Forza Horizon 2 Review – Racing Paradise
Since Forza Horizon 2 was announced, it’s been difficult to grasp what its core competency is. It’s been marketed as the veteran of 2014’s racing game line-up, a game spawned from several incredibly well-received Forza Motorsport releases and the praised debut of the first Forza Horizon. Booting the game up my first time, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what would make it stand out from the legion of other racers on the market. What I would learn is that some of the best games aren’t necessarily the ones that stand out.
Forza Horizon 2 begins by introducing you to the fictional Horizon Festival and its hordes of energetic young adults, fireworks, bass-heavy music, and jaw-dropping cars. A few great cutscenes and a road trip in a Lamborghini sets the pace for a spectacular experience to come. Though the first hour or so gives the impression that this is a story-driven game, the truth is what little narrative exists is just enough to substantiate the existence of the fictional world, and not much more. You’ll hear some well-delivered voice acting, watch brief cutscenes, see the main character walking around outside the vehicle, and not much more.
No matter where you come from, a history of racing prestige or unknowing of what an apex is, Forza Horizon 2 does its darndest to welcome you. It teaches you the basics intuitively, and more importantly gives you a ton of options to let you define the level of challenge. Forza fans will find the difficulty tweaking familiar with options such as A.I. difficulty, assists (i.e. racing line and traction control), rewind enable/disable, and even mechanical damage adjustable from the pause menu. While it might seem like it’s giving you an easy ride, you’ll be encouraged to disable assists as you improve, as the amount of credits you earn is increased if you play the game on harder settings.
What you’ll notice well before you ever begin tweaking your settings is that Forza Horizon 2 is an absolutely beautiful game. Set in a fictional paradise based on southern France and northern Italy, it offers an expansive world rich with detail. Much of the map is taken up by nature, with small villages, vineyards, and tree lines peppering the environment. However, there are sprawling urban areas, too. The game’s six hubs are within towns of varying density. If you prefer to cruise through two lane roads dodging traffic, Nice and Castelletto will suit you. If you’re feeling like a good cruise through the countryside, there are miles upon miles of roads that twist and turn in all sorts of ways.
The perpetual open-world goes beyond anything the racing genre has ever seen before. The night/day cycle is absolutely fantastic, and the weather is even better. These two elements result in each race feeling different than any before it. There is never a feeling that you’re doing countless laps around a limited number of tracks. This game has tons of events, and they will be different each time you play them, whether it be racing in a different vehicle with a different time of day, or heavy rain increasing your awareness on the road—Note: rain definitely changes how cars handle.
Playground Games has managed to make this massive playground feel organic. Populated by Drivatars, which are essentially A.I. with personalities derived by the behavior of real players (including your friends), you’re never quite alone. Each A.I. drive a bit differently from one another, and show the name of the user they inherited their traits from above the car. They aren’t pre-programmed, so you’ll see Drivatars spin out, avoid collisions, purposefully go off-roading, and whiz by you at high speeds. You can challenge them to a head-to-head race, too, so they serve as more than just a backdrop.
The only misstep with the open-world is its inconsistency in terms of freedom. There are a lot of objects you can drive through that practically explode on impact, such as light poles and small trees, but not everything that appears destructible can be driven through. You won’t be able to, say, drive through a small brick fence near a home, and the game definitely manages to keep you away from any body of water. Because of this, some of the initial learning curve will involve adapting to what can and can’t be driven through. Sure, it would have been nice to be able to go anywhere within the confines of the virtual space, but what’s here is definitely more than generous when compared to other games on the market.
There is so much to talk about to talk about with Forza Horizon 2 that it’s easy to forget to mention the cars. Basically, what’s here is outstanding. The roster consists of 210 vehicles that cover just about everything you could ever hope for outside of Formula 1 and Le Manscars. There are supercars, hypercars, muscle cars, hatch backs, 4WD monsters, and a healthy dose of classics. What’s most impressive about the line-up is that it’s not just large, but concise. This isn’t a game with 20 different variations of Nissan Skyline, every car entry has a purpose, and no matter what kind of cars you enjoy you’ll find more than one vehicle to call your favorite.
Each of these vehicles are divided when it comes to the game’s many championships, which is where you’ll likely spend the first few hours of your adventure. You’ll find yourself driving across the large map, participating in events that only allow cars of certain types to enter, and earning a lot of cash while you’re at it. This style along with the large car list lends itself to encouraging varied play. You might gravitate toward the certain type of car that you prefer, but you’ll soon find yourself with a ton of cash to spend and enough intrigue to give something new a try.
Each car can be upgraded and tuned in a variety of ways. You can upgrade many different parts of your car, most of which only affect the performance, but there are body kits, spoilers, and a full livery editor to give you an opportunity to share your creativity with others. With enough money, you can easily upgrade an inexpensive car into a spectacular one. So, if you would like to show the extremely expensive exotics of the game that they can be beaten with something completely unsuspecting, you’ll be able to do just that. Also, the tuning options are vast, and by pressing down on the d-pad while driving around you can see all the vitals of your car, making this a game that car mod enthusiasts can find great value in.
