|Forza Motorsport 2 (2007)
Available for: Xbox 360
If you’re surprised at my rating for this game, so am I. My first glimpse of this game was last year through a short film on a 360-demo disc. I thought it looked great and was looking forward to its eventual release. However, when early reviews started pouring in from other sites, I was a bit wary due to the critics saying the game was a bit bland and the graphics weren’t up to par, that the cars just weren’t fast enough, etc. In the end, I just trusted my gut and plunked down the cash. I’m glad I listened to my gut.
“Forza Motorsport 2” is the long-awaited sequel to the 2005 game that debuted on the original Xbox. It’s everything a great racing game should be: fun, addictive, loaded with tons of features, a great multiplayer mode and plenty of challenge. And, oh yes, this is definitely a driving simulator, but unlike the overrated “Gran Turismo” series, the guys at Turn 10 Studios want everyone to be able to join in and have fun with their game. That means none of those infuriating license tests, and a short learning curve, and an in-game assist system that will have you winning races in no time.
Now, don’t expect to pick up this game and win your first race right out of the box. If you’re like me, and love arcade racers like the “Burnout” or “Need For Speed” series, “Forza” is going to be a huge splash of cold water in your face during the first race. The cars in this game look, sound and drive exactly as they would in the real world. This is definitely not like “Burnout” where you can sort of smash into a wall at an angle and the game will set you straight and keep you blazing down the track. No, in this world you hit a wall and your car reacts as it should. Namely, you’ll usually bounce off of it a few feet and spin around a couple times, only to be drilled a couple more times by the other racers behind you. Yeah, get ready to press “Restart” a few times.
“Forza 2” demands that its players learn the game and become better drivers at the same time. There are many options you can turn on and off to help you achieve this goal. You might often find yourself mixing it up through career mode, and turning various things on and off over the different tracks and courses, just to get the feel for each new environment. Players have the ability to turn on graphic racing lines either fully, only during braking, or not at all. They can also turn on braking assist and stability systems, modify the computer’s AI settings and much more. Turning the assists off means more credits earned at the end of a race. You can even select how much damage is done to the car during wrecks, and whether or not you want your tires and fuel to be used in real time.
It’s these little selectable things that make “Forza Motorsport 2” such an engaging and exciting game. No one is left out in the cold here. A newbie can race online against a seasoned pro and wind up winning. It’s all down to the choices made, cars selected, and yes, skill of the driver. But it’s all these factors combined, and not just whether or not you can slam down the track shifting manually with your ABS off and your car tuned six ways to Sunday in extreme variations that allow you to win races.
It’s important to point out that tuning is certainly an option in this game. But again, it’s only an option. You’re not forced to know about how the best gear ratios work, and whether or not you should raise or lower your car’s suspension, or whether you should put more weight on the front or back of your car. These things are all available for the real gearheads out there. The rest of us can enjoy just getting into a car, modifying it through some new parts and leaving it at that. Again, unlike the “Gran Turismo” series, “Forza 2” is an environment that welcomes every driver out there.
The computer AI is also top-notch here. Don’t be surprised when you lose on a track when you have it set on “Beginner.” The computer cars don’t run on fixed rails and will not show you any mercy. You’ll get bumped, other drivers who are good at the classic pit maneuver will take advantage of you, and at times you’ll be screaming at your TV. But you’ll come back for more, learn the track and win the race.
Online matches are also a lot of fun. I can’t think of another game I’ve owned on the 360 where I’m literally hit up with game requests by total strangers on a daily basis. “Forza” truly offers gamers one of those deep communities where people want to just play this game, and not just with the gamers on their friends list. Like the rest of the game, there are tons of options available for online matches that goes way beyond choosing a track and lap count. You can pick from a circuit or have a series of races, and then modify settings such as forcing other racers to have their onboard assist systems turned off, and other such options to make the race as real or as arcade-like as you wish.
The cars offered up in “Forza 2” are plentiful. There are more than 300 in all with 50 manufacturers. Each car has its own “Rarity” value, so you can take a quick glance to see which of your rides would be most desired by others in the community. If you get tired of driving a certain car, or you just don’t want it, or you just want to buy a new car and decorate it however you like, you can put it up for auction online and give everyone else in the community a chance to bid on it for themselves.
Speaking of decorating cars, “Forza 2” offers its players possibly the deepest customizing system yet seen in a game. Featuring literally thousands of layers to work with, players have created absolutely stunning works of art with their cars that are jaw-dropping at times. There has been everything from iPod ad cars to one featuring a photorealistic Clint Eastwood on the hood, to anything you can imagine, and they were all produced in-game painstakingly by the gamers themselves. So far I’ve created a couple cool looking Pac-Man themed designs of my own, but they don’t even come close to the amazing work other gamers have cranked out. Here’s yet another example of the game going beyond just being a “racing simulator” and offering its fans a whole creative universe and another way to enjoy the game itself.
Graphically, my eyes have seen absolutely nothing wrong with this game. Some critics have complained that there are jagged edges to some of the cars, but if there are, I have yet to really see any. And that whole speed thing? Yeah, this is a simulator, so expect to go at speeds that aren’t 275 mph. Yeesh. Especially when you’re racing on tracks like Laguna Seca where a couple sharp turns demand you keep it under 70, if not lower. All you need to know is this game runs at a smooth 60 fps and sports a 360 Hz physics engine. Click on the telemetry in your car at any time during a race and see each tire go through its own work out, and much more. This is truly simulation racing at its finest and most accessible. It’ll be a while before something else even comes close to the greatness that is “Forza Motorsport 2.”