Forza Motorsport 2ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Driving Sims
Developer - Turn 10
Publisher - Microsoft Studios
System Link 2-8 Players
Force Feedback Wheel
Online Multiplayer 2-8 Players
I consider myself a somewhat experienced virtual racing driver. This experience started on the PSone playing Formula 1 racing and since then I have had the chance to play a lot of different racers. Simulation racers have always been somewhat daunting to me, but as consoles have progressed so have the simulation style racing games. One highlight of this progression was Forza Motorsport which was released on the original Xbox. This game managed to allow all different levels of gamers to participate in the world of sim-racing, both offline and online. Microsoft has finally released the sequel to this fine racer in the form of Forza Motorsport 2. With an increased roster of cars, more tracks, and some great online support, this sequel manages to provide more great racing then ever before.
During the development of Forza 2 developer Turn 10 started to release screen shots and eventually movies of the game in motion. I was somewhat intrigued by the early look of the game as Forza was being brought into the world of high definition. Upon playing the final version I would have to say that overall I am quite satisfied with the visuals in this game. Sure, there are some minor quirks, but overall the game is quite a looker.
The cars in Forza 2 are definitely the stars here. With a high coat of gloss and polish the virtual versions of vehicles I will never get to drive in real life look great. They move with realistic detail that I have not seen in quite sometime and they are surrounded by some great special effects. Lighting and shadowing around and on the cars is pretty impressive. I play from the hood view and the lighting was very noticeable on a track called Maple Valley. This track is surrounded by many trees and the sun manages to break through various areas amongst them. The resulting lighting and shadowing on the track was very impressive and it was also reflected on the hood of my car as well. Speaking of reflections, Forza 2 also allows for real-time reflections to be displayed on one's vehicle of choice. Although this was indeed an impressive effect, some may believe that this could have been done better. I found that the reflections would most of the time just pop onto my vehicles hood or body and they didn't seem to have the sense of speed that the overall game conveyed. Regardless you have to be a total critic not to appreciate this. I found I appreciated the work that went into the look of the reflections and I thought that they added to the visual splendor of the game. In terms of any negatives of the cars, I found that there were also some 'jaggies' on the vehicles, and this becomes really evident on a bigger HD display. I had the chance to play this at home on my 80-inch screen through a high definition projector. I did note the 'jaggies' on the cars, but they were not an eyesore and were only really noticeable if I was really looking for it.
As for the tracks, the real world and fantasy courses offered are quite good looking. Each race on any of the 50 or so tracks is rendered at the silky smooth framerate of 60 frames per second no matter what is going on. This is testament to the design and implementation of the graphics engine. The draw distance is pretty much as far as the eye can see. I looked closely when racing on most of the tracks and everything that was visible was already rendered and did not just pop in. Granted there was a little pop in during the long back straightaway of Sebring, but overall the draw distance in all the tracks is incredible. This was most evident in the New York track as skyscrapers way off in the distance were visible from the beginning until the end of each straightaway that I had to race on. Everything on this track maintained all of its detail during the races too, including everything way off in the distance. If there is any negative to the tracks it would be some of the detail found in such things as the ground or plants around the tracks as they seem to have some simplicity to them a lot of the time. However that being said, the only way you may see this weakness is if you spin off the track or crash into a guardrail and it is not really evident when focused on finding the perfect line for that final lap of the race.
Speaking of crashes, Forza allows for some pretty impressive damage on the cars as well. This can be as simple as a minor scuff on a bumper or broken mirror. However should you really nail a wall or another car the resulting damage can be quite impressive and leave your car looking like well used demolition derby junker. Cars can lose bumpers, aerodynamic wings as well as have their windows completely blown out along with their tail or front lights. These items that may fall off of cars also stay on the track too and can be run over by any one of the other vehicles racing around the track. Should your engine get damaged in a crash your car will emit a grayish plume of smoke as you race towards the finish line. Overall the damaged car models are very well rendered and make for further realism in the game.
I found that the sound in Forza 2 complemented everything else in the game. Each car seems to have its own distinct sound, so a Ford Focus sounds distinctly different from a Dodge Viper. Should you upgrade the muffler and air filter system in any given car the result will be a different sounding vehicle too. This is an important aspect to comment on as customization and tuning of a car is important in Forza 2, and to allow for the differing sounds allows the game to maintain a sense of realism. As for the rest of the sound effects, I would have to give kudos to them too. Such things as racing through tunnels, squealing tires, breaking glass or bumpers crashing against something all manage to convey the sound that it is really happening. I can't count the amount of times I winced when playing with friends online and I heard a couple of them behind me get tied up in the first corner of a track and they managed to damage their cars quite substantially.
