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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Forza Motorsport (Xbox)

By Michael Palisano

Taking driving to the next level of interactivity, Microsoft's Forza Motorsport for the Xbox features a variety of interesting customization options that allow you to trick out your ride to an unprecedented degree. The sheer number of vehicles and attention to detail is impressive, with excellent visuals, fantastic car models and more. The game's realism extends to damage on the vehicles, which affects performance and separates it from other driving simulators. The game's AI is very impressive which makes races far more competitive races than you'd expect. One of the more unique features is the racing Drivatar, which allows a computer generated alter ego to race other drivers automatically using your racing style as the template. Forza Motorsport is an impressive title from both gameplay and technical standpoints, making it another outstanding racer in the Xbox garage.

While many other racing simulators to date have emphasized fidelity to real-world vehicular performance, responsiveness, and physics, Forza Motorspot on the Xbox adds significantly to the formula with realistic car damage, extensive customization features and competitive online modes. This makes for a more challenging and exciting title than the usual dry simulations offer. Initially, the game seems a bit too generic with the usual modes such as time attack, arcade, career and, garage modes seemingly offering little in the way of innovation. However, once you dig a little deeper, you'll find a title with amazing depth and clever features that make for an engaging and satisfying experience overall. Forza Motorsport offers two distinctly different modes of play that will challenge both experienced racing game veterans and newcomers alike. These are Career and Arcade modes. The arcade mode is the most accessible part of the game, allowing you to jump right in and race the coolest cars and tracks. There are more than 30 vehicles and 120 tracks available in this mode, giving it plenty of depth. This approach allows you to get tight into the action and build up credits quickly. It makes the game immediately enjoyable, but in order to truly appreciate Forza's depth and realism, you need to play the Career mode. This is where the game's real appeal lies.

Forza's Career mode starts slower, but is much deeper and more satisfying in the long run. Each mode offers many types of races, including standard point to point and lap modes. There are dozens of courses ranging from urban street racing to racetracks, and off-road races through forests and seaside locations. Your progression in Career mode is straightforward. As you win races and complete circuits, you'll gradually unlock additional courses and tracks. While only a few races, vehicles and circuits are available initially in this mode, a lot more open up later on. In order to race some of the circuits, your car will need to meet a number of conditions and specifications which means you'll have to customize your vehicle in order to meet these requirements. Some circuits are only open to certain classes of vehicles. Additionally, some require the player to have achieved a certain driving level in order to progress. After each race is complete, you'll earn a number of points which you can then use to in your garage to upgrade your vehicle, or can save up to buy a completely new car. Additionally, players can earn extra cars and other rewards by meeting conditions, such as finishing first in the races. This straightforward approach and simple structure makes Forza Motorsport simple to understand and the non-linear approach also means you can play a single race or go deeper for an extended play-session.

One of the most innovative features in Forza Motorsport is called the Drivatar. This allows you to build an AI driver and use them in Career mode. In order to create a Drivatar, you need to go through five races, where you are graded on your performance in each turn and corner. At the end of the race, your performance in a variety of categories is shown ranging from hairpins, chicanes and the vehicle's turn radius. However, each race only represents a portion of all the turns you'll have to master. Your Drivatar's rankings change depending on your performance in each race. These turns are then averaged to make your ranking at the end of the race. Once you have created your Drivatar, you can then use them to race in Career mode automatically, which is an innovative feature that's smartly implemtented. It seems almost painless in comparison to some of the rigorous and tedious license modes in other simulation racing titles. The disadvantage is that it takes a large chunk of your winnings and also reflects your weaknesses during the race, which can become quite frustrating if you rushed through the test tracks and made too many mistakes. If you aren't satisfied with their performance, you can retrain and upgrade your Drivatar, and can even race against them to shave a few seconds off your time. The depth of the garage mode only becomes apparent after you've won a few races and are then able to tweak, upgrade and change your cars to meet different specifications. This allows you to prepare for online races via Xbox Live, and the depth of options gives Forza Motorsport an incredible amount of depth that should please gear-heads and die-hard racing gamers alike.

In addition to the customization and upgrade options, players can unlock dozens of different vehicles from a wide cross-section of domestic and foreign manufactures. There are more than 60 companies represented including BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and Dodge to name a few. There are many classes of vehicles ranging from standard production line compact cars, to sportscars, super racng vehicles, Formula One race cars, GT racers and exotic limited run and prototype models. Each car is ranked in terms of rarity that depends on how many models were made, the player's home location, and how much customization has gone into it. Players can customize each of these vehicles with a large selection of real-world parts including body kits, spoilers, fenders, side skirts and more. Players can further add to their car's flair by adding cosmetic upgrades such as new paint jobs, decals, flares, rims and more. These upgrades let you significantly change not only your vehicle's appearance but their performance as well. For example, you might start with a humble production line compact, you can upgrade it into a real power-house on the road. This allows you to put your own spin on the vehicle. As an added bonus, adding parts and upgrades increases your vehicle's rarity rating, which means you can earn a much higher price if you decide to sell it later on. After players have customized their vehicles, they can then go online and trade or sell these vehicles with others racers online.

