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Forza - Project Gotham Racing 3 - Need For Speed Most Wanted

 The new Xbox 360 is in stores and along with it come the next generation of racing/chase games. The question is how does the new blood stack up to the previous generation's best?

Forza Motorsport(XBOX):

The Xbox wasn't going to get a version of Gran Turismo 4 and it's best racing game, Project Gotham Racing 2 was showing it's age and leaned a lot more toward being an arcade racer than a simulation. So Microsoft decided to create it's own version of GT4. They did a pretty good job. In fact, in a number of ways, it beats the crap out of GT4.

The basis of any driving game are the cars and Forza delivers a pretty good selection. Ranging from Honda Civics to Lemans GT race cars. Like GT4, you can upgrade the cars with engine mods, suspension, body kits, wheels. And once you have the new parts on your car you can tweak them to get the best performance out of your ride. You can even adjust the tire pressure. Nice. But the large selection of cars and being able to tweak them isn't what makes Forza stand out. The games goes a step further and lets you personalize your car with a custom paint job and decals to basically put whatever you want on it. Superman logo on the hood? No problem. Want to mimic the style of your favorite race team? It's easy. The tools to create custom paint jobs are easy to use and pretty soon, you'll be able to make just about anything show up on your car. This makes the idea of 'owning' a virtual car more real. When you watch a replay and see a blue Audi taking a turn, it doesnt feel as good as when the blue Audi has your own design splayed across the side. The custom paint jobs carry over into the online races, also, so it's rare that you'll go up against a car the looks just like yours.

Forza offers more than great just looking graphics. It also has a great physics and driving engine. It's right up there with GT4 as far as driving realism is concerned. The cars 'feel' like they should. But where Forza takes it to the next level is it's damage model. When you tap a wall, your car shows it. Bounce off enough guardrails and you'll finish the race with a magnificently destroyed piece of junk. That's if you finish at all. The damage isn't just visual, your car's performance will suffer as it gets more beat up. The steering will pull to the side, the engine will lose power, the transmission will drop gears. This all forces you to become a better driver and brings more depth to races.

Forza has an online mode where users are pitted against one another based on car classes. Thankfully, the class you race in depends on your cars current performance, and not it's stock trim. Since you can race your upgraded custom cars against others, it wouldn't be fair to take your twin turbo charged, race prepped VW GTI against a stock GTI. So the game will bump that car up to the next class. It's great to see a customized Civic racing neck and neck with an Aston Martin or a Corvette. Not only does the game try to keep the match ups fair, it also means that you'll see a wider variety of cars. In other games, online racers eventually migrate to the 'best' car in a class and eventually every race contains the same car, negating any reason for a large selection of vehicles in the first place. But this class method makes it possible to keep a decent mix of cars racing.

Forza's tracks consist of many real life tracks, a couple of city courses, mountain roads, the Nurbugring, and some fantasy tracks. All of the tracks are gorgeous with lots of detail.

There are some throwaway features, like the Drivatar, a mode where the computer will driver races for you while you wash dishes or go out into the sunlight. But it's a waste since not many people buy a game to sit there and have it play itself. There are 'driving clubs' which is like a modified Friends list. It was supposed to mimics Quake style clans but in the end, no one really uses them.

At the end of the day, Forza not only dethrones GT4, it set a new standard that every driving game will be set against.

Project Gotham Racing 3(XBOX 360):

I expected a lot from PGR3. Especially since I waited I line for an XBox 360 because of the incredible trailers that promoted the game. When I popped in the disc and started playing though, I was underwhelmed. But then I remembered to toggle the HDTV option on the 360 and things got a lot better. But I still thought it could be better.

The cars are beautiful. Outstanding even. But they still have a glossy, bright look that makes them look less than realistic. It's suttle, and by looking at it, you'd be hard pressed to explain what was wrong, but it's there. The cars are just a bit too clean. It was a long way from the outstanding scenes from the ads. But then I switched to the in-car view. Oh. My. God. All of a sudden I was placed inside the Aston Martin DB9 I had selected. The steering wheel, the gauges, the leather, everything was there and looking incredible. The view out the windshield was almost photorealistic. Driving over the GW Bridge in New York, the sun blasting over the hood, temporarily blinding me as a Ferrari pulls a head of me, it's high revving engine screaming to my right over the roar of the DB9's V12. It was a good thing. The in-car view on PGR 3 is so superior to the outside views that I think they could have ditched them all together and forced everyone to sit behind the wheel.

