LOS ANGELES--One day after Sony updated fans with news on its big console driving sim, Microsoft returned fire with driving news of its own: the formal announcement of Forza 2 for the Xbox 360. Before we dive into impressions of the brief trailer shown during the Microsoft press conference, let's get to the hard facts announced by Peter Moore. Forza 2 will feature more than 300 drivable cars, a modest upgrade from the 230-plus available in the original game, with more customizable parts and options than the original game. In addition, players will be able to race against up to 11 other players online, up from eight in the original. Best of all, and the most important news for Forza freaks, the game is due for release this holiday season.
Now, onto the press conference trailer--beginning with close-up shots of two hot-looking sports cars racing on an oval circuit, the camera shot slowed down to show both gleaming cars looking shiny and sharp as they raced to be the first across the finish line. Though the demo was prerendered, the car models themselves looked to be pretty close to what the cars will look like in the Forza 2 engine--at least we hope so. Just before the pair of cars crossed the line, the footage backed up and the paint on one of the cars began to peel off, revealing a plain white automobile underneath.
Next, the car further deconstructed until it was just a line drawing of an automobile, then slowly reconstructed itself, showing the various parts that comprise a real car--presumably a not-so-subtle method of showing the various parts and components that you will be able to adjust in the Forza 2 garage. Everything from custom hubcaps to shocks were shown and, as the car eventually recomposed itself, it was also given a brand-new coat of paint. Again, an obvious method of showing off the massive amounts of car personalization the Forza series has come to be known for.
With the cars reconstructed, it was time to go racing. We watched as groups of cars raced all over a constantly shifting panorama of available tracks in the game--we recognized Japan's Suzuka track (the ubiquitous Ferris wheel was a giveaway) and the fictional Blue Mountain from the original game, as well as the stock car oval track also featured in the original game. One particularly cool moment in the demo video showed one car getting loose and scraping its rear end against the wall, sparks flying all the while. The camera shifted immediately toward an inside view of the right front brake pad and shock absorber as it buckled under the strain. We all know the original Forza made vehicle damage a focus and we suspect that will continue in earnest with Forza 2.
Moore had one last bit of news for Forza 2 fans--a new wireless rumble-enabled wheel that will come out this fall, in time for Forza 2's release this holiday season. Considering the original Xbox never really had a wheel worthy of it, we're very excited to get our hands both on the new wheel and the game itself. Even more exciting was the idea of extending Forza 2 with the Live Anywhere functionality announced at the press conference. As Microsoft honcho Bill Gates explained later in the presentation, Forza 2 players will be able to trade and customize cars between their cell phones, PCs, and Xbox 360s--a tantalizing prospect to say the least. Obviously, we've got far more questions than answers on Forza 2 and its amazing possibilities, and we'll be doing our best to get as many of those questions answered in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned.
[UPDATE] While Microsoft isn't planning on showing anything more on Forza 2 other than what was shown during the publisher's E3 press conference, we did get to spend some time today with Forza lead game designer Dan Greenawalt. During the conversation we spent, Greenawalt revealed some details that we hadn't previously known about this highly anticipated racing sim. First of all, while we know the car count has increased from 230 in the first game to 300 in the sequel, we've also learned that the number of drivable tracks is growing as well--60 tracks will be playable in Forza 2, up from 45 in the original. Five of those new tracks will be real-life circuits and Greenawalt spilled the beans on one of them: Sebring International Raceway which is located in Sebring Florida multiple sports car and endurance races throughout the year.
An interesting aspect of the conversation with Greenawalt included his insight on how the development teams responsible for both Forza and Project Gotham Racing 3 approach the development of their respective racing game. PGR players will remember the PGR TV feature found in the Xbox 360 game, which lets players watch races from all over the world via Xbox Live. Greenawalt said Forza will be adopting the feature for Forza 2, though it's probably safe to assume it will have new features unique to the game. As Greenawalt put it, this sharing of technology is part and parcel to the development approach between the Forza and PGR teams; and it's safe to assume that the next Project Gotham game will be borrowing features from Forza 2 when it comes around next.
Finally we got a better look at the wireless wheel which was also announced at the Microsoft press conference. While it wasn't on hand for us to try for ourselves, we do know it will come in for under $100 (we can hear the cheers of the hardcore driving fans from here), and will feature both force feedback and rumble effects. That might not sound like a big deal but, as Greenawalt explained in explicit detail, the two effects will be used individually and in tandem to convey the effects of car momentum in greater detail than ever before. Sounds great and we can't wait to check it out ourselves.
So, a few more tantalizing snippets, but not much in the way of game features or online details. But with a game like Forza 2, we'll take what we can get. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.