Forza Motorsport 2 Xbox 360
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Turn 10
Release Date: Out Now
Whilst the Project Gotham Racing series catered for our arcade racing needs on the original Xbox, the game that tried to give us a deeper and more simulation like experience was Forza Motorsport. The game arrived fairly late in the console's lifespan (in fact it was less than seven months before the arrival of the Xbox 360) but nevertheless, it proved to be very popular and made a lasting impression. It also proved a successful solution for those Xbox gamers who wanted a Gran Turismo-like experience. Needless to say then, many have looked forward to Forza Motorsport 2 appearing on the Xbox 360 and for once the hype that surrounds the release of a highly anticipated title seems to have been justified.
Forza Motorsport 2 caters equally well for the single-player and the multiplayer. The modes on offer include Arcade, Career and Multiplayer where you can race against up to seven others at a time on Xbox Live. The game also supports System Link and Split-screen racing. The Arcade mode offers a choice of Exhibition races (that allow you to unlock cars that can be used in all modes apart from Career), Time Trials and Free Run where you can practice any track with cars you've unlocked or cars from your Career mode. Of course the main single-player mode and indeed the heart of the game is Career mode.
In Career mode you'll pick a region in which to be based and you'll begin with 11,000 credits with your first objective being to purchase a car. The game includes over 300 cars from manufacturers such as Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini but to begin with your choice will be extremely limited. The cars you can select from will be dependent on the region you've chosen to be based. In Europe you'll be looking at the likes of a 1992 VW Golf or a 2003 Mini Cooper S; Asia offers cars such as the 1992 Toyota Supra and the 2003 Hyundai Tuscani Elisa whilst in the US you'll have access to cars such as the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe and the 1998 Chrysler Eagle Talon TSi Turbo. These cars all have one thing in common; they are rated as being D class cars. In FM2 cars are divided into six production car classes (D, C, B, A, S, U) and four race classes (R4, R3, R2, R1). In addition to these categories, each car has a performance index (PI) rating. This rating allows you to quickly get an idea of how powerful a car is. For races you'll be placed on the grid according to your car's PI. When you upgrade your car with higher performance parts it will increase your car's PI rating. Push the PI rating too far and the car will move up a class. Of course you can't upgrade a D class car to a R1 car but if you're not careful it's possible to upgrade it to a point where it's in a class where it just can't compete. Your upgrades have to be well balanced too, otherwise you're going to have a car that's fantastically powerful but far too difficult to handle.
Once you've chosen your region and you've picked your car (and maybe fitted a few upgrades to your vehicle), you'll want to jump into some races. You'll begin doing races in the Proving Grounds category and success will earn you experience, which in turn will raise your driving level. As your driving level increases you'll gain access to Amateur Cup races, Manufacturer Cup Races, Semi-Pro races etc. Finally, when you reach driver level 20, you'll unlock the Endurance races. In short there are a heck of a lot of races to complete and for some races you'll need specific car types and a specific driver level before you are allowed to enter. There isn't just your driver level to consider. The more you use a car, the more your car will level up. The more you level a car up, the higher the discounts you'll receive when you purchase upgrades for that car.
We've already mentioned that you can upgrade the cars in FM2 but what exactly can you upgrade? Well you can purchase parts to improve the engine, power, platform, handling, tires, rims, body and the aero dynamics of your car. For each category there are many manufacturers parts to purchase and each has their own pros and cons. As well as fitting performance parts to your car you can also attempt to tune your car for better performance. Settings for tires, gears, alignment, anti-roll bars, springs, damping, aerodynamics, braking and differential can all be tweaked and you can even benchmark your car to test whether your adjustments have been worthwhile. Of course you may simply want to change the look of your car and FM2 allows you to not only paint your car in a colour of your choice but also to add any kind of design your heart desires. There are manufacturers decals you can add but the real fun comes with the vinyl shapes that can be multi-layered (you can add well over a 1,000 layers) to create some truly stunning designs.
