Reviewed: June 22, 2007
Released: May 29, 2007
When the original Forza Motorsport premiered on the Xbox in May of 2005, it made one heck of an impact on the gaming world. What would have normally been just another release of a first party racing title, the unique timing of the event – immediately following Sony’s release of the much anticipated Gran Turismo 4 – elevated the occasion to an all out Microsoft vs. Sony, Xbox vs. PS2 war.
The real shocker for most gamers, was when the dust settled and the media announced that Microsoft Studios’ Forza Motorsport had emerged as the victor – surpassing Polyphony’s Gran Turismo in nearly every facet of gameplay and design.
But the deciding factor was as much based on integrity, as it was on quality; Forza Motorsport delivered on nearly every promise that Microsoft had made during its development. Polyphony, on the other hand, kept promising the world with GT4, and then at the last minute stripped away most of what made it unique from their launch-time release of GT3. Most noticeably missing was GT4’s promised online play – which Forza Motorsport absolutely nailed with flawless online multiplayer and an amazing integrated online career mode.
Forza Motorsport also broke the mold by proving once and for all that you could indeed show damage on licensed vehicles, and have that damage affect gameplay – something Polyphony had continuously claimed could not be done.
Forza Motorsport also included one of the most refined customization modes ever seen in a racing game – letting gamers trick out their vehicles with an infinite number of parts, decals, and paint schemes. The customization mode itself spurned an underground community of vehicle artists, churning out a huge assortment of cars emblazoned with cartoon characters, famous paintings, and pop culture icons – posing the cars and posting screenshots on the web.
Microsoft even went as far as to make Forza Motorsport one of the first backwards-compatible Xbox games to play on the Xbox 360 – and has maintained a steady showing of popularity, even amongst the multitude of other current-gen releases.
Needless to say, the throngs of Forza Motorsport fans have been anxiously awaiting a current generation release – and after a few delays in development, Forza Motorsport 2 is finally on store shelves. And boy, oh boy, was it worth the wait.
At first glance, gamers might have a difficult time spotting the differences between the original Forza Motorsport and Forza Motorsport 2, as most of the truly significant advances have been made under the hood – and not just the standard visual upgrades one would expect from the generation-jump. The proof is all in the specs:
Whereas the original Forza ran visually at 30 frames per second (fps), Forza Motorsport 2 doubles the framerate to an unwavering 60fps – widely accepted as the maximum rate discernable by the human eye. And, where the original Forza featured one of the most realistic gaming engines – calculating the in-game physics to 60 frames per second, twice that of the visuals – Forza Motorsport 2 bumps the physics engine up to an astounding 360 frames per second, or a full six times the visual resolution.
What do all these specs all mean to the average gamer? It means that Forza Motorsport 2 kicks out one of the most believably authentic racing experiences found on any gaming medium – and does so without sacrificing the sense of speed and excitement generally found in arcade-style racers. You see, while the units “frames per second” generally apply to the “Graphics” category of our reviews, when we are talking about a racing game like Forza Motorsport 2 they do equate directly to the gameplay – the increase in fluidity drives the gameplay towards a more lifelike experience.
These mechanical improvements can be best appreciated in sections involving a series of tight turns, or off-camber elevation changes, as the game rewards smart drivers who maintain fluid driving lines and utilize proper braking techniques. As the old adage goes, “Smooth wins more races than Speed” and so is the case with Forza Motorsport 2.
Forza Motorsport 2 offers over 300 vehicles in total, each with its own unique characteristics and feel. Most production cars can be mechanically or aesthetically modified using the credits earned from each race and combined racing series. There are also a number of custom-designed vehicles which are often earned as part of a series’ winnings – these cars are generally already supped to the hilt, and cannot be modified to any major degree.
The car range from the everyday compact vehicles, and quickly move up through the sedans, sports cars, and eventually onto the full-on touring and super cars. There are even a handful of specialty racing series thrown in, catering to the muscle car enthusiasts.
The vehicles are broken down into a dozen or so classes, and sub-classes therein, that are ultimately determined by vehicles’ style and performance. In most cases, it is possible to modify a single vehicle’s mechanics up or down, allowing it to race in more than one class. The downside of this, is that is entirely possible for the gamer to produce a stable of “invincible” super-cars that the AI competition simply cannot match. This is a common problem with the simulation-racing genre – and while it may seem cool at first, constantly trouncing eventually leads to boredom. That is where the Online Career mode comes into play.
Once the drivers have exhausted their AI competitors in the offline Career mode, they can test their skills in the Online Career mode. As one would expect, the online competition is fierce and definitely not for the feint of heart. And unlike in the offline Career mode, there is absolutely no restarting the race after kissing a wall.
Speaking of kissing walls – although Sony’s Polyphony camp would rather you believe otherwise – it is entirely possible for a racing video game to have their licensed production vehicles accumulate real-time damage, and to have that damage affect gameplay. Forza Motorsport 2 proves this handily with their accurate visual and mechanical damage modeling – which really forces the gamer to keep on-track (literally), by keeping close control of braking, turning, and accelerating. And yes – much like in real-life racing, even a careful driver’s race can be ruined in the blink of an eye, simply due of the actions of the other drivers on the course. All it takes is an AI competitor to braking too hard into a turn, or a Human competitor clipping from behind, and the race is all but over.
One of the coolest aspects of the original Forza – the vehicle Paint customization mode – has returned with a ton of new colors, new vinyls, and new options – including adding a ton of design layers, and the ability to build and save entire user-designed custom vinyl groups. This means that the gamer can effectively design a color and vinyl scheme and paste it across all of the modifiable vehicles in his or her collection.
