Forza Motorsport 2 Review

David Pitchforth

There are games that come out for every console that just have to be good. You know the type of games I mean; the ones hyped to the heavens, or the ones declared as the best in the genre, or perhaps more importantly - the ones that are supposed to be better than their equivalent on a rival console. I’m talking about games like Halo 3, Metal Gear: Solid 4, and Grand Theft Auto 4. They’re games so big, they simply cannot come out as bad games; they have to be shining examples of what makes gaming so enjoyable. Forza 2 might not be as big as those aforementioned games, but given that Microsoft wants their console to be the place for all the top games in every genre, it certainly has a weight of expectation behind it. While it may not have any direct competition on the Xbox 360 (there are no other car simulators like Forza 2), it’s main competition will be in the form of Gran Turismo on the PS3, and it’s a fight neither game will want to lose. Though it’s too early to tell which will be the better game, given that Gran Tursimo isn’t out on the PS3 yet, we can certainly take a good hard look at Forza 2, and in doing so, find that Gran Turismo will have a hard job on its hands if it wants to be the ultimate driving simulator.

Forza 2 is the sequel to Forza Motorsport, which appeared on the original Xbox in May 2005, a game which was very well received by the press and public alike. Going up against the Gran Turismo series on the PS2, many people, myself included, thought it was actually better than the Gran Turismo series in many aspects. It wasn’t the amount of cars or tracks in the game (which GT had more of), it had an undeniable quality that just shone through. Now that the sequel is here, the question is whether that quality is still there.

Jostling for position is a common occurance in Forza 2.

One thing people need to be aware of with this game, is how different it is to pretty much every driving game out there on the Xbox 360. Burnout is about blazing speed and fantastic crashes. Project Gotham is about driving with as much style as possible. Test Drive is about the online side of things integrating with the single player experience, and Need For Speed is about the customizations and underground scene. Forza 2 is about the cars, and driving those cars in a realistic manner. You can’t powerslide around corners doing 90MPH in Forza, not without a lot of skidding which will either cost you a lot of time, or more likely, send you spinning off the track costing you more time, and possibly the race. It’s a game where you need to discover the correct driving lines (or use the aids to help you), braking before turns, easing around them, and powering out. It’s a game for those people who love their cars, love tuning them, and love driving them.

The bulk of the game is played out in the single player career mode. When you start, you’re given a choice of 3 areas to pick from as your home region – America, Asia, or Europe. The area you pick not only determines which cars are available to you at the start of the game, but also which cars become available earlier. Obviously, if you’re a huge Ferrari or Porsche fan, you’re going to want to pick Europe as your region so the Italian and German cars become available to you that much quicker. You can swap regions at any point during your career, but doing so costs money and will make some cars from your old region unavailable. With that in mind, think carefully before you choose your region, as it will be best to stick with it for awhile if you plan on getting the achievements for owning all the cars from specific countries.

The brakes burn hot as you power round corners.

The career itself consists of various series, each containing 10 smaller events comprised of several races. Each main event has a general theme to it, such as Rival Face-Offs, which pit various manufacturer cars against each other (such as Ferrari against Porsche), or the Proving Grounds, the beginning event which is a nice gentle introduction to the game. Every event has some kind of restrictions on the car you can use in it. Early in the game those restrictions are pretty open; you may just need a rear wheel drive car for example. Later in the game these restrictions get tighter, such as needing a car from a certain class from a certain country, for example a Class D car from England. These restrictions are one of the reasons I enjoy the game so much. Rather than picking a couple of cars that you love and driving them for most of the game, the restrictions force you to move between a lot of cars simply to complete all the races, and in doing so you may fall in love with a car you never thought you’d like. For example, I personally love AWD cars, so cars like the Nissan Skyline and the Lamborghini Murcielago were perfect for me. However, in doing other races I used the Nissan R390, which is RWD, a type of car which can be very prone to oversteer (which means the rear end can very easily spin out if you apply too much power during turning). After a couple of races, I found myself really starting to fall for the car, and ended up upgrading it several times so I could take it into other race series against higher powered opposition. There was something about the car, about the way it handled and the way is responded that just felt right for me. This is something I felt several times during the game as I tried out new cars, and until I’ve driven every car in the game, it’s something I’m sure I’ll feel again.

