Two years ago Forza managed to do the impossible - it outshined the all-mighty Gran Turismo. For years Polyphony was that untouchable company that specialized in realistic racing sims; with its amazing graphics, extensive selection of cars and robust gameplay modes, Gran Turismo was the racing game that could attract both hardcore and casual racing fans. But how the mighty have fallen, due to a number of delays and some hotly anticipated game modes being cut (such as the long-awaited online mode), Gran Turismo 4 failed to live up to most people's expectation and left the door open for another realistic racing sim to swoop in and steal the crown. That game was Forza Motorsport, a brand new franchise for the original Xbox that managed to do everything Gran Turismo promised ... and a whole lot more.
Here we are two years later and Microsoft has done the impossible yet again, they have managed to improve on a near-flawless racing game. Make no mistake about it, there may have only been two years between the first and second Forza Motorsport entries, but the team behind this game clearly knows what they are doing. With more cars, better graphics and an improved online component, Forza Motorsport 2 is not only the racing game of the year, but it may just be the best game to come out this year on the Xbox 360.
Forza Motorsport 2 picks up right where the last game left off, you are a racecar driver looking to compete in dozens of events, earn valuable credits and own as many cars as you can possibly fit in your garage. Like most racing games on the market Forza 2 isn't about a complicated storyline, instead it gives you a whole lot of events to take part in and leaves it up to you to determine what you want to do.
Forza 2 is split up into two different single-player game modes. The first mode is titled Arcade and is comprised of time trial events and single-track races against cars of similar classes. In the arcade mode you won't earn credits or be able to customize your car, instead you win brand new vehicles for every gold medal. The arcade mode is the easiest mode for new comers to start with, at its core it's basically just a traditional racing game where you try and hit specific times or beat the other opponents.
The real meat and potatoes of Forza 2 come in the way of the second mode, known as Career. While you could race through the arcade mode in only a few hours, the career mode is the type of thing you can get wrapped up in for weeks on end. It's a robust campaign full of different events, cutthroat competition, and more mechanical customization than you could shake an exhaust pipe at. In short, the career portion is the single best reason to buy this full-priced Xbox 360 racing game.
As you start your career you have a limited amount of funds and only a few races open to you. It's in the Proving Grounds where you start, a race type with ten different events waiting for you. As you complete these races you will win brand new cars for your garage and open up a number of new events for you to race. Eventually you will be able to move on to the Amateur Cup Races, the Manufacturer Club Races, the Semi-Pro, Rivalry Face-Offs and so on so forth. In all there are ten different race types, each with ten to twelve different events just waiting for you.
While a cynic could argue that these different race types all boil down to the same thing (racing), there's actually quite a bit of variety in how you go about racing and what kinds of cars you need to use. For example, in the Manufacturer Driver's Club events you can only use a car from a specific car maker (Volkswagen, Nissan, Porsche, etc.), while Professional Series requires you to race other vehicles in the same class (D class, C class, B class and so on so forth). Some events will even pit legendary model lines against their biggest rivals, so you'll be racing the Toyota Celica against the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Cheverolet Camero against the Ford Mustang, and even the Ferrari V12 against the Lamborghini V12. If you're not the kind of guy who loves racing cars then these types of events may not do much for you, but if you're a gearhead at heart then these are some of the most exciting race types around.
No matter what kind of event you choose, you will be entered into a race where you have to battle seven other cars over several different tracks. With only a dozen locations (47 variations on the tracks in total) and more than a hundred events in the single-player mode, Forza 2's career tends to repeat a lot of the same tracks multiple times. The good news is that most of these tracks are worth playing and don't get boring as fast as you might think. In fact, a lot of these tracks are digital recreations of real-world tracks, including Laguna Seca, Mugello, Sebring, and the insanely long (and curvy) Nürburgring. The locations look fantastic and you can tell that a lot of attention was paid to the little things, such as the way the sun hits the track, the objects that litter the sides and the crowds in the stands.
Of course there are a few tracks that aren't quite up to par. It's not that they look bad (because nothing in this game looks particularly bad), but some of these tracks just feel boring and aren't as exciting as some of the others. It's also disappointing that there aren't more locations found in the game, it won't take you long before you've seen all of the backgrounds and start wanting a few more areas to explore.
Thankfully the large selection of cars will take your mind off of these minor complaints. While the first Forza only housed around 60 different vehicles, Forza 2 features more than 300 vehicles from fifty major manufacturers. I'm talking about some of the most popular photo-realistic cars ever to be placed in a video game, complete with body damage and realistic physics. Car lovers shouldn't be too surprised by the collection of manufacturers found in this game, you should expect cars from Ford, Honda, Aston Martin, Peugeot, Saab, Volvo, Hyundai, Buick, Saturn, Toyota and more. Nearly every corner of the globe is represented in this strong line-up of vehicles.
Like all good racing sims, each of these cars feel significantly different. It's more than just changing what your car looks like, you'll find that all of the cars handle differently. On top of buying and selling cars, you will also be able to buy aftermarket parts for every vehicle in your garage. Like Gran Turismo, these parts allow you to affect every element of your vehicle, from the breaking to the acceleration to the way it looks. Best of all, these parts actually affect the way the car handles, so you will definitely notice a difference in the way the car controls when you sink 40 to 50,000 credits into it.
