Friday, January 18, 2008

Game Review: Forza Motorsport 2

Regular readers have likely sighed with relief lately, having been given a respite from new posts for the first couple of weeks of this year. The reason for my absence from the blogosphere, and the reason that most of my posts since my return have been automobile-related, was my absolute addiction to playing Forza Motorsport 2 on our Xbox 360. Forza 2 is a a racing-simulation game, which means every effort has been made to make the driving experience as realistic as possible. To add to the realism, I purchased the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel (and pedals). This wheel not only has rumble, like the normal 360 controller, but also features force feedback, which is invaluable for telling the driver what the car is doing. Following is my review of the game, as used with the wheel.

What I liked:
  • Perhaps the most impressive feature of this game is the modeling of the vehicle dynamics. Every aspect of the behavior of each vehicle is included: power, weight, weight distribution, drag, downforce, wheel weight, tire friction, camber, caster, toe, tire width, tire compound, tire temperature, and so on.
  • Additionally, you can see all this modeling going on by turning on the telemetry. Huge amounts of data are available, which you can monitor live, while driving---good luck with that---or afterwards during a replay.
  • Did I not mention the replay feature? After each race you can watch---and even save---a replay of your performance. The replay features multiple camera angles, both onboard and off. Some algorithm is used to select which camera you see when. Most of the time the camera choice is good, though sometimes what you actually want to observe---the car you are about to pass, say---is offscreen. Oh, and you can also take photos of your car mid-race via the replay feature.
  • About 300 cars are available in the game when you buy it, and additional vehicles can be downloaded for a few bucks from Xbox Live. All these automobiles are immediately available to drive in arcade mode. In career mode, most of the cars must be unlocked as you accumulate winnings. What's more, because of all the detail in the physics modeling, each car behaves differently. It's not just that one car is faster than another. You can also feel the difference between front-, rear- and all-wheel drive. You can tell if the car is front-, mid-, or rear-engined. Indeed, you can easily discern changes in performance from modifying or tuning the car.
  • That's right, you can swap out or add parts on each car: wheels, tires, wings, dams, brakes, dampers, anti-roll bars, exhaust systems, camshafts, and on and on.
  • You can tune the cars, too. You can adjust suspension settings (camber, toe, ride height, and so on), downforce, brake pressure and bias, swaybar stiffness, tire pressure, and more.
  • The appearance of the cars can be heavily customized as well. The exterior can be painted or covered with vinyl graphics, which is very important to superficial people such as myself.
  • A reasonable number of tracks are available in the game as bought, and more can be downloaded for XBL for a small fee.
  • Each car is given a performance index (PI) according to its speed, acceleration, braking, handling and such. The PI changes as you mod the vehicle. Cars with similar PIs are grouped into classes, which allows for fair-ish competition between very different automobiles.
  • The game includes race series (of 3 or 4 races) designed for cars that are, in some way, similar. There are series for cars of each class, cars with a certain amount of power, cars below or above given weights, cars from different countries or continents, cars of specific make or model, cars over a certain age, cars with certain engine locations or configuratins, and so on. All this variety keeps the competition fresh and interesting.
  • The game includes great multiplayer support. You can play split-screen with 2 drivers (like Alison and I do), system link with up to 8, or go online and compete with people all across the world.
  • Forza makes great use of the rumble feature of the Xbox 360 controller. You can not just hear but feel when you drive over curbs, crash into barriers, or even shift gears. This feature is one of the reasons I dislike one of the Seabring circuits. That track's built partially out of concrete slabs, with 1-inch gaps between the slabs. Driving across it produces an annoying rhythmic rumble in the controller.
  • The game also uses the force feedback feature of the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel to good effect. With the wheel, you can feel if you are understeering, detect torque steer from FWD or AWD vehicles, and tell if you are drifting. I find the force feedback not just immersive but terribly informative.
What I disliked:
  • All the races take place during the day in clear weather. I'd like drive at night or in the rain, too.
  • Many of the cars that can be won in the game cannot be painted/vinyled or can only be slightly visually altered.
Overall, because I am a car guy, I give it 9.0 out of 10. For normal folks, I'd still award it a 7.5. If you are even a little interested in cars or racing, I highly recommend it. Additionally, if you can spare the cash and have the space, I suggest you purchase the Microsoft steering wheel.

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