Not only do the restrictions get tighter as you move through the career, you’ll find the races get longer as well. At first you may be doing 2-3 lap races of short circuits, which can be done in only a few minutes. As you progress, you’ll find yourself doing 5-6 laps on longer tracks, and 8+ laps on the shorter courses, making races 10 minutes or more in length. Then there are the Endurance races, the final series of events, which comprises of 10 separate races, each designed for a different class and style of car. They bring in the need for pit stops, as you won’t be able to carry enough fuel for all the laps, and your tires may not last the whole race, so you’ll generally need to pit halfway through. These races are long, lasting anywhere up to and above an hour, and for my money, can actually be the most enjoyable races in the game. It’s not so much fun if your car is obviously overpowered compared to the others on the track, but when you start getting to Class A and S races, your car will likely not be too overpowered compared to others. In the shorter races, you can make a small mistake here and there and get away with it, but a major mistake will almost certainly mean you won’t win. In the longer Endurance races, which will be at least 25 laps, a big mistake doesn’t necessarily mean defeat, it can spur you on to try and catch the cars still ahead of you. It’s an awesome feeling coming from behind in a long race, weaving your way past the cars ahead of you to pull in and eventually overtake the leaders. Thanks to the lack of any kind of rubber band AI, if you consistently lap faster than others, you’ll eventually catch up to them, and then pull away.

Marvel at the Zonda's curves

During your career, your goal obviously is to win the races and events to gain money and extra cars. You’ll get a bonus car for every mini-series you win, as well as for every major series that you complete. Winning money helps you increase your driver level, which in turn will give you bonuses, such as discounts on certain upgrades, or give you access to more cars. Your driver level will also dictate what races and events you can go in, so you’ll need to get your level up to the maximum of 50 if you want to unlock every series available. You can also improve your car’s level as well. If you win enough money in a certain car, you can increase its level (up to level 5), which will also give you extra discounts on certain items and upgrades. It’s another incentive to drive in more cars to unlock more discounts. To help you earn money quicker, you can change the difficulty in several areas, each of which can make a difference to the amount of money you win. Change the damage setting to “Realistic” and you’ll earn a 10% bonus on whatever you earn during the race. There are several settings to pick from, including Driver AI, Automatic or Manual gear changes, Driving Line aid (useful for those not used to playing a driving simulation) and others. It’s worth playing around with it to find the combination that works best for you while also yielding the most money for each race.

Besides the single player career, you have Time Trials and Exhibition races to provide a quick distraction, while you can race online in various forms. These all provide a good alternative to what will likely be the main event for most people buying the game, which will likely be the single player career. The Time Trials are just that, a race against the clock to beat a lap time in a predetermined car. Exhibitions are also like you’d expect; a race around various tracks in the car of your choosing. When you go online, you can race in exhibition races, tournaments, or the aforementioned career races. There’s very little lag so playing online should be a very enjoyable experience.

The Nissan R390 is one of the best handling cars in it's class.

Alongside the actual driving of the cars, you have the ability to upgrade and tune your car in many ways. These can be fairly minor changes, like changing your tires to a higher-grip make, or huge changes like swapping out your engine for a completely new one, adding a turbocharger and intercooler, improving the brakes and suspension, and adding rear spoilers to improve grip. By improving your cars this way, you can take the lowest cars and build them into beasts which can challenge almost any car in the game. As touched on before, the cars are rated according to class, going from Class D at the bottom, to Class S for the “stock” cars, then going from R4 to R1 for the proper racing cars. Inside these classes, each car is given a Performance Index (besides the racing cars), or PI, which gives you an idea of where inside each class the car sits. This creates a very deep side to the upgrading and customization portion of the game, as you seek to improve your car as best you can while keeping it inside a particular class. It does however also create one downside to the game, in that upgrading your cars is so much fun, that it can mean that for almost every car you can create a version powerful enough to make almost any race easy. As pointed out before, the A and S Class races are generally close events, but at the lower levels it’s easy to build a car that will lap several seconds faster than anything else on the track. Blowing away every other car is fun the first few times you do it, but after a while you miss the adrenaline rush you get when you just about pip another car to the finish by virtue of a fantastic last corner move. As long as you’re willing to challenge yourself, the upgrading of cars will really be used mainly to help a lower class car remain competitive against the higher class opposition.

As well as the ability to upgrade your car, you have a livery editor to make your car look as unique as you like. In the original Forza, you had several hundred layers over the whole car to create your look, which was enough for people to make some amazing designs. In Forza 2, you have several thousand layers, so for the truly creative people out there you have a huge scope to make your car look incredible. My only gripe about the livery editor is that I feel they could have included more basic shapes to use, but that’s a minor point at best.

Lambourghini cars make a welcome appearance in Forza 2.