As the gamer amasses a serious stable of vehicles – he or she can then choose to gift the vehicle to a friend, or auction the vehicles (for credits, the in-game monetary units) to other gamers via Xbox Live and the ultra cool Forza Motorsport 2 website. Granted, at this early stage in the burgeoning Forza 2 community, most of the vehicles up for sale are the unwanted cars won from the Proving Grounds and Amateur Level races, but give the game a few months and the pickings should be a bit more substantial. Then again, from what we see in the MMORPG world, I wouldn’t put it past gamers to start trading their virtual creations on eBay.
There has been a lot of negative press regarding the visual quality of Forza Motorsport 2. And indeed, when compared to the other Xbox 360 racing titles – namely Project Gotham 3 and Ridge Racer 6 – Forza Motorsport 2 does seem a bit lackluster.
The biggest offender in the visual department would have to be the presence of the dreaded “jaggies”. Much like the original release, Forza Motorsport 2 is riddled with the same jaggy edges and lines around many of the vehicle models and environments.
The best (or worst) example of these jaggies is in the real-time reflections applied to the vehicles’ surfaces – which appear so jaggy you might almost call them pixilated. The fact that these reflections also suffer from distracting pop-in and a choppy animation rate does not help matters much. Again, the same issue plagued the original release – we were just hoping Turn 10 might have found a fix by now – no such luck.
Still, don’t let the negative press fool you – Forza Motorsport 2 looks a world better than the original Xbox release, and very much fits in line with most current-gen games. And given the absolutely phenomenal gameplay – who has time to look at the backgrounds anyway?
As for the good stuff – I would first and foremost like to thank Turn 10 for adding a kick-ass windshield view. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a full-featured cockpit view like we saw in Project Gotham 2 – it is just a view from the driver’s perspective, with just the hood (bonnet for you limeys) in view. This new windshield view gives a much better perspective of the action than either of the two lower-sitting bumper views from the original release. And although the hood is the medium exhibiting much of the pop-up and jaggedness listed above – the fact that it features the color and artwork of each car, and then accurately deforms for the damage at hand, is all very cool.
Speaking of damage – boy, have developers come a long way with damage modeling in the past few years! I never would have guessed that Turn 10 could have improved on the original, but they certainly have with Forza Motorsport 2. Each body part is meticulously rendered and deforms independently of the neighboring pieces, resulting in damage patterns that are unique to each and every incident.
The dust and smoke effects are in full effect – so there will be more than a few times you will find yourself trying to push around a smoking sport scar, or getting engulfed in the cloud of dust from an off-track opponent – just hope you don’t miss a turn, and end up enjoying one of the damage patterns mentioned above.
The overall palette is vivid and bright, and the infinite design variations that come with the design editor make for some really interesting eye candy, especially when playing online. It is amazing what some people can do with the vinyl stickers, and even more amazing that the developers can render these custom designs seamlessly into 200mph gameplay.
To be completely honest, after reading the pre-release reviews I fully expected Forza Motorsport 2 to look absolutely atrocious. Having now spent nearly two weeks playing the game, I can safely say that those reviewers were being a bit harsh – the game looks great.
Turn 10 also pulled off a stand-up effort in the sound department – emerging with realistic engine and tire samples, believable crowd noise, and a rock-solid soundtrack.
Exhibiting some of the best positional sound effects in the genre, Forza Motorsport 2 delivers an awesome sense of realism on the track. This is especially noticeable on the close-quarters segments of tight courses like New York, where the roars of the crowd mix flawlessly with the echoes of the engines reverberating off the Times Square brickwork. In those places where two sections of track run alongside each other, the neighboring vehicles whiz by with the appropriate Doppler effect in the Dolby 5.1-ready sound.
The soundtrack is definitely attuned to the hipsters, with the tech-savvy tunes of LCD Soundsystem, N.E.R.D, The Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, and my personal favorites – the late-great Granddaddy. In all honesty, while I personally like the selection of music offered in Forza Motorsport 2, it is definitely not as accessible and wide-ranging of a soundtrack as we found in Project Gotham 3 – which featured a great mix of techno, rock, punk, international, and even classical tunes in its unique radio channels. It's also worth noting that the music is only in the menus and pre-race screens then fades to engines, tires, and crash noises for the actual race.
For fans of racing simulations, it does not get much better than Forza Motorsport 2. Between the extensive Arcade, Career and Online Career modes, and the hours spent tricking out your rides – there is an unlimited amount of value to be had within Turn 10’s opus.
Add to that the cool web integration with the Forza Motorsport 2 website (www.forzamotorsport.net), in which racers are allotted a personal space in which to upload their favorite in-game photos, compare racing results and tack times, monitor their vehicle auctions, and set up public and private tournaments (much like the sadly underused XSN website did for Rallisport 2 on the original Xbox).
The game spreads the 1000 available Achievement Points over the Arcade, Career and Online Career modes, forcing the tried-and-true junkies to master all three disciplines. There are the requisite rankings and monetary Achievements – i.e. reaching certain levels, or accumulating a certain amount of credits – but there are a fair share of expert-level Achievements that will require due diligence to obtain.
Do I really have to say it again? Hardcore racing fans would be remiss to not pick up Forza Motorsport 2 immediately. While it could use a few more tracks and possibly a few less jaggies around the edges, it is definitely the most in-depth racing simulation found on any of the current-gen consoles.
For those gamers who lean more towards the arcade stylings of the Burnout and Need For Speed titles – Forza Motorsport 2 might feel a bit regimented at first. But give the game a chance, and you might find that there is a ton of satisfaction to be had by slowing down once in a while.