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