Racing games that place an emphasis on hard core simulation mechanics are rare, much more so than the arcade style, over the top racers that have proven so popular with today’s consumer. Given this, the challenge faced by a developer interested in creating a simulation style racer is how to appeal to a gaming public that may not be outwardly predisposed to this type of game. Forza Motorsport 2, Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios’ sequel to 2005’s distinguished Xbox racer, may offer the best possible answer with an intriguing mix of complexity and accessibility not often seen in this type of game.
Of course, as an Xbox 360 showpiece, the attention paid to the game’s graphics is immediately apparent, with a level of visual fidelity lifting Forza 2 up as yet another feather in Microsoft’s next-gen cap. The cars are beautiful, the tracks and the environments are simple but elegant, and the game does a good job of arresting disbelief.
Additionally, while comparisons between Forza and Sony’s Gran Turismo are unavoidable, Microsoft’s effort manages to stand out for its inclusion of vehicle damage, which can visibly and realistically ruin a car’s appearance; rear ending another car with enough force might cause the front bumper to fall off, while hitting the side of something could cause the vehicle’s body to cave in, offering a level of realism not found in most other racing sims.
Also impressive are the numerous licensed cars available to be purchased and customized. Besides each carrying its own distinct look, each car also behaves and performs differently on the track, permitting players to naturally gravitate towards a certain type of car over another to suit their particular driving styles.
Racing a circuit with a car of a particular class or transmission type can feel very different than when put behind the wheel of another entirety different vehicle. Here the developers have emphasized that the differences between the cars go deeper than simply body styles and a new coat of paint. These racing machines all carry their own distinct characteristics such as weight class, horsepower, aerodynamics, engine class, body family, and so forth, and to some degree most of these attributes can be upgraded or tuned given enough credits, the right mechanical know-how, and patience.
In Forza 2, automotive tuning covers every intricacy from springs to differential to aeronautics, and nowhere is the importance of tuning more apparent than when racing online, where the right upgrades, which range from spark plugs and engine components to tire width and racing compound, often define who crosses the finish line first.
One of the most impressive, and perhaps most addictive facets of car customization lies with the game’s paint shop. While most earned vehicles in the game come assigned with some pre-designed paint job, the vast majority of player-purchased vehicles begin life looking rather nondescript. However, through Forza 2‘s paint shop, which allows for some of the most intricate design work available in a racing game, players can turn a forgettable roadster into a work of fine art, a gaudy showpiece, or simply a billboard on wheels.
Players can, of course, quickly dump a full coat of paint on the entire car or paint each section separately, but the real joy is in the decals. Forza 2 offers an assortment of pre-made decals, but it’s entirely possible to make some more complex, even three-dimensional designs. The game also allows users with Xbox Live to snap photos and painlessly upload them to the game’s official community website for others to see, and users seem to be having almost as much fun with this feature as with the racing itself.
Of course, customization is only half of what Forza 2 is about, and when it comes to racing, this game has quite a lot under the hood. Forza 2 offers a variety of different events and cups, everything from the simple (though certainly not easy) A