Pre-Christmas Forza 2 release 'hangs in balance'

'This financial year' - Lewis.

Despite Forza 2's release date changing to "winter" during Microsoft's recent Games Convention press conference, with a top executive refusing to guarantee a pre-Christmas debut for the Xbox 360 racer, our sister site GamesIndustry.biz has learned that the US giant is still briefing retail that it is aiming for December 8 in Europe.

Forza 2, sequel to the critically acclaimed Xbox racer Forza Motorsport, was confirmed for a "Holiday 2006" release when announced at E3 back in May. But during Microsoft's media briefing at last month's German event, the game's release window was announced as "winter" - immediately raising fears that the high-profile racing sequel had slipped into 2007.

Speaking exclusively to Eurogamer TV immediately after the presentation, in an interview now showing, Xbox Europe boss Chris Lewis refused to admit the slip, only promising a release by the end of Microsoft's current financial year - which runs to June 30 2007.

"I'm not going to use your media to make any announcements in that regard - what I will say is watch this space," Lewis offered when pushed to provide a specific timeframe.

"I think we've always said that it will appear in our financial year - and in our financial year I can guarantee you that game will appear. I can't be specific right now in terms of the actual dates for Forza, but certainly it will be an integral game that appears during our financial year '07 which is the one we're in now."

Lewis's remarks certainly suggest that a pre-Christmas release for Forza 2 now looks unlikely. But GamesIndustry.biz can reveal that the firm is still communicating a target date of December 8 in Q4 briefings with key UK retailers.

"We're being told that Microsoft are still aiming to get Forza 2 out on December 8," one retailer told gi.biz this week.

"But this is very much an aspiration; it's hanging in the balance but I expect it to slip into next year."

The loss of Forza 2 from Xbox 360's holiday line-up will undoubtedly be a blow to Microsoft - not just because its console will therefore lack a first party triple-A racing title during the peak season, but also because the game had been earmarked as a key driver for the firm's Wireless Racing Wheel peripheral, which will retail for a hefty USD 149.99 later this year.

Equally, however, Microsoft Game Studios will be reluctant to rush out one of its biggest products until it is absolutely ready - and Lewis's significant widening of the release window implies there is still plenty of work to be done on the anticipated sequel.

Part one of the full, exclusive video interview with head of Xbox Europe Chris Lewis is now showing on Eurogamer TV.

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