To market a game to Need for Speed fans and Gran Turismo fans simultaneously seems like a task only a fool would set out to do. Luckily the guys over at Microsoft Games Studios are not fools, only madmen and women with a common goal--creating the ultimate driving experience for everyone. Forza Motorsport started this wave of fused semi-genre's, and Forza 2 is back to defend the title by improving the hell out of the series.
Forza slammed players into an easy to pick up and go driving experience that still felt like the real thing. It found the perfect median been arcade and simulation whilst still delivering an incredibly deep content level to ensure that everybody could find a part to cherish. Now, Forza has come to the next generation, thus amping its power to entangle you further. It's got over 300 cars (I like to think of them as my Spartans) from about 50 different manufacturers, a Santa's sack full of licensed performance parts, twelve racing environments including real world selections (mostly common ones like Laguna Seca and Nurburgring), and of course the gameplay has been tweaked to a key so that the already ridiculous models your driving around look and feel even better. There's so much more kids, so grab a towel because you'll need it for the drool.
More cars, more tracks, more modes, and more features means there's more than you'll really know what to do with. If you haven't got the point by now, Forza 2 has made some great jumps from its predecessor. The amount of cars on its own is astonishing, scrolling for what seems like days to find one to call your own. Having a friend who can't decide on anything in general can make a multiplayer match take a fortnight to start. Even without that kind of trait, it's easy to get lost, skimming through everything from a Cobalt to a Lambo Gallardo and beyond. After the selection you'll be hitting the twelve tracks in an attempt to earn the 47 different event ribbons that are available. Which ultimately means you'll be squealing around the same track many a time. The classics I mentioned are among the best, but all twelve are decent. The only time these tracks will get tiresome is when the lap amounts increase, or if you sit and have a Forza marathon, thus repeating tracks time and time again.
Having a list of cars longer than your 8th birthday present list would be totally pointless without a decent set of drive mechanics. Each class of cars drives individually, and further performance upgrades or tweaks can alter the feel even further. This means a Cobalt is definitely going to feel like a Cobalt compared to a Gallardo. Heck, a Cobalt will even feel like a Cobalt compared to an Integra. Of course this means there's a bunch of statistics and parts that will go into the build of each car. Fortunately, this is primarily where Forza fuses semi-genres, giving you the ability to either slap on the marked upgrades and go, or sit and tweak your ride for each race.
No matter how you approach the game, it all seems to play nicely, especially when you can scale the difficulty to your own skill level. Forza 2 can either ease you into simulation driving nicely with several driving-assist features, like stability control, antilock braking, and traction control, or you can leave them on and attempt to keep the pedal to the metal. The dynamic driving line assist is the most helpful of all, essentially putting a colour-coded map on the road to tell you when you should be accelerating and when you should be decelerating. Of course green means go, yellow means slow 'er down, and red means hold your freaking horses. Furthering this option from the original Forza is the option to only show braking/caution spots. I personally got through the career by slapping on the marked (new) upgrades and using only the brake line, although I did start to familiarize myself with the tracks later on as there are only twelve and hence making it a possibility of detaching yourself from the "training wheels." If you come from the other side of the pack and are a die-hard simulation gamer, you'll probably disable all of this and spend time setting up your ride, which is all possible. Doing this will of course make Forza 2 frustratingly hard for some, but incredibly fun for others.
If there had to be a definite answer as to which side Forza leans on more, it has to be simulation. It's at the roots of the title and you can't change that. Thus, switching all of the assists on does not simply turn it into Need For Speed. Bottom line, you'll still have to drive smart. If you take that turn too fast, you're going to get passed or possibly wrecked. But driving too defensively will also not be beneficial as the AI is very eager to take your position. They aren't overly aggressive, again because this isn't a no-holds-barred match, so unless you give them a good reason to, they won't try to take you out physically. They are also smart enough to jack a corner a little tight or long if they can't pass you clean, permitting you haven't been playing bumper cars with them earlier. Certain opponents are more easily intimidated and will give up their position easily, but the more aggressive opponents can potentially push you off the track if they require a certain line. In general they stick to their personal lines and drive quite professionally.
For those that don't know much about cars or simulation driving, Forza has implemented a new performance score that rates your ride based on all of its stats combined. Of course you still have your standard classes like stock, sport, and exotic as well. The performance index assigns a numerical value based on individual stats in top speed, acceleration, handling, braking, et cetera. A certain amount of upgrades can top you out of a certain weight class, speed class, or letter class (such as D, C, B, A) by going over a certain number in the rating. Seeing opponent's performance index also lets you gauge what you're up against.
Career isn't the only part to Forza though, as you can hit an exhibition race or time trial with any car you'd like, or hook up online to take on your buds. Of course the career is where the true gameplay exists, but these extra modes do boost replay value, and really let you know what kind of cars and driving levels you can come to expect in the future. Career mode starts by picking a region to call home. These include North America, Asia, and Europe. After selecting a region you'll start developing a reputation and then a relationship with (somewhat) local manufacturers'. This in turn earns you discounts on parts and cars from within the region. After buying your first car with given credits, you'll be presented with only a couple events to start. Acting more like a tutorial and money booster section, the first set of events will fly by quickly. You can then choose to go along as fast or as slow as you like, purchasing new cars to jump to new events or upgrading one car to jump ahead to the next bracket. There are many different paths to choose. Of course events pay out based on your position in the event which allows you to go buy parts and cars. Visuals such as decals and paint are free, and it's almost limitless, so design away! As a general rule, if you place first all the time you won't have to buy very many cars along the way as the game will basically piece itself together, using the earned car in an event you once before could not enter and so on. Upping your driver level (like rep points) earns more discounts on cars and also unlocks new brackets of events to take part in.