Well now you know what’s in the game, I guess you want to know how it actually plays. Thankfully the gameplay is excellent. The cars all handle just how you’d expect them to, so you can throw the RWD cars around the corners easily, while the FWD cars are prone to understeer if you apply too much power through the turns. This is thanks to the excellent physics engine in the game, which runs at a whopping 360 FPS. Running as fast as this means that the cars not only handle perfectly, but react to all stimuli as you’d expect, whether that be a couple of wheels touching the grass or bumping into another car. The huge variety in the cars (330+ of them) means you’ll never be short of a new vehicle to try, and the large career mode will take well over 20 hours to complete, probably closer to 40 hours. The main downside to the game is the tracks, or the lack thereof. Most of them were in Forza 1 and have just been given a graphical overhaul. There are 12 tracks in total, with 47 track variations, and while this may not sound too bad, after 20 hours of gameplay you’ll get pretty bored of driving the same old tracks over and over again. It’s a great shame as it’s really the main gripe I have with Forza 2. If they could have doubled the track total I’d have been a very happy gamer.

The beauty of the game though is in the various ways you can approach the events. I’m not talking about tactically within the race, but in terms of what car you want to use for a race. You can check your opponents out before each race, so you simply find a faster car and buy that one to use. You could take a slower car and upgrade it so it can take on the more powerful cars. You can take a similar level car and simply tune it, playing with the suspension settings and gear ratios to give yourself an advantage. You’ve got a lot of ways you can decide to go at each event, and it’s doubtful any two people will play through in the same way, which is a sign of a good game in my opinion.

A Tuner fans dreams come true

Graphically the game is hit and miss. It runs at an ultra smooth 60 FPS, and everything looks nice enough, but jaggies raise their ugly heads more than I’d like to see. More often than not you won’t see them as you’ll be concentrating on taking a corner at 70MPH, but on straights you’ll tend to notice them. Given how long the game was in production it’s something I’m surprised made it into the final release, but while it’s a shame to see, it’s certainly not enough to stop you from enjoying the racing experience.

For those expecting typical generic driving music and sounds here, you’ll be surprised. The cars all sound excellent, most of them having very distinctive sounds. You’ll probably surprise yourself in races that you’ll be able to tell which car is behind you simply by the noise it makes when it gets close to you. The music itself is excellent too, with tracks from artists such as N.E.R.D, Paul Oakenfold, The Crystal Method, The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy. It’s definitely one of the best soundtracks to a driving game yet.

Classic Chevy's make an appearance also

Forza 2 is definitely a game that’ll reward long term playing with achievements. There are very few quick and easy achievements in the game, and the ones that can be won easily are generally only worth 5 or 10 points. Achievements will be rewarded for things like reaching Driver Level 50 (easily 30 hours of play), owning all the cars from a particular country (easy for some countries, very, very hard for others), winning a race with all assists turned off, and completing all the Time Trials. If you’re looking for a game to score a quick 1000 points on, this is definitely not the game for you. If you’re looking for an in-depth game that’ll reward your playing with achievements, this is one you’ll enjoy.

As I mentioned right at the start, Forza 2 is one of those games Microsoft couldn’t really afford to get wrong, and for the most part they’ve got it right everywhere, thanks to developers Turn 10. While the lack of tracks is a problem, and the graphics could certainly do with cleaning up, the heart of the game is in it’s simulation of driving around a race track, and in that respect I think it’s more accurate than any other driving game I’ve played. This is now the benchmark for any driving game which wants you to drive seriously, and if you love your cars, I seriously recommend it.

Great engine sounds give every car a distinctive sound, possibly the best I’ve heard in any driving game before now. The music is top quality too, with songs from a lot of well known and respected artists and groups. There’ll be no need for those custom soundtracks for a while here.

Super-smooth 60 FPS is let down by a lack of aliasing and a lot of jaggies. The lack of an in-car view is disappointing too, something the driving purists will really miss. The cars themselves look excellent though, if you can look past the initial aliasing issues.

Well over 300 cars and a ton of events will give you plenty of opportunities to drive a lot of different cars over 47 track variations. The ability to upgrade and tune your cars adds a whole new mini-game which can take up a lot of time and become very addictive. If only those 47 track variations didn’t look quite so similar to each other.

Put together very well indeed, the game is structured in such a way that you’ll find yourself winning cars right away which will open up additional events which you previously wouldn’t be able to race in. The menus are all laid out nicely and you can quickly jump between them so you can go back and forth easily.

Laid out in such a way that only the long term players will be able to get a lot of points, so don’t expect too many easy points here. All of them are achievable though, with no stupid ones in there that require more skill than a lot of people have. If you’re willing to put the time in, almost anyone could score 800+ points here.

The best driving game available on the Xbox 360, but with enough flaws to show that there’s still room for improvement, which is what the competition will no doubt be trying to improve on. There’s a huge game here though which has an addictive side to it in terms of trying to collect all the cars. If you like driving games then you should love Forza 2.

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