Forza 2 Delivers Ultimate Racing Experience
June 11, 2007 11:31
The "driving game" is a long-running staple of the console market. It's one of the slots that must be filled when a system launches along with "fighting game", "shooter", and "sports game". I feel comfortable breaking down driving games into three categories; arcade, simulation, and kart racer. The arcade category includes games like MotorStorm and to some extent Project Gotham. These games eschew a level of realism and opt for accessibility whereas simulation games like the Gran Turismo series model realistic physics and licensed cars with painstaking detail. The kart games like ExciteTruck and the Mario Kart series are just mindless fun without the constraints of real-world physics or precision car modeling. All the categories are valid gaming experiences and my preference really just depends on my mood. Forza Motorsport 2 finds itself deeply entrenched in the simulation category, but still offers enough casual game play and extra features to satisfy the arcade race fan. It's a complete driving game package with just a few minor problems.
If you consider yourself a car-and-engine aficionado as well as a gamer you need this game. Forza 2 showcases exquisitely detailed models for over 300 cars from around the world and each one drives and feels different. Powerful rear-wheel drive cars will come around on you if you stomp the gas in a turn and the high-end race cars will stay flat through a turn at over 150 m.p.h. There's bound to be a car in the game that will please everyone from the tweaked out rice burners to the bulky American muscle cars of the 60s and 70s. With such a high number of cars available you may expect a great deal of them to be kept behind locked doors for most of the game's duration only made available after months of game play. Thankfully this isn't the case. Only about 70 of the 300 are locked when you start the game and you unlock a good portion of them by completing arcade races. If you win the race on any difficulty level you'll unlock three cars and the next arcade track. There are plenty of awesome cars available right out of the box which makes the unlockable cars more akin to frosting than necessities. Cars are categorized by a class decided by their horsepower and component parts. Within each class the cars are also given a performance index; a score based on its overall quality. Higher numbers sometimes equal the better, faster car but so much of the performance depends on the driver and the individual tuning for the track that you shouldn't count on the "faster" car winning you the race. Forza 2 also has an impressive damage modeling system. I can remember hitting the wall particularly hard in a race and then about a lap later while going down a straightaway something that was loose flew off the car. Not only will your car take damage on the initial crash, apparently it can loosen other pieces that will come off later on through the normal rigors of racing. The cars will take realistic damage (to an extent), and with the option turned on, will suffer the adverse affects of it as well. You can't flip a car or get one to completely come apart, but you can beat them up real nice.
If your car sports upgrades that allow tuning you'll find that you can change the performance of the car a great deal from track to track. Subtle changes like lowering the tire pressure a few p.s.i, tightening the suspension, and changing the spoiler to create more downforce can get your car to stick through turns better. For those whose eyes glaze over at terms like "differential torque distribution" and "camber", worry not. You can still play through the entire game successfully and not tune a car once. You may find that you have to ratchet the AI down eventually and engage the assists, but you can still win races in the single-player. The game doesn't have an overall difficulty level, but rather allows the player to make changes on a race-to-race level. The options available are turning on the traction control system, stability management, antilock brakes, and the optimum driving line. The driving line is handy for learning when to break going into turns and when to accelerate going out. You can also set the AI driver difficulty which determines how aggressive your opponents are and how fast they drive. For the first couple of runs I'd recommend turning them all on until you can stay on the track for several laps in a row and learn the ins-and-outs. There are those gamers that play racing games by going as fast as they can all the time and bouncing off the walls in turns, however they may not find a home here. This is a driving simulation, and even with all the considerable driving assistance turned on it takes a careful touch to navigate the tracks. You may find yourself sliding off the track into the gravel on your first chicane, but just think about driving a real car and you'll get the hang of it.
Career Mode And Customization
Forza 2 is broken up into three sections: arcade mode, career mode, and multiplayer. The arcade races are made up of Time Trials where you lap the track alone trying to beat a preset time, Exhibition races against AI drivers, and Free Run mode which is any car on any track by yourself for as long as you like. The bulk of the game is the Career Mode. You'll start off by choosing a home region and buying a car. The home region determines the availability and cost of cars in the Career mode, but does not limit the list of cars through the entire career (however it does determine what models are locked at first). The region choice also affects the manufacturer discounts available on new cars and upgrade parts. Races are broken up into events (typically three races per event) and each time you finish an event you are given a car. You'll quickly build a garage full of cars, and my first impulse was to start selling the ones I didn't like for extra money. The problem with that is that you only get 100 credits for a car that you won from a race, and the racing restrictions on some of the tracks are so specific that you'll need every car you can get in order to qualify for the races. The restrictions range from minimum curb weight to engine location and all the way down to specific make and model. It's best to just hang on to those cars until you need them.
