X06: Forza Motorsport 2 Hands-On

Finally, the green light is lit. We go hands on with this highly anticipated Xbox 360 racing game.

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BARCELONA, Spain--Last week at the Tokyo Game Show, we were cruelly teased by the Microsoft folks. After inviting us for a behind-closed-doors meeting to take a look at Forza Motorsport 2, MS game reps dropped the bomb that we wouldn't be able to play the game at TGS, and even our most pathetic hang-dog, droopy-eyes expression wasn't enough to crack their steely resolve. The good news is, Microsoft finally lifted the veil on the game here in Barcelona, and we spent part of the morning here on the second day of X06 turning laps in this highly anticipated racing game.

In terms of content, this demo build was more or less the exact same one we saw last week at TGS. A handful of cars were available to drive--from truly hot makers such as Lamborghini and BMW (both of which are new to the Forza series) to more modest makes such as Ford and Subaru. We tried a variety of rides out on the Tsukuba Circuit, the only track available in the demo, to get a feel for how differently cars of different power capacities felt on this notoriously tricky track. What we found certainly has us excited for the potential of the game.

First things first, we hopped in the very first car on the car-selection menu, a cherry red 2004 Ferrari F430, which was just as twitchy and powerful as you could possibly expect in the narrow lanes of Tsukuba. We had the suggested-line feature turned on, and we noticed that with Forza 2, you have the option to either use the dynamic suggested-line feature as is, turn it on only for braking zones, or turn it off altogether. This should offer a nice learning curve for those new to tracks in the game who want to take a more incremental approach to learning a particular course--that is, run a few laps with the suggested line feature on, then turn off everything but braking after you have the line down, and then finally strike out on your own with no help whatsoever. Other assists available to you were stability control, antilock braking, manual or automatic shifting, and traction control.

While turning laps in the Ferrari, and getting a good taste of the damage model that messes up your cars when you scrape walls or smash barriers, a Microsoft rep casually mentioned that one of their compatriots had turned a lap in the 2005 Lamborghini Gallardo in 59 seconds. At that moment, dear readers, it was on.

We immediately switched over to the Lamborghini, changed the car color to blue, and took the notoriously powerful (and surprisingly stable) car out on the circuit to test our skills. Though the Forza 2 build was still suffering from the same frame-rate problems that were featured in the last game, one thing is for sure: the exacting, demanding, and compelling driving model that marked the first game is well intact with Forza 2. Thanks to an improved rumble system in the Xbox 360 controller, you feel more in tune with the asphalt than ever before--it seems as if every undulation in the road is immediately conveyed to you in your hands. More than that, you feel even the slightest shifts in weight and can immediately correct--your hands are always busy when turning laps in Forza 2. Consider turns two and three at Tsukuba, for example--a ridiculously tricky and quick left-right switch just before the tightest of left-hand hairpins. Run too fast into the switch, and your car balance will be all out of whack when entering the hairpin. In Forza 2 this is still as tricky a corner as they come, but the improved feel of the road, coupled with the upgraded rumble functionality give you more sensory information than ever before for tackling (and hopefully conquering) this demanding series of turns. It took some time to compensate for the new and improved physics in Forza 2, but after a bit of practice, we were regularly turning 59s at Tsukuba and feeling proud of ourselves.

While the game demo featured a one-on-one race against a computer-controlled opponent, it was tough to tell if the same vaunted artificial intelligence found in the first game was on hand in Forza 2. We didn't notice the other car make any drastic errors in judgment when following close behind us, for example, but it didn't make any obvious moves to get out of our way when we began to trade paint, either. The damage model, which was discussed in the previous preview, certainly did look impressive as we took a lap to simply bash our ride into as many objects as possible. It seems like performance-affecting damage has yet to be fully implemented in the game, as even after running into a number of barriers in the demo, our car was running more or less at optimum condition.

Consider the job of the Forza 2 demo done. We saw the game last week, we played it this week, and we're now salivating for something a bit more meaty to get a better picture for where Forza 2 is heading. We may have to wait a bit longer than we'd like, however, as the game has been delayed until 2007. Nonetheless, we'll be reporting in with all of the Forza 2 updates we can possible muster, so stay tuned for more soon.

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