Without further ado, here is Part II of our Forza Hands-On.
If there is one complaint which has reigned supreme in the world of simulation racers, it is that damage, especially the damage of licensed cars, is completely and utterly non-existent. Though Sega GT 2002 tried to correct this problem by adding a damage meter which progressively declined as you hit walls and other cars, the idea seemed shallow as there was no physical damage, increments of decrease (whether you hit a wall at 10mph versus 100) were painfully universal, and at the end of the damage bar came – nothing, just a depleted damage bar.
Thankfully, Forza Motorsport is the challenger to break the unholy mold which has been forming simulations for the last ten plus years. But how does Forza follow through with such a gaudy claim? First of all, damage is no longer a concept which dominates your HUD and nothing else throughout the game. Instead of being informed of your cars damage level by a bar which affects nothing but your oh so vulnerable emotions, Forza brutally tears you into a realization of your cars damage status by how your car looks, how it drives, and how it sounds.
Addressing those three topics systematically then, the damage incurred on your car is a visual orgy of scrapes, dents, and gashes. Bumpers drag behind your Ferrari, headlights fall pray to the demands of the crushing sheet metal formerly known as your Porsche, ground effects shake themselves off of your import Acura, and your brand new spoiler is torn from is moorings as your spin out into the wall after taking the corner far too quickly in your Subaru. In fact, the attention to damage in Forza is so detailed, that you will notice fiberglass cracks and sheet metal bends. And donâ€™t think that Forza has chickened out on the extent of damage evidenced on certain licensed cars from Germany and Italy. I have personally seen a Ferrari completely wrecked to the point where it can no longer so much as turn a tire. And this again is a promise of Forza, you can total your car.
Now, as for being able to realize the extent of damage found on your car by how it drives, the simple notion of being totaled to the point where your car will stop running is far too simple of an idea for Forza to bring to the table. Instead, expect bad handling, increased tendencies to roll, decreased top speeds, and brakes which give up on their role in life. In a nut shell, the effects of damage are so realistic that it is finally great enough to be in an actual simulation.
Finally, if the above two factors still canâ€™t convince you of the damage being inflicted to your car you can simply listen to the noises it makes. Exhausts backfire, engines crack and pop with unhealthy tunes, suspensions squeak, and metal compacts with noises which will make you cringe with utter grief.
However, if there is one thing in Forza which is so great, so vital, and so polished that it actually dwarfs the amazingly detailed and equally impressive damage modeling, than that award would have to go to the physics engine which is so well implemented in Forza that it has amazed even its creators.
However, before I delve into the details of why these lofty statements can be justified, let me share with you an amazing story straight from the developerâ€™s mouth. As the team was slaving away at implementing and testing the physics engine which had been in development for years by several expert engineers, an extremely disheartening even occurred: a Ferrari began to understeer in their game. Obviously, this meant that some monumental flaw was affecting the way that the car was handling in the physics engine – because everyone knows Ferraris just donâ€™t mess up. Discouraged and dismayed, the developers made their bewildered engineers go back to the drawing board to find out what was going wrong. Now as it turned out, one of the men on the team was reading a review of the Ferrari in an auto magazine, when to his great shock, the magazine complained of the Ferrariâ€™s understeer! What this meant for Forza, is that the physics engine is so robust and so accurate that it can predict a characteristic of a car even without being told to do so.
Now that you have hopefully somewhat appreciated the extent of just how realistic the physics engine in Forza is, letâ€™s head into the specifics. Each car handles differently. A Porsche reacts differently than a Mclaren and a Mclaren differently from a Porsche. Now unlike in previous games, this difference in handling is not solely based on how much the car weighs, how fast it is going, or the like. But rather, tires finally come into play in the way your car handles – as the game calculates tire pressure, heat, tread, and traction several times per second. As if that were not enough, Forza also calculates the manner in which your tire interacts with the surface it finds itself on – be it gravel, sand, or asphalt. But donâ€™t think that Forza only looks at tires for its physics and handling. Weight, aerodynamics, size, power, and braking speed all culminate to formulate a practical ballet of cars which are performing on the track just like their real-life counterparts – beautifully.
Also, the physics are constantly working to manipulate the suspension, frame, and position of the cars body every single second of the race. This is especially seen when the car is damaged, as each bumper, spoiler, and ground effect which is hanging off your car reacts in manners which are frighteningly realistic. This constant calculation using physics in the damage modeling prevents the type of damage found in games like Project Gotham Racing where your car seemed to melt instead of dent.
Racing games are one of the easiest things to produce from the standpoint of a lackadaisical developer. Need an engine noise? Stick a microphone in the bossâ€™ Lexus. Need a braking noise? Borrow from your collection of ChiPs videos. Need a soundtrack? Import some bad techno at a low price. Put these three bad factors into a bowl, stir, and let sit and you will be left with a product which unfortunately makes up the â€˜audioâ€™ of over seventy percent of racing games.
Thankfully, Forza resides in that other 30 percent. Taking cue from the men behind Grand Turismo, those guys over at Microsoft have decided to be as painfully accurate as possible in capturing the very nuances of sound which leak from those high-revving engines which make cars sound just so amazing. Microphones were suck in practically every reachable crevasse of those high performance cars to get a sound package which cannot be rivaled. Turbos scream with anticipation, air surges by the outside camera, exhaust booms from the rear of your BMW, and metal screeches and thumps its way into walls and cars as your fully customized car is compacted into a small chunk of fiberglass ridden with metal.
As for a soundtrack, there was nothing to speak of in the build of the game I was able to test, however there was some rather atrocious guitar music on the main menu. However, even if Microsoft chooses to stay with the music they have in the main menu right now, I cannot see Forza Motorsport avoiding custom soundtracks – as all racing games have them now.
Having played Forza for quite some time now, I believe I can be very confident in saying that Grand Turismo should finally hold a genuine fear about the competition. Forza has online play, customization, and damage – all of which Grand Turismo painfully lacks. These prospects however, would be completely meaningless if Forza did not possess an amazing physics engine to keep the cars as realistic as they are in real life, astonishing audio to keep you listening to the very nuances which tell you what your car is doing without having to look at your HUD, and some of the best looking graphics ever seen in motion to simply engross the gamer into the world in which he is racing. Forza will amaze you this spring – just in time to go head-to-head with that other game from Sony.