Forza Motorsport 2 Review (Xbox360)

No matter what people make of the variety of software on the Xbox 360, racing games have certainly never been in short supply. PGR3, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Burnout and Ridge Racer 6 have provided petrol heads with an ample supply of quality arcade racers thus far, all the while waiting for Microsoft and Turn 10 studios to get into gear for the release of a truly heavyweight title. The original Forza Motorsport defined the Xbox on it's release in 2005, providing a level of depth above and beyond anything seen on other formats, with a physics engine that recreated the feel of driving a car like no other title before it. Fans of the series will be relieved to hear that Forza Motorsport 2 is very much in the same vein as the original classic, boldly putting technical proficiency above graphical fidelity, and managing to produce a truly classic game as a result.

The customisation options are incredible. From a few vunyl logos
To elaborate paint schemes. Anything is possible

Offering up a total of over 300 real-life vehicles and a selection of twelve racing tracks, Forza 2 has its roots firmly in simulation territory, and this second iteration takes that particular aspect to ludicrously detailed levels. The career mode does an excellent job of introducing new car classes and drip-feeding content in an innovative manner, providing set challenges that encompass the entire range of vehicles on offer. It's rare that you'll be racing the same type of car more than three of four times over the course of the campaign, and the heavy focus on variety is a clear indication of Turn 10's design remit to turn players into car fanatics as well as gamers.

With that in mind, tuning and upgrading your ride is a heavy focus throughout the career mode, with some classes of race requiring a purpose-built machine (specific weight limitations, engine intake etc.) in order to qualify. Each car has a variety of different manufacturer parts that can be added to or upgraded, and the cumulative effect of these tweaks determines the vehicles' overall Performance Index (PI) rating, which in turn affects eligibility for specific race classes. Whilst it may sound complex, each different category of mechanical upgrade is clearly labelled and contains a brief explanation as to its purpose, so even novice players will be able to pick and choose parts with some degree of informed knowledge. This almost turns into a mini-game in itself, and balancing upgrades to stay within a certain class of vehicle can become incredibly challenging.

Continuing along the tweaking theme, Turn 10 has also included a raft of options tailored towards visual customisation. An incredibly detailed paint and decal system is available for use on almost every car (certain sponsored or limited edition cars are not available for alteration), allowing the player to craft a unique visual identity to be used throughout career or online modes. Paint schemes and car tunings can be saved into separate files and applied to any purchased vehicle, and can even be auctioned up on the online service, which is currently awash with some fantastic designs from the Asian player-base. Famous Anime characters and corporate logos seem to be the flavour of the day at the moment, but hopefully that will expand as the game launches in the various territories around the world.

There does seem to be a maturity in the Forza community at present that comes as somewhat of a surprise. Most players have outlandish and interesting car designs, without venturing into the expected vulgar and shock-inducing variety, although no doubt this will come in time. Online races are made so much more personal if you can visually identify an annoying opponent by the simple fact that they have a user-created Coke logo plastered across a bonnet, and injects the game with a personality as a result.

The in-game photo mode has been lifted wholesale from PGR3 Muscle cars are incredibly hard to get to grips without the traction control aid switched on

Whilst it is entirely possible to concentrate on the design aspects alone, to do so would be to miss one of the most technically proficient games yet seen in this or any other generation of console gaming. Racing simulators live and die by the manner in which the cars react to the driving surface and each other, and in this respect Forza 2 can be considered as nothing but an unrelenting success.

To put it simply, everything just feels correct. The difference between an AWD, FWD or a RWD car is immediately noticeable coming off the starting line this time around, and true finesse with the throttle and brake controls are needed to get the best performance out of any of the vehicles. The physics model is so detailed that individual bumps in the road affect every wheel in a seemingly correct manner, and bringing up the in-game telemetry options will give you a little clue into exactly how much processing is undertaken by the engine in this regard. Turning off the driving aids accentuates the impact in this regard; leading to a much more robust and lifelike experience, and offering up considerably lower lap times once mastered.

With the incredible amount of detail involved, car choice eventually turns into a matter of personal preference and driving style rather than a straightforward spec-war between the super cars, which lends further credence to the variety of racing on offer. It is entirely possible for example, to take a VW Golf from being a Class D car through to becoming a super-spaced racing machine with a few choice upgrades and a weight-reducing tweak. There is no ultimate machine here, and whichever car suits your driving style is the best choice you can make.

The opposition AI is also fantastically well-implemented, with different drivers staying the course throughout the career mode, and some real rivalries built up as a result. Every protagonist has a unique personality and different methods of reacting to your driving style, with some taking up an aggressive stance and others preferring to back off at the hint of any on-track confrontation. Hitting another car can lead to them noticeably targeting you on further exchanges, and drivers with a more aggressive streak will react as real-life opponents do, quickening up on the final few laps to chase down the leader of the pack, making a few more mistakes in the process.

The only real issue with the complexity of the physics calculations and AI routines is that something had to be sacrificed as a result. The graphical engine will no doubt be singled out by most players as the element that takes most of a hit, but this really bares little weight on close examination. Car models are packed full of detail, with some fantastic lighting and reflection effects throughout most tracks, and a realistic and overcast tone to the design work. Indeed the only area that really suffers is the incidental trackside detail, with some smudgy texturing at points. However, as the only time you'll notice those problems is when the car comes to a halt, it doesn't ever present itself as too much of an issue, and certainly not enough to detract in any meaningful manner from the overall experience. Audiophiles are also well catered for, with some excellent effects and a somewhat irreverent but inspired menu soundtrack.

Create your own customised ride with ease
Graphical detail on each car model is elaborate

Overall, when the only meaningful complaint in a game of this size and complexity is a few smudgy textures here and there, Forza 2 can be considered nothing but a runaway success. There are enough driving aids and difficulty tweaks within the game engine to coax in novice racers, and experienced players are catered for with more customisation options and a deeper driving model than any other title to come before it. It may be little more than an evolutionary leap over the original Forza, but with such a solid to base to work from, this will come as no surprise. It is difficult to see where Turn 10 can go from here, but for now, we have a new heavyweight champion of the racing genre, and about time too.

Top Game Moment:
Power sliding around the apex of a corner perfectly with no driving assists switched on.

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