Players:2 - 8
Price: $59.99
Platform(s):Xbox 360
Developer: Turn 10
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB: Everyone

The team at Turn 10 must smell like a working car garage because Forza Motorsport 2 sweats motor oil. If you’re interested in racing fast in pretty cars or causing large-scale explosions this is not the game for you. Unlike other racers on the market Forza 2 is all about the cars, and the wonderful things you can do with them. This is more than a video game; it’s a real time physics experiment that will inspire car enthusiasts and frustrate the impatient. Make no mistake, you better chug a quart of 30 weight oil before sitting down with the best racing sim available.

Cars, cars, and more cars! If you aspire to be Jay Leno – big chin and all – then you’ll be happy to hear Turn 10 has included more than 300 vehicles in the game. These aren’t skins, but truly different vehicles with their own real world handling. A Subaru Forrester will handle differently from a Ford Mustang and you’ll feel every minute difference. The cars alone account for a full game. If you’re a freewheeling muscle car guy or a Lamborghini loving lunatic you’ll find everything you need in just the base model versions of each car. Base model I hear you ask? Oh yes, you may start with an off-the-lot Dodge Charger but you’ll quickly purchase after market equipment to change your whole world.

You begin with a paltry 9,000 credits and must race to earn more cash. You can then begin the climb to those rare upper echelon vehicles that you’ll probably end up crashing into a wall, but damn if it wasn’t a good 15-second run. It may be weird to hear, but Turn 10 actually looked to card based games and sandbox titles like GTA to inspire the interface and “leveling” system in Forza 2. What that equates to is a ridiculous amount of options and vehicle iterations for you to use when competing in races. All of which will be necessary if you decide to jump into the insane online world of Forza 2 where the elite players will smoke newcomers before the first turn is made.

Career mode is the core offline experience of Forza 2, and it’s advisable you spend at least a few hours there getting the controls down. You begin by choosing between Europe, North America or Asia as your home region. This is crucial to your vehicle aspirations as the cost and availability of certain vehicles vary greatly between the regions. If you want big burly muscle cars you probably won’t want to head over to Asia.

Now that you’ve purchased the vehicles you want, it’s time to tune those suckers up. If you were overwhelmed with the painstaking details of the cars as is, wait until you start upgrading gearing, accel and decel rates, and a cornucopia of other options. It’s ridiculous, and possibly more time consuming than racing for more cash. This is especially true if you’re a sim racing fan – which I’d be hard pressed to say I am – but only know the bare bone basics about cars. I spent a good deal of time making adjustments to cars just to see, “What if?” It was exciting and ate up about 30% of playing time. But that’s what makes Forza 2 so great, there are near limitless options in how you choose to enter the racing world.

Once you’re ready to start racing you may want to take a deep breath and go slowly. While turning on racing assists will result in fewer credits earned you really should have them activated. The driving line is especially helpful to learn braking times and how to apex through a turn. These are skills that can only be learned by driving. No one will ever be able to tell you what to do and then you perform perfectly. To help you out with learning Turn 10 has tuned the 360 controller into a high end racing “wheel.” I can’t compare it to the official Xbox 360 Wheel because it wasn’t available for me to test out, but Turn 10 has made the control pad a sexy beast of an input device for this racing sim. Every bump is felt – thanks to that insane 300+ frames per second physics engine – and each turn elicits a response from the four tires. The controls for Forza 2 are so good that a professional racecar driver could pick it up and match their real world times.

The world of car enthusiasts isn’t about John in his garage tweaking his Saturn Ion, it’s about the community. If Career mode is about getting your dream vehicle, then multiplayer is the heart of the game where you show off your baby. You can connect with up to 7 other racers via LAN or Xbox Live. Oh, and Turn 10 was kind enough to include that ever diminishing option of splitscreen play. If you play offline you may find Forza 2 to lack a certain panache that is assumed to exist in the car world. You’d be right, and while Career mode could have been made more entertaining this is truly a game meant for online play.

The online world has been integrated into the offline experience, and vice versa. You can auction off cars that you’ve made, give them to friends, and one of the most requested features when Forza 1 came out was a spectator mode. That is now available in all its glory.

Things aren’t all coming up Milhouse – or uh…Turn 10 in this case – with Forza 2, however. There’s a tradeoff that’s been made due to the robust physics engine and multitude of tuning options. I don’t subscribe to the graphics make a game ideology. When it comes down to it Forza 2 is brilliantly designed and tweaked for optimal performance. The tracks are highly detailed, and spectators are varied and interesting. You’ll find that out if you decide to gun it off the starting line – in which case you’ll end up with a face full of wall and onlookers cheering the demise of your Porsche – and there’s no shortage of beautiful visuals. The problem is not in the detail of the tracks and cars, it’s in the presentation. The graphical user interface (GUI) is solidly implemented and features a vast array of information; it simply doesn’t pop out at you.

Movie directors often have a visual hue to their films – Michael Mann seems to prefer blue for example – and Forza 2 follows that same vein. If I had to describe the look of Forza 2 it would be “dull orange.” Don’t mistake that for graphical deficiency, Turn 10 has produced a product that could never be called graphically inferior. The art style leaves much to be desired, and that’s a shame. But as a trade off you get great physics and the most realistic driving experience available on your couch. It’s worth the artistic downgrade to be given this experience. Technical limitations will always be a factor in video games, and Turn 10 made the conscious decision to produce a racing sim. This is not a showroom for car manufacturers to sell cars.

There’s a lot to be gained from putting time into Forza 2. For the ambitious gamer Forza 2 is nearly as versatile as the grandest RPGs out today. You just have to have the patience to put in the time. If you’re willing to take on Forza 2 you’ll find yourself having a blast. It’s not the sexiest racer out there, but it’s the most worthwhile.

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