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In Memory
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Forza Motorsport 2
(Microsoft for Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

Forza Motorsport 2 brings the thrill and realism of racing to Xbox 360 owners in a slick, accessible package. The game features hundreds of real licensed vehicles ranging from stock models to futuristic prototypes and many more. What's more, each vehicle can be customized and tuned through an extensive selection of parts and upgrades. This gives Forza 2 plenty of depth in the garage. On the track, players can choose from single races, compete in tournaments or race online via Xbox Live. Forza 2's visuals are impressive, with realistic high-definition car models and race tracks offering a visceral racing experience making this the deepest and most comprehensive racer on the system to date.

Originally conceived as an Xbox version on the Gran Turismo series, the first Forza Motorsport title offered a fine selection of vehicles with realistic handling and courses just as you'd expect, but added car damage and online play to the formula. The long-awaited sequel doesn't re-invent the wheel, but offers a refined, deeper and more evolved experience. Forza 2 follows the formula and structure of the first game faithfully and players will find a similar approach used this time around. You can choose to play either a single round in Arcade, Time Trial or Exhibition Modes. Each of these offers a single race to compete in, some of which allow you to earn credits for use in other modes. These are fun for a quick spin, but players who want something deeper might want to look to the game's extensive career mode. Here, you start off at the bottom of the ranks with a generic low-end production vehicle and can move up the ranks by winning races, purchasing better parts and eventually, winning enough credits to purchase additional vehicles. As you progress and win each race, you earn credits which you can spend in the garage to buy numerous upgrade parts. These include everything from brakes, to tires, bumpers, engine coolants, superchargers, spark plugs and more. Each part you purchase can increase your vehicles' horsepower, reduce its weight or increase its responsiveness. Some of the upgrades offer significant, immediate improvements while others barely move the needle. It's up to trial and error to find the best parts to use. Once you get your improved vehicle on the track, you can use the increase in performance to go back and win races where you might have only earned a silver medal to earn even more points. Each race in Career mode has a set of requirements, such as vehicle type or driving rank to race. This allows players to gradually open up more areas of the game and race different vehicles on additional tracks.

As in the original, Forza 2 allows players to drive numerous real-life vehicles ranging from humble production vehicles from Mazda, Ford and Toyota to sports cars such as Dodge Viper. There are also stock race cars and even prototype concept vehicles. Each one of these vehicles has been designed to emulate the look, feel and style of its real counterpart and the effect is stunning. The car models look fantastic and feel very authentic, right down to the bumper and item upgrades you can purchase. There are tons of cars initially available, and many more to unlock, which brings the total number of vehicles to over 300. Each car has been meticulously recreated and they perform and respond just as their real world counterparts would. The physics engine in the game is quite impressive, and the amount of wear that your car takes during the race factors in as your tires wear out or your engine heats up. This dramatically affects your performance during the race and means you have to keep an eye on all the different indicators on your HUD to make sure things are running smoothly. Forza 2's physics engine is incredibly authentic for another reason and that's damage. When you scrape up against a wall or collide with another car, the damage you take is immediately accounted for and affects your performance as well. The more severe your damage, the greater impact it has on your vehicle. This is one of the key elements that helps to make the game stand apart from GT, and also gives you much less room for error. You really can't get away with too much, and cutting corners is a no-no, since it slows your vehicle down to a literal crawl, while deducting penalty time from your final score. Each vehicle in the game has a unique feel and there are significant changes in the way they handle and respond when you play through the same tracks with them.

As you gain experience on the track, you'll begin to get a feel for when you need to brake, and when to accelerate in turns. Learning how each car moves and responds to the controller is a key element in racing. However, you also need to look for other cars on the road, since the AI has been sharpened in the game this time around. Your main opponent, however, remains yourself, as you try and beat your own performance on each lap, shaving off those precious tenths to increase your skill. This makes for an engrossing and highly personal experience for the gamer, and one that can be reflected in Forza 2's extensive customization options. Here, you can choose which color your car will be, create or import custom decals and even purchase unique parts to give your vehicle a truly unique identity. This approach has been used extensively in other racers, but Forza 2 goes a step further by allowing you to post your vehicle online where you can either trade or sell it to other players via Xbox Live. Forza 2's extensive parts list and huge cast of vehicles should mean that you'll never race the same way twice. Unfortunately, this isn't exactly the case, since the game includes a disappointingly limited number of tracks. There are 12 basic tracks, with when combined with mirrors and branching courses expands the game to 44 unique courses. All of the courses are based on real-world tracks and include such legendary locales as Japan's Suzuka and Leguna Secu. The famous New York City track also makes a return appearance and feels authentic for the most part. They look fantastic but most of these have appeared in the last Forza as well, giving the game a strong sense of déjà vu that's somewhat disappointing considering the high expectations that preceded it.

On the other hand, all of the tracks in Forza 2 have been rendered in breathtaking high-definition with a great attention to detail. This is truly one of the most impressive-looking Xbox 360 racers to date and succeeds on a number of levels, in creating a great sense of realism. The courses are richly populated with extensive trackside objects and backdrops, which adds to the game's overall sense of racing. The game moves along at a smooth frame rate throughout, and adds some impressive lighting, reflection, shadow and weather effects to create a slick, immersive racer. The engine sounds roar flawlessly, and the sounds of engines at full throttle, tires skidding off the track and crashes are superb. Forza 2's menu soundtrack is impressive, featuring an impressive selection of techno tunes that compliment its high-tech feel nicely. While all the elements seem to be in place to make Forza Motorsport 2 a superb title, the developers seem to have played it a bit too safe and this installment. While they have succeeded in upgrading and polishing everything that was good about the first game, there doesn't seem to be enough new in terms of gameplay or approach that this feels more like and upgrade than a new game. That said, this is still an engaging and incredibly deep racing title with loads of options, unlockables, and customization modes that gives hardcore racing fans many reasons to be thrilled.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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