Video Game Rentals Delivered

Forza Motorsport 2

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-06-21 18:48:23

Forza Motorsport 2 - Rank S

Developer: Turn 10
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Date: 5/29/07

I can't critique Forza Motorsport without discussing the seminal Gran Turismo series. These two franchises are the final word in the hardcore simulation genre. Until chancing upon Gran Turismo 3, I only enjoyed boisterous arcade racers involving jumps and crashes, where the brake pedal was a purposeless vestigial appendix. And then Gran Turismo 3 destroyed me. I unlocked, upgraded and tuned every single car. I bought the Logitech steering wheel. Like a kensai seeking perfection with his blade, I memorized braking distances and handling characteristics until I could carve the perfect apex through every turn of every track with my finely tuned virtual race cars. I loved that game. Forza Motorsport 2 is better.

The reason is realism. Gran Turismo is more accessibly forgiving, but Forza's unbridled dedication to authenticity is more richly gratifying. I wouldn't even call it fun; rather, Forza agitates that deep itch of obsession. The physics engine refreshes over 9,000 computations (heat, weight transfer, friction, etc.) at a ridiculous 360 frames per second, constantly and furiously updating the various conditions of your vehicle in relation to the track. The practical offshoot of this is an unprecedented level of accuracy in rendering vehicle handling. A slower refresh rate would result in sloppy calculations at high speeds. For example, at 120 mph, Forza updates the conditions roughly once every 5 feet traveled. A less rigorous physics model running at 60 fps would allow you to travel 30 feet before adjusting the myriad of factors that determine the handling characteristics of your vehicle.

The end result is a driving simulator that gives me more detailed feedback than any other game I've played. But what do I know? I'm not a professional driver. The internet is littered with arguments about which game is more realistic by fanboys claiming various degrees of actual racing experience. I can only tell you that Forza Motorsport 2 feels the best to me. 24 Hours of Le Mans champion, Mika Salo, found it impressive. When a guy like that asks, "Do you guys have Long Beach in this game? I've never driven it before and I need to learn it for the next race," it's pretty clear that Forza is doing something right.

The A.I. of the computer drivers is also a marked success. In the Gran Turismo franchise, even apparently in the upcoming PlayStation 3 entry, opponent drivers mindlessly follow predetermined racing lines even if another car is in their path. They're like slot cars blindly propelled on a rigid track. In contrast, Forza A.I. drivers display varying degrees of aggressiveness (you will grow to hate the motherfucker named Rossi), and make genuine efforts to cleanly pass each other. They were at least partially developed by learning from actual human drivers, and spooked even the programmers when they learned to brake check. We're talking Skynet action here. They exhibit an eerie semblance of intelligence (or unintelligence), making surprising decisions and never driving like mindless drones.

Forza also features damage modeling, which keeps me honest. I tend to get lazy while playing Gran Turismo. Without physical repercussions to deter me, I'd accelerate into hairpin turns to pinball off the inside of opponent racers. Doing the same in Forza results in a spray of wreckage and a car with a smoking engine, mangled alignment, and an inability to break school zone speed limits even in fifth gear.

Customization, both functional and aesthetic, is deeper than in any other racer. With more options than ever before, upgrading and tuning parts is absolutely engrossing. Gearheads will cream themselves here. Cars are divided into classes based on a cumulative Performance Index. Upgrading a part raises this P.I., eventually raising the vehicle into the next class up. Maximizing your vehicle's performance without catapulting it into the next tier of competition is an addictive mini-game in itself. And I'm personally a terrible visual artist, but talented designers are able to create astonishing effects with Forza's graphics tools. As a big fan of both The Legend of Zelda and the Nissan Z, I blew several days' worth of race winnings to purchase this beauty from the online auction house.

Online play is the robust experience I've come to expect from top tier Xbox Live titles, with tournaments and an excellent community.

Criticism of Forza Motorsport 2 centers around the graphics. The hardware's resources are clearly allocated toward providing those 360 fps of physics calculations, and maintaining a rock stable 60 fps frame rate. There are no weather effects, no night races, and some minor aliasing "jaggies" are noticeable. Its visuals clearly don't hold a candle to the upcoming Gran Turismo 5. However, I find this a completely acceptable sacrifice to achieve the physics I gushed about above. This isn't to say that Forza isn't pretty; it's the super hot girl next door as opposed to a media polished Victoria's Secret supermodel. I checked it out for comparison on 420p, and hi-definition output makes it vastly superior. It could be that many of the people who are griping about the visuals are playing it in standard definition.

The one valid criticism is that Forza Motorsport 2 could've benefited from a greater number of race tracks.

Forza Motorsport 2 is not for the casual gamer. It is a rigorous simulation that requires patience and investment, and will cause automobile aficionados and obsessive compulsive gamers to red ring an untold number of Xbox 360s. And don't worry if you're new to the genre; Forza features driving aides that will teach you how to drive. Just bring your passion and Forza Motorsport 2 will provide the avocation.

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-06-21 18:24:19

Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel - Rank B

It lies. You need to plug a power cord into a wall socket, and a wire connects the pedals to the wheel. Also, faulty design caused the original units (packaged with Project Gotham Racing 3) to overheat. The newer ones packing a Forza Motorsport 2 demo shouldn't have this issue.

Once you move past that, it's a fairly decent product. The wheel provides a sufficient 270 degrees of rotation, and features both rumble and force feedback. The vibration is capable of distinct subtlety and solidly communicates the activity of your tires.

The gear shifts are handled by paddles on the sides behind the wheel. These aren't nearly as satisfying as the fancier sequential stick shifts on the Logitech products for the PlayStation, but then again, those cost double or triple the amount.

I had a problem properly securing the Xbox 360 Wheel. You can place it on your lap, but that felt terrible. It's fairly heavy and I just couldn't find a comfortable position. I used to use a milk crate for my old Gran Turismo wheel, but the clamps weren't strong enough (or the milk crate too flimsy) to secure the weight of the Xbox 360 wheel. The clamps worked fine on our dinner table, but that was something of a hassle.

The pedals are somewhat flimsy, but perfectly functional with a good range of give. The base also is meant to grip, but depending on your carpet or flooring, it may slip a bit.

All in all, it's a good (not excellent) product. The materials it's constructed from are too flimsy to rate highly, but too nice to be considered cheap. I initially gave it a Rank C in my Dave the Direman blog, but that was due to its outrageous original price. At $150, I promptly returned it after trying it out; it simply wasn't worth that much. It's since dropped to nearly half that price, and if I find myself sinking untold hours into an Xbox 360 driving game, I'll definitely repurchase it. I'm sure it's how I'll be playing Forza Motorsport 3.

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