Forza Motorsport 2 (360) – Review

Forza Motorsport 2 - CoverGran Turismo has been known to be the most realistic console racing simulator to date through its various incarnations. When the original Forza Motorsport came out on the original Xbox, it did make an impression due to its strong realistic physics and was given very positive reviews, but was still overshadowed, in the overall console market, by Gran Tursimo 4 for the Playstation 2. Now, Forza Motorsport 2, developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios, has hit the market and may have flipped the tide for good in its favor. The game’s physics engine is even further improved, and allows for not only tuning and improvements of cars, but physical damage to cars (something that is generally missing in realistic racing games), and a huge number of options to adjust the game from a detailed racing simulation to a fun arcade racing game. It also sports one of the best Xbox Live implementations that ties in well to the single player mode. By far, Forza Motorsport 2 is a definitely must have for any racing game fan and may easily surpass Gran Tursimo as the best racing game ever.

Gameplay: A

Forza Motorsport 2 - Racing shotForza Motorsport 2 is a racing simulation game, much like it’s prequel Forza Motorsport and the PlayStation’s Gran Turismo series. In terms of the spectrum of racing games, from a game like the Burnout series (pure arcade) to Gran Turismo (highly realistic), FM2 falls in an interesting place. Out of the box, I would put it slightly less realistic than Gran Turismo, as the game has some helpful visual hints (such as the correct turn approach/braking line, introduced in the first Forza game) to make it easier for newer players, but includes the effects of damage on the cars. Notably here, this is likely the first top-tier game with numerous real-world cars to include significant visual effects of collision damage as in the past, car manufacturers have generally balked on seeing their high end machines all crumpled up. Depending on how you want to play the game, you can change that arcade-to-realism slider anywhere from being super realistic by turning off much of the extra visual features, to semi-arcadish by enabling a lot of assists and turning off some of the realism features. There’s a huge array of options for you to play with to make the game play like you want, and the game adjusts appropriately by changing the amount of reward credits (used for your career experience and for buying new cars and upgrades) for more difficult challenges. In that aspect alone, the fact that Forza Motorsport 2 can be whatever you want as a racing game, within limits, makes it an impressive title.

Within the game, you can chose several modes of play. The most common single player experience is Career mode, where you start with enough credits to buy one car, after selecting a starting geographical region, and need to race in several events to earn more credits and win additional cars. You as the driver have an experience level, and with each level you gain, you can earn discounts for new cars and parts. Additionally, some events and cars are locked until you reach a certain level, thus requiring you to progress in easier, low-power races working your way up to long, difficult runs in super cars. Additionally, the region you start in will affect what is unlocked; that is, if you start in the North American region, you’ll get bonuses primarily on American cars, but nothing for Asia or European vehicles. You can pay money to switch regions and unlock those additional cars in that fashion as well. Your cars also have a level associated with it, based on how many races you win with each vehicles; each level upgrade makes it cheaper to obtain certain upgrades for that car and other related models.

There are approximately 70 events total, with more than 200 pre-determined races to be performed within Career mode. Race events include preliminary circuits to get you used to the tracks and certain classes of cars, manufacturer show-offs to compete against both cars of the same make as well as against car rivalries, and then professional events with large lap counts on some of the more difficult courses. Several races have limitations on the types of cars you can drive, including requiring certain makes, weight, engine power, or class designation. There are a total of 12 circuit tracks including some of the fictional ones from the first game as well as several real world tracks like Laguna Seca and Numburgring, and there are several variations on these tracks, including reverse runs, to make a total of 47 possible race courses; these range from tracks with several long straight sections to ones with incredibly tight turns. The AI is pretty flexible; out of the box, in equivalent cars, you really have to work for the lead, and they seem a bit more aggressive than in Forza Motorsport or Gran Tursimo in that they’re not afraid to tap you and take damage if you get on their line. The AI is adjustable to make for a easier or harder game, and reflected in the reward credits for the race. For longer races, you can also take a more managerial role and hire an AI driver to run the race for you. Depending on their skill, they’ll take a fraction of the winnings, so you can opt for the best driver that takes all the winnings but not your claim on completion of the race if you have just one difficult race to beat to get a great car, or you can have a weaker driver run an endurance race for several tens of laps and still rake in a pretty good finishing fee.

Forza Motorsport 2 - Customization ShotAs you earn cars, you can perform many tasks with them. The most common is to apply upgrades to cars, such as improving the engine, replacing the tires, and several other options (at least more than 20 though varies with each car). Each of these cost credits, and can change the performance value of your car, a number that goes up to 1000 and which determines which class your car falls into: D, C, B, A, S, or U (for cars greater than 1000 performance). It’s quite possible to take a stock D car all the way up to S class by applying all the best upgrades, but this may not always be the best thing; a tradeoff for higher top speed may make the car impossible to stop before a turn. The performance indicator is only a rough indicator, as two cars of equal performance value will drive much differently on the road, so it’s all in how you want to set up your favorite cars. After purchasing upgrades you can tune your cars, such as by changing the transmission timing or adjusting the tire pressure. These changes do not affect the car’s performance value, but can make a significant impact within the game as well. Finally, cars can be very highly customized through the paint/decal area. Each side of the car can have up to 1000 vinyl decals placed in layers on it, and there’s a way to copy and save vinyl sets for quick reapplication onto other sides or other cars. This has lead to some rather impressive car looks that people have been able to show off thanks to the in-game photo ability which you can access in race, or though saved replays of races.

