Version tested: Xbox 360
For today's release of Forza Motorsport 2 we're bringing you two reviews. "Why two reviews?" you logically ask. Well, because the original was that rarest of rare beasts: a driving simulator that appealed to the everyman, appealing to driving game fans regardless of whether they preferred arcade racers like Burnout, Riiiiidge Racer and Need For Speed, or the more serious out-and-out simulations like Gran Turismo or Grand Prix Legends.
And with that in mind we decided the best way was to seek out reviewers who would be approaching Forza 2 from two polar opposite - but equally relevant - angles. So, in the petrol head camp, we have Luke Albiges offering his considered opinion, while in the quick-fix, instant thrill camp we have Simon Parkin's thoughts on the matter. Will it live up to the hype? Will Forza 2 live up to the lofty expectations and deliver the ultimate console racing sim or will Turn 10's obsession for simulated racing perfection prove to be a big fat yawn? Read on...
It seems to me like the console racing oeuvre has lost its way somewhat of late. Outside of a few crucial titles that aren't afraid to do things by the book, things tend to be more Pimp My Ride than Top Gear. When you're participating in stupid drift challenges or bolting ugly bits of metal and tasteless neons to your cars for little more than a few extra intangible respect points, surely the alarm bells should start ringing.
Have we really become so fickle a public that developers no longer feel that they can give us a driving game that doesn't err from the racing line without us clamouring for more nonsensical elements? With the likes of Burnout, Ridge Racer, Initial D and the somewhat vilified Need For Speed catering wonderfully for more casual driving fans, surely there's still a part of the demographic that wants to see games where taking a corner well doesn't always involve swinging the tail end of the car out at an insane angle. For some of us, there remains a unique thrill in shaving split seconds from lap times or pushing cars to the very limits on every single bend and, for my money, Forza 2 is the most credible example of this on a console today.
Now let's not look down upon our gaming brethren - the ones who prefer their racing bold, brash and in your face (and probably with a side order of Avril Lavigne when EA has anything to do with it). Not everyone wants to get their hands dirty with engine tweaks, minor adjustments and complex telemetry data and that's understandable.
Indeed, with Forza 2, Turn 10 is clearly looking to appeal to racing fans from both schools of thought, offering players the opportunity to dumb things down and enjoy the on-track action with little cranial activity or to crank up the difficulty, work the figures and really immerse themselves in the world of the race driver. Race analysis screens and difficulty options make it pretty clear at which end of the scale the game is truly pitched and those that just want to coast through arcade mode will surely miss out on most of what Forza brings to the table. And boy, does it bring generously. While it may not be the most glamorous racer out there, that old adage that is so popular with ugly people - it's what's inside that counts - is perfectly applicable here as it's under the bonnet that Forza 2 really shines.
If there was ever any doubt about Forza's hardcore credentials then we're glad Turn 10 decided to handily map its reply to the d-pad. Tap up during a race and your HUD is replaced with the most in-depth telemetry information we've seen in a console game - everything from tyre heat and suspension information to exact brake and acceleration usage is displayed across several pages of staggering complexity. Experts will be able to make use of at least some of this information but it proves far more useful in post-race analysis, where the fact that most of the screen becomes awash with data can't put you off.
If you're struggling with a particular car or circuit, this function can be invaluable. Simply set an AI driver up with the desired options, sit back and study how he takes prepares for and takes each corner. Braking patterns, corner apexes and much more besides can be learned in this way, making this an extremely welcome feather in Forza's rather splendid cap.
A racer is made or broken by its handling and unlike so many driving games on the market, Turn 10's latest effort reminds us that when it comes to picking a vehicle, some girls are bigger than others. The front wheel drive runabouts that rule the early stages of the game's career mode ease you in wonderfully and you're able to push them insanely hard around corners after a little practice without too much fear off spinning off the track.
