Iâ€™m going to be honest: Iâ€™m not a fan of driving games unless theyâ€™re action packed with explosions and gravity defying madness. Circumnavigating a round track over and over with meticulous care to gear shifts and aerodynamic loads really isnâ€™t my cup of tea. Yet I found myself actually enjoying Forza Motorsport 2. The brilliance lies in the fact that this game caters to everyone, from the hard-core Schumacher-freaks through to the more casual arcade audiences. Plenty of games before it have tried but always leaned too far towards one market, with the original Forza almost getting the formula right as well. Luckily for the 360 version, the developers have fine tuned the mixture to create one of the best driving games since the Gran Turismo series.
Visually, Forza 2 really hits the mark in the graphics department. The cars look so good you can almost smell the rubber and leather finishes, and the game packs in over 300 different vehicles from 50 major manufacturers. Everything in the game is officially licensed with Ferrari, Ford, Audi, McLaren, Hyundai and dozens more all ready for you to hop in and drive. After youâ€™ve spent hours going through and choosing your ride, you can then customize it with a wealth of colour variations and little decals. You can also pimp your ride by combining licensed rims, performance parts and aftermarket body kits. Create your own unique paint scheme using millions of paint and decal options. Take in-game pictures of your creation in Forza Motorsport 2 Photo Mode.
On top of the visual enhancements, each car can also be upgraded with new parts to boost performance, provided you have enough moola. Money (or credits as they are called in the game) is earned by winning races and there are plenty of events to get involved in. Tracks are spread out over 12 different racing environments and even include real-life tracks like Laguna Seca, Sebring and the nerve-racking Nurburgring. I have no idea if they are accurate but woah momma they sure look good. Youâ€™ll find yourself navigating through rolling hills and detailed city streets from race to race. Crowds are animated and rowdy (similar to Project Gotham Racing) and if you stop to watch them they do tend to be a bit retarded. But from a distance and playing the game properly the end result seems almost photo-realistic. Forza 2 really excels with the action replays as well. Depending on your performance of course, but sitting back and watching yourself cruise around is a worth while experience in its own right. The lighting and camera-angles will make anyone look like a pro. On the packet it even boasts 60 fps with full-screen anti-aliasing, motion blur, and high-dynamic-range lighting in crisp 720p high-definition glory.
But all of this eye-candy would be pointless if the actual game itself didnâ€™t drive so well. Luckily, the developers have taken a lot into consideration when setting the controls and handling in Forza 2. Amongst the various difficulty levels, the game also includes individual settings for braking, traction control and stability so you can gradually crank each one up as you start to master the tracks. In the easier settings you can have a curve guide which indicates to you when you need to apply the brakes or the angle of the bend. Green means accelerate, yellow means slow down and red indicates you should be braking so it should set you up on the ideal driving path. Itâ€™s perfect in learning the tracks but a great feature for the more casual gamer as well. However, even with all of these assists on, Forza 2 still requires driving skills to get the best times. Take a turn too fast and youâ€™ll end up spinning out onto the dirt or smashing into a concrete wall. Apart from the time lost getting back on the track the game punishes you with a time penalty as well. This same penalty applies to collisions with rival cars so you can forget about trying to ram your opponents off the road. But the AI is good and rival cars will do their best to make room if you are over-taking rather than just drive straight ahead like mindless zombies.
The presentation in Forza 2 is highly polished. Loading times and menus are quick to display and easy to follow, with plenty of options located at sensible places. Even the stylish line drawings that come before each new vehicle youâ€™ve unlocked are a nice touch. At any time whilst driving you can bring up a variety of screens that tell you any areas of your car that are damaged, temperature of your tires in case you need to make a pit-stop and a whole lot of information that made no sense to me whatsoever. I still appreciated knowing they were there though. Car damage is quite an important factor however, and you will see any major damage on the outside of your prized vehicle. Depending on the difficulty level, your car can take a fair pounding before it starts to show performance problems but with the stunning graphics youâ€™ll be doing your best to prevent any damage to your brand new Audi TT anyway. The only place Forza 2 loses points is that the â€śinside carâ€ť camera angle lacks any of the carâ€™s interior - so no dashboards or wheels, just a sliver of your car bonet. However, I guess with over 300 cars it would have been an amazing feat to have all of them included.
Although the sound effects of the engines sound good, there doesnâ€™t seem to be a huge amount of variation between the different car types. Perhaps a well-tuned ear will notice the subtle differences however. All the other ambient noise is great, from crowds cheering through to the screeching tyres. Even the music deserves a mention, with a huge array of different genres in the soundtrack featuring the likes of Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Bloc Party, Prodigy, CSS and heaps more. Iâ€™m certain that I heard one of these tracks in Project Gotham Racing though.
And finally we have Xbox Live features to really seal the deal. You can take your personalized car online and show off your driving prowess by burning laps around your opponent. Obviously there is a much greater sense of satisfaction winning a race against human drivers, but personally I donâ€™t think there are enough options in the multiplayer mode to keep people enthralled. Then again Iâ€™m not the target market for Forza 2 and I still enjoyed it so I would say this game is a must for driving fans. Especially if you have one of those swanky wireless Xbox 360 steering wheels to boot!