The honeymoon was shortlived though. The developers of PGR3 said they only wanted to include cars that could top 170mph. Thats a cop out. It's an excuse for the small car selection. Many of the favorites from PGR2 didn't make it into the game. No BMWs or Audis, no Porsche Carrera GT, only a couple of muscle cars, and no pocket rockets like the GTI, Civic Si, or Focus RS. But there are more than a few concept and specialty cars. The Skyline Concept is here, along with the Ultima GTR, and the Ruf Concept. But I want to drive an BMW M3, I want sit in an Audi RS4. They were in PGR2, why not PGR 3?

The online racing in PGR3 is seamless and easy to hop into. The Online Career Mode has a selection of race types that are restricted to certain classes. This creates a problem because the classes (ranging from A to E) are very lopsided. Each class has about a dozen cars, but only 3 are really competitive, and many times, 1 car will outsine the others. For example, if you race Class A with anything other then an Ferrari F50 GT, then your chances of staying with the pack are slim. Class D is owned by the TVR Sagaris and Ferrari 360. If you like some of the 'lesser' cars like the Lamborginia Galardo or Chevy Corvette, you'll rarely see a checkered flag. It's unfortunate that the classes aren't more balanced because that means a lot of the great cars in the game will rarely get used. The Ferrari Testarossa and Dodge Viper are rendered with an excessive amount of detail, but there's little chance they'll see more than a few races. In PGR2, the classes were more varied and balanced, which is lacking in the new version.

In PGR3, you buy cars, but cant upgrade them and the color choices are limited to what are actually available from the manufacturer. Which means you'll be seeing a lot of red Ferraris, and some cars only come in 1 color. On a next gen System like the 360, I would expect the type of customization that the Xbox's Forza allows, at least when it comes to the cars paint job.

The cars are supposed to have visual damage(but it wont affect performance). These cars are built like brick walls though, and nothing short of slamming head into a building at 100mph+ will even dent them. Once again, it seems like the game should offer more. The physics and driving model is definitely aracde style but it has enough of a sim feel to be satisfiying. That feeling dissapears when you bounce off a wall without even a scratch.

PGR3 has many of the same skill challenges that PGR2 had, including cone races, passing challenges, and street races. New modes like 'Eliminator' and 'Capture the Track' were also added.

What PGR3 does, it does well. But it's what's lacking that stays with you. The lack of options on the online races is disturbing. The way you can go through the entire game and only use 2 or 3 different cars is disspointing. PGR2 forced you to grow into different cars and by the time you finished the game, you've driven compacts, trucks, and exotics. But in PGR3 most of those cars don't even exist.

Pluses include the incar view, Gotham TV(allowing you to watch other online races) and a very smooth online game. When a car moves to the next generation, it should gain features, not lose them.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted(XBOX 360):

I was going to do an in depth review of NFS: Most Wanted, but in all honesty, I got bored with the game about a half way through. Most Wanted starts with a bang. You're in a street race, get caught by the cops, and have to start from the bottom of the street racing scene to work your way back up and regain your ride. The cutscenes were great and the story was okay. The graphics had a grungier look than PGR3 but in a way, it looks better. The cities are fully modeled with traffic and even a have few Burger Kings and donut shops. You can drive just about anywhere in the city and the destruction you can cause is massive. Some crashes will trigger an external cut scene so you can really appreciate the havoc that you just created.

The meat of this game are the chases. While you're in a race or performing a task, you're bound to break a law or two. And if the cops see you, a chase starts. And it's a great chase. If you've seen it in the movies, you can do it here. Drive the wrong way on the interstate, cut through a parking lot, hide in a garage, great stuff. You can hear the chatter on the police radios, too. You're really pulled into the game during the chases. But then, it's over. and boredom sets in.

The game fills time with different races, but after the 50th race, they are all feel the same and it's just tedius. And the great cut scenes that were there at the beginning of the game all but dissapear. They're replaced by text messages and audio phone calls. You can customize your car with different upgrades, paint schemes, and body kits. It's not as elaborate as Forza but it's a lot better than PGR3. As you progress up levels, you are forced to upgrade to faster cars. The car selection is ok, but not great. The cars range from Fiats to Mercedes. Your in game rivals have customized rides that you get to keep when you win them. The question is though, if I just beat this guy with my car, why do I want his?

The physics are pure arcade and you'll be drifting, jumping, and crashing through things like nobody's business.

The cars take visual damage, but it wont hurt performance too much. But every once in a while you take a hit that the game decides is just too much and you'll screech to a halt. This isn't consistent though. Sometimes you can take on a truck head on and other times it'll end your run.

The police chases are the best part about Most Wanted. And it should have pumped in more story, more chases and less forced racing. Because a chore to do all the required races, just to get to the fun police chases. It got to a point where I didn't even want to play the game anymore.

Overall:

Forza Wins. It's the best game out of the three. More Features than PGR3 and more well rounded than Most Wanted. But it's still PGR3 that I've spent the most time with. I guess good look will overshadow depth most days.

Forza
PGR3
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
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