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Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
6/26/2007 12:53:00 PM

Review: Forza Motorsport 2 (Xbox 360)

By Jake Luft

Is it a back-handed compliment when you say the best thing about a racing game isn't the racing?

That's how I feel about Microsoft's new racing title. Forza Motorsport 2 from Turn 10 is packed with so many extra features that I find myself looking forward to everything but the racing itself. I tend to prefer non-simulation racers more in the vein of Project Gotham and Burnout, but going into Forza 2 you need to be into spending countless hours running laps against chippy AI or you're not going to get your money's worth. That's how the first Forza for Xbox was, and this game is no different.

The biggest diversion is the paint job mode, where you can take your fleet of cars in for anything from a new coat to an elaborately stunning design. Check out these amazing examples of pixelated artistry, and keep in mind that the game doesn't allow you to upload logos or images. These are all done from scratch using the rudimentary drawing tools in the game itself -- basically a large menu of shapes and logos and color palettes. It's not much different than drawing them by hand.

You either have to give these people a lot of credit for their drawing ability or wonder how they have so much time on their hands (or both). In any case, the level of devotion people have put into this game speaks to the artistic subculture growing around Forza 2. (You can buy and sell cars with fancy paint jobs thanks to an eBay-style auction house which works surprisingly well.) It's one thing to put stickers on your rear bumper. It's quite another to have Spider-Man or Darth Maul on your hood. How about the cast from South Park? Or Marvin the Martian, the General Lee, an ode to Galaga and even a salute to the Dharma Initiative from Lost? Just make sure to watch out for the Decepticon Fuzz while you are at it.

But it's not enough just to make your cars look good. You want them to run good and sound good, too. With the money you win in the Career Mode races, take your cars into the garage and start pimpin' those rides. The parts upgrades available are so vast and specific that they basically resemble gobbledygook to anybody who isn't a grease monkey or a General Motors engineer. But all you really have to know is how the parts affect your car's ratings, and that's easy enough to figure out from the interface.

Forza 2
Enzo, baby! :: Forza 2 :: Turn 10
And the upgrades really do work. Once you've suped up even the most sluggish of cars -- the game has more than 300 cars, ranging everywhere from the Ford Focus to McLaren F1 GTR -- you'll find that winning the career races doesn't present much of a challenge. In fact, it can get quite repetitive and dull. The Career Mode essentially devolves into something akin to station-to-station baseball -- you go from one race to another looking to unlock more cars so that you can get your claws on another hood to pain and another engine to overhaul. That's not to say the racing is a total drag, however. Forza 2 features some of the most realistic physics and smoothest framerates (a rock steady 60 fps) that you'll find in any racer. Though the gameplay and tracks (there are 47) offered are similar to the original Forza, there is a noticeable improvement in the responsiveness to your controls -- the braking and accelerating are attuned to how much pressure you apply to the left and right triggers, respectively. When coming out of a turn, release the brake trigger slowly as you apply pressure to the acceleration trigger and you'll find yourself smoothly gliding out of even the tightest turns. When done right it's pretty satisfying.

Just be warned that the learning curve is steep early on. This game rewards precision racing to an almost absurd extreme. Almost any major mistake in the last half of a race is likely to eliminate any chance of winning, and you'll get a good dose of frustration by continually wrecking on the last lap of a long race. But if you can get over that initial hump and get some cash in your coffers, you'll find that there's no race a slew of upgrades won't conquer.

Adding to the diversity of the game is a setup that allows you to start your career mode in either North America, Asia or Europe. The region you select affects which cars you unlock and how much you pay for new cars (less for domestic, more for foreign).

The Arcade Mode is a nice way to take a break from the drudgery of the Career Mode races. In Arcade, you can run time trials to unlock the F1 super cars and top-of-the-line Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis for use on Xbox Live. Your friends can "gift" you a car you haven't unlocked yet, giving you a nice boost in stature. You can also acquire new cars by winning any of the arcade races, where the simulation isn't quite as rigid as in career mode; in other words, mistakes are more easily forgiven and damage done to your car doesn't affect its performance.

Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 8
If you are into ultra-realistic, simulation racing, then this game is for you. The physics are incredibly fine tuned and the analog braking and accelerating controls are feather-touch sensitive. Just make sure to improve your cars' handling abilities by buying new tires, rims and other such upgrades because at first these cars turn like elephants.
Graphics: 7.5
Forza 2 sacrifices graphics (especially the backgrounds) for performance. You don't expect to see your rear spoiler have jagged edges in a next generation game, but it does.
Replayability: 9.5
The game gets better the more you play it. You definitely want to stick around long enough to unlock the Enzos and McLarens and other high-performance vehicles; the game features more than 300 cars and almost 50 tracks. Nearly every sports car in the world is represented in the game. Plus, you can always just buy them on the auction house if you can't wait to acquire them in career mode.
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