I've always wondered what a driving simulator designed exclusively for the Xbox would be like. My thinking was that an exclusive design would leverage all of the capabilities of the hardware, rather than having to be developed to the capabilities of the lowest common denominator. I need wonder no more with the release of Microsoft Game Studio's Forza Motorsport.
As with most console-based driving simulators, Forza offers an incredible array of cars and tracks, along with numerous opportunities to customize your rides. In fact, it would not be too much of a stretch to call Forza a "Jay Leno Simulator" rather than a driving simulator. With games like Forza, even those of us that don't have astronomical bank accounts can collect a garage-full of high-end sports cars.
With past titles, the Jay Leno factor was far more prominent in the design than the actual driving. In fact, the development of the physics model in most console-based driving sims was obviously considered far less important than the graphical modelling of the cars. Forza does not suffer from this negligence. It is obvious from the get-go that Microsoft Studios expended enormous effort in the development of the driving physics aspect of the game. While not up to the fidelity of a PC-based sim, the Forza model is exemplary in its realism when compared to other console-based racers. With all of the driving aids turned off, it becomes very challenging to control some of the more powerful cars, just as it should. Simply jumping in the car and smashing down the gas pedal won't work - as in a real high-performance car, it takes a light foot on the gas to get things going. Symmetrically, when it comes time to corner, the heavier cars will require much earlier braking. With the ABS aid turned off, braking will also require a deft touch on the pedal.
That's not to say that the cars models are not equally well designed. The models may not be exactly the state-of-the-art, but they are very nice, and in fact are as good as they need to be. Reflections in the paint, articulated suspension that can be seen reacting to imperfections in the road, and many other aspects of the visual model are very believable. In addition, the level of customization offered will allow just about any car/paint job to be accurately rendered in the vitual garage. Car upgrades are most certainly not limited to paint jobs and decals, either. After winning sufficient virtual dollars, cars can be upgraded with actual brand name components such as spoilers, side panels, turbo chargers, suspension pieces, etc. When a real-world brand name component is not available to provide the desired performance upgrades, 'fantasy' parts are available. The only weakness is the lack of an in-cockpit view. Without such a view, there isn't much visual difference between one car and another when driving in the first-person view.
Where do those virtual dollars for buying goodies for your rides come from? Well, racing. Money can be earned in either Arcade or Career races. It’s not always easy, though. As mentioned previously, the physics model can be somewhat challenging. To enable drivers to get up to speed prior to entering a race, a free practice mode is available. In this mode, you can race any car (including any customized cars in your garage) at any track, although there are some cars that won't be available until unlocked by winning a few races. The practice mode offers one of the more innovative features in Forza: the suggested driving line. In most driving sims, you either look for the darker braking zones on the track pavement to suggest a line, or learn the line by slogging through many, many laps. With the Forza suggested driving line, you follow a line of arrows drawn on the track. The color of the arrows will dynamically change to indicate required changes in speed. For example, when you're flying down a straight the arrows will be green. As you approach a corner, the arrows will turn yellow, indicating that you should be slowing down. If you press too far into the turn, the arrows will turn red, indicating that you had better get on the brakes. This is a fantastic way to learn new tracks, or to improve your times on tracks you're already familiar with, although it would be a good idea to not become overly dependent on it since it won’t be available in actual races.
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