I've been meaning to write about Forza for several days, but I kept putting it off in order to play the game some more. And everytime I booted it up, I'd do a few races and then quickly switch back to Catan on Live Arcade. That should tell you something about my reaction to one of the games I've been most looking forward to in 2007.
Let me begin by stating that if nothing else Forza Motorsport 2 has improved over the original in one very big way and that is they did away with the obnoxious midnight shipping yards track that the first several races in the original game took place on. No beginning to a game -- least of all a racing game -- had ever turned me off as quickly as those first few races in the original Forza Motorsport game. We don't have that problem here.
In fact, the first couple of hours with the sequel are rather impressive. The graphics look nice (not nearly as sharp as Project Gotham Racing 3, but not bad), there are plenty of cars and tracks to satisfy your thirst for variety, and most importantly of all, the cars handle as they should. The simulation aspects of the game are top notch, as is the impressive collision/damage system. Certainly fans of bumper-car racing tactics will want to stick to Sony's Gran Turismo series, as the time penalties and damage model at work in Forza Motorsport 2 enforces the need to drive cleanly. Any swapping of paint or momentary trip off-piste will net you a large time penalty that factors into final placing.
Unfortunately, as you continue to play the game it becomes apparent that the gameplay is by and large, formulaic. There is no soul to be found here and, trust me, there's little need to buckle up. You have a checklist of events that you proceed through, never really feeling the thrill of competition or the agony of defeat. It's just an occasional frustration at failure soon replaced by a sigh of relief that another race has been completed. The process is as follows: First you select an event and note the entry requirements. Then you buy the car that you need and quickly spend another wad of credits on upgrades. I tend to buy the same initial batch of upgrades all of the time which only furthers this feeling of following a recipe. So, after buying these upgrades, I enter the race only to find myself driving a vehicle heads-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. I quickly pilot the car through a number of laps, never coming close to losing, and never really having to pay close attention to my driving. The race is over, I collect my credits, and I move on to the next race. It's so ho-hum, I don't even pause to see what car I've unlocked or care to learn how many bonus credits I've been awarded.
It is only much later in the game, after you've achieved a "Level 25" rating that you begin to encounter events that specify a certain performance class of vehicle or that may include a car beyond your equal. And that's okay, because you still earn so many credits for coming in second or third that you can very quickly buy your way to victory in these races as well. I despise the idea of simply throwing money at the problem and often intentionally handicap myself just to try and tease a bit of challenge and drama out of the game. Yet this never really helps to make the game any more exciting. Rather it just feels masochistic and, unless I win quickly, I eventually go back to the upgrade store, punch a few buttons, and roll back out to the starting line with a much faster car. Truth be told (and I hate to admit this) the only thing keeping me playing the game is the Achievements.
Okay, so it's clear that the gameplay structure of Career mode is incredibly dull, formulaic, and largely just a giant checklist of events and races. There are also several Arcade modes and Multiplayer racing modes too. While these definitely add some excitement and much-needed competition to the game, these modes unfortunately lack the incredible physics and simulation aspects of Career mode. It's understandable that the incredible amount of processing power needed for the physics and damage model in Career mode couldn't (nor shouldn't) be maintained in Arcade and Multiplayer, when you strip the simulation qualities out of a game such as this, you're just left with an Arcade racer not nearly as much fun as the others on the market.
While I'd like to elaborate on many of my other beefs with this game (horrible anti-aliasing problems in the scenery, for starters), I would rather just point those looking for additional reading to this review of the game. Normally I disagree with much of what IGN says (or at least how they say it) but the reviewer does a very good job of explaining how, on one hand, the ability to create 1000-layer custom skins for your cars and auction them off is beyond genius, but how on the other there's simply no feeling of accomplishment or emotional investment in the gameplay.
There is a lot of great gaming here. Make no mistake about it. The crew at Turn 10 did, in some ways, really elevate what is possible with a racing game. The physics, customization, and auctioning ability in the game is incredible. I also really do enjoy the way in which driver and car both "level up" and how additional cars and upgrades are made availble (or price-reduced). And I really don't care that the game doesn't sparkle or that there isn't a cockpit camera. I'm concerned with the gameplay. I want to feel something when I play a game like this. Unfortunately, in the process of adding new features, they forgot to give the game a soul. There is no connection between player and competition in this game; no sense of a rivalry; and no sense of excitement. I play a lot of racing games. It's far and away my favorite genre of videogame. Yet, I will say that unless you are the type of gamer who is looking to challenge yourself and create your own sense of excitement through self-imposed restrictions or specific personal goals, this game will leave you feeling flat. I can get excited about playing this game, but it's only when I create an additional set of rules for myself to follow -- such as beating all of the times on my Friends list with a lower-rated car than they used. Outside of that, the game's Betty Crocker structure just leaves you hungry for something a bit spicier.