I also think it is important to comment on the use of Dolby Digital in this game as well as Turn 10 made sure to fully implement this feature. There were many times that the sound of my opponent's car in the surround speaker(s) gave me clear knowledge of where they were. As well, if crashes occur way in the distance they can still be heard too but they are softer in sound as they are far away. Overall there was very little to nitpick in terms of the overall audio package in Forza 2.
Forza 2 brings over 300 cars to the table and around 12 different racing environments to race in. If Turn 10's commentary during the development of this game holds true, the exact number of available cars is 330. There are a fair number of car manufacturers who have given Forza 2 their support and it shows. You will find cars from Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley Motors, BMW (including the Mini), General Motors, Chrysler, Dodge, American Motors, Ferrari, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Lancia, Lexus, Lotus, Mazda, McAllen, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opal, Pagani Zonda, Panoz Motorsport, Peugeot, Porsche, Proto Motors, Renault, Saab, Seat, Saleen, Scion, Shelby, Subaru, Toyota, TVR, Vauxhall and Volvo. Within these manufacturers are a bevy of different vehicles from lower end models to supercars to full racing cars. Bottomline is that the list of cars is huge and there are enough vehicles to satisfy any diehard racer out there. Of course as each car is made by a different manufacturer, and there are varying classes of cars, one would hope that each car handles differently. Well the simple answer is yes. The varying handling characteristics of each car are very evident, so when you race a VW Golf and then race a Corvette Z06 you feel the difference in such things as handling or acceleration. Of course once you upgrade and tune your car you will feel the difference then too. I was very happy to see that each car had a feel of its own and racing various types of cars had me adapting my style to how each car actually handled.
As for the tracks, well there are both real life and fantasy tracks included in this sequel and any Forza veteran will recognize some of them from the original. There are eight track environments that have been faithfully recreated from real life circuits and they are Laguna Seca, Mugello, Nurburgring, Silverstone, Tsukuba Circuit, Suzuka Circuit, Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway. The rest of the racing environments are fantasy tracks which include Maple Valley, New York, Test Track and Peninsula (Nissan) Speedway. Each of these racing environments has a number of different courses within each for a total of close to 50 different tracks to race on. There is no doubt that you will favor some tracks over others. I found that I really enjoyed Sebring, Maple Valley, Peninsula Speedway Infield and Mugello. Overall the inclusion of the number of tracks is to be commended, but I do wish there were more new tracks and not so many brought over from the original Forza. Sure it was good to see some of the original in HD goodness, but these original tracks had a "been there, done that" feel and took away from the overall newness of the game. Regardless what is available from the start is quite impressive and Forza 2 does support downloadable content, so there is no doubt there will be more tracks sometime in the future but at what cost I do not know.
When Forza was first released on the original Xbox anyone who was a console racer seemed to favor the Gran Turismo series on the Playstation as the sim-racer of choice. That being said, once people played Forza it was evident that there was a new kid in town that managed to show great racing was available on another console other then the PS2. Something that the original Forza did that most other simulation orientated racers did not was it allowed for any level of racer to enter the realm of sim-style racing and be competitive. This was done through both the availability of car assists (e.g. ABS, Traction Control and Stability Control) and a driving line that showed the perfect line on the track and the speed to navigate the twists and turns. This line was a great addition for newbie racers as not only did it show where to go on the track, but it was color coded to show what speed you should be driving. This line stayed green for the correct speed, turned yellow to indicate slow down, and turned red to indicate hit the brakes. It was such things as this line, along with the car assists, that really made this a racer for everyone.
Now that the sequel has been released for the Xbox 360, Turn 10 has managed to continue this legacy and Forza 2 once again is a racer that anyone can play. The racing line once again returns, but for those looking for a bit more of a challenge, this line can be altered to only allow for breaking lines to be shown. This is most evident in the corners, where braking is usually required. The same color scheme is used to show one how to adjust accordingly when coming into any corner on any track. Of course the car assists make a return to Forza 2 as well. For those die hard simulation racers out there, the option is there to turn off all assists and racing lines making for a true driving experience. I have tried numerous races with all different combinations of assists, and it amazing how different each race can be. This sequel really tailors customizability for racing and there is no doubt that any level of gamer will find a comfortable level of challenge.
