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.