Work your way up to the ferocious rear-wheel drive beasts later on, though, and this no longer applies. It takes every ounce of skill and concentration that you have to avoid losing the rear end, and you genuinely need to approach every corner very differently depending on where your drive-train is at. AWD cars, meanwhile (that's All Wheel Drive, fact fans), stick to the road like glue, and where sportier cars can often save an otherwise lost corner with a costly slide, even the most adept of drivers will struggle to make an AWD vehicle even consider the prospect of losing traction.
Even within these three very broad sections, characteristics and sensations vary immensely from car to car. Although both rear-wheel drive and both rank B, the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish's ridiculous weight makes it far more of a challenging drive than the Lotus Exige. This is true across the roster of over two hundred cars as well, with each having its own unique feel to it depending on the plethora of facts and figures that go towards determining every aspect of a car's performance.
In stark contrast to the likes of Gran Turismo, where a single super-tuned powerhouse will get you through much of the game, Forza's spread of races is designed to test your skills across all disciplines. While some of the initial competitions have extremely lenient entry restrictions (only Japanese cars or only RWD vehicles, for example), later ones get far more specific - you might see a maximum level for horse power or weight govern which cars can enter or even get to the events where only certain factory spec cars are allowed. There's a great amount of variety offered through this simple decision and as you clear events with gold medals, the resulting prize car might be just what you need to tackle another competition further down the line. Structurally, Forza 2's career is incredibly sound and the clever car categorisation system makes it even more so.
You see, all cars featured have been assigned PI values (PI standing for Performance Index) which in turn govern what class that car falls into. D-rank is filled with cars like the Beetle and the Mini, production line runabouts which feel suitably sluggish. As you work towards A and S rank cars, you'll see the likes of high-end Ferraris come into play and there's even the odd U rank car, where the PI is actually off the scale. Then above that are four levels of race-built R ranks cars that come pre-pimped and ready to win races. Any modifications you make to your car once purchased affect its PI and rank accordingly - if you go overboard on upgrades, the car will be pushed into the next class bracket, where it's likely to find stiff competition from more capable vehicles. And with events dictating what classes can be used, balancing your modifications is one of Forza 2's most satisfying challenges. Clever players will push the PI to the very ceiling of any given class bracket, investing in those upgrades that allow further customisation rather than costly engine upgrades and with each car comes a new set of challenges, questions and opportunities.
It's not all about playing about with the inner workings of the cars, though. While extremely basic, the car painting options have almost infinite potential in the hands of a skilled (not to mention patient) artist. To the untrained eye, the ability to slap squares, circles, waves or logos on your car might seem somewhat unappealing and, to be fair, you really have to see some of the masterpieces that have been produced to take in the full scale of this element of the game.
Allowing up to a thousand layers on each side of the car, it's possible to piece together extremely complex graphics and paint jobs - the online Auction House (which we'll come to shortly) is a perfect place to scope and even purchase other people's hard work and a good lick of paint can see a worthless car's value go through the roof. In fact, once you factor in the discounts that levelling up in career mode gets you off new cars in your chosen region, this can be quite a moneyspinner, especially seeing as how you can store paint jobs for reuse later on similar vehicles. Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with the patience to create anything more complex than my relatively simple Pikachu Beetle but even that has made me a tidy penny through several sales. We can only imagine what sort of revenue can be made from some of the wonderful designs we've seen online. The Naruto rally cars, Mario Mini, Hello Kitty paint jobs galore... this is where you let your imagination run wild and once you get to grips with the rather obscure tools, there's not a lot you can't do.
Elsewhere in the online options, its clear that Forza's developers have done their homework. Forza TV lets you catch both high-level races and featured events to see how it's really done while race options allow for friendly face-offs and competitive career races alike where the rules can be set to cater for any level of player. There's even the opportunity to engage in knockout tourneys for big (albeit virtual) prize money and exchange cars with others either for free by gifting vehicles to friends or by selling them in the Auction House.
While a welcome addition, this could have been better implemented with a proxy bidding system like that of eBay rather than this last-minute mania - bid values are automatic and late bids extend the auction time slightly, meaning that desirable cars will be stuck at the one-minute mark for twenty minutes or more while countless people outbid one another over and over. If there's something you want, you actually have to sit and watch it as it comes to a close or you don't stand a chance.
