Forza Motorsport 2 Review
9/1/08 by King_Ghidra
Forza Motorsport is Microsoftís rip-off of the Gran Turismo series. Thatís not a particularly promising start to a review, but itís true nonetheless. Itís not a rip-off in the sense that itís a computer game that involves driving cars, buying cars and upgrading them, because these days there are dozens of those, but rather in that Forza Motorsport 2 is a serious driving game.
GT pitches itself as ĎThe real driving simulatorí. FM2ís adverts proclaim ĎReal drivers wantedí. Barring the fundamentally flawed use of the word real in the context of a computer game, the tag lines say everything about the common philosophy behind both games.
Of course, GT did all this serious stuff first, and has been doing so now for maybe ten years, so Microsoft have a lot to live up to. That said, while the original FM was well received on the original Xbox, there has been a hype surrounding FM2ís arrival onto the next-gen scene that far eclipses any impact made by its predecessor. Is this version really a GT beater? Read on to find out.
In structure, options and gameplay, FM2 completely apes the now-standard game modes of GT. The flagship mode is career mode, in which you take your driver from humble beginnings, racing familiar road saloons on short, simple tracks, through to the dizzy heights of racing 200mph Le Mans masterpieces on the worldís most famous circuits. This ascent is accomplished through a familiar process: race, lose, get some reward money, spend reward money on upgrading or replacing your car, take new car, win, go on to next harder race, lose, repeat.
This is not to criticise that process, in fact, it all feels remarkably natural and sensible. The individual challenges are designed to get you driving as wide a range of cars on as many different tracks as possible, and they do an excellent job of teaching new drivers the differences in handling and performance between them.
One significant improvement over the GT model is there are no frustrating Ďdriving testsí to pass to unlock events. Instead, events are controlled by an RPG-style level system, in which the credits you have accumulated through your driving are added up like experience points. Additionally, as you Ďlevel upí you receive bonuses such as free cars and discounts from manufacturers. The vehicles you drive can also level up from use, netting similar rewards.
This is a quite a nice system in practice, giving a good incentive/reward system. One drawback is that many races are locked down by this system, which means it may take many hours of racing to get to the ones you are interested in entering.
It should also be mentioned that Take2 have implemented another feature pioneered in GT, you can hire an AI driver to race for you if it all gets too much. The AI driver will take a percentage of your winning credits as a fee, but this is still a nice tool if there are some tracks you just canít get to grips with or if that monster-tuned car is running away from you and you just have to complete a particular race.
The AI itself deserves a mention, as although still a massive step behind the challenge posed by a human driver, it has enough about it to give a varied and not entirely predictable challenge. The AI drivers will bump you and each other, overtake you if you give them the chance, and generally act a bit more convincingly than the static road-train that GT AI drivers often represent. Arguably, this is still an area that could be improved, and when I think of the sheer deviousness and aggressiveness of the AI in the Burnout series, they are clearly lacking something, but there are plenty of moments when the FM2 AI impresses.
The driving physics and handling are obviously a massive part of a game like Forza, and speaking as someone who cannot drive and has hardly ever been behind a wheel Iím not best placed to criticise them. Nevertheless, they feel right. Switching between front-wheel, rear-wheel and 4WD vehicles you instantly notice the handling differences, the over steer, under steer, etc. Switching between front-engines, rear-engines and mid-engines you feel the weight of the car shifting around differently.
FM2 has a variety of driving aides and options that you can turn on or off as it suits you. If you really want to power slide that Nissan Skyline round hairpins, feel free to disable all the traction control, ABS, etc. and go for it.
When you go off the track, you can feel the car begin to lose traction. Hit gravel and you will slide and realise you are in trouble. Hit sand and you will slow to a pitiful crawl, quickly.
The result is a driving experience that has a tactile, manageable feel to it, which puts control in your hands and makes it clear that itís your fault when you do go sliding off the track.
This leads neatly onto the fact that FM2 also boasts deformable damage models on the vehicles, the absence of which in GT has led to years of criticism. This does not extend to turning your car into a spinning ruined tangle of wreckage after a 200MPH collision, but it does not fall far short. Any minor collisions will cause superficial damage to the vehicle, bent bumpers, smashed windowpanes, etc. Any moderate to large bumps will cause major deformity of the vehicle and bits of your car to go flying off as well as serious handling and mechanical problems, from smoke billowing from the back of your car, the steering going dramatically out of alignment, serious engine problems and suchlike that ultimately render your driving experience a futile one.
Aside from simply adding to the realism factor (and providing the amusement of totalling expensive sports cars), this encourages a more realistic approach to driving. Gone are the tactics of simply shunting annoying AI drivers out of the way like cattle, rather you must treat your car like the precious and expensive piece of engineering that it is. Of course, if you really donít fancy it you can turn the worst of the damage off and drive like a lunatic, which is the beauty of computer games really, eh?
FM2 gives you the chance to upgrade, tune or tweak your cars to your heartís content (assuming you have the credits, of course), and the nature of the gameís structure means that you will spend a fair amount of time in here trying to get enough extra poke to give you an edge over the AI.
The upgrading options are extremely comprehensive and tease the user with the classic quandaries of how best to spend their cash to get the most effective upgrades. Cars will also change performance Grades as they are modded, which might lead to your car becoming ineligible for certain events if you over-tweak it.
Some of the higher upgrades allow the user to subsequently tune various aspects of the vehicle, such as gear ratios, suspension levels, limited slip differentials and various other utterly bewildering items.
Without wanting to go too in-depth into this area, let it suffice to say that the modding aspect is a petrol-headís dream, and those who like to see family saloons transformed into street racing monsters or touring car wannabes will be completely satisfied.
The painting option has had much made of it, with talk of thousands of layers and possibilities, and it absolutely delivers on that promise. At its most basic, you can quickly change any of the colours on your car and bung a few transfers on it for that race feel, but if you can spare the time it seems as though the sky is the limit. A quick glance through the FM2 forums or online Auction house quickly reveals some astonishing designs that are all the more impressive when you know they have all been painstakingly built by hand.
There are a few niggles, but fortunately they are all limited to minor annoyances rather than gameplay-affecting failures. For example, if you are already in one car that is eligible for an event, the game assumes that is the car you want to use to race in it Ė there is no quick way of swapping to another eligible car.
The Online multiplayer mode allows the full range of the gameís features to be played, thus you can race with your custom cars or the standard cars on any of the circuits. A few races were enough to confirm a mostly lag-free and enjoyable experience. FM2 also boasts an online Auction House, where not only cars, but also custom paint jobs can be bought and sold. In fact, if youíre feeling generous, you can even give cars to your friends. The community itself is already developing informal clans and specialist groups such as drift racers and seems set to be a long-term success.
Overall, Forza Motorsport 2 is an excellent game and a significant technical achievement that, while not an original concept, deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best achievements of the Gran Turismo series and other Ďseriousí racers. Perhaps future releases will innovate more in the game play, because longer-term this will inevitably become a flagship product for the 360 and deservedly spawn further sequels of its own.