Features count for nothing if the driving model isn't up to scratch. Fortunately it's excellent. We don't have access to the official Xbox 360 steering wheel so I can't comment on how the game feels with the wheel (FM2 was designed with the wheel in mind) but with the controller we had no cause for complaint. The cars have their own unique feel and it's worth noting that this is the probably the only console racing game I've played where you can feel the difference your upgrades make, which is very satisfying. As with most racing titles there are a variety of assists you can enable if you wish and these help make the game accessible to anyone. In Forza Motorsport there was a dynamic racing line indicator that would change colour so not only were you shown the correct racing line, you were also shown if you were going too fast or slow. It's still possible to have this dynamic racing line if you want to, but by default the line will only appear in areas where you need to brake. This is much less obtrusive and it allows beginners to drive in a more natural fashion rather than sticking to an imaginary line.
If you're looking to race online then you'll be impressed with what Forza Motorsport 2 has to offer. The Xbox Live options are plentiful. You can take part in an Exhibition Race or a Career Race (ranked races which allow you to level up your driver and earn credits) and with both you have the option to take part in a Quickmatch, Custom match and Create a Match where you get to set the criteria for the event. You can take part in online tournaments in the Tournament mode. If you just want to sit back and watch a race you can with Forza Motorsport TV. You can also gift a car to a friend if you wish. You can even visit the online Auction House to sell your cars or purchase cars that others have for sale.
So our general opinion of FM2 is overwhelmingly positive but there are some aspects of the game that could have been improved. It's possible to turn much of the Career mode into a cakewalk because whilst you are limited to the type of car you can take into a race, for the most part you aren't restricted by car class or PI rating limitations. It's therefore possible to have a car that's around twice the PI rating of your strongest opponent's car. Early on this means the races don't provide much of a challenge unless you decide to limit the extent to which you upgrade your car. To make matters worse the cars are placed on the grid in accordance with their PI rating. You would think that higher performance cars would be placed at the back of the grid but sadly it's the other way around and cars that are quicker are given the advantage of being placed at the front of the grid. During races you'll find that there are only a couple of AI drivers who put up anything like a challenge with the rest simply there to make up the numbers. The game could have also done with more racing environments. There are around a dozen here, but by the end of the Career mode you'll be pretty tired of seeing the same locations over and over again.
The car models in Forza Motorsport 2 look fantastic and without a doubt they are the best yet seen in a console racing title. The damage modelling, whilst not realistic, is still pretty good and it's possible to put yourself out of the race if your car is damaged too extensively (if you have the option enabled that is). You'll see parts buckle and fly off the car in a fairly convincing manner. The dozen or so racing environments look quite good. You could probably argue that they should have looked better but it's certainly no disappointment when you consider that the developers have got the game running very smoothly at 60fps and that you don't exactly have time to sit and admire the surroundings so any extra detail wouldn't have been that noticeable.
Deaf gamers will have no problems with Forza Motorsport 2. There is no speech in the single-player game and all of the information is given in text. During races you'll find all the information you need is displayed on the HUD. You're notified what position you are, how far in front or behind your nearest opponent is and what your split time is (the text for the split time is green if you're quicker and red if you're slower). You can tap the LB button to see what areas of your car have been damaged and if you press the LB button a second time you'll view the tire-heat indicator. Should you really want to go into detail you can also view the telemetry data during a race or replay. You can also see what assists you have enabled and their icons will light up when the assist is being used.
It's not often that games live up to the hype they generate during the pre-release phase but I think it's safe to say that Forza Motorsport 2 does so quite nicely. It's not perfect however and more racing environments and a stronger AI in the Career mode would have been very welcome. There should have been far more restrictions in the Career mode too, to create more of a challenge. Those problems aside however, and considering the customisation and the superb support for online racing, auctions and tournaments etc., it's without a doubt the best racing game on the Xbox 360 at the moment and for fans of the genre it's a must own title.
Forza Motorsport 2 is the best racer on the Xbox 360 so far. More tracks and a more challenging career mode would have been the icing on the cake.