STAFF REVIEW of Forza Motorsport 2 (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007.
by Jake Reardon

Forza Motorsport 2 Box art Car lovers rejoice! The ultimate car passion simulator has been unleashed onto your Xbox 360. Take a love of cars that lies deep inside us all, mash it up with a need to collect and customize those cars to your heart's content, and throw in one of the most advanced and realistic driving engines ever conceived, and you get a small sampling of what Forza Motorsport 2 offers. Following up on the heels of critically acclaimed 2005 hit Forza Motorsport 1 for the original Xbox, this true next gen sequel really delivers on the promise from Turn 10 studios to harvest what they like to call "car passion". It goes above and beyond by offering a little something for everyone, and by making itself accessible to the masses while at the same time challenging the hardcore.

The star of the show in Forza Motorsport 2 is the cars. There are over 300 rides from almost 50 manufacturers to choose from and each one feels unique in its own way. While you won't have access to every single one of them when you first start, a big part of the fun is earning and unlocking the cars as you progress through the game. A big part of what makes each of them unique is the innovative Performance Index (PI) system. Basically cars are divided into several classes based on their performance characteristics. You go from the lowly D class cars, up to C, B, and A. Above A class, is the S class cars, followed by 4 race classes (R4, R3, R2, R1), and then mighty U class (these are hard to keep on the track). These letters have a 3 digit number associated with them and that goes up to 999. For instance, take a D346 class car, tweak it a bit, add a turbo charger and some racing slicks, and it gets reclassified to a B521. Upgrading your cars is all about finding the right balance, and those looking to add raw power to cars that can?t handle it will see the results as they end up in the side wall. It is totally possible to take a D class Lancia Delta, mod the crap out of it , and have it get up into the S class amongst Ferraris? and porches. This is all well and good, but it may not always be the best approach. A Lancia Delta after all, is basically a tin can on wheels. While it can get a similar PI value with lots of tweaking, it is probably going to find a better home in the B or A class. The good thing is that unlike most driving games, you can really take those starter cars from early on in your career, and not want to throw them to the curb once you unlock some of the more traditional big boy race cars. Tin cans, when paid the right attention, can race amongst the high end metal beasts.

Once you have all the upgrades you wish on a car, there's additional depth you can achieve via tuning. Tuning includes such options as adjusting the front and rear downforce, tire pressure, camber, and whole bunch of other high tech car wizardry that mechanics dream of at night. Again, as with the rest of the game, Forza 2 wants to teach you about cars and doesn?t presume you are an expert. Each tuning option available is clearly explained as you make the tweaks, and a handy benchmark tools shows you results at a glance. Real gear heads will want to take the car out on the track to really see the benefits. From within these tuning runs, you can even make on the fly adjustments with a few button presses. This is almost a mini game in itself. Finally, you can save out your different tuning configurations, as certain tracks will benefit from vastly different setups. None of this is necessary if you just want to race, but the level of depth it provides is a welcome addition to the game.

Once out on the track (there are 12 environments with 47 ribbon configurations), the excellent Forza driving physics engine takes over. Turn 10 was not kidding when they talk about being physics obsessed, as the game makes 360 calculations and measurements per second. One only has to pop open then handy in game telemetry screen (race data) to see all of the variables at work. The coolest thing about the telemetry screen is that you can pull it up at any time: live during your race, on your replays, and even while watching friends live games while waiting in the lobby. If you want to dig deep and pay attention to all of the details they are there for you to do so. If you just want to race and not worry about the details, you will still be amazed by the amazing feeling you get from each and every car you take to the road. The best aspect of driving the cars though, is how accessible the game makes it for beginners all the way up to driving pros. Even if you are not the best racer in the world, you are given a variety of assists and driving aids to help you along and to teach you the game. Making a return is the ever popular driver line, which is a dynamic line that turns red, yellow, or green depending on your speed and lays out the optimal driving line. You can also choose such things as Stability Control, antilock braking, and traction control to help you around the track. Having all of this help at your side really is a welcome addition and should help those intimidated by "sim racers" get into the game in ways they never thought possible. Online though, your mean pro race driver friends have the option of forcing certain assists on or off, so pay attention to the host if you rely on certain assists in order to survive races.

For those fans that enjoy spending time smashing into walls, the damage modeling on the cars will not disappoint. If you take a turn too fast, slide off the track and smash into a cement wall, a sickening thud of crunching metal along with a part of your car falling off will usually result. And depending on if you have damage set to cosmetic, realistic, or simulation, it may spell the end of the race as well. Again, the option is yours how you want to handle damage, but at the simulation level you really have to watch how you race. Highly damaged cars will veer off to the left or right, and smoke pouring from your engine will confirm the reason why you can't get the car into 5th gear anymore.

