Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, custom soundtracks, and system link capabilities. Linking three Xbox systems together also allows for an extra large viewing area for a single-player game, but that may set you back a paycheck or two since it means you will have to have the following items in order to accomplish this feat: three Xboxes ($450), three Forza Motorsport game disks ($150), three high-resolution monitors or televisions ($300 to $30,000), one specially designed steering wheel (designed by Endor especially for Forza), and a special car driving gaming seat ($499). Getting to experience Forza Motorsport in every aspect possible … priceless! However, if you ask me, this is the best thing since the invention of the automobile itself (although thankfully, I wasn't alive in those days).

There were a bunch of major players included in the making of Forza Motorsport: some of the most brilliant minds in the gaming industry headed by lead developer Dan Greenawalt and including folks from Microsoft, Nintendo, Neversoft, Crystal Dynamics, Boss Games, DICE, and EA. Creators of games such as Project Gotham Racing, Rallisport Challenge, Midtown Madness, and Need for Speed have devoted their lives and souls into the development of this single game, just to bring us gamers the best racing game most of you have yet to play. True patriots!

Forza Motorsport is packed with over 200 different licensed cars from over 60 top car manufacturers from around the globe, including Mazda, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, and Dodge. Unlike other racing games that feature over 600 cars as a selling point for their game, Forza only delivers the best of the best, none of those cars that you barely look at, let alone ponder driving. The car detail is immaculate, as the cars were photographed from every imaginable angle (I wouldn't be surprised if they gave the cars an exhaust-oscopy). In certain cases, experts from companies such as Ferrari and Toyo Tires have came in to make sure that these cars look and operate as close to the real deal as possible.

Customizing your car is Forza is off the hook! In the past with other racing simulator titles, you have been able to change such things on your car like brakes, tires, turbo kits, etc., but Forza Motorsports goes above and beyond that. Take your car to the in-game garage and install suspension kits, brakes, tires, rims, racing slicks, bolt-on superchargers, and if that's not enough to soak your pants, also know that you can choose to toss out the whole engine and install an entirely different one. You can choose to customize your ride with factory suggested parts or go to a list of over 120 third-party car part manufacturers from around the world and pick the part that is right for you. The combinations are almost limitless, and believe me every angle you can possibly think of has been covered by the developers. Fine-tune gear ratios, forced-induction pressure, fuel mapping, tire pressure and temperature, and ignition timing to make your car handle and perform the way you want it to, not the way the game says it has to.

As if all of this is not enough, you can also paint your ride, add decals, reshape them, overlap them with up to 100 layers in six different areas, which accounts for 600 layers of graphics … now that's intense. Not only are you able to do all of these different modifications, but you are able to experience them thanks to new state-of-the-art AI. Car parts, the way you handle your car, driving conditions, track conditions, car weight, and other variables are all taken into account and affect the way your car accelerates, handles turns and corners, and how the tires will wear. Drive your car rough the first few laps, and you will have a tough time completing the rest of the course and staying in first on worn tires.

Everything in this game is just truly impressive, but to me, nothing seems to be more extraordinary than the damage taken to the vehicles in the game. Not only does the car show actual physical damage taken, but it also changes the way a car sounds and the way it handles. At times while playing and accidentally crashing my car into a wall or another vehicle, I was left wondering if the game developers were actually permitted to take baseball bats and smash some of these gorgeous vehicles, or have a day or two of destruction derby in the employee parking lot. Whatever the case may be, they definitely went all out when making Forza.

… and yet, saying that Microsoft went all out is somewhat of an understatement, which will be obvious when you see the tracks. They actually had crews take cameras to all of the tracks featured in the game and photograph every last square inch of it. Real tracks like Nurburgring Nordschleife, Laguna Seca, and the spectator-lined streets of Rio de Janeiro are just a few of the tracks you will see in Forza Motorsport. Not a single square inch of the track is duplicated to speed the development of the game; it is all completely different, to give you the racer the feel of actually being at that specific track. Also added was the "racing groove," or the oily markings on the track, which to the non-racing fans reading this, is the most traveled and easiest path to follow. Following this will help reduce the times of your lap times drastically. Tracks, like cars, also show damage taken and will stay that way until you start over on the track or move on to another race. An example of this would be if you were to slam your brakes or to run your car into a wall. The next lap around, the one after that, and after that, etc., would reflect and show true the skid marks left from braking hard on the track or the paint left on the wall from running your car into it.

Gameplay in Forza Motorsport is more than just a spankin' hot new AI engine, car and track damage, car customizations, and gorgeous graphics. They all come into play, but new to any platform is a new engine developed for Forza called "Drivatars." Drivatars is an AI engine that learns from the techniques you use during your racing career and will, in turn, race a track for you, but it is limited to how good you have trained it to be. It can also teach "noob" members to your racing team for you, since the normal AI used by the computerized vehicles is a lot like the Drivatar's system. However, Drivatars can also work against you. In the beginning of your racing career, it starts new and fresh to the game, much like you and will actually spin out or go off the road on occasion. As your career progresses, so does the AI, and not only does it progressively get a bit tougher as you advance, but it actually learns from you. Each lap, the AI vehicles will change according to your technique that you are using, and it will even take what it learns from you on one track and apply it to another.

Forza Motorsport features several different modes of play, including career mode and versus mode, in addition to tons of Xbox Live playing features. In career mode, you start out with a choice of three different continents: North America, Europe, and Asia. Basically, the differences in the starting areas are how much you will pay for different cars, so starting in Asia is not a good choice if you want to drive an American-made vehicle, or else you will be paying out the yin yang for it. Each area also features a different circuit of tracks to race on, and from there, you work your way up, earning cash for your bank and building a name for yourself to unlock other racing areas. Upgrading your car is a must if you expect to be able to compete with the other cars as you work your way through the different circuits. You will also be able to take your career mode online to race against up to seven other actual human players (at least we assume everyone with an Xbox is human) rather than bots. Challenge up to three friends on a single Xbox via split-screen and see who is the best driver, or link a couple of systems together and gain up to eight people locally.

You will also be able to do versus matches and create racing teams of up to 100 total racers, and you can also smack a custom decal just for your team on all of your team vehicles to represent your club. Online scoreboards will also be an added Xbox Live feature, and of course, as always, your buddy list.

All in all, this game has impressed me, and I'm anticipating the May release date. If you are looking for the closest thing you can possibly find next to stealing a Porshe 911 and going to Laguna Seca to see just what kind of a time you can cut on a lap, then this game is for you. Microsoft said they were building a "real" racing simulator with Forza Motorsport, and that is just what they did.

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