Some games seem so polished that they make others in their genre seem terribly outdated, if not lazy. Forza Motorsport 2 from Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios is one such game, combining a stunning driving model with game features that simply wouldn't be expected by the majority of gamers. If you love cars, whether that be racing them, tuning them or creating custom decals for them, Forza 2 on the Xbox 360 has it covered.
There's so much to do in Forza 2 that it's hard to know where to start. The most obvious place is the Career Mode, in which you take part in a series of events to build up your driver level. In a style similar to that of an RPG, your rating levels up as you reach certain credit milestones, with credits being awarded for your performances in races. Numerous difficulty options can be changed before each race, with harder settings resulting in more credits.
In theory more experienced players can reach the game's conclusion earlier and afford the better cars sooner as they'll earn credits at a faster rate. Novice players can race with all the racing assists on, set opponent AI to low (on high AI drivers are a real challenge) and turn off the most harsh damage modelling, allowing them to progress but it'll take longer. Because these settings can be changed at any time you can tweak as you go to ensure you always get the perfect balance between challenge and progression.
Each car in the game has a class rating and a Performance Index number. For the untrained, this number quickly informs you of the car's general performance and lets you see how upgrades will change things. All the stats are there if you want to see them, but if you just want to create the best C-class car possible, the on-screen graphic makes the effect of upgrades very clear to see. Upgrades themselves cost credits, but your performances in races often result in discounts from certain dealers, while tuning is free but requires a higher level of car knowledge.
These options would be useless if cars didn't feel right when on the track, but thankfully Turn 10 has nailed this aspect too. While it would be unwise to label Forza 2 as the greatest driving sim ever created, it is unquestionably a great achievement, with the weight and grip of each car simply feeling right. Cars behave just as you'd expect them too, but somehow the game doesn't suffer from an overpowering dullness like many other sims on the market. Driving is hard but fun, challenging but possible, and the relatively few locations (plenty of tracks made from a much smaller number of larger courses) means that you'll quickly learn how to take each and every corner.
Forza 2 has none of the license tests of that other famous racer, but it doesn't need them. The racing assists do a great job for beginners, and soon you won't need the dynamic braking zone markers as it'll all be in your head. Forza 2 is a long way from the powersliding of Project Gotham and almost a different genre to the likes of Ridge Racer, but it's also hugely rewarding and not nearly as punishingly difficult as the first few minutes might suggest.
Forza on the original Xbox was an excellent game but received some heavy criticism from hardcore racing fans for its 30 frames per second frame rate. Forza 2 runs at a stunning 60 fps and it makes a huge difference. When you're in the groove it's as if you're gliding around the track on wheels made of butter. Compared to other modern racers the game lacks the gloss you might be expecting, but it's still stylishly presented and by no means ugly. With some beautifully crisp visuals and highly detailed car models (including damage) it's certainly a next-gen title but it's got a slightly clinical feel that might not please everyone.
You'll almost certainly try your best to stick with your first car for as long as possible, upgrading and tweaking it for every last drop of performance. Of course, at some point you'll be required to drive something else, but Forza 2 gives that first car pride that you'd usually only associate with real life. You can really show your love too, with Forza 2's paint tools enabling the more skilful among us to create some truly stunning pieces of art on their cars. The rest of us are more likely draw a smiley face and put our name on the number plate, but it's the thought that counts.
The levelling system of the Career Mode will keep you hooked, with new events opening as you reach higher and higher levels, but plenty of other modes are available. The Arcade menu includes numerous races that earn you new cars to race in and specific car time trials, giving you plenty to work through outside of the addictive but time consuming Career Mode. Replays of other racers can be downloaded too, so if you're struggling on a certain time trial challenge, you can quickly and easily get tips from the best drivers.
It's the Multiplayer menu that is likely to sap most of your time though. As well as exhibition races for up to eight players, you can take part in Career races, earning credits and levelling up as you would in the normal offline career. Tournaments are regularly added for players to take part in, a full functioning auction house is available for players to buy and sell cars, and you can view the best of the racing action across the Forza 2 network through Forza TV. The auction house itself will be a time hog for many players and makes your in-game credits far more valuable.
Achievement points span every game mode in the game and will take weeks if not months to earn for the average gamer, covering such things as cars owned, racing levels achieved, Arcade races won and cars bought and sold in the auction house. They are perhaps a little too hard to earn early on which might be a disappointment to some players, but it makes a change to have plenty that take real work to achieve.
Be aware that Forza 2 will consume your life in a way that few other games are capable of. After a few races it'll have you hooked like the very best MMOs and you won't be able to remove it from your disc tray. With a sublime racing model, superb AI, tons of content, brilliantly simple car upgrades and tuning, an unbelievable paint shop tool and all the online options you can imagine, Forza 2 is the premier Xbox 360 racer and the new king of the genre.