Car fanatics always dream about taking their favourite motorized contraptions out for high-speed test drives in exotic locations, but very few actually have the funds to do so. That’s just one reason as to why racing video games are so great, because they allow such people to experience their real-life fantasies in digital space, where physical injuries are an impossibility and the admission price is usually just sixty dollars.
This fall looks to be a great one for fans of the racing genre, as both DriveClub and The Crew are promising amazing things. However, they’re going to be beaten to retail store shelves and digital marketplaces by Playground Games and Forza Horizon 2. In fact, it may end up being a scenario where the best comes first, as this arcade-based follow-up to the normally stark and sterile racing series’ first major risk is a force to be reckoned with.
Foregoing the beautiful red sands, forests and mountain ranges of Colorado for coastal regions of both France and Italy, Forza Horizon 2 sets its sights high and delivers an absolutely gorgeous experience, which is full of varied geography. All in all, there are well over three hundred roadways to travel upon, many of which happen to be off the beaten path in a game that promotes off-road driving as much as it does traditional racing. As such, you can expect to continually find different paths and opportunities for fun, which is the most important thing in a title such as this.
Feature-rich is something that describes this experience to a tee, because there’s always something to do. While the campaign itself can be finished after just fifteen championship victories (which is something that takes a decent amount of time in and of itself), there are actually one hundred different events spread across the six townships that make up the game’s world. In addition to those, players will put their skills to the test as they search for cars to restore (via barn finds), find and destroy experience boards and compete against exotic vehicles — such as hot air balloons, planes and even a train — in hectic showcases.
The showcases themselves are perhaps the most memorable race type found within Forza Horizon 2, because they usually end in mad dashes to the finish line, where a second can make a huge difference in determining the victor. They truly get your heart pumping and your adrenaline going, because it’s important to try to race perfectly and make up time on vehicles that would normally be able to wipe the floor with yours. Of course, Horizon 2 once again allows players to rewind and retry sections of roadway that they may have failed on, but it’s more fun when you can avoid having to rely on that aid.
As mentioned above, all of the title’s many championships are spread throughout the land, with each area housing over twenty unique offerings. The idea here is that the Horizon Festival — which has always been the central aspect of these spin-offs — has packed up shop and moved to Europe, where it’s organized several days’ worth of racing and road trips. What this means is that, during each day of the Festival, you’ll head out on three different road trips and compete in three unique championships of your choosing. Where you go is pre-selected — at least until you’ve completed the main campaign — but right from the get-go, players are given the opportunity to select which type of event they’ll participate in.
Championships aren’t merely a way for the game to instil a sense of progression into its players and its narrative, but also an opportunity for it to showcase its large roster of cars. For that reason, everything is listed by type, meaning you’ll be able to pick a championship for retro hatchbacks or modern off-road vehicles if you’d like. Or, if you’re feeling rich, you can choose to race in exotic or rare sports cars and track toys. Just remember that you’ll usually be forced to buy a car in order to enter each one, unless you go back to them after amassing a garage full of vehicles.
Said events are built with Driveatars in mind, allowing the series to once again do away with computer-controlled racers. As a result, you’ll always be racing against friends or other community members, whose ghosts drive like they normally do. You can set their difficulties, and can also make the game more challenging for yourself by making it so that incurred damage actually hurts your chances.
In-between the two noted opposites lay more traditional cars from both the modern era and years past. The selection is almost overwhelming, and all of the available chariots have been replicated to a visceral tee. They move as if they would in real-life, absorb damage as you’d expect and glisten with metallic sheen. The jaggies that were present in Forza Motorsport 5 are also almost nonexistent here, making for a cleaner and more satisfying aesthetic.
Every vehicle can be repainted using manufacturer colours, special paint jobs or player-created decals, but that’s not all. What will interest the hardcore crowd is the fact that cars can now be tuned before each race, and can also be upgraded by visiting a garage. Since I know very little about car set-ups, I chose to go with the basic settings, but there will certainly be a large group of gamers who will applaud the introduction of such options.
The most notable new addition to Forza Horizon 2 — at least, in terms of game modes — happens to be the bucket list. Actually, I should say bucket lists, because there are two, with each one offering fifteen different challenges. These range from speed tests, to timed destination routes and skill tests, and are sorted by difficulty.
As someone who only became a big fan of racing games during the last console generation, I’m not nearly as good as some of the better players out there. However, I was still able to complete half of the bucket list challenges without too much difficulty. I’ve yet to really tackle the harder ones, though, because I know that they’ll kick my ass.
Of course, being that this is an open world game, there’s more to Forza Horizon 2 than just its championships, collectibles and secondary events. Like its predecessor, this sequel is built for free-roam driving, wherein players can simply enjoy speeding past beautiful countryside, or take things off-road and cause some destruction. Going on a self-guided road trip can be a lot of fun, and is a good way to earn extra experience, which helps in levelling up one’s player and unlocking skill points that can later be used to buy perks. Levelling up unlocks new coloured wristbands at certain plateaus, and also allows the user to spin a simulated roulette wheel to win credits or cars, while perks provide permanent bonuses when purchased.
The open world design is also a major facet of Forza Horizon 2‘s online play, where friends can join together to undertake scenic road trips and participate in competitive events. Those who love to race their friends will be right at home here but may actually prefer the game’s free roam online setting. Either way, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and the multiplayer itself is very easy to jump into.
Aesthetically, this sequel is an absolute treat to behold, and is one of the best-looking video games out there today. Its festival atmosphere has once again allowed its developers to create a vivacious and colourful world, where fireworks and floating hot air balloons add to the experience. The biggest selling point here, though, is the title’s dynamic weather system, which allows for incredible-looking rain to begin with little warning. How it pools is an amazing sight to behold as well, and is certainly a technological achievement. Of course, it also makes roadways slippery, which adds challenge and forces players to think about how to handle sharp corners.
There’s also a beautiful day/night cycle to behold, which induces the need for brights during nighttime driving. It’s neat to watch, because day’s great draw distances slowly lessen as it switches to dusk and then to night, while night’s transition to dawn and into day really opens things up. Nothing beats seeing the rain fall during a nighttime race, though.
Horizon 2‘s sound rivals its visual prowess, thanks to loud bass and constantly pumping music. There are several radio stations to enjoy, and their offerings range from classical to rock and obligatory party music, although it’s sometimes more appealing to simply drive without any distractions. The same is true of the announcer, who will quite often say the same things after the completion of a race or championship. That gets annoying quickly.
The only issues I had with this game pertained to its performance and its Kinect integration. For starters, there were occasional frame rate hiccups, and the digitally downloaded title also crashed on me once. Although the hiccups were easy to overlook because they weren’t overly prevalent or debilitating, getting ANNA, Playground’s newly-introduced and voice-controlled navigation system to work was a pain in the ass. It seemed as if ‘she’ would only hear me one out of every three times, and even then, navigating through her supposedly helpful menus became a chore. Why she could never understand the word event confused me while I was playing, and actually still does.
Overall, Forza Horizon 2 is a masterful racing game that needs to be experienced by all fans of its genre. It’s a fantastic and rich effort, and is definitely worth buying an Xbox One for.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.