It's exceedingly rare when you can say that a driving game is built for everybody. Considering how splintered the driving-game audience can be, with the hardcore sim-savvy fans on one side and the more casual, arcade-oriented crowd on the other, most games that have tried to appeal to both markets haven't pulled it off. However, Microsoft's Forza Motorsport for the Xbox flew in the face of other such failures. It created a game that was both easily accessible and remarkably deep, with a challenge level so scalable that you'd be hard pressed not to find some setting you liked. Now, Forza has come to the Xbox 360, and expectations are understandably high. In most regards, Forza Motorsport 2 delivers on those expectations. Not only does it continue to improve and tweak an already fantastic driving model, but it also piles on more cars, more tracks, more modes, and more features than you'll know what to do with. That's not to call the game flawless, but for every little quirk that pops up in Forza 2, there are a myriad of awesome elements to make those issues practically irrelevant.
Forza makes its debut on the 360, and what a debut it is.
Forza 2 cobbles together more than 300 cars from 50 major manufactures; a ton of licensed, aftermarket parts and upgrades; and 12 racing environments, several of which are real-world tracks like Laguna Seca, Mugello, Sebring, and the dastardly NÂ¥rburgring. It's a healthy jump in content over the original Forza, especially with the cars. Looking down the list, you'll race in everything from a Volkswagen Golf or Mini Cooper to top-of-the-line Ferraris, McLarens, and Saleens. It's a huge list, with tons of custom-built variations on popular rides and exceedingly fast racers. Between the 12 tracks, 47 different ribbons are available, meaning many of the tracks can be raced through a host of different ways. The best tracks in the game tend to be the ones based on real life. A couple of the tracks can be real snoozers, but even they have a ribbon or two that can be fun, given the right situation.
None of those cars would make a bit of difference if the game didn't drive well--so it's good that it does. Cars are built out in such a way that they all have an individual feel on the track. Of course, you'll feel the difference between an Enzo and a Beetle, but you even feel the differences between a Beetle and a Golf. No two cars feel quite alike, and that's understandable given the wide variety of statistics and parts unique to each car. In nearly every case, cars feel just right as they speed around the track. Each car's physics are spot-on, and you almost never get the feeling that the car you're driving isn't behaving true to life. The only time the physics get a little wonky is with collisions. Basic bumps and rubs look and feel right, but big head-on collisions seem oddly understated.
Another thing that sets all the different cars apart from one another is the new performance index rating system. Cars are still classified through a lettered system (D-class cars are the lower end of stock, store-bought rides; S class is all high-performance vehicles; and so on), but the new performance index now separates out cars within their own class by assigning each a numerical value based on individual stats in speed, acceleration, braking, and the like. Upgrading cars with new parts boosts the PI, and if you go over a certain number, the car will actually move into a new letter class. Seeing the PI of opponent cars versus your own lets you know exactly what you're up against and, in some cases, if you need to spend some cash before you're able to compete.
The new braking-only driving line aid is a fantastic addition. So is the option to force players not to use driving aids during online play.
What primarily makes Forza 2 such a joy to drive is the way you can scale the difficulty to your own skill level. If you're a novice player and don't know a Gran Turismo from a Need for Speed, Forza 2 eases you into simulation driving nicely with several driving-assist features. There are basic ones, like stability control, antilock braking, and traction control that all work to keep your car on the road without too much duress. The big feature in the original Forza was the dynamic driving line assist, which essentially put a big line of color-coded arrows along the track (green means accelerate, yellow means slow down, red means brake), dictating the ideal driving path. This same line is present in Forza 2, but there's also a modified version of it that only shows braking spots. This ends up being the ideal line to use, as the original line has a tendency to become something of a crutch. Here, you're really only getting help with the turns, and once you've run a track a few times, you can usually get a good feel for where every ideal spot for deceleration is. If you're already into the hardcore driving sim genre, these features probably sound more annoying than anything else. Fortunately, you can turn it all off and get the full, realistic driving experience if you like. Doing so does make the game significantly more difficult, so consider yourself warned.
Even with all the assists turned on, careful driving is a must in Forza 2. Take a turn slightly too fast, and you're spinning out in the rough. Likewise, driving too passively will drop you down in placings fast, as the artificial intelligence will capitalize quickly. That's what you'd want in opponent AI, of course, and in most every situation, opponent drivers behave smartly. Unless you give them a reason to, opponents rarely bump or slam into you; instead, they concede corners if they can't pass you cleanly. And if you happen to start slamming around like bumper cars, the AI will adjust accordingly, with more easily intimidated opponents backing off and more aggressive opponents knocking you off the track if they get the chance. Generally though, they'll stick to their racing lines and drive professionally. In a sense, you know the AI is good because you don't find yourself thinking about the other cars much, except at moments where you're fixing to pass them or one of them is aiming to pass you.
There's more to Forza 2's driving model than great physics and smart AI. The driving interface is another huge factor in what makes the game so enjoyable. While driving, you can bring up a variety of different menus that show where your car is damaged, the temperature of your tires, and even some advanced telemetry data that might look like gobbledygook to a more casual player, but these give fantastic insight into the performance and status of your car for those who know how to read it. These options are what sets Forza 2 apart from other games of this type.
Perhaps the best overall aspect of Forza 2 is that it gives you so many ways to experience its fantastic driving model. You can start out participating in exhibition races or time trials, hop online to take on the rest of the world, or dive right into career mode, which is the true meat of the game. Career mode starts you out picking a region to call your home, with options of North America, Asia, and Europe. Specifying a region essentially dictates what brands of cars you want to establish a relationship with early on, and you'll quickly find yourself earning discounts with automakers from your region.
With over 300 cars in the game, it'll take you a while to collect 'em all.
With a region picked out and your first car bought, you'll be presented with only a few unlocked racing series and a driver level of one. From here, it's race, race, race. The career mode is where you earn all your cash and boost your driver level. Boosting your cash flow lets you buy new cars and part upgrades, while upping your driver level earns more discounts on cars and unlocks new races to take part in.
What's neat about the career mode is that it finds ways to keep the progression fresh, even if it is putting you on the same courses again and again for dozens of hours. You'll encounter region-specific races, class-specific races, ones limited to certain levels of horsepower, and the ever-sadistic endurance races that have you racing on the same course for far, far longer than the average five- to six-lap endeavor. The lack of track variety starts to wear after a bit, especially considering how long the career mode is, but there's enough variety to the types of races to keep you very much interested in finishing your career.