But Forza 2 realizes that not everybody is a gearhead, some people like the idea of driving simulators without having to spend a lot of time and effort researching the best parts and experimenting with the various brands. Forza 2's customization is extremely easy to use and will appeal to both experts and novices alike. Thanks to easy to understand graphs and charts upgrading your car has been made easy, but there's still room for you to experiment if that's your kind of thing. It's an impressive feat that Forza 2 has been able to pull off; this game manages to appease just about every group of gamer out there.
There are a couple of things that will keep you coming back to the career mode for more. For one thing it's always fun to win new cars, and if you are able to get gold in the various events you will always be rewarded with a brand new car (along with some much needed credits). There's just something about having hundreds of cars in your garage that feels satisfying, and Forza 2 makes it easy for you to quickly amass a large collection of different vehicles from the get-go.
But beyond simply collecting hundreds of vehicles, Forza 2 has a cool leveling system that will keep you coming back race after race. As you complete each race you will be given a certain amount of credits which go towards your overall experience, as you go from one level to another it opens up new events and gives you a real sense of accomplishment. Like playing a role-playing game, leveling up your racer (as well as the various cars you use) makes you want to come back for just a little bit more. Obviously there's more to Forza Motorsport 2 than leveling up, but don't underestimate the addictive quality of seeing your level increase.
Beyond all of the single-player stuff you also have an impressive multiplayer mode that is almost as robust as what you get in the career. Forza 2's online game features just about everything you could want, from quick races to tournaments to team-based battles. Feel like you don't have enough people to fill up a big room? Don't worry about it, because Forza 2 allows you to add as many computer-controlled vehicles as you want. Do you just want to jump into a quick game and test your skills? Forza 2 is ready for that, too. Thanks to a great matchmaking service that works with your online rank, Froza 2 is a breeze to jump into if you don't have any friends. What sets this game apart is how it often feels like the developers predicted every situation, so no matter how many people you have ready to race you will always have fun.
To make this whole experience even better is Forza 2's strong emphasis on the community. Forza 2 is more than just a great racing game, it also manages to innovate on how you interact with other people online. A simple example of this is the connectivity with the website, for example you will be able to take in-game pictures and upload them to Forza 2's official site. Better yet, you will also be able to keep track of your stats, races and tournaments using this site. If it reminds you of what Bungie has been doing with their Halo games then it should, because it seems pretty clear that Microsoft is making a big push for this kind of synergy between the Xbox 360 and websites.
On top of interacting with the website, you will also be able to trade cars back and forth with your online buddies. If you don't like the idea of giving your cars away, then perhaps you would be better served to sell your car on the auction block. If you have put a lot of time and effort into customizing your car and feel like you can get some extra money out of it then Forza 2 gives you the option of selling it, something that I hope to see a lot of in future games.
But you can't just add a few parts to a car and expect it to go for top dollar, instead you're going to have to spend a lot of time on it and give people a reason to buy your car instead of just earning it. To do this you're going to have to go into the customization options and work on adding a better paint job with more designs and colors. If this sounds daunting then it's because it is, you can easily spend dozens of hours simply trying to perfect the best look for any given car. But if you're the type of artistic gamer who loves design then Forza 2 is the game for you. Regardless of whether you're into designing the coolest looking cars on the planet or simply racing them, Forza 2 has you covered. Designing a car can be a time consuming venture that is definitely rewarding if you play your cards right, but it's not for everybody. The fact that there's such an impressive optional feature located in the game makes me all the more impressed with where Microsoft was going with this racing sim.
With so many cars and modes it almost doesn't matter if Forza 2 looks good, the game is going to be amazing no matter what the visuals look like. Thankfully the graphics in Forza 2 are easy on the eyes; even if they aren't the huge step up that some people have been waiting for. To be fair, the original Forza was one of the best looking games on the original Xbox and came near the end of that system's lifespan, while Forza 2 is hitting the Xbox 360 relatively early in the system's life. That's not to say that Forza 2 looks bad, but at first glance it's not going to blow you away like the original did. The graphics are definitely sharp and the locations look stunning, no matter how fast you're going by them. The only real gripe is that the improved graphics barely come through when you're playing the game on a standard def TV. Obviously you are going to need an HDTV to get the most out of your Xbox 360 games, but there are quite a few games that still look amazing on a standard def TV. Unfortunately this is not one of them.
One of the first things you'll notice about Forza 2 is how fast and smooth everything runs, the game keeps its 60 frames per second rate no matter what, which is definitely impressive when you see the visuals the system is pumping out. Also impressive is the car damage (which will actually affect the way your car controls in the career mode). It's always cool (and a little scary) to see your bumper fall off your car or your hood get dented from hitting too many walls. But considering that most realistic racing games (like Gran Turismo) skirt the issue of damaging entirely, it's definitely refreshing to see Forza 2 address this issue.
Forza Motorsport 2 manages to do everything it's supposed to; it's an exhilarating racing game with enough cars to keep you busy for months to come. Even if the game didn't support online play this would still be the ultimate racing experience on the Xbox 360, but the addition of a robust online mode only makes this package that much better. With its sharp presentation and emphasis on variety, Forza 2 is definitely one of the best games of 2007. While the future is always uncertain, there's one thing I can say with confidence: Polyphony is going to have their work cut out for them if they are going to top the brilliance that is Forza Motorsport 2.