As you win races you'll accrue not only a stable of cars but a sizable pile of credits as well. These credits are used to buy new cars or upgrade cars already in the garage. Throughout the career (and multiplayer races) the credits you win are used as experience points that raise your driver level and your car's level. Higher level cars get cheaper upgrades and higher level drivers get cheaper cars. It's no role-playing game, but it does give that feeling of accomplishment. You can upgrade practically every aspect of your car like platform and handling, tires and rims, weight and aerodynamics, and engine and power. Upgrading every piece to race quality can be expensive and can render a car undrivable. I took a Toyota Celica and upgraded everything as high as it would go. The car was so powerful that it would spin the tires and lose traction when changing gears even going over 80 mph. It's much better to seek a careful balance between power and handling and then tune the car for the track. It's a lot of trial and error, and it isn't for everyone, but it's there if you want to do it.
Car customization isn't all gears and grease though. Forza 2 also features a custom paint feature that allows you to lay colors, shapes, and decals on the car in layers to create whatever design you want. At first glance you may think it's pretty limiting, but just do a search for Forza 2 paint jobs on Google and you can see what people have been able to produce (keep in mind that you cannot import graphics and all those designs are made in-game). You can have up to 4100 individual layers spread out over the sides of the car. The tool takes some getting used to, but if you spend some time with it you'll start to see the possibilities. It's a nice diversion from running races all day, and you can make some serious in-game coin if you're good at it. Forza 2 includes an online auction house where players can buy and sell cars. A great paint job will fetch a high price pretty quickly. The painting tool can soak up quite a bit of time, but if you fancy yourself the creative type you may find it to be more fun than racing.
Multiplayer And Flaws
One of the best parts of the game is the way to single-player and the multiplayer dove-tail into each other. In order to unlock cars for the multiplayer you have to unlock them in the single-player, and money that you win from multiplayer races goes into your single-player career account. In some games multiplayer feels like a waste of time to me because it isn't progressing through the game at all, so it's great that the multiplayer portion supports the career mode in this. Winning 3000 credits for a single-player race is one thing, but when first place in a long multiplayer race can bring in over 50,000 credits, it's clear where the money is made. The host of a multiplayer session can lock out certain levels of cars as well as force everyone to turn off all the assists. I found the multiplayer racing to be fantastic even though there is always that guy who's losing and starts driving the wrong way. Fortunately Forza 2 has a collisions setting to deal with these pests that will "ghost" cars going the wrong direction. It won't keep him from putting you into the wall as you lap him if he's going the right direction, but hey, that's racing. For the most part the multiplayer community is interested in a solid race and discussing car builds. One of the favorite races is the 25 lap run on the Nissan Speedway with either the R1 cars or locking all the race cars out and only using production models. It's a true endurance test and requires pitting, drafting, and several other racing tactics to win. The Forza Motorsport website is a great place to start for the multiplayer. It uses Xbox Live sign-in and lets you view pictures you've taken and uploaded straight out of the game.
Forza 2 might be the best driving game available right now, but it is not without its faults. There is a lot of loading when transitioning from one race to the next or from a race to a menu. The car graphics are impressive, but I can't help staring at those jagged lines sometimes. The tracks are pretty bland for the most part and (like the real tracks) there is very little elevation change. Since this is a simulation and not an arcade racer, you won't find a San Francisco city track or anything that gets your car in the air very much. It might be a petty complaint, but can't I have both? Forza 2 also has some decent beats playing during the menus, so it's a shame you can't get them to play while racing. Obviously you can play your own music using the 360 dashboard, but it would have been nice to get access to the game music for racing. Considering this game is a great deal about upgrading, it's a shame that the AI doesn't upgrade their cars as well. If you upgrade your car a bit, you'll start to easily dominate your AI opponents. I still think of gaming as a social pastime and still invite friends over to play games, so it's a shame that you can't get online in a split-screen race (a la Call of Duty 3) or watch a replay of a split-screen race. Where's the fun in staging a 200 mph head-on collision if I can't watch it frame-by-frame later? I guess you can't have it all. Despite all those little complaints, it's a fantastic game. Forza Motorsport 2 offers the most diverse and extensive driving game simulation available right now, and casual racers as well as hardcore gear heads should look at picking it up.