We spent the morning driving the new Lotus F1 car around the Nurburgring. Let that sink in for a minute. We crashed repeatedly, too, like every 10 or 15 feet, sometimes at great speed. Normally, in the real world, that would be a problem. Sponsors would drop you, your mechanics would beat you on the helmet with wrenches when you got back to the pits and your skinny supermodel girlfriend would leave you for a Russian oligarch without any hesitation whatsoever. But this wasn’t the real world, this was a video game version of the real world, and all we had to do was keep our right index finger flattened on the fake video gas pedal and go.
Waaaaaa! Bang! Screech! Waaaa! Bang! Screeech!
Turn 10 Studio’s Dan Greenwalt, who watched the ugliness from behind us, only laughed.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have started with the Formula One car,” he offered.
Maybe not, but how were we going to get noticed by Frank Williams or Ron Dennis or even Flavio Briatore for that matter in a Fiat Panda, another car Forza offers? Doesn’t Lewis Hamilton do this? Albeit maybe better than we were doing it?
The Nurburgring with frickin’ lasers.
Such conundrums were all part of the business the day before E3, the massive and all-important Electronic Entertainment Expo, which opens today in Los Angeles. Every big game-maker in the world is here, offering zombie chainsaws and anime girlfriends to a world of hopelessly socially inept gamers (OK, they’re not all hopelessly socially inept, but we sure are — we’re also video game inept; we’re such losers).
First on the media sleigh ride was Microsoft’s Turn 10 Studios, which introduced cool new features for its “Forza Motorsport 5” sim, including new paint-sharing capabilities, new cars including the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari, and new versions of Road America, Long Beach and, after a year’s work measuring the real one with frickin’ laser beams, the Nurburgring.
It was on the Nurburgring that we were thrashing. But it could have been on any of the hundreds of tracks in “Forza Motorsport 5.” Turn 10 was particularly proud of this new Nurburgring. It had offered one before, but that one was 10 years old. So it sent those guys with the laser beams to measure the current ‘Ring “to millimeter accuracy” and come back with this. The new Forza ‘Ring then took 30 artists one year to complete. And the cool thing about it is it’s free if you buy “FM5,” which, like seemingly every game on the planet, costs $59.99.
But “Forza Motorsport 5” was introduced last year. Turn 10 also showed its new “Forza Horizon 2.”
That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
“’Forza Motorsport 5′ is all about track driving,” said Greenwalt. “In ‘Horizon 2’ it’s an open road.”
And more. While there is a track in “Forza Horizon 2,” there is also a bunch of land near the track, three times more land than is on “FM5.” And you can really let loose on it.
“You can get yourself a Ford Raptor and drive through a vineyard,” suggested Greenwalt.
But instead of a Raptor, since this was a game and all and what did it matter, we got ourselves a Lamborghini Huracan and crashed through a field of what looked like cabernet sauvignon. Grape stakes and vines flew through the air as we powerslid off the road and through a nice future vintage. Somewhere up ahead we would rejoin the track. Or maybe not.
“For a while there you looked like a real gamer,” said Turn 10’s Phil Frazier, encouragingly.
Yeah, well, we quickly erased that impression with some more grape stomping. Then there were the hay bales, which bounced over the Lambo’s hood like giant rubber balls.
All this was accomplished in 1080p.
“It’s full HD,” said Greenwalt. “The cars look faultless — the doors open, you can look at the engines, you can notice orange peel on the paint finish.”
Orange peel? I can’t even see that on my own Volkswagen.
So take your pick, Xbox One owners: “Forza Motorsport 5” offers sims — the most sophisticated form of video gaming — so precise that Greenwalt says aftermarket tuners use it to test out new setups for their real cars; or you could just get “Forza Horizon 2” and crash through incredibly realistic wine vineyards.
Did they program in the resistance offered by different grapes, say pinot noir versus petite sirah? The otherwise confident and executive-level competent Greenwalt seemed taken aback. But only for a moment.
“No,” he said. “But maybe we should …”