As Forza 2 is a simulation racer, customizability and tuning play a big part the game. On top of the already impressive list of cars is the aftermarket accessories that are available to not only make your car look and sound good, but perform better as well. Each car has a Performance Index (PI) and as you upgrade and tune your car its PI goes up. Each PI has a threshold as well and once you reach a certain number you can actually change the class of a car (e.g. from D class to C class or higher). Upgrades focus on four different areas: engine and power, platform and handling, tire and rims, weight and aerodynamics. There are performance parts and accessories (e.g. clutches, brakes, turbochargers, superchargers, tires, body kits, wings, motor upgrades, etc.) by such companies as Nismo, Mazdaspeed, Mopar, Wings West, Eibach, Pirelli, Bridgestone and Michelin to name a few. The total list of parts and accessories is staggering and anyone can make their stock car into a full fledged street racer. It is truly amazing how each upgrade can affect the ability of your car. Once you add specific parts to your car, some of these allow you to tune your car to make it that much better. For full tuning ability you will need to buy level three (3) race parts. Tuning options that become available with the more expensive parts focus on seven areas such as tires (front and rear pressure), transmission (final drive, forward gears), alignment (camber, toe, caster), suspension (springs, damping, ride height, anti-roll bars), aerodynamics (front/rear downforce), brakes (brakes pressure, balance) and differential (tune for acceleration or deceleration, center differential torque distribution). Now I have to admit that I am not a tuning nut, and I barely understand the basics, but the tuning options within this game really take this title over the top in terms of what can be done to a car. Anyone who really has knowledge of how to take advantage of the tuning options can make their car quite better then a non-tuned identically equipped car. There is no doubt that many people will spend a lot of time just tuning their car to shave off 1/10th of a second of their time.
Of course you can also customize your cars via paint, pre-made decals/vinyls or custom-made logos once again. This time around the ability to make your car look your own is insane. The amount of pre-generated decals, patterns and letters that are available make for decorating a car a breeze. But should there be that something special you wish to put on your car you can do up to 1000 layers of shapes or designs to make that special logo. I have seen some pretty interesting cars, with such designs as the Gears of War Characters, classic Nintendo characters, corporate advertising (e.g. Geek Squad from Best Buy) and even Japanese Anime Characters (e.g. Dragon Ball Z). Your own creativity and time is the only factor in what can be done to the paint or logo on a car.
So at this point in this section of this review you have come to learn that Forza 2 has a lot of cars that handle differently, it has a lot of tracks, it has customizability for any level of gamer to play, and it allows for upgrades and tuning options for the cars you collect. But I have yet to discuss how it controls, which is quite important for a racing game. During the development of this title Turn 10 made it clear that the game was designed with the Wireless Force Feedback Wheel in mind. Now this concerned me somewhat as not a lot of people have gone out and purchased the steering wheel and they continue to rely on their controller. Well I am happy to say that the game controls very well with the controller. Something that I found as I started to play Forza 2 was how well I could actually drive with the controller versus other racing games in the past. I found that I was able to weave in and out of traffic, draft right behind opposing vehicles and corner with success. If anything I would have to say that this game is one of the best racers that I have ever played using a controller. Now it should be clearly evident that I don't own the steering wheel, but I have had some time with the game at a friend's house who happens to own the steering wheel. There is a definite learning curve to the wheel, but in a matter of a short time I was finding myself starting to take corners with some great success. It is also easier to race such tracks as Nissan Speedway (think Daytona Speedway) as you can enter and exit the corners more smoothly with the wheel. And of course as the wheel is a force feedback wheel you can really feel the track with it. Overall this game controls great with the controller or the wheel, and it all comes down to what kind of racer you are and if you want to get even more out of the work went into the game.
What is a racing game without other racers on a track? Well Turn 10 has made sure to provide some very capable and smart AI opponents to race against. These AI opponents are very good racers and they race like a real person would. I found that many times during many races that the computer AI would actually back off if I had the line going into a corner. This is very different from previous racing games I have played in the past where the AI just keeps to their line no matter what the circumstance. It was nice not to have to worry about a car banging into the rear of me just because they are programmed to keep a specific racing line. To actually have an opposing racer (AI) back off and wait for the right time to pass really made the game feel that more realistic. I even found that if I was overly aggressive in any given race, and I was 'banging' other cars more then I should have, the race took on a whole different aspect as the more aggressive drivers came to the forefront and tried to give me some of my own medicine. What is clear in Forza 2 is that the AI is very adaptable and each race is very different. To further this point home I raced one race on the New York track three different times just to get some extra cash, and each race was very different even though the main competitor was the same car all times. The first race had my main competitor crashing and he had to play catch up for the rest of the race, the second race had my main competitor right on my tail all nine (9) laps even making a few successful passes, and the third race had my main competitor remaining behind me at all times with no challenges to my lead position made. The fact that the AI races like a real person and that each race is a totally different experience, even if it is the same race on the same track, really is an amazing feat and something that should not go overlooked by anyone who plays this game.
Forza 2 is broken into two major components; one is the offline modes while the other is the online modes. Offline is broken up into three (3) different modes as follows:
1. Arcade Mode - This is where one can get into a quick race at any time. There are three areas within the arcade mode: Exhibition, Time Trials and Free Run. Exhibition is a race against other cars of the same class you choose. Initially you only have access to a few tracks and certain number of cars. You have to place in the top three of all races to open up the next set of tracks. You are also rewarded with new cars for placing in one of the top three spots of each track. These cars can then be used for other exhibition races, free runs or multiplayer races (offline or online). Time Trials is a race against the clock on a specific track with a specific car. Beat the time and you are rewarded the car you used for the time trial. Again the car you are awarded is for use in other exhibition races, free runs or multiplayer races (offline or online). Free Run allows you to run practice laps as many times as you want with any unlocked or career car.
2. Career Mode - This is where most of your offline time will be spent. You pick a region you want to call home (N. America, Asia or Europe) and this dictates what types of cars will be open early on. You start with a small amount of money which to purchase a car and you start racing in a few racing series that are unlocked at this point. As you start to race more you will win more, earn more cash and boost your driver rating. Boosting your driver rating opens more race series that are worth more money. Of course more cash means more money to buy new vehicles and upgrades. And the cycle continues until you finally win all the races. During the Career Mode you are essentially tasked with racing the numerous tracks with different cars. The higher your driver rating, the more these races are worth and the harder the opponents get. You will find yourself tweaking your car to get a slight advantage over your opponents, especially in the races where you are all the same class. Endurance races also make a comeback in Forza 2 and you'll find yourself racing some pretty long races in this mode, requiring at least one pit stop per race. It will take numerous hours for you to finish the career mode. As of writing this review I have logged in a solid 31 hours plus and I have only completed 58% of the career mode.
3. Multiplayer Mode - This is where you can race one other driver spilt screen or up to seven (7) other drivers via system link. The description says it all; it is about racing other human drivers to see who reigns supreme on the racetrack.
Of course what is a Forza racing game without incorporation of Xbox Live. Team 10 has taken the realms of online capabilities and managed to push it over the top. Online modes are as follows:
1. Multiplayer - Up to eight (8) players can battle it out online for racing supremacy. There are two modes within the online multiplayer: Exhibition or Career. Exhibition races allow you to race head-to-head against other players. Career races is once again head-to-head but you earn credits that are put into your bank and count towards your overall racing level. You also improve your online TrueSkill rank.
2. Tournaments - Forza 2 supports online Tournaments. This is as simple as registering for a tourney that has not started and then run a qualifying lap on the first round track. The more people who are signed up the longer the tournament as there are more rounds of qualifying. There are 8 bracket to 32 bracket tournaments which equates 64 players up to 256 players in any given tournament. This allows you to race against other human players for another form of online track supremacy.
3. Auction House - New to the Forza series is the ability to buy and sell custom cars via an Auction House that is available to anyone who owns this latest version of the game. It is as simple as selecting a car from your own garage, set a price and hope someone buys it. To make the auction more enticing it is recommended that you paint it up with a funky design and maybe upgrade its performance. You can also buy other gamers cars on the auction house as well. This is a great way to add some really innovative and original art on any car. I have seen some really innovative designs. However, along with the innovative designs come some really expensive cars that can range upwards of 500,000 to 1,000,000 credits.
4. Gift a Car - Forza 2 allows you to give other players a car for free, hence the term "gift". You can only gift a car to someone on your friends list and you cannot gift the car you have equipped. This allows you to give cars to friends who may need that little extra advantage against other cars they are racing, especially if they are a lower level then what you are at.
5. Forza Motorsport TV - You can watch the top players in the Forza Community race live. You can also watch watch qualifying races in any given tournament live as well to see how other racers in your tourney stack up.
My overall experience to date with the online portion of Forza 2 has been quite positive. I found the online races seamless and there was pretty much no lag. I was amazed how smooth it was to race other racers over Xbox Live while the game maintained its smooth framerate. It was like I was racing any given race in my career mode, but against people who are on my friends list. To be able to maintain the online portion as smooth as the offline portion is quite an impressive thing for Turn 10 to pull off. If there was any negative for me to note here is that I would have liked to have seen at least two (2) more racers be added to the online mode for a total of 10. I don't know why this was not the case but two (2) more would allow for a lot more of my friends to join a room that I maybe hosting.
As for the Auction House feature, I found that it was pretty cool. I did try to bid on some pretty neat looking cars, but they were early on in my career and I did not have that much money available. Plus a lot of the designs that I was interested seemed way too expensive. Something I didn't like about the Auction House is that this is the only way to sell a car. Should you have cars in your career garage that you don’t want you cannot sell them to a dealership for fair value as you only get 100 credits for them. I tried to sell some early cars that way and was disappointed with the return. I think that they should still allow you to sell cars to the dealership, but for fair value, and not the measly offer they give you.
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