It implies control, uniqueness, creativity. It allows one to be free from boundaries, to feel a brisk inspiration, to dine with the muse. There's something of the conceit in the videogame industry that developers can capture their audience with the slightest mention of the word "customization," and that the fact you can change the size of someone's nose, color of her eyes and shape of hair-style will add depth and variety to the otherwise humdrum. Forza 2 is the finest example of this concept at work. It is the quintessential car collector/tuner's dream. It is the height of digital automotive customization. A true success.
Not happy leaving a good thing alone, Turn 10 and Microsoft Game Studios must have decided (and I imagine there transpired a dismissive shrug) that 100 layers of decals was just not enough. Limitations be damned. One thousand layers, certainly, is enough...for each side of the car: the hood/roof, the front and rear bumpers-a possible 5000 decals in total. It is, perhaps, the most impressive inclusion to the game, and it will keep you busy, tickle your muse, for long after the Xbox 360 has passed the baton.
But more is not necessarily better--this is essentially the tagline for Forza Motorsport 2. Sure, there are more cars than the first, more decals, more online options (tournaments, and forzamotorsport.net), but that doesn't make the racer. I think you can humor me when I state that we are all vain to some degree. We desire flash in the buxom blond, shimmer in the racy redhead, but we also desire--to take this metaphor to the next level--a little mileage under the hood. The Forza Motorsport franchise is no longer the virgin contender for the racing crown; it had, in this reviewer's opinion, taken that title in 2005. It has been a few laps around the track, it has seen more, grown wiser, and knows what people want. They want more, certainly, but they also want quality.
Forza Motorsport 2 is about quality of the racing experience. It has, like the PC grandmaster GTR2, identified the essential qualities to emphasize for its consumers. But unlike GTR2, the unruliness of these cars is not quite so extreme. Forza 2 maintains that very hazy line between simulation and arcade. It leans much more toward the simulation, but not as much as GTR2. The caveat is that Forza 2 stumbles in graphics and presentation but makes up for it in how solid, fast, and enjoyable the game is.
By now you've heard all about the graphics, that they do not live up to the Xbox 360's potential. They do not, certainly, show off the prowess of the console. Any game post-Gears-of-War might have this same problem, but we, the consumer, will hold Forza 2 more responsible being that it came from Microsoft's developer Turn 10. The game is not ugly, it is just not awesome in the same way the gritty post-apocalyptic world on Sera is. And the graphics only seem to be lacking in the roadside detail (barricades, trees, and trailers in the background just don't look too good). But the cars, actually, are quite beautiful. Every car is an accurate representation of the real-life thing.
So the mostly bland tracks seem to have been the tradeoff for the solid 60 frames per second, and the right one for Turn 10 to make. In the battle of graphics versus frame-rate, I'll take the steady frame rate over the pretty graphics any day of the week. This debate seems to have spurned more controversy on message boards and blogs than Paris Hilton's brief stint in jail. With the frame rate as solid as it is, the game is truly magnificent while in motion, even it if isn't when standing still.
Turn 10 tweaked the physics engine slightly. And you'll notice that some things like crashing into walls and skidding out have been modified for the better. You now can spin out instead of brushing a wall and either skidding off or coming to a dead stop. Bumping into an opponent seems to have more of an adverse effect on races. Also, many of the grass and gravel areas are dangerous speed-traps, which will reduce your speed to a paltry 40mph in a flash. All these little additions try to force you to drive defensively; if you do the opposite, you do so at your peril.
Other changes to the physics engine are nominal at best, especially if you're familiar with Forza 1. And I don't pretend to know what was changed and what wasn't. Basically everything is in its right place: the rear-wheel-drive cars, front-wheel-drive cars, and all-wheel-drive cars perform differently and all require practice to master. On a more microscopic level, each car within its class, drivetrain, weight, and Performance Index (P.I.) all perform differently, even if just slightly. Variables like available upgrades, width, manufacturer quality all come into play, and you can watch the physics in action during a race or replay by hitting the d-pad to bring up the telemetry data.
But technical stuff aside, this game is all about having fun. I've run into people while playing online who just want to "drift" or who want to have a kind of destruction derby and test out the damage modeling. Even if you're not just racing (which is a real blast) the game's physics are so tight that you can actually do what you have dreamed of doing in real life--tune a car to drift, tune a car to grip, tune a car to drag (shame there's no more drag strip).
Big changes to the game come in the form of streamlining the interface. And there are a few more car classes. The car classes go E-D-C-B-A-S-U-R4-R3-R2-R1 and each car can be tuned into another class (The exception is that cars cannot be upgraded into R class, nor can you upgrade the R class cars). Now with the classes, each car is assigned its own index number, which represents the overall performance of the car, but has nothing to do with the horsepower, torque, or weight (but rather all of the attributes of the car). This index number is essential when choosing cars to race against your friends, and has some bearing in getting a few achievement points.
