HEAVY TRAFFIC: The long, slow learning curve doesn’t make Forza any more appealing.
When you’re commuting by car to your cubicle in real life, it’s unlikely that you’ll launch, say, a rocket-propelled grenade at the Ford Taurus in the lane ahead of you. Or that you’ll run over a prostitute, a grandmother, or a gaggle of Girl Scouts. Which is just as well — imagine the legal complications.
When you’re playing a video game, however, it’s nice to be able to escape the drudgeries of real life with some fantasy-oriented fun — and blow some shit up along the way. That’s what’s so frustrating about Forza Motorsport 2 (and other sims, for that matter). For all that it does well — and it does many things well — Forza doesn’t have much to offer the gamer looking for straight-up fun. You spend your whole life not going off jumps or shooting missiles at other cars. Why would you want not to do that stuff in a video game, too?
Granted, you wouldn’t judge a real-time strategy war game by the standards of a first-person shooter, and so it’s unrealistic to compare Forza to an arcade-style racing game. But the problem with sims is that, if you’re not already a fan of what they’re simulating, then the barrier to entry is prohibitively high.
Gearheads will love Forza 2. They’ll see the list of more than 300 available cars, the thousands upon thousands of possible upgrade combinations, and the lovingly rendered damage models, and they’ll be asking where to put their money down. (They might not even be able to control their drooling after reading that last sentence.) But what if you don’t love cars? Is there anything here for you besides car porn?
Sadly, no. Despite the massive amount of content on display, the dozens of track configurations and endless customization options, the racing is oppressively technical. You can’t simply scream around hairpin turns with sparks flying from your wheels, as you might in an arcade-style racer. You’re more likely to find yourself spinning into a wall as you approach the first curve of your Forza career. It defies every instinct you may have as a gamer. In the Forza universe, making even the slightest contact with another vehicle or driving off the track results in a penalty.
The instruction manual recommends driving around each track slowly a few times to learn the layout — not exactly high-octane thrills. The long, slow learning curve does eventually flatten out, but, still, who wants to treat fellow drivers with courtesy and jam on the brakes before each turn? Is this a video game or a cotillion?
Turn 10 does make an effort to ease new players into the world of Forza Motorsport. You can opt to overlay a guide on the track that will show you the optimal racing line, which then changes from green to red to indicate whether you should speed up or slow down. Using the line reduces your prize money, but that’s a small price to pay for winning. And all the help in the world can’t teach you the feel of the game. It probably helps to play with the Xbox 360 Racing Wheel instead of the standard control pad, but at $129 that’s a significant investment.
The craftsmanship is impeccable — the automobiles pop off the screen in a variety of lighting and weather conditions. And the vibrant community at www.forzamotorsport.net may convince fence sitters. (Check out the paint jobs on display in the forums to see how deep the customization can get.) But Forza’s strength is also its weakness. It’s for people who like cars — not necessarily people who like video games.