Forza Motorsport 2Click to enlarge picture

The lighting and shadows are so realisitic in Forza Motorsport 2, it's hard to tell if this is a real Porsche 911 Turbo or not. (It's not.)

You power through the next several turns, building your confidence, and accelerate from turn six up the hill towards Laguna's famed "corkscrew." But the complex comes up faster than you expect, and rather than a left-right yank on the wheel accompanied by your stomach dropping out in between the two downhill turns, you blow past the turn-in marker and hit the tire wall at well over 100 mph. The windshield cracks, pieces of bodywork fly everywhere, and your expensive sports car is not looking so good.

Luckily you don't have to wait for an ambulance or tow truck. You simply go to the menu on your controller and restart the race. It may look exactly like the real Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but in reality it is the latest in full-realism driving simulators: Forza Motorsport 2 for the Xbox 360™. (Xbox and MSN Autos are owned by Microsoft.)

More Simulator Than Game
The term simulator means this is about as real a driving experience as you can get without actually heading to the track. Microsoft developers went to great lengths to make this latest Xbox 360 title as realistic as possible. Each track was analyzed, photographed and simulated in 3-D. Sounds and driving dynamics are unique to each car, and the sounds even change depending on the camera angle.

Of course purists will still stand by the fact that you can't replicate an actual drive on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, or Road Atlanta, or any track. Yes, no matter how hard they try, developers simply can't replicate g-forces or the extra steering effort needed to keep a car steady in a high-speed turn. And the purists are right—driving a car on Forza 2 is not the same as driving at the track. But it is getting very close.

Forza 2 provides incredibly realistic graphics, a choice of more than 300 different cars, 47 tracks to drive them on and, most importantly, you don't need to worry about car insurance.

And these aren't faked cars and tracks. The list of cars from more than 50 of the world's leading manufacturers includes Ferrari, Porsche, Nissan, VW, General Motors, and Lamborghini. With the idea of appealing to both novice and expert drivers, cars range from the easy-to-drive MINI Cooper S to the challenging Dodge Racing Viper Competition Coupe.

Tracks simulated include Silverstone in Great Britain; Florida's Sebring, known for its 12-hour sports car endurance race; Suzuka in Japan; the aforementioned Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca; the treacherous Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany, as well as several tracks created just for Forza Motorsport 2.

As with the original Forza, all the cars can be customized for both performance and style. This means you can change engines, add turbochargers, adjust suspension, get new wheels and set up your car exactly as you want to drive it.

After the performance modifications, you can add aero kits, spoilers, decals, window tinting and create amazing paint schemes.

And once you've created your dream car, and put in some seat time, you can use it to compete on Xbox Live. The Live environment has been expanded for Forza 2. Race in tournaments, record top times on various tracks, or buy and sell cars during live online car auctions.

A new feature in Forza 2, customized cars can go up on the auction block. Dictate the terms of your sale by setting price, length of auction and instant buyout amount. You even have the option of spending some of your Forza 2 cash to mark your auction as a "featured" sale!

Driving Realism
To experience the reality of Forza 2, a couple of MSN Autos editors were invited down to Turn 10 Studios, where the game was developed, to take an early test drive. The incredible setup we had may not be what most consumers will have, but it was definitely a cool way to experience the simulation.

Sitting in a real Recaro racing seat, we were surrounded by three high-definition plasma screens, each being run by an individual Xbox 360. A fourth Xbox 360 powered a small screen set up as our rearview mirror.

The cockpit was decked out with requisite pedals and steering wheel, and several speakers in front and behind to provide an immersive audio experience.

As mentioned earlier, we chose to head out on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in a Subaru Impreza WRX 22B. To make a proper comparison, this was just three days after driving on the real Laguna Seca track in a Subaru WRX STi. So in an unusual twist, we actually prepared for driving the electronic version by driving the real thing.

Taking our first laps around the course, we were amazed by the attention to detail. Everything looked just like it had during our track day at the famed California venue. The trees, braking markers, signs and buildings matched perfectly with their real counterparts.

Most impressive was the use of lighting. As the cars flashed down the front straight and up the rise under the footbridge, shadows of the fence flashed across the car. When changing the view to outside the car, cloud's reflections and shadows dance across the car. Watching replays is very much like watching TV coverage of a race.

Our Subaru STi handled as expected, with its all-wheel drive providing excellent traction. The engine note was spot-on, and our familiarity with the track and the car made it quite easy to drive. And just like driving on the track, you need to stick with smooth inputs of steering, gas and brakes.

But since we could drive pretty much anything we wanted, it was time for an upgrade. We opted for the Pagani Zonda. And we decided to race it against six other similarly powered exotic sports cars.

The Zonda packs more than 600 horses and all that power gets put to the road through the rear wheels, which made for a scary driving experience.

We did manage to keep up with the pack of cars but, like that first drive, we missed the braking for the corkscrew. However, instead of hitting the tire wall, we broadsided a $400,000 Porsche Carrera GT. Unfortunately, or mercifully, our hosts did not have realistic damage turned on; if it had been on, the car would have been undrivable at that point.

Even though we had just destroyed two exotic sports cars in the blink of an eye, we finished the race and went home—which is one advantage the Xbox 360 and Forza Motorsport 2 will always have over the real thing.

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