Arcade and Time Trial modes are in there for when the stresses of damage and competition prove a little too much and while basic, these modes fulfil these purposes just fine. But the main focus of the game is clearly the epic career, starting with grids that look like a tiny Waitrose car park and culminating in day-long endurance events in the fastest things on wheels.
The only real criticism that can be levelled at Forza 2 is its similarity to the original Xbox release, with many of the tracks returning and the general feel and progression of the game being nearly identical. Even this is not a tangible negative though, since Forza was such a wonderfully paced and rewarding game the first time around. Not broken, don't fix. Simple.
Some may bemoan the clinical visuals, sure, and while the damage modelling may not be that accurate and trackside detail sparse, lovingly rendered cars and that rock solid 60fps frame rate give Forza a very clean and professional look as such an accomplished racing game deserves.
As only the second game that can really benefit from a steering wheel peripheral, chances are only the super-rich and the fanatical racer have invested in one so far. As with the last game, this is your ticket to the real Forza experience and while the price may be steep, avid racing fans will not want to be without. There's even an option to network several 360s through several angled monitors for a real driving seat feel and total racing immersion, although getting together the necessary equipment outside of a LAN party, press event or lottery win seems rather unlikely.
Whatever your input device, though, Forza 2 is by far the best console racing game we've set eyes on in quite some time. Respectable AI exposes Gran Turismo's racing-line-hugging corner buffers for what they really are, impeccable handling and customisation options allow for races to be undertaken in any manner you desire and the sheer wealth of content is nothing short of staggering. High-end options aside, even those of a more passive persuasion can see that Turn 10 is so crushingly close to perfecting its art that it puts many higher profile development houses to shame.
Expertly put together and able to cater for both those that want a quick and simple race and those that want a true to life racing experience, Forza 2 is unquestionably one hell of an achievement. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got things to calibrate. So, so many things...
9 / 10
For many players, racing simulators, that beloved playground of the most terrifying kind of PC nerd, are everything a videogame should not be.
They're about labyrinthine tuning menus, reams of incomprehensible breakdown statistics and unsalvageable races lost 20 seconds after the starting pistol fired for no crime more serious than taking an over-plucky run at the first corner. They're about non-words like Camber, Toe, Caster, Downforce, Telemetry and Torque and the ten million incremental tweaks you must make to each in order to shave point zero three of a second off your best, lonely lap time. They're about condescending others in comments threads, asserting that no console-based effort will ever be fit to buff the hubcaps of a real driving simulator like Grand Prix Legends, rFactor, Live for Speed, Richard Burns Rally and do shut up.
It's all anathema for console owners brought up on the brisk simplicity of Mario Kart's blue shells, F-Zero's corkscrew tracks and Riiiiidge Racer. While both styles of game present the same ultimate challenge - be the first to cross the finish line - these primary-coloured expressions go about it in a more easy-going, accessible and comfortable way. Indeed, for every gamer who thinks Gran Turismo 4, in all its meticulous, chronicling detail, is the greatest videogame there are, at very least, twenty more who reckon it's a ten-million dollar nerd vanity project; an exercise in protracted, painstaking vehicular tedium.
Turn 10 is only too aware of this populist backlash against driving sims, which explains why the developer had billed Forza 2 as The Driving Game Both The Casual And The Enthusiast Will Almost Certainly Enjoy (our paraphrasing). So, while on the previous page Luke has busied himself talking to those gamers for whom 'finding optimum differential torque distribution' is a cause more worthy than 'finding Maddy', I'm here to figure out if the game's any fun for people who like Micro Machines, candyfloss, Pokémon and sunlight.
