The original Forza Motorsport (Forza) did the unimaginable by not only coming out of the gate as a serious contender to Gran Turismo, but also actually managing to best it in several ways. Cut to a few years later and we have the follow-up, Forza Motorsport 2 (Forza 2), looking great and playing even better.
I always wanted to like Gran Turismo, what with its epic scope and mounds of accolades, but it always seemed a bit beyond me and not too interested in getting me acclimated with its obvious and subtle mechanics. When Forza came out, I had a friend come over to walk me through the ins and outs of cars – what and when to upgrade, what brands are good, which vehicles would be best for which tracks – because both of us were fully aware that novice would be too high of an estimate when it came to me and automobiles. Oddly enough, his help wasn’t needed. Instead, not only was his help not needed, he went out and bought an Xbox and a copy of Forza for himself. Strong medicine, this.
My friend’s help wasn’t needed because Forza was a much more welcoming title. Oh, the more experienced could have their graphs and their in-depth descriptions and whatnot, but those unaccustomed to such detail were broken in slowly with a Suggested Line here and numerous, easy-to-understand charts there. Forza was an inclusive experience, showing newcomers and old hats as much or as little information as they wanted, and tailoring the experience to be as rigid or as easy as they wanted. For myself, being able to see just what an upgrade did by numerical value and bar graph was enough – no hundredths decimal needed. And on the track, the suggested line, arrows situated in front of the vehicle to show when to accelerate and when to break, ensured me that I wouldn’t end up turning into the grass like I had done so often before in Gran Turismo.
That was the original, though, so how is Forza 2? Even better. It’s just as inviting as before, expect this time there’s more polish, a superb online component, and better looking. The main addition for us less skilled drivers is the breaking line: instead of showing when to both accelerate and break, which is still the suggested line’s job, the break line simply shows when to break. This is a great evolution of the aid because it not only looks cleaner on screen but it feels more natural as well; now, the break line is the default aid and the suggested line counts as additional assistance. The rest of the set-up of the original is the same, with additional aids costing some of the winnings and less aids adding more to the purse. The system is great, easing in newcomers and rewarding improvement, and I’m glad to see that it’s still around.
The circuit and car structure is also similar. Car classes define which cars are going to be used within the various modes, and the cars are broken down between production cars and race cars. Production cars are in one of six classes, with D class cars being those you might actually drive and the concept car U and beyond expensive S classes consisting of those you ogle at in magazines. The race cars are broken down into four classes with R4 being heavily modified production cars and the best, consisting of prototypes, being R1. From the get-go you can choose between which class you want to race in, breaking yourself in slowly with D class cars or going all out with R1 race cars. With over 300 cars, from companies such as Lamborghini and Toyota, there is beyond to be a handful in each class that interest you. I played from the base level and worked my way up, after having initially crashed what I’m sure amounts to a few million dollars’ worth of automobiles in the beginning. Why drive a F355 when you can get behind of the wheel of a sexy Integra, you know?
The circuits consist of 45 tracks, varied from a core set of courses, within an arcade mode, career mode, and multiplayer. Arcade mode consists of exhibitions, time trials, and the option to free run (re: practice mode). Exhibition races are sequential races that reward winning with progression within the mode as well as unlocking a car for third place (bronze), two for second (silver), and three for first (gold) – the cars that are unlocked here can only be played in arcade mode. Time trial is what you would expect – beat a set course time – with the car given to use being unlocked if the challenge is met. But this is all really just to get people acclimated with the series, again or for the first time, to learn the cars and courses before embarking on the meat of the game, career mode.
Career mode has an interesting, base RPG-style leveling system. Whenever you win you earn credits, and these credits are used for purchasing and are also allotted to a driver level and a car level. When starting you, you choose your home region, to have cars from certain areas immediately available and discounts from certain manufacturers, and going up in levels increases your reputation and the discounts received. You can switch your home region later on, but the cost in credits increases as we you switch. Cars become cheaper to upgrade and purchase the better you become; and the higher the car level, the more deep the discount and the more rare it becomes, thereby earning you even more money because the rarer the car the more credits earned in each race. The higher the driver’s level, the more cars there are available to purchase and the more race types to compete in. There are race types with restrictions on car manufacturer, horsepower, and also endurance runs. The courses are all fantastic, though a few more would be handy; I respect the challenge in taming them with every car, but a change of scenery is very much missed after the same few tracks have been tackled for hours on end.
There are also car restrictions, and to meet these new cars must be purchased or older ones upgraded; but be warned upgrading one or some of the performance areas – engine and power, platform and handling, tires and rims, and weight and aerodynamics – and your car could slip beyond the car level – either street (1), sport (2), or race (3) - the event requires. Nothing is permanent in Forza 2, thanks to a healthy upgrade and tweaking system for the cars, complete with easy-to-understand descriptions and ratings, so a car can always be tweaked to compete in an event if it’s given too much power.
When the AI doesn’t do it for you, you can always head online to play over Live. Not only can you race against others, but you can also send cars as gifts to friends and auction your customized ride, with aesthetic and performance tweaks to your taste, sending a bit of yourself all over the Forza community. If you’re especially proud of your handiwork and want it to digitally resonate forever, you can lock a design in the paint car section and, much like a mummy’s curse, woe to those who proceed when they know better – the design is erased forever if any attempted tampering occurs. Credits are required to sell the cars as well, so save up. There are also tournaments, a spectator mode, and the ability to take photos of races and post them online. It’s all very thorough, seamless, and a blast.
The photos posted online, and used as trophies and evidence on forums all over the Internet, will look great because the game looks great. Forza was a looker in its day and Forza 2 is no different, with support for up to 1080i and bloom effect to spare. The soundtrack is not quite as uniformly good as the graphics, but it is far from bad is second fiddle to the superb screeching and grinding of the cars; there is just something satisfying about the ‘eech eech’ of a tire catching at the last second on a tight corner. The production value is definitely on par with the design and does a great job of complimenting the experience.
Overall: 9/10Forza 2 is a superb follow-up that is sure to please fans of the original and newcomers alike. The way the game handles its own complexity - recognizing, simplifying, and properly rewarding progress - should be studied by other developers as to how to tackle a daunting task and turn it into a boon for the title and the players. A few more tracks, and maybe a taste of rally (RalliSport Challenge 3? Yes? No?) would’ve been the icing on the cake, but as it is now Forza 2 offers a fantastic experience and is highly recommended.