Once you're on the road, you'll find that Forza Motorsport's controls are excellent, giving players plenty of nuance and depth with outstanding responsiveness. The vehicles themselves respond as their real world counterparts would and feel authentic. Players will need to spend plenty of time mastering the nuances of control and turning before they can really become champions. In order to help novice players master the game's control schemes, you can choose from a number of driving assists, such as automatic braking that allow you to get the basics down without making things too complicated or intimidating. Players can also use the onscreen arrows which are helpful in learning the best lines on the track, and also change color from green to red to indicate the ideal time to brake when going into a curve, and the best time to begin reaccelerating coming out of it. There are many types of curves, some are fairly simple, while others such as hairpins require the player to anticipate them and brake well in advance. In addition to these technical tasks, another main element to consider in Forza Motorsport is vehicle damage. The physics models are quite realistic and taking damage significantly affect the vehicle's performance. When a vehicle collides with another object, it significantly affects a variety of areas from its turning ability, braking, acceleration, and cause it to lose responsiveness or pull hard to one direction. Compensating for the performance loss inflicted isn't as easy as it sounds which makes the remainder of the race more difficult. Taking too much damage can really hamper your car's acceleration and braking attributes, so you need to be careful not to take too much. While minor collisions with other vehicles won't hurt your performance too dramatically, slamming against a wall will cause you to take a significant hit in terms of performance as well. This realism definitely adds to the tension of the race.

In addition to the time and performance penalty you take when you collide with another vehicle or wall, Forza Motosport also penalizes players for driving off the track, with the time spent off the tarmac deducted from your total score. At the end of each race, points are further reduced depending on the amount of damage you have inflicted on your vehicle. While the damage system might not seem like a big deal, it plays a huge role in how each race unfolds, and gives the game a further distinction from other racing titles on the market. What's most impressive about this is how it affects the performance of your car, giving the gameplay a sense of realism that adds to the challenge without significantly detracting from the emphasis on realism and customization. Forza Motorsport achieves a good balance with this system because the damage a vehicle takes feels realistic, and the crashes don't feel excessive or over-the-top. What also helps the game's overall sense of realism is the opponent AI, which isn't as predictable as in other racing titles. They seem more aggressive than in other titles, and don't always race in the same lines over and over. These opponents react to your moves and will adjust their racing strategies and styles depending on what you're doing. This isn't really evident in the earlier races, but as you progress later on, their aggressiveness makes a key difference in adding to the intensity of each race. The key is not to panic near the finish line when you see an opponent closing in, which requires a great deal of focus, consistency and, skill on the part of players that many other racing titles lack.

From a visual standpoint, Forza Motorsport looks fantastic and stands with the best Xbox racers on the market. The car models are incredibly detailed, with accurate dimension, light reflections, glossy paint jobs and great lighting effects giving each vehicle a realistic appearance. Each course looks fantastic as well, with detailed weather, lighting and shadow effects making each course feel unique. There are many types of courses in the game, ranging from the streets of New York, to standard race tracks and off-road tracks. Each one is rendered expertly, giving players a variety of interesting locations to race through. The graphics are quite realistic and the game even allows you to see inside the vehicles, and watch the drivers in the cockpits. The damage model is also impressively implemented, allowing you to see smashed windshields, broken bumpers and body damage rendering in realistic detail. The beauty of these car models makes the damage all the more painful to watch, which is the point. Forza includes multiple camera angles that let you see the action from behind the car, or view the action from the cockpit. Obviously, the first-person modes are the most thrilling, but the closest one is too close to the ground, almost as if you are driving on the bumper, which limits your field of vision. The engine and wheel sounds seem authentic and the soundtrack includes a decent selection of hard-rock and rap songs which compliment Forza Motorsport's intense racing perfectly.

Forza Motorsport is probably the most ambitious racing title on the Xbox to date. We're happy to report that the game largely succeeds in most areas it sets out to conquer. The gameplay is solidly challenging, with aggressive AI opponents, challenging course designs and a diverse set of options and racing styles that give it plenty of depth. Once you go beyond the surface, you'll find plenty of depth in the extensive customization modes, numerous challenging circuit races and Forza's robust online modes. The game's damage model adds more realism to the racing without overwhelming the sense of realism and authenticity that the developers set out to achieve. Forgoing the usual tedious license mode and instead implementing a unique Drivatar mode makes this an accessible game that's easier to get into. The less rigid controls give players a greater margin for error and make for a game that's enjoyable and deep without falling into the trap of excessive realism. The visuals are also impressive, with realistic car models and rich environments that make for an immersive experience. Forza Motorsport is a deep yet accessible racing game that offers a good balance between realism and visceral excitement. It's a well-produced game that stands with the best racers on the Xbox and will please both hardcore and casual racing fans with its' depth and polish.

Grade: A-

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