One thing I found to be a little on the easy side was the fact that you could pretty much buy your way to the starting line every time by simply having the best car (thus giving you the best qualifying time). Victory is almost imminent in cooperation with the brake lines on after being placed first right away. As aforementioned, you get to look at your opponent's performance index, meaning you can simply take your car and tweak it to just above the lead of the pack and then laugh as you kill the opposition. Of course you can't just barrel into a class D race with some kind of concept supercar or something. Most races require cars of fairly specific performance index levels to enter, thus you might have to play with how much you can actually squeeze onto your car before going over. Much like real racing wouldn't you say?
Natural and realistic is where Forza excels, and your HUD is no exception. You can bring up your car damage, tire temperature, and even some advanced telemetry data all during the race. If you're unaware of the uses of telemetry data, don't bother! But for those who care, it's there, and it's fantastically detailed.
Personally the most fun part of Forza 2 is the gargantuan amount of customization. You can pretty much make any logo with the pieces provided. I made a heartagram myself, and threw on some dirty words just for good online shock value. Taking a page out of Need for Speeds book, the decal system uses a layering setup. You can resize any which way including shearing and rotation, move them around as you see fit, and even change their colours and transparency. Selecting items in a group makes for easy editing, and single items as well as groups copy and paste with ease. Groups act no different then single items in all the above editing tools, and can be saved for later use. Plenty of layers to go around so don't hesitate putting that little NOS decal on the gas cap. There are some incredible cars already circling the interweb which can let you know the diversity of this stuff. Of course there will be plenty of us just fine with a Ferrari in its stock form, and some of us won't have the patience to bother with it at all, but just remember it's there, and that it's freaking powerful.
Forza visuals are among the elite, and it's mainly due to its incredible car models and the selection alike. As mentioned, they look and move incredibly realistically. The natural lighting and reflection gives the cars an amazing sparkle. It's the type of game that makes non-HD owners whimper in their sleep. The damage is incredibly detailed for this kind of selection. Paint repeatedly scrapes and chips (I believe to the colour of the object/car you bumped), bumpers will bend and snap off, and mirrors will hang or break free. If it's not out of the ordinary, it's usually covered, meaning there's nothing incredibly detailed or horrific such as the crashes in MotorStorm. Off-road adventures and slight bumper taps can affect you immensely, eventually making your car swerve and then rendering it useless.
The tracks themselves are decent. Not overly detailed in terms of closer up textures and foliage but in a broad frame or when flying by everything looks crisp, so it's all good. I've always enjoyed stopping for a second to take a look at the scenery, including the sky, but now you don't have to with your handy camera mode. Forza 2 isn't the first one to introduce this option, as PGR 3 included it a couple years ago, but it's still fun nonetheless. Upload your pictures for download on the website and sign in with your gamertag to save them on the PC and show to your friends. Racers aren't at the level to really look at everything up close, so I find it unfair when people do so. It's designed to race by quickly and move on. If you want a scenic route play Pokemon Snap or something. The last minor con for Forza is simply because of the lack of in car view. But with this many models, I'm sure it would take forever to individually model dashboards for each car.
This one definitely has a lot of ear candy. The soundtrack to Forza 2 is by far one of my most favourite song sets ever. It literally has many top rated songs from my personal iTunes playlist throughout. It may not be your style with artists mostly falling in the Electronica genre (Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, The Prodigy, etc), but its beat pumping arcade style music and it gets the heart racing (no pun intended). True to most sim racers, the music is only during menus, so unless you're running a custom soundtrack, you aren't listening to music. I don't really understand the reason to not leave the option open though. Without the music you also tend to notice the engine sounds and how they are not completely true to the real thing. Although they are good enough to sell it, it could be elaborated. The rest is typical race sounds including tires squealing and side panels scraping. As with any simulation racer, the sounds are simply boring because your terrain doesn't change and thus does not allow for a wide variety of ambient sounds. Racers are doing really well with proper filtering of sounds and the Doppler affect within playback. Having similar classed cars doesn't help with variety either as the cars will most likely sound the same.
Online is also a vast world. The best part I find being the community side like gifting and selling your custom cars, or uploading your pictures to the web. You can even auction your cars off! The tried, tested, and true way to earn some more money is in online career races, which also act as ranked matches on Xbox Live. Hosts can select a track and the number of laps, exclude car classes and force aids off, including the break line. Up here in Canada I've had some problems with a couple games but Forza ran nice and smooth. It's a popular one so many people are always ready to play. You'll obviously run into the psycho racers here and there, but overall it just fun racing. Microsoft is also hosting weekly tournaments for various car classes that anyone can join. The player can simply sign up for a tournament before it starts by doing a qualifying lap on the first track. The number of players with the top qualifying times will fill the number of available slots for that particular tournament. The players each race one round a day and progress is made depending on your finishing place within the race.
Balancing on the fence of arcade and simulation is a dangerous zone, but more and more folk are seeming to find their balance. PGR is just left of centre, and Forza is just right. If you follow Gran Turismo, PGR, or most any racer without guns and gore, you'll easily follow Forza. Get your rear in gear and pick it up.