The real meat of the single player game can be found in career mode. You start off by choosing one of three regions (Asia, North America, or Europe), and are given enough cash to buy one starter car. From here you race in a series of "proving ground" races on various ribbon configurations of the fictional test track. Win a few races, earn some cash, and you can add a car or two to your garage, or spend the money on upgrades for your existing ride. What drives your career forward is the concept of Driver level. Each race you win earns you credits. As you continue to earn credits by winning, you level up your driver. You can also earn reward cars by as you level up, as well as by winning race series. A lot of times, you can take reward cars, and that unlocks various other races you are eligible for. There is a constant sense of reward as you advance through your career. Variety is another big factor here too. Races series are divided into events usually comprising of a series of races on various tracks. Examples of the type of events you will race are specific engine class battles, various class showdowns and championships, non aspirated engines only, manufacturer specific series, historical showdowns, Regional championships, and even grueling 30+ lap endurance races. Needless to say, career mode will keep drivers busy for a long time, especially those who want to reach level 50 and collect all of the cars. If that wasn?t enough, the car stable you build up in career can be taken online to challenge friends, and you can then race online to further line your pockets with career dough. The concept of reward is present throughout career mode too, and as you climb the ranks, you unlock new discounts on parts and cars from certain manufacturers. You are even rewarded for loyalty to using a favorite car, and just like your driver levels up, cars can level up too.

A lot of time will be spent rubbing fenders with the AI drivers. The brilliant part about them is that they really do know the tracks, and you really do feel like you are racing against a smart and savvy opponent, rather than a dummy that only follows a set racing line. (ahem , PGR3). One would expect nothing less though of a neural network learning system developed by Microsoft's advanced AI research team in Cambridge, England. Let?s just hope Turn 10 locked down the learning capabilities, because the last thing we need is sentient Forza 2 AI?s taking over the planet.

As for graphics, the level of detail Turn 10 has delivered to each and every car model is insane. Each car has been meticulously recreated down to the brake light and brake pad. The detail is that deep and impressive. As you lap around the tracks, dynamic dust accumulates on your car. Parts that have been knocked off of cars in all too common ?turn 1 crashes? remain littered on the track. Light and dynamic reflections shimmer and shine off the cars. Bringing this all together, the game runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second and never stutters. While the graphics may not look 100% photorealistic, this is as close as it gets. Minor graphical quibbles aside, only picky racers should find themselves complaining for too long because one you hit the track, you are immersed in driving heaven.

Sound wise, there is a real variety of detail between each and every one of the cars you?ll take out on the pavement. You can tell a clear difference when you upgrade the engine or drop in a turbo charger. Crashing has never sounded so good, as crunching metal on metal collisions result in some sickening sounds. And unlike Forza 1, the in game?s in menu music is actually decent (good bye crazy guitar riffs).

If all of the above were not enough, Forza 2 pushes innovation over the edge and brings to the table a host of community options that will keep this game alive for years to come. One of the gripes in Forza 1 was that while you could design and make some amazing cars, it was hard to share them with friends in the community. Sure you could take cell phone pics and post them onto forums, but Turn 10 has solved all of this with the inclusion of photomode. In fact, photomode in itself could almost be its own game. You can take pictures of your cars at any time, including in a nice showroom like user interface, or on the track. Pause the game mid race, position you camera, and snap away. You can even take photos from saved replays of online races. The results can then be saved to your hard drive or memory unit, and even better, they can be uploaded to From there you can log in with your passport Id and grab the latest 5 shots you've uploaded to do with as you please. Finally, you will be able to show your works of art off to the masses.

As for paintjobs, there is almost no limit as to what can be accomplished. The Livery Editor has been fully blown out for the sequel, and there are thousands upon thousands of layers you can use to paint the car of your dreams. There are gamers who will probably spend a majority of time creating unique works of art and selling then on the new Online Auction house. Selling and buying cars online has never been so fun, and addictive.

Online play is here of course, and up to 8 players can race over Xbox live or system link. Even if you don?t have a full room, a cool option this time around is that you can fill the rest of the slots up with AI racers. The host of the room has a plethora of options and can restrict things such as car class, driving line, and even force certain views. This should prevent that typical online jerk from coming into your D class room with his souped up S class Honda and ruining all of your fun. Turn 10 will also be hosting weekly online automated tournaments you can qualify for and race against the best in the world.

For the achievement fans, there are a few low hanging fruits to pick off (like reach driver level 1), but a lot of them will be gained by progressing through the lengthy career mode. Many of them can be gained by collecting all the cars in a certain region, and other are focused on reaching certain driver level milestones.

So has turn 10 succeeded in delivering the ultimate racing sim? Between the gigantic career mode, the deep 360 Hz physics, hundreds of insanely detailed cars, the beautiful livery editor, the auction house, online tournaments, and an integrated online community site, it?s hard not to say they have. Casual fans and hard core gear heads alike will find something to love about Forza Motorsport 2. See you at the finish line and remember to always brake in a straight line when you can.

Release lots of new cars and tracks via Xbox Live Marketplace at regular intervals and for reasonable prices, and the community around this game will thrive for years.

Overall: 9.4 / 10
Gameplay: 9.6 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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