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Forza Motorsport 2

In the beginning there really was only racing sim worth having on a console: the Gran Turismo franchise. With a car list that got increasingly large and a learning curve that was equally daunting, Gran Turismo was one of the few titles that I honestly couldn’t be bothered to “finish” or achieve 100-percent completion. Forza 2 changes all that, and in a good way.
First, the game provides a series of handicaps (Traction, Braking and Stability) that are on by default but can be removed at any given time. Racing-sim rookies will definitely appreciate this feature, as the game doesn’t roll out the frustration with the first lap as Gran Turismo does. There are further assists as well, covering your ride from tire wear to damage, all of which can be turned off to increase the amount of winnings you can collect during a race.
Forza 2 also does away with the license modes that GT employs. Want to race a F1 car? As long as you have in your garage you can race it at, which brings downs the frustration of endlessly unlocking licenses just to use cars you already have.
Forza 2 is divided into three main parts: Arcade, which is your usual time trials and races that unlock cars; Career, which pits different classes and series of races; and Online, which should really need no explanation. Most of these modes function as you would expect. Fancy a quick race? Head to Arcade. Want to build up your driver and car scores to make more models available and unlock drive deeper races? Head to the Career mode. Want to race on Xbox Live? Head Online. You’d think this would be enough to satisfy any gamer, and in fact it would. But Turn 10 takes it to the checkered flag with some real meat in the game’s other options.
One of the finest things about Forza 1 was its Livery editor (the ability to customize your car). This feature was remarkably easy to get into yet quite complex in terms of what you could do with various vinyl decals. Sizing, resizing and grouping them together led to some pretty impressive designs created by the community. Forza 2 raises the bar so high on this outing that Grand Turismo’s creators should sit up and take notice. The top of your car can now consist of 1,000 layers of vinyl decals, making the customizations endless. Also new is the ability to select several decals at a time and save them as group, which makes reapplying them to another car a snap. The tool truly can’t be overlooked, and while the learning curve is quite easy, mastery will take a long time. If you don’t see the stock designs you’re looking for, which range from tribal designs to flames, you can make it yourself. And then, just for good measure, take the car out for a spin and test out the Photo Mode.
This brings the online features into play, because after you’ve slaved away designing a great paint scheme, you can take it to the Auction House where you have the chance to sell your cars to the online community. It’s also worth a look just to see some of the fantastic designs that are out there and what can be achieved. Online mode features more than auctions, of course, with typical racing competitions and setups. Hosting a race gives you controls over the handicaps, the tracks and the classes of cars, and all in all is pretty smooth, with just the odd glitch here and there. However, the competitions themselves have a twist: you can watch them “live” as a virtual participant. This something that is slowly coming into its own on video games; Virtua Tennis 3 also shares this. It improves over Project Gotham Racing 3‘s Gotham TV by allowing all races to be viewed, not just the best drivers and one good race.
Any driving game, no matter how deep or pretty, is nothing without decent control over your vehicle. Forza 2 shines in this regard, with each type of car feeling different, and a 4WD feeling and driving differently than a rear- or front-wheel-drive car. The addition of the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel accessory makes you just as dangerous as playingn a FPS with a mouse and keyboard rather then a controller. Almost every time when I was beaten online, the race leaders all had the Racing Wheel.
All is not perfect with Forza 2, though, as there are a few hairs to split. There is noticeable aliasing on car models, although this is really only apparent when watching a replay rather than during the actual race. There’s also an occasional odd glitch graphics-wise in the background, but again this is really only noticeable in replays, and really, just how much attention are you going to pay to the background rather then to what’s directly in front of you? On the New York City Times Square track, depending on the direction of the track, the AI will crash into a turn. This is the only track I observed this happening, but it does seem a bit odd. Also, there is no cockpit view showing the car’s dashboard, and in what has to be a first for a driving sim, YOU CAN RUN OUT OF GAS! As realistic and immersive as this is, it can be annoying if you’re not prepared and/or when running an endurance race, some of which can take an hour to complete. All of these nitpicks are minor, though, and you’d be hard-pressed to even notice them in the overall experience.
While it may not have the number of cars as the Gran Turismo series, Forza 2 doesn’t suffer from having 30-plus models of the same car to unlock, which is one tactic GT has been guilty of using to pad its car count. With car packs and more tracks on the way as downloadable content, Forza 2 looks to have a robust life and should entertain you for some time. Forza 2 raises the bar for other driving sims in what it brings to the track, and those other driving sims would be wise to pay attention.

Overall: 8
This second lap in the Forza franchise shows marked improvement and depth in the racing sim genre, easily making this a must-have game for Xbox 360 owners looking for something deeper then Project Gotham Racing, Burnout and Test Drive.

— Phillip Vollmer

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