Forza Horizon signified a drastic change in direction for a franchise that was pretty set in its simulation roots. Instead of mastering courses and driving lines, the emphasis was on an open world that truly felt like a playground, all in a ludicrous driving music festival setting. It was bonkers, but compared to Burnout Paradise it still didn’t quite go all-out crazy. Now that we have the innovations from Forza Motorsport 5 to hand, Forza Horizon 2 takes the party to the Mediterranean.
Cruising for Style
A lot of games on the Xbox One have been criticised for not being the best looking or indeed performing particularly well. This is not the case for Forza Horizon 2; within minutes, the sheer scale and detail is apparent in this beautifully rendered game. Gliding across the countryside with one of several (albeit not diverse enough) radio stations blaring out the speakers, either on the road or through the fields, shows off just what the hardware is capable of.
Yet it’s when the heavens open that the true potential is on show as the rain looks incredibly life-like. Raindrops flow in the direction of travel, making the action feel even faster, and the ground water kicked up as your tyres run over puddles are a nice little touch. With a wide variety of cars on show and decent character models for the humans, this is a showcase visually for the Xbox One.
Looks aren’t everything though and thankfully there is a massive amount to do. Each tournament begins with a road trip where you drive as frantically as possible to a particular town hub. As you drive in the wider world, you can come across boards that grant XP or discounts towards Fast Travel. By levelling up you can unlock new perks which grant you more points or other bonuses.
Power slide to victory
Driving the cars themselves is different depending on what car you own, whether you have upgraded the cars using the garage yourself or used the pre-sets, and indeed what assistances you have turned on. There is a risk versus reward mentality to the difficulty settings, netting you more if you opt to have the AI a little more responsive for example.
You’re free to play it your own way, even if that way is essentially to ricochet around the corners like a pinball track. You may or may not win, but Forza Horizon 2 doesn’t penalise you too much compared to Forza Motorsport 5, which for more casually orientated racers is a sweet carrot on the stick; but there’s enough for those who want the challenge of driving properly to tailor the game to their liking. You can even share designs which others can use, if you’re into that sort of creativity.
Races are split into a mixture of point-to-point races, small tracks, and off-road courses; each one designed to allow you to cut corners and perform stylish moves which help fill your XP gauge. Crashing, however, will erase your built up score before it’s banked. What makes things more interesting is the inclusion of Drivatar. At the time of review, only a few drivers had Drivatar interactions that were noticeably similar to their real-life counterparts, but the signs are encouraging that the bigger the community gets, the better Drivatar will get.
Another highlight is the almost seamless online component. From the menus you can join an online lobby with a group of players to compete in races that include team variants where the quantity of higher placed drivers is more important than simply winning the race. You also get “Playground Games” which currently consist of King of the Hill and Zombie match types that are relatively self explanatory. Arenas vary from tight enclosed spaces to expansive maps full of hiding spots and jumps to exploit.
With a group of like-minded players, especially when you form clubs, Forza Horizon 2 online is an absolute blast. At the time of review, there was virtually no performance issues of any kind for any of the players. It remains to be seen how well it will run with many groups all around the world competing in races to earn even more rankings and XP that carries over from the single player game, but the attractions on show combined with the gorgeous graphics and a host of activities make online worth playing.
Other attractions also reveal themselves to you as you play the game, including car-specific Bucket List challenges that task you with performing tricks or getting to another point as quickly as possible. There are also Showcase Events which feature ridiculous and tense scenarios, and Barn Finds that unlock new vehicles. There’s a lot to discover in this expansive world and most of it is a joy to uncover.
A close finish
One small detail becomes clear as you progress. It may seem that the game only has a few championships, until you look at just how many championships for each area there are. Forza Horizon 2 cleverly disguises the fact that there are a ton of championships on offer for a variety of different types of vehicle. This sounds great on paper, but there is a vast amount of recycled content between championships, though your vehicle type changes how you race around them. Rest assured, those wanting to complete the game may find this a tough grind as they progress.
The one side-task that doesn’t make much sense is Photo Mode. It pauses the action so you can take screenshots, but there’s also a collectable aspect to snapping pictures of all the car types to gain bonuses. Sadly, the game does a bad job of telling you what you haven’t already taken a picture of and each photo takes an admittedly understandable amount of time to render.
Forza Horizon 2 is a phenomenal racing game that is a great reminder of just why racers that don’t take themselves too seriously exist. Exploring the Mediterranean is a vast step up from the desert locales of the first Forza Horizon, bringing much needed colour and detail.
You’ll certainly get your moneys worth given the sheer number of championships, bonus features, and collectables to obtain; but it is a tough grind and not all of it is rewarding. Online however is a blast and definitely a highlight. Forza Horizon 2 may not be the best casual racer since Burnout Paradise, but it does come close.