One day, we’ll look back fondly on the rivalry between Xbox and Playstation. Inevitably, we’ll discuss the competing pairs of game that these consoles offered, genre by genre, sequel by sequel. We’ll debate Final Fantasy vs. Oblivion, Halo vs. Resistance, and ,of course, Gran Turismo (“GT”) vs. Forza Motorsport. And everyone will pick the Playstation(s)’s GT series. That said, Xbox owners need not lament as the Xbox’s own flagship racer is a solid game indeed and one of the most intuitive, purest racing games available today.
Forza Motorsport 2 offers several modes, the most interesting of which is the career mode. Don’t look for any story here; this game is all about racing. Period. There are no drug package deliveries, no free roam, and certainly no police chases. The entire concept of career mode is to finish a series of races to unlock a harder series of races where better cars can be used.
Starting out as a grassroots racer, you’ll take your track toy to humble, simple tracks to hone your skills. Forza offers all manner of driving aids for the beginner: automatic transmission, ABS, traction control and stability management. Minor point of irritation: all driving aids are available to all cars, even cars that have no business having them. You can now recreate the legendary Ferrari 312P / Ford GT40 face-off, only with traction control.
The best driving aid, of course, is the famous Forza guiding line. Not only does it provide an approximation of the best driving line, it glows red and green to prompt you towards the optimal speed along this line. It’s such a good teacher (or I’m such a bad driver), that I found my lap times dropping drastically on other driving games after playing this one. Of course, to achieve the “elite” times you see on Xbox live, you’ll have to learn to do things on your own. The guiding line doesn’t cut chicanes where possible. Worse yet, the automatic transmission shifts a wee bit before the redline, depriving you of that last ounce of the engine’s power.
As your driving improves, you’ll find it natural to step into better and better cars, on better and better tracks. Each step along the way is well-nuanced; a feat that sets Forza apart from other racers. Early on, the lo-po FWD compacts are forgiving and easy. Midway through, the Ferrari F430 or Corvette Z06 makes you honest about being smooth on the buttons, lest you lock-up going into a bend or spin out coming out of one. Near the end, the Le Mans LMP1 cars will truly test your testicular fortitude.
It’s evident the developers focused on car behavior. Each car, even compared to cars in the same class, has a unique personality. The Ferrari Enzo isn’t shy about singing the family tune through its exhaust. There’s a weight penalty as your AWD Lancer Evo hits the end of a long straight. The Corvette’s ridiculous grip and snap oversteer are present. And so on. There’s no doubt about it, Forza is one of the most faithful reproduction of the driving experience available in videogames today.
The driving dynamics’ gain, though, came at the expense of almost every other aspect of the game. None are major gripes, but taken as a whole, they leave Forza feeling somewhat unfinished.
Being a nice guy, I’ll call the graphics and re-used crowd representations “understated”. Customization is disappointing, especially on higher-end cars. Some of the Le Mans cars can’t even be tuned at all.
Then there are the tracks. Forza 2 offers less tracks than the game before it. The stalwarts are back, but it’s infuriating to buy the game and then pay to download a track as inane as a plain oval on Xbox live. At least the tracks that are included are faithfully represented. You’ll see just how annoying Laguna Seca’s corkscrew can be, or how challenging it is to apex through the carousel on the Nordschleife.
Unfortunately, the interiors come right out of the GM playbook. Every single car has the same interior. The cockpit of your Porsche 914 and my Ferrari P333: identical. Considering many games published a year before this one had distinct interiors, it’s as forgivable as the Corvette and the Aura sharing a steering wheel. Ahem.
My biggest gripe, though, is the number of cars per race: Eight. MAX. In that formation, you’ll find yourself all alone for huge stretches on the game’s bigger tracks – sometimes for entire laps! No one signed up for time attacks, Microsoft.
For Forza 2’s designers, game play was job one – and it’s apparent in every aspect of the game. This game’s realism and driving experience are unmatched.
Bottom line: **** Far from perfect, but you will never stop to ponder the game’s flaws as you hear your tires thumping along Sebring raceway.