You’ll also earn some vehicles from participating in the game’s five Showcases, and the ten vehicles hidden in barns around the world map. The Showcases in particular are epic. You’ll race against planes, trains, and more, before being rewarded with a nice bonus. The only problem is that there are only five of these. In contrast, Forza Horizon had 10. On the plus side, what’s here is more well put together than what Forza Horizon had. In regards to the the hidden cars, they are an excellent incentive to go explore the uncharted territory of the map. They aren’t easy to find, but are a great way to relax while cruising around listening to music. You might just want to knock out a few of the over a hundred XP and travel banners hidden around the map while you’re at it.
Speaking of music, there are just under 150 musical tracks in the game. The seven radio stations are divided between several genres, and you can switch between these stations easily using the d-pad. While the song list tends to lean toward the younger generation with ‘hip’ music like Trance, Electronica, Dubstep, and Indie Rock—thank you Playground Games for including Drum and Bass!—, there’s a classical/baroque station that has some true masterpieces. Driving through Italy while listening to Mozart and Vivaldi is sure to be a highlight of your experience.
But all of this wouldn’t be so fun if the driving experience wasn’t strong. Thankfully, the game delivers when it comes to gameplay. Controls are precise, and there is never a moment where you question the game’s gameplay integrity. Well-timed brake points and tempered control of the steering wheel are the key to consistent victory. Although it’s technically an arcade racer, there’s definitely a lot of Forza Motorsport hereditary influence here, so simulation fans will feel right at home. The big point to note is that there is a lot of different terrain around the map. You might be a pro at navigating the asphalt of city streets, but once you’re out in the French vineyards you’ll have to learn how to carry your momentum around dangerous objects with less traction. You’ll need to practice both your street racing and off-road skills before becoming a master of Forza Horizon 2.
If you happen to play the Xbox One version, you’re in for a big surprise. The Impulse Triggers embedded into the Xbox One Controller have been implemented in a way that is absolutely fantastic. You’ll feel very distinct rumbles in your fingertips as you turn, which you’ll learn indicate loss of traction, too much weight distribution on one side of the car or the other, and other concepts you should be worried about when trying to get the lowest lap times possible. In a way, the Impulse Triggers allow you to communicate with your car at a level that is simply impossible in other racers unless you buy an expensive racing wheel.
You can speed around from several camera angles, including a very welcomed long-distance third-person camera. Forza‘s staple cockpit view is also back, although it feels identical to what Forza Motorsport 5 had. On one hand that means, yes, the interior liveries of each car are immaculately detailed down to the stitching and center stack elements. On the other, while there is a lot of visual feedback, we’ve seen more realism from games like Need for Speed: Shift. So, if you’re looking to drive around in first-person immersing yourself, it’s a great experience, but could be better.
What Forza Horizon 2 does better than most games on the market is in how well it manages to be consistently gratifying. The new Wheel Spin system lets you unlock a random sum of money or a car at each level up, and leveling up is something you’ll be doing every few minutes. You’ll also earn Skill Points for driving with precision and flashiness that can be spent on a variety of enticing perks. The game will throw prizes at you frequently, including a massive bonus at the conclusion of your first major championship tour. With experience awarded at every corner with Speed Traps, Drivatar Head-to-Heads, and events at seemingly every corner, you’ll never feel like you’re grinding to unlock cars.
If you prefer to play online, Forza Horizon 2 is one of the best online racing destinations on the market. There’s Online Road Trip, Online Free Roam, and Private Matches, giving you options in how you choose to play. When online, you’ll participate in many of the same events seen in single-player, but there are a couple of fresh game modes that mix things up. Infected and King, which send players crashing into each other, are fun and a great break from apexing around corners. You can create and join clubs, and also meet up with others at Car Meets to check out each other’s cars. Or, if you just want to show how awesome you are, you can compete on leaderboards in a variety of ways. It’s worth noting that the entire online experience is hosted on dedicated servers, resulting in a pleasantly smooth experience.
There’s so much more to Forza Horizon 2; it knows how to utilize the potential of its large open-world space. There’s a Bucket List, which is a series of challenges that place you in a pre-determined car and send you off to accomplish tasks of varying difficulty. There’s also an alluring Photo Mode that rewards you for taking a photo of each car in the game, functioning as a Pokémon Snap for cars. If you get the feeling that you’re playing a racing RPG of sorts, you aren’t alone.
There are so many good things that can be said about Forza Horizon 2. It isn’t just a game that brings immense satisfaction to car enthusiasts, it’s a highly enjoyable destination for anyone willing to buckle up behind a wheel. Equipped with fun gameplay, an outstanding presentation, and over 100 hours of content and features, Forza Horizon 2 is the greatest open-world racing game the world has ever seen.
Jonathan Leack is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @jleack.
Xbox One copy provided by publisher. Forza Horizon 2 will be available September 30th on Xbox One and Xbox 360. A free demo is currently available on the Xbox Marketplace.