Outside of career mode, you can compete in a series of time trial challenges and specific races on each of the major tracks to unlock high-end race cars for online play.

The multiplayer part of Forza Motorsport 2 is where the game really shines. There’s the Exhibition mode, similar to single player Arcade mode which allows you to jump into a race without tracking your performance, though cars will be locked until you’ve completed the appropriate challenge events in single player mode. However, more interesting is the Online Career mode, where race wins are credited towards your Career performance, and the cars available to you include any car you have in your garage as well as those unlocked by your current level. If you race with one of your cars, that car will also gain levels in the same way as it would in normal Career mode. While it uses TrueSkill for quick match placement, this mode is not limited as other TrueSkill games (like Gears of War) are: you can race with up to 7 friends as well as browsing for matches. The host can set a number of options to give handicaps or narrow the difficulty of the race, such as by limiting the car classes to be used, changing if and how damage is done in collisions, turning off certain assists, and more. Based on the settings, number of players, and course type, there’s a prize pot that will be distributed among the winning players, though these players have to finish a fixed amount of time after the leader in order to earn it, otherwise they will be declared as “did not finish” and earn nothing. In addition to these modes, you can race in planned online tournaments and time trials; winning these also earns you credits and bonuses for your career. You can gift cars to other players, as well as sell cars through auctions (using in-game credits). Additionally, in single player Career mode, your performance is tracked against other players so that you can see how well you’re doing against the whole Xbox Live field, just like in Project Gotham Racing 3.

There’s only a couple things I would have liked to seen. Once would have been to be able to change the time of day for the race, maybe not so much night driving but at least from dawn to dusk, with some dimness and, at times, having the sun being in your eyes in different positions on the course. Some minor weather effects relating to this would have been a nice addition too: certainly not adding rain or snow, but maybe overcast skies (affecting the dimness of course) and maybe crosswinds that could affect sections of certain courses. It would have also been nice to be able to set up a single player race to one’s taste within the Career mode, as the online Career races appear to already scale winnings based on course and car difficulty, so that those that really want to run a 75-lap Numburgring run can really do so. The only thing negative about this is that one can run a 75-lap race on the Nissan track (essentially a big oval) and earn tons of credits without any work, which can make the game progression too easy. These certainly aren’t “necessary” features, but would help to give even more options and difficulty for racing in this game.

Value/Replayability: A+

There’s over 300 cars to collect in the game, some requiring a lot of credits to obtain, others requiring a significant amount of in-game experience. Similar to Pokemon, you could probably spend well over 40 hours racing to gain enough credits to earn those cars, and even then, you’ll want to invest in all the best upgrades for the cars as well. I’ve put in about 35 hours into the game, and while I’m feeling some burnout (pun unintended) and weariness in longer races, I know I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg for this game. There is so much possible customization and variation within the game that car racing enthusiasts will likely never grow bored of this game, but even those gamers that prefer something closer to arcade-style racing should still enjoy it. The game is definitely worth every single dollar of its next-gen pricing.

Graphics: A

The game looks great; new cars are nice and shiny, and the damage simulation looks pretty good save for windshield/window cracks, but that’s livable. The tracks look pretty close to their in-world counterparts and have lots of nice features outside of the track; faraway houses, trees, and other landscape elements that make it feel that there’s more than just the course you’re driving one. I’ve read of others that complain about how bad the graphics are compared to Gran Turismo HD for the PS3, but I think that the game does a fair job in trading highly detailed graphics for a more realistic physics engine and quite playable game. Of course, there’s ingame advertising from real world advertisers, but this works perfectly fine in the race setting.

Sound: A-

In-game engine noises and the screeching of tires are extremely realistic, including variations based on car model and weight. I found myself using sound a lot to help with cornering, knowing that if I was causing my tires to whine, I was taking the corner too fast. One oddity, and where I find lacking, is that there is a good amount of licensed music available in the menus (though about10-20% of it is “meh”), there is no option to have ingame racing music. Certainly, I can understand, now that I use car sounds a lot more for help in turning, that such music can mask critical noises for performance, but I think it would have still been really easy to create this as an option. Sure, I can turn up my computer-blaring-mp3 stereo for the same effect, but this feels like a really simple addition that they missed the ball on. Of course, this would also require the need for a playlist maker, but these features already exist in Gran Turismo 4.

Overall: A

There’s only but a few nits I found with the game, and mostly in lacking features and not in the actual features in place. Forza Motorsport 2 takes the cake as being one of the most flexible racing games that I’m aware of, ranging from being extremely realistic and challenging, to supporting arcade-racing type features and can be fun, and with tons of car customization in between. The online integration of the game, almost key to the enjoyment of this title, is superbly done, and definitely makes it worth your while to play against others. Even if you aren’t a big fan of realism in racing games, Forza Motorsport 2 is worth the look, and definitely worth the price.

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