TGS 06: Forza Motorsport 2 Updated Impressions

Microsoft's hotly anticipated racer is finally unveiled, and we've got the details.

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TOKYO--When people ask us, "Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" we typically always go for the bad news. In that vein, there's good news and bad news with the upcoming release of Forza Motorsport 2, and we'll give you the bad news first: The game, which was initially touted as coming out during the holiday season, has been pushed to the first quarter of 2007. Yes, racing fans, we feel your pain. But with the sharp prick of bad news out of the way, let's get to the soothing salve of good stuff: We saw Forza 2 running today during a private appointment with Microsoft, and the game is looking well on its way to being another fine entry in the series.

The build of the game we saw was estimated by producers to be 60 percent complete--with the occasional low-res texture on display but nothing that won't be spruced up and in fine working order in the final build of the game. Still, even with those caveats, there's plenty to like about where Forza 2 is heading visually. The cars themselves, which represent makes and models from the newest and most exotic Ferraris and Porsches to your more standard BMWs and Toyotas (as well as Peugeots, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, Vipers, Mustangs, and so on) have been built and modeled from the ground up. Whereas smaller details such as headlights were textures in the previous Forza, this time, practically everything on the car is a 3D object off of which light can bounce and shadows can be cast. Zoom in close on the headlights, for example, and you can see the individual cylinders housed in the headlight glass. One other graphical trick, self-shadowing, was not found in this build, but producers said they hope to have it implemented possibly as soon as next week's X06 event in Barcelona.

During the demo, producers showed off one track in the game, Japan's Tsukuba Circuit, which Forza fans will remember from the first game. This version of Tsukuba is a significant step up from the previous game, however, with much more detail around the track, including more signs and safety barriers, as well as modeled grass for those areas that feature something other than runoff gravel. We also got to see the bonnet cam, which is a new camera angle that puts the point of view just above the hood of your car.

Like previous games, Forza 2 will feature a bunch of different driving aids that you can choose to turn on or off. Features like antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, and gearbox are all selectable here, and the suggested-line feature, which was such a success in the previous game, also returns. Just like last time, the suggested line is dynamic; as you speed around the course, it will change to offer you suggestions on when to hit the throttle, lift off the gas, or step on the brakes.

If, however, you aren't able to keep the car on the track, you can expect Forza 2 to punish you for it. The damage modeling, which was introduced in the previous game, has been taken up a notch this time around. Rear and front bumpers can fall off, windshields will crack into spider-webbed patterns, paint can be scraped off your car (and end up on the wall you slap into, by the way), side mirrors can be ripped off, and body work can be badly dented all over. Because certain car companies are more touchy about damage modeling with their cars in games than others, the producers briefly considered letting some cars take more damage than others (such as wheels flying off) but eventually settled for a common denominator of damage that can affect every car in the game equally. As you might expect, heavy damage on a car will affect performance in a very tangible way, leaving you limping to the finish line after a big shunt (or simply trying the race over again).

The customization portion of Forza 2 has been kicked up, as well. You can expect plenty of customizable parts to deck out your car with. You'll also be able to use the livery creator (which has been upgraded to support hundreds of layers) to create exactly the kind of paint/vinyl/decal scheme you wish for any car in your garage. A new photo mode will let you snap pictures of your cars and share them with friends via the Forza Motorsport Web site, as well.

While Microsoft producers were still mum on talking about all the details for Forza 2's online game, here's what we learned today: The game will support online races for up to 12 competitors. In addition, the car-club system has returned. Though we hope to hear more about new car-club features, one thing we can tell you is that, when customizing your rides, you'll be able to save your designs as templates and not only apply them to any car in your collection but also share your templates with members of your car club.

In all, we're excited to see where Forza 2 is heading, even if we didn't get a chance to try out the game for ourselves. We look forward to seeing more of the game during next week's X06 event in Spain, where we expect we'll finally get our greedy little paws on this highly anticipated racer. Be sure and check back for more soon.

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