The best sim on the Xbox, but it isn't that hard to be the best simulator on this console...

Everybody is hailing Forza as the best driving simulator on the Xbox. But, after all that praise, is it really hard to be the number one racing sim on this console? I certainly can't think of many. And while it definitely is the best sim on the console, it still didn't live up to my expectations for long...

When I got Forza Motorsport not long after it came out, I couldn't wait to boot it up. I had been tracking it for just under a year, and it looked sumptious. I didn't have many Xbox racers back then and I wanted one to keep me going after the hours of Halo and more Halo I had played. And for a few days I did not come out of my room unless absolutely necessary, I barely ate, I starved myself of sleep, just to dedicate myself to Forza. OK, I'm exaggerating, but at the start, I loved the game, regardless of its obvious flaws.

Let's start with the visuals. The car models looked identical to their real-life counterparts, engineering marvels that shone with enough light to blind the sun. Even the car I started off with, the Audi TT, managed to look gorgeous. All the car models are faithful and photorealistic. And then I actually drove on the track... sure, they were faithful to their real-life counterparts, and added to Forza's already substantial realism, but they look desolate and forlorn. The first track I raced on was Silverstone, but it looked lifeless and dull, like it had been bombed on an overcast Monday morning. Some of the tracks are nice, the Fujimi Kaido mountain one is spectacular, but overall they need more detail, instead of washed-out winds of tarmac. The spectators scarily look like mannequins you would find in your nearest fashion store, and remain motionless throughout the race, locked in the same position as if some magical spell had been cast on them. OK, so this is what my supporters look like... all the enthusiasm of a dead duck cheered me on through the races as I rose up the ranks, the levels, and the cars. It honestly doesn't feel like you're going fast enough either... OK, this is a mathematical reproduction of a real-life experience, as the boot-up screen so proudly tells us, but when I'm going 165mph it feels like I'm going half of that. I need speed! And I really hate to nit-pick even more, but I really don't like the crappy menu screen. Chrome-brushed and uninteresting. So put it this way, as far as graphics go in this game, as long as you're gawping at a car, you're OK.

And then there's the sound. I have to say, it's pretty good. The standard soundtrack is awful, but at least you can play your own music. There are some bland sound effects chucked in here, but the engine sounds are distinct and heavenly. Each car has a different roar when your foot is pressed to that accelerator, and some are better than others. The RX-7 and any American cars could easily be your prime reason to actually race, just to hear that godly hornet gang swarming in your fuel tank. Again, the realism counter goes up to 11.

And then there's the key to a sim. The gameplay. I've already noted the lack of speed, which is a serious blow, but of course, this is a mathematical reproduction that doesn't like motion blur one bit. And, generally, Forza is good at what it does, for the beginning of the game you are gradually working your way through championships and turning your bogstandard Volkswagen Golfs and Peugeot 206's into snarling monsters. The handling is again faithful to real-life, but then again I wouldn't know how to clarify that as I can't drive yet. But as the AI progresses, it gets seriously evil. Especially with some of the American Muscle tourneys, that stock Corvette still manages to beat your fully pimped-out one. And their main method of winning is ever-so-slightly nudging you at the side of your rear bumper so you spin out in a frenzy and smash into a wall. Which, combined with Forza's brilliant damage meter, makes things so frustrating you go berserk and snap your disc in two. And then it's bye-bye Forza.

There are some redeeming features- I personally loved making custom vinyls. The selection Microsoft provides you with is utter rubbish, with the customary flames, lightning and tribal stuff, and some weird ones like tarantulas and radiation. What the hell?!? Good thing is, using the basic shapes like the square, the circle and the triangle, you can resize them, move them around, tilt them to one side, spin them around; with these it is possible to make intricate designs, with time. Best done if you have a lot of patience. You can splash out on decals and manufacturer stickers as well.

Forza is a very realistic game, with great damage, photorealistic vehicles and faithful, if dull, tracks. But then there's evil AI, desolate environments, a lack of speed and a shortage on fun, which really retract from a great simulation. It's good, but didn't live up to my expectations, and it's insanely hard. Buy if you either love cars, or have a lot of patience and perseverance.