I was driving home from work the other day when it occurred to me that, despite being college-educated and reasonably intelligent, I have no idea how my car works. I know the gas goes in, because I do that part. But after that it gets fuzzy. When the mechanic's telling me what's wrong with the car, I just stand there with arms folded and brow furrowed, nodding gravely as though I understand what he's saying. Really, I'm just listening for dollar amounts.
Anyway, things have changed a little since playing Forza Motorsport 2. I now know what a slip differential is. I even know something about gear ratios, and how they'd be set differently for a drive with long straightaways versus lots of little turns. And now when I drive home from work, it occurs to me that my Honda Civic is a front-wheel-drive car, so if I let off the gas while turning, the car's weight shifts forward and gives me a little more control.
Forza Motorsport 2 is all about cars: Buy a car, enter a few races, win a little cash, and use that money to either trick out your current car or buy a new one. Though you start modestly -- usually with something like a Ford Focus and a few hundred bucks -- patience, thoughtful upgrades, and good driving eventually lead to a fleet of exotic sports cars in your garage and millions in the bank.
What's extraordinary about Forza 2 is how realistically these cars feel to drive -- and as a result, how intimidating it is to try to control something like an Enzo Ferrari, which screams down the track like it wants to leave you behind. Fortunately, the game's 300-plus cars are also novice-friendly, with an optional "driving line" that shows where your car should be, when you should brake, and when you should floor it.
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But the most distinct difference between Forza and the competition is that your car can get damaged. This isn't merely cosmetic: Screwing up your alignment or engine is a quick ticket to last place (and expensive repairs). This will prompt some players to turn the damage feature off, but reconsider: It adds a heart-stopping level of tension when six cars are jockeying for position in a narrow turn if you know that one false move will leave you sitting by the side of the road, looking for your AAA card.
Forza 2 also boasts the richest, most fully featured online experience ever seen in a car sim. This goes far beyond racing online: Let's say you notice an especially pretty view while driving your Porsche Carrera down the Nürburgring. Snap a photo with the in-game camera, and it appears online for all to see. Forza 2 even has its own auction house, where players can buy or sell cars. Buy a VW Bug, paint a purple Yoda and boobs on the side of it, and start the bidding at a million (virtual) dollars -- hey, nobody else is catering to the Star Wars/pervert crowd.
The one disappointment: The lighting is way too stark. Vehicle highlights appear as a harsh white blooming, and shadows as inky black silhouettes. (Was Frank Miller on the design team?) For a game about car lust, it would be nice if you could actually see them a bit more clearly. If not for that shortcoming, this amazing disc would rate a perfect 10.
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