Few would argue that when it comes to console based driving epics, Polyphony’s Gran Turismo series sits head and shoulders above the competition. In fact, Gran Turismo was always such a triumph of accurate racing dynamics and beautifully rendered automotive pornography, and it wasn’t until after Gran Turismo 4 had launched that anything resembling a worthy opponent appeared. That game was Forza Motorsport, and it finally gave Xbox owners a retort, when their PS2 owning mates threw GT4 in their face.
Of course anyone claiming that Forza Motorsport was better than Gran Turismo 4 was skating on thin ice, because good as it undoubtedly was, it didn’t have quite the depth, realism or attention to detail as Polyphony’s masterpiece. But what Forza did have in its favour was a more accessible model.
Gone was the need to drive a VW Lupo for hours on end before you could afford a decent car. Absent were the arbitrary challenges necessary to claim your racing license. Forza just got you behind the wheel of the good stuff long before GT, and despite the fact that many Gran Turismo purists will see that as a weakness, the less hardcore PS2 owners would probably whisper, when they knew no one could hear or criticise them, that they quite liked the idea of not having to work so hard in order to have fun!
Forza also added two key elements that were disappointingly absent from Gran Turismo 4 – car damage and online play. The former added significantly to the realism of the gameplay and made you think twice before attempting to squeeze through that impossibly small gap, mid corner, while the latter allowed you to pit your driving skills against real life opponents from around the World, instead of the ever dubious in-game AI that seems to plague every racing game in existence.
It was therefore unsurprising that the vast majority of Xbox 360 owners have been waiting with baited breath for the launch of Forza Motorsport 2, with the promise of next generation graphics and physics engines leaving many racing fans weak at the knees. Now that the wait is over, the big question is whether Forza 2 lives up to expectation, but that’s not quite as simple a question as you might think. On many levels Forza Motorsport 2 is a triumph, but on an equal number of levels it falls sadly short of the mark.
One area where I really didn’t expect a game like this to come up short is attention to detail in the licensing department, but unfortunately Forza 2 has done just that. There’s one certainty with a racing simulation – any car nut who loads it up for the first time will try to find the car they own among the plethora of vehicles on offer and that’s exactly what I did. Unfortunately I couldn’t find my car, and at first thought that it hadn’t been included in the line up. Eventually however I realised that the licensing department at Microsoft Game Studios had made a rather glaring error!
When you first start the career mode in Forza 2 you can choose one of three geographical locations – Europe, America or Asia – naturally I chose Europe, one because I live there and two because the best cars in the world hail from that territory (cue abuse from around the globe). I was therefore quite disappointed when I found that I couldn’t choose a bright orange Ford Focus ST as my starting vehicle, nor was it even available to buy in the European region. Eventually I found my car lurking in the American region, with the game clearly stating that the origin of the Focus ST was North America. That’s quite an impressive mistake considering that the Focus ST isn’t even on sale in the US!
Now, before any of my eagle eyed US readers inform me that Ford does sell the Focus ST in America, I’m aware that there’s a car with that name over there, but it’s by no means the same vehicle. The US Focus ST is a dull four-door saloon with a disappointing naturally aspirated, four cylinder engine pumping out only 151bhp, whereas the European Focus ST is a rally derived hatchback sporting a turbocharged five cylinder engine putting out 222bhp, and it’s the latter car that is actually in the game!
There are slip ups elsewhere too, like the Lotus Elise 111S, which actually has the specification of the newer and more expensive 111R, with a 197bhp Toyota engine, as opposed to the 160bhp Rover lump that the 111S actually hides under its bonnet. OK, so I’m probably nit-picking, but with a game that lives and dies by its realism and car licenses, this is the type of mistake that will annoy much of the target audience.