And, somewhat implausibly, it's Pokémon fans that are in particular luck. As Game Director, Dan Greenawalt pointed out to us a few weeks back Nintendo's Gotta Catch 'Em All 'em up provided huge inspiration. It's obvious right from your first race. If you place in the top three your driver promptly levels up (ding!), you earn some money, receive a 5per cent discount with a car manufacturer and are made to feel pretty good about yourself. It's all very RPG-esque and, by borrowing that genre's characteristic of offering lots of small gains for small achievements, it succeeds in welcoming in even the most suspicious gamer.
With the promise of car prizes for each tournament you win and a flurry of discounts and partnerships as you level up both your character and each of your vehicles, the emphasis is, right from the off, placed on collecting everything. You begin by picking a home continent which dictates what cars will be most readily available to you but, as you progress, partnerships with makers worldwide open up. Each car has a very individual feel on the track and you will quickly find your favourites. However, as a multitude of different achievement points are on offer for owning every car from each nation you're encouraged to constantly try out new vehicles while filling in the blanks in your collection.
Likewise Forza 2's approach to scaling difficulty is masterful for the more casual gamer. Before any race you are able to tweak certain difficulty modifiers such as making the AI more intelligent, toggling driving aids like the ingenious red braking line or switching damage from cosmetic to actual. The fewer aids you choose the more money you earn so there is real incentive to learn to play the game realistically, while scaling back the difficulty in later stages is as simple as accepting a per cent drop in winnings for the race. Indeed, for stages that are proving too hard or too long you can even hire an AI driver to race for you. It's a brilliant buy out for players who can't be bothered to tackle the very long courses but still want to play on through the game.
Money is not only key to purchasing new cars but also to buying upgrades for those cars. For the casual user there's no need to get into the nitty-gritty of tuning. Instead, each car is given a Class (starting from D) to indicate its performance level. On top of this every car is given a Performance Index (PI) number. The higher the car's index number the more powerful it is. When you buy upgrades to your car this index number increases and so the trick is to upgrade in such as way that you can squeeze as much power out of it without tipping it over into the next class. Souping a car up out of its class type is silly as most races limit entries based on class. Online you'll be able to see the PI of all of the other players' cars and this quick reference will give you an instant indication of whether you're going to be competitive or not thus removing a lot of the intimidation and confusion from the exercise.
Indeed, the community aspect of the game is incredibly well-handled and accessible. Car decals you've sweated over in the photoshop-esque Mario-Paint mode can be gifted to the world via an auction house - also viewable over the Internet. Likewise photographs you've taken in-game (you can also apply a wealth of tweaks to these such as aperture, white balance and contrast) can be uploaded to the Forza site mid-game (for posting on forums the next day) and with fully searchable race statistics the game integrates game and web with professional elegance not seen since Halo 2.
But despite all this slick excellence, and it is an extremely polished and professionally presented videogame, Forza 2 lacks a little personality. It's difficult to quite put your finger on but as the hours roll past there's an undeniable sense of sanitation, over-cleanliness and coldness within the game. Partly this is due to its mechanical nature: there are no characters or personalities to engage with here. Rather, all of your time is spent with machinery and, while admittedly lots of that machinery sports beautiful curves or, in the case of the older cars, perhaps holds warm nostalgic memories, it's still pretty hard to fall in love with.
Then again, when you count the number of men and women who fritter their weekends away in garages, or the teenage boys who accrue a small country's GDP worth of debt just so their Corsa can glow blue and hang low, maybe gamers like us are missing the point a bit. Mercifully, for those sitting on the fence, nervously weighing up whether Forza 2 is worth it to someone who doesn't swig petrol for elevenses, the racing is magical. It's a consistently tense, exciting and - if you use the Force Feedback Wheel which we absolutely urge you to do - very physical experience that comfortably overtakes PGR3.
Best of all you needn't have four interlinked TV screens and a bespoke racing chair to get the most out of this game - although that option is there for those who want it. Neither have you to spend hours under the bonnets, reading performance graphs or worrying about which spoiler is more likely to impress a girl and intimidate a boy. Forza 2 really is as universally appealing a sim racing game as one could hope for, and there's not a blue shell in sight.
9 / 10