Following our showing of the slightly macabre Viva Piñata, we were shown the far more sedate racing-sim, Forza Motorspot II. The sequel promises more of what made Forza a success, with some notable additions. Chris Lee, the Group Product Manager at Microsoft, walked us through an early build of the game, making sure to point out that it's in an early stage and may exhibit some characteristic wonkiness. Of course, that's why it's being shown behind closed doors instead of being trotted out on the show floor (see: Coded Arms Assault).
While I didn't see any glitches or other anomolies that would have revealed the game's incomplete state, I did note a general lack of grittiness in the cars and environments. Lee said the art design for the series is intentionally clean and crisp but, somehow, it makes the vehicles look plasticine .... at least as long as the car is all in one piece. As in the first game, your car can and will take damage when you hit a wall or another car. In the example he showed us, the bumper fell off and remained on the track, interacting with the world and other cars, exhibiting its own physics.
Of course, this is what games like Forza and Gran Turismo are all about: An obsessive attention to detail, not only only on the part of developers, but the game itself. You can tune and customize your car to a degree not seen in more arcade-y racers like Ridge Racer or PGR3. But what's the next step for games like Forza? Graphical upgrades are great, but they'll start to lose their value increasingly as hardware become more powerful.
On the table in the middle of the room was a near final version of Microsoft's racing wheel peripheral, one of the ways the team at Microsoft hope to distinguish their product from the competition while bringing something new to an otherwise familiar experience. He relayed an interesting anecdote about a real race car driver who, while visiting the development team, immediately began breaking their hard-earned time records when using the wheel peripheral. That bodes well for their claims of realism and faithfulness.
One thing you can't do in Forza 2: flip over. Lee seemed to intimate that the car manufacturers were uninterested in licensing their car's likenesses only to see them flipping over with a real physics engine. He said they're already getting away with "quite a bit."
Despite being used as an example of future Xbox Live Marketplace micro-transaction content, Forza 2's future downloadables "are not a huge revenue area" for the title. In other words, you won't get stuck buying every little upgrade, but there will be select content available over Marketplace.
According to their community site, Forza 2 will be playable at next week's X06 event in Barcelona. Nevertheless, they didn't want us taking images of the screen so instead, we'll direct you to their gallery of carefully hand-picked shots of cars so clean and pretty, they look ... well, like computer models. Grittiness is totally the new lens flare.