- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software available for multimedia lovers with a need for speed — whether on land or in the air.

Forza Motorsport, from Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox, $49.99, rated E, and Wireless Racing Wheel, from Intec for Xbox, $59.99. Because of my complete lack of skill using a controller to maneuver a high-performance vehicle around virtual racetracks, I usually shy away from reviewing driving games.

When the right package comes along, however, I will jump into the driver’s seat. This year, Forza Motorsport delivers the ultimate virtual racing experience, and car nuts will be giggling madly when they combine the game’s action with Intec’s wireless peripheral.

The levels of complexity in this multitiered racing challenge are mind-boggling, and it’s not just having the ability to select and customize more than 230 models from 45 car manufacturers in a money-earning, upgrade-rich career mode. The options and depth never stop. Players can get lost under a blanket of engineering geekdom that can turn an average human into a maniacal mechanic tweaking everything from gear ratios to forced induction pressure to ignition timing.

Microsoft Game Studios never stops throwing features at the driver. Races can be analyzed meticulously, down to G-forces acting on the car via a robust Replay Theater. Players even can train computer drivers to run races that incorporate an artificial-intelligence component called the Drivatar.

Or players can be like me — someone who avoided the entire mechanical mess, happy to be taking out a Ferrari, then a Corvette, then a Porsche for a spin on tracks all over the world.

With the base of the Wireless Racing Wheel perched between my legs and the brake and accelerator pedal set near my foot, I grabbed the wheel’s rubber grips and pushed the pedal to the metal. That, by the way, is a dumb thing to do. I spun out badly as I hit the first turn and lost a rear windshield when an opponent smashed into me.

The steering unit and pedals worked flawlessly and made the Forza Motorsport simulation almost too real, especially when smashing into various obstacles.

Of course, Forza Motorsport further envelops players with an Xbox Live online connection, allowing players to race against one another, create auto clubs, trade cars and download replays of top drivers in action to learn their techniques.

The Aviator, from Warner Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG-13, $29.95. Director Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning film about the adventurous early years of Howard Hughes arrives on digital video in a two-disc set that does a fantastic job of exploring his achievements and demons.

After watching the 170-minute ode starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Mr. Hughes and listening to a passionate, anecdote-rich commentary track headed by the director, viewers can get an overview of the man’s technological, scientific and managerial brilliance by popping in the information-laden second disc.

Most revealing is the 40-minute History Channel “Modern Marvels” documentary about a fellow so obsessed with innovation that he redesigned his hospital bed while recovering from injuries suffered during a test flight of his photo-reconnaissance plane prototype, the XF-11.

The program further educates and explains, through experts, biographers and primary source footage, his role in guided missiles, satellite television, lunar landings and helicopters.

Airplane enthusiasts also will appreciate the 15-minute “The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History,” which gives a quick but well-rounded look at some of Mr. Hughes’ awesome array of aircraft and covers his many records and innovations to the fledgling industry.

As far as Mr. Hughes’ battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, viewers get 30 minutes of content in two programs. In them, doctors, OCD sufferers and even Mr. Hughes’ widow, Terry Moore, explain the mental illness that ultimately destroyed the brilliant man.

All of the above, plus a healthy dose of behind-the-scenes featurettes and cast interviews make quite the historical, informative evening for fans of the billionaire.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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