The menus look nicer, but you'll notice that they're not terribly different from the prequel. The presentation, overall, suffers from being too constricting and a little clunky. Often while scrolling through menus I'll see a visual hiccup (this is noticeable most when you're selecting cars) so that the DVD drive can read the DVD. It's annoying, but not enough to really hurt the game in the long run. Also, the load times from menus and while getting in races can be far too long.
In regards to the driving, the game isn't much different from the Forza 1, but that's not necessarily bad as Forza 1 was one of the best--if not the best--of the console racers. There are a few missteps in Forza 2, however, that confuse me. There's a noticeable lack of "street races," "point to point" races, autocross, and the drag strip. They were good fun in the original, and nice additions, so I am curious as to their removal. Perhaps the crew at Turn 10 felt they were a second thought in the original and decided to keep them out of the sequel? Whatever the case, they're not here. Some extra tracks would have been nice, too. There are 12 in total, for a total of 47 variations altogether. However, despite the variations, you'll find yourself more often than not racing the same track over and over. Many favorite tracks return, and some new, excellent ones are included. But overall I would have liked to have more tracks than Forza 1, not less.
There is also no "Drivatar" in Forza 2. I find this to be a good exclusion, as nobody ever used that feature anyway. Instead, you can hire AI drivers to race for you at the cost of your earnings. A nice addition. While racing, you can often, as was in the first, buy upgrades for your car and then outright best the pack. But perhaps the best part of Forza 2, as with the prequel, is that it gives you the ability to make the game as difficult or as easy as you want, with the tradeoff of getting more or less credits for completing a race. The dynamic racing line returns, only this time you can select braking only, which is a nice addition.
There are some technical problems with the game too. I've witnessed car shadows flicker in and out of existence on occasion, which shouldn't happen ever. There's some minor, nearly negligible pop-up. And I've seen the game do a pause once when switching between viewpoints.
Also, the damage modelling is somewhat limited. You can scrape and dent your car, but no wheels will ever be lost, and you can never flip your car, no matter how hard you try. I know that this was part of the contract with the manufacturers, but, c'mon guys, wouldn't that be awesome?
One of my other complaints (however minor) is that you can't listen to the in-menu soundtrack while racing. Shame, as it's one of the finest soundtracks to grace the Xbox 360. It's varied, lively, and pleasant. Granted, I like to race without music anyway, but to have the option would have been nice. If you like to listen to your iPod during a race, you can, but not in the menus, which is a little odd.
Take the game online and you can race with up to 7 other people or bots, if you prefer. 8 players might seem limited if you're used to seeing more cars on the screen in games like GTR2, but the tracks are compact enough that more might be too chaotic. Online, you can bring in any of your cars from the career mode and earn credits for winning, which nicely scale up depending on how many people there are, which track it is, and how many laps you do. Online racing is pretty great, and I've seen no noticeable lag. The menu system here could have been more refined: I have a pet-peeve of going through too many menus to select my car.
Turn 10 also added a World-of-Warcraft-inspired auction house, where gamers can distribute their tuned and decalled cars to the world. Overall, multiplayer is a blast.
One thing I'd like to go into more detail on is the decal mode. As I mentioned earlier, it's really fun and easy to use. I would have liked to be able to pan in and out at my leisure instead of being fixed to specific distances and to pivoting the camera at the center of the car. Sometimes not being able to direct the camera more precisely can be irritating when making fine adjustments to your decals. Sometimes the back of an oversized car (like my Dodge Charger) runs into my close-up viewpoint. It's a minor complaint, but I would have liked more of a first person shooter setup so I can view the car from every angle.
Some of the things I thought could have been better in the original Forza were ignored, so my "5" stars is perhaps less enthusiastic than I would like it to be. Forza 2 gets top marks as a racer, but as a game it feels, I don't know...diminutive. It feels like Turn 10 did just enough
, knowing they were making a brilliant racer, and left some other tweaks, features, and tracks out of the final build--where are the time-of-day and weather effects? And that's essentially my biggest hangup. I just can't shake the feeling that we're getting set-up to purchase more tracks and cars via Xbox Live Marketplace, getting set up to be part of an irrisistible ploy of greed, and that turns my stomach.
While I do have some complains about the game, it's high praise that Forza Motorsport 2 is, despite these, the best racer on the Xbox 360 or any current-gen console for that matter. It does feel, at times that the game is Forza 1 but bigger, better, and more streamlined. It is, and that's not such a bad thing as I loved Forza 1. For me, Forza 2's constant feeling of being just in control--complemented beautifully by the screeching of tires about to lose their grip, the remarkable sense of speed, and the sophisticated physics engine--is unsurpassed. It has, in many ways, topped its predecessor and set the bar for racing titles. It fulfills nearly all of it's promises and delivers in just about every way imaginable. I suppose there's only one thing left to say--the king is dead; long live the king.