Friday, May 06, 2005

Racing Sims Redefined: Forza Motorsport

I'm still the guy other drivers leave in the dust, sliding around after a violent spin-out, knowing that this crash will likely leave my car limping around the track like a mangy cur, a pale shadow of its' manufacturer's intelligent design, but at least I'm now able to beat some of the AI players offline in Forza Motorsport, the new, and awesome racing sim from Microsoft Game Studios for the XBox - a demonstration, if ever one was needed, of the awesome power of the current generation of gaming consoles.

Enough parallels have been drawn between this game, and Gran Turismo 4 for the PlayStation 2, but the games are quite different, and the dynamics of planning out your racing career much more detailed in Forza Motorsport. You start out your career in a chosen home region - North America, Europe, or Asia - and this provides you with an initial choice of cars and tracks. You also get a starting bankroll of 20,000 credits, enough to buy, for example, a 2003 Lexus IS300, my first car. As you go on to win races, and credits, you can purchase or win additional cars, and new tracks.

Time does not pass - you do not grow older, jaded, bitter. The adulation of the crowds never wanes, and you never get the girl. All the same, racing a Mitsubishi Evo VIII("better than a £180,000 Ferrari") down Laguna Seca Speedway, or a Ferrari Scagletti through the narrow, winding streets of Tokyo is an experience worth the vicarious pleasure, every minute of it.

The cars can be tuned, upgraded, bought and sold. Playing on XBox Live is a humbling and exciting experience. The AI is preternaturally clever at avoiding crashes, and still flinging a few bumps your way. The cars suffer damage that can, at times, leave your steed limping, drifting to the right, or even losing costly bumpers and rims. The damage is tallied and deducted from your winnings, such as they may be.

I am now up to Class B, and own three cars - the Lexus, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII GSR RS, and a Toyota Celica GT-S. This offers me challenges such as choosing which car to trick out with my limited funds, and whether I should buy another car soon. I've made about 23,000 credits, most of them offline, where the trash-talking is limited to me snarling at the ineptitude I exhibit in executing deceptive turns around legendary tracks. I am not yet a member of any of the car-clubs forming online, but I'm sure I'll be invited soon (My gamer tag is MojoCat ;) ;) )

The car sounds and physics are spectacular, but the in-game soundtrack is the worst I have ever heard in a game. One upgrade allows me to rip out the stereo, and other accoutrements to lose weight. Methinks I will opt for that, if it quiets the pseudo-rock riffs that are as stale as a twenty-day old jug of cheap wine.

Good, positive reviews of Forza(Avg 9.5/10), the large fleet of cars, the ability to tune and tweak every aspect of the car, and a rich playing experience, both in-career, and regular racing, make this a fun racing game, although not in the same category as Gotham Racing 2, for example.

The complexity and relative difficulty make this a game I can only play for an hour or so, before returning to the marvelous frag-fest and easy camaraderie of Halo 2 for some Team Slayer on the new Halo 2 maps that are very very cool.

Forza Motorsport Forza : Prima Official Game Guide/DAN IRISH Halo 2 Gran Turismo 4 Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques/Ross Bentley Tune to Win/Carroll Smith How to Make Your Car Handle/Fred Puhn Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives/Aesop Rock Candy-O/Cars

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader