Genre: Sport Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Publisher: Microsoft Classification: G Release Date: 14th Jun 2007 Platforms:XBOX360
Average of 18 Ratings
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The Good bits
Terrific selection of cars
Deep career mode and superb online racing action
The Bad stuff
Really needs to be given a workout in multiplayer to show its best features
Before I saw the light and invested in a motorbike, I used to despair of ever understanding the dementos I'd see at the lights. I'd be there in the idiot magnet (WRX), idling away. Up they would roar in their (rhymes with 'fit locks') alongside, tearing off the second the lights went green in a cloud of exhaust smoke and burnt tyres. Impressive.
Racing, you see, is an activity best practiced on the track. A man's gotta know his limitations (women too for that matter). Cars on our roads are meant to transport you to sport with your mates, events, taxiing your drunken partner, and doing the shopping. During all of these things it's permissible to express rage at how badly other people drive and conveniently gloss over your own shortcomings.
Which is why I'm so partial to Forza Motorsport 2. Here is a game that makes sense of man's innate breakdown when behind the wheel of a car. Forza 2 allows you to be the road raging nut you are in real life, online. And best of all, the odds of you getting beaten up shorten considerably if you're hurling abuse over Xbox Live as opposed to out the window of your Honda Civic.
We're not going to blather on about the gimmick features of Forza 2 too much. The multi monitor setups etc - as 99% of the time punters aren't going to have the resources or inclination to make it happen. We're going to focus on whether it does it's main job well enough - and that is racing immersion. You know what I'm talking about. The "just one more go" factor that makes everything from surfing to Wii Sports so insanely addictive. The game element that make you forget you're sitting in your living room with a half eaten pizza in front of you, copious amounts of stubble (face for men, legs for the ladies) growing because you can't stop, won't stop until you wipe the floor with some random from Long Beach.
Getting the obvious out of the way early, Forza Motorsport 2 is the best racing game you can play on console. By this I mean games with some loose connection with reality, so don't come up in here arguing about Super Mario Kart is "the bomb" or how Crash Tag Team Racing was the pinnacle of racing excellence. In fact, when it comes to sheer fun factor and range of cars, not only does it get the nod over the main competition, the Gran Turismo series, I'd argue it gives the top line PC sims a run for their money as well. I'm looking at you, GTR 2.
My rationale for this outrageous claim is simple. The visuals right now in Forza 2 - despite being a little sparse on the trackside scenery front - are smooth and high res enough to compete with anything comparable on PC. And the physics certainly give a good account of themselves as well. But the main thing is that the white knuckle "dicing" feel of Forza 2 goes to a new level when you combine 60fps high def visuals with wheel-to-wheel racing and some seriously decent network code - meaning you can race people world-wide without there being too much rage at your broadband connection. People who play Fight Night Round 3 or Virtua Tennis 3 on Xbox Live will know what I'm talking about here.
It's just so easy to have some gorgeous looking, top competitive racing with a realistic feel with this game - be it online or against the CPU. So a golf-clap for the Forza 2 team on general principle. But before we gush too much, let's look at the stuff that could do with some work.
The racing AI on display is a little odd. Your computer controlled opposition takes its job seriously, and doesn't roll over and play dead (unless you have it on "Easy", where the driving is highly conservative). That's good. And when your rear vision mirror is full of an overpowered monster car swerving left to right trying to rip past you, you'll forget that it's the game not another human controlling it.
Cornering too can be interesting. You better be able to get into the driving line well in advance otherwise you can expect some panel beating from a CPU opponent not afraid to veer right -into- you.
This wouldn't be at all that bad except for the way the game tracks and rewards your driving skill. The way it works is simple. Every ding you make with your car, you get penalised. Depending on the difficulty level you roll with and the impact you make, your car's function can be severely impaired - but a wonky ride is only the half of it. The other is a 'real' penalty that affects your credits post game - used for everything from buying new rides to picking up upgrades. At the end of each race whatever credits you received then have damage credits subtracted from them. Use your track mates as corner cushions a-la Gran Turismo and you'll limp out of the race with a hefty penalty debit and a scowl on your face.
This system works in encouraging responsible driving - to an extent. However there's a couple of caveats. First - when racing the AI, it doesn't matter who is to blame - you cop the penalty. Neatly slip in front of a car - which shortly after runs into your rear end? You pay. Be on the "right" side of a neck and neck battle as you head towards a corner? The AI car may well slip over into you... and yes, you pay. Slam into a car and cop your penalty once - fine - but when said car comes screaming back at you and seemingly deliberately hammers into you - you pay again.
There's an element of injustice about this - even if the credit amount is largely insignificant, it still seems rude. To the game's credit, AI cars will do their level best to avoid hitting you (at least from behind) - but when you're scraping for every credit and some overzealous stream of 0s and 1s clatters into your rear quarter you won't be pleased. And maybe I'm paranoid but if you deliberately try and knock them off the track, it's on for young and old. Unless you get well clear (or do the trusty 'knock the fastest car on the track into a spin and bolt for your life') you can expect the aggrieved vehicle to resume its position on the racing line - whether you're there or not.
The second fly in the pure ointment of responsible driving is in multiplayer. Picture this. You're at Laguna Seca, and the entry point for any decent vehicle on the first turn is pretty much one car width. This information is news to many online racers, who will rocket into the corner on the inside then skid sideways out into the non-brain dead racers. More often than not, you cop a penalty as well when this happens. Even worse - if Johnny Dodgem smacks into you hard enough, you'll be sent reeling off track and potentially out of control. A small price to pay for putting someone out of the race from their point of view, a recipe for incendiary rage for you.
I only mention these minor irritations because they're about the worst thing you can say about Forza 2, contrary to some opinions that appear to have been prematurely expressed about the game.
A couple are particularly off base. The view that there's not enough tracks is a tricky one. This is a purely subjective call. Most people either love having an abundance of tracks or an intimate selection that allows drivers to master every square centimetre of road. I'm one of the crew in the latter camp.
The beauty of Forza 2 is that the variation comes through in the vehicles as much as the tracks. Because you're getting so many different looks at a small selection of tracks (and it's not as if we're talking 3-4 here - there's 12 circuits with multiple variations within each) you just don't get bored unless it's just a track you hate.
The other misconception is the old chestnut, that the sensation of speed isn't there. While 200 or so clicks per hour is a speed that I would never dream of going on my crash prone CBR600, when you're screaming around Tsukuba at 220 or higher, it certainly seems to be fast enough to need brown trousers at times. The S-turn at the very crest of Laguna Seca is another one. Belt uphill at warp speed, watch (and almost feel) as you lose traction from the false summit, then try to haul on the brakes in time to whip into the sharp left hander. Do this at 250kph with someone right beside you and you'll notice your feet stabbing at imaginary brakes sure enough.
Make no mistake, this game is money. And the reason it is such a winner is largely the same reason Gran Turismo jumped off so hot way back. The cars. Forza 2, like its predecessor, gives you not only the stupidly expensive "dream cars", but also a healthy selection of plucky models you'd see on the trip to work every day. And even better, they retain usefulness well into the game via a Gran Turismo style tuning and upgrade section. The driving characteristics are very different amongst different vehicles. After an ill-advised kilowatt boosting session on the ancient Nissan Fairlady unlock, I despaired of progressing in a particular race. Then switching to a trusty Evo yielded spectacular handling results. It's a formula players will quickly learn to adapt to. Horses for courses, only they're um, cars.
The custom art aspect of the game is beyond reproach. With a thousand layers of detail possible, the weirdest designs can come to life. It's also a super neato way of eluding any copyright responsibility. If Microsoft premade designs that featured your favourite cartoon character or brand name without permission, they'd probably be getting their backsides sued. Punters at home with loads of spare time are another matter. Even better, flogging your uber designed cars can rake in the credits on the Auction House.
The top end cars - the race spec vehicles laden with stickers and custom art - give you a real collector's pride when you unlock them, and again there's enough handling and power differential to make you not just settle for a couple to own everyone with. That said the first one I unlocked - the sweet Applied Materials Porsche 911 - I did flog senseless in an orgy of overpowered speeding, even though my tuned up Skyline was more than up to the task. And it's early days yet, but it's only a matter of time before a small handful of vehicles, tuned to within an inch of their life, are the unanimous favourite for advanced racers. Hopefully there are a couple of top line contenders to prevent a repeat of Project Gotham 3's Ferrari flood in any decent online race.
Talking about top end cars brings us, somewhat obliquely, to the Auction House. If you've got the credits, you can buy pretty much anything here. Which kind of defeats the object of playing through a lot of career games to some degree. If you somehow manage to farm enough credits - something easy to do if you're a slick artiste or have enough mates willing to send you cars for free - you can build up quite a collection of high powered rides. Fair enough, I guess, but the gamer elitist in me would rather make everyone bust their hump to get the super-sweet S, R or U-class vehicles rather than just buying them. Nitpicky, I know. And anyway, many racers may well never go near the place.
At the end of the day, the whole point of Forza 2 is racing. Here it excels. The cars look sensational and are in abundance. The tracks are sparse, yet look sweet and that framerate runs so very smooth. All up, there's plenty to keep you coming back. But it's the neck-and-neck thrill of racing with your mates or randoms from around the world in anything from hottest up Civics to bizarrely liveried Audi Le Mans looking joints that makes this work. A solid career mode makes single player action worthwhile, and while the game takes its physics seriously, if you're not interested you can leave that aspect well alone and still have a blast. Just like real life.
Forza Motorsport 2 is hands down the best racing experience available in your living room, period. While Test Drive Unlimited gave us a sneak glimpse of a future where car game and MMORPG combined, it just hasn't had the support needed to take it to the heights we originally hoped. Forza 2 isn't as ambitious, but the polish goes a long way to making us forget that. Sheer driving pleasure.