Forza Horizon is back, here to refine the template created by the 2012 original. Does it succeed?
Firstly, overly technical racers are not my thing. The closer you get to a simulation, the more likely I am to be intimidated by the endless tweaking and tuning possibilities and the sheer determination it can take to finish a single race. With that in mind, Forza Horizon 2 is perfectly pitched.
That’s because it manages to incorporate elements of arcade offerings and more simulation based titles without feeling like it’s too beholden to either. The game has its own unique identity, and one that’s all about entertaining the player, whatever their predilections.
It does this by establishing an open world playground and just letting you go wild. After a few introductory races – which are introduced along with the roving Horizon music festival in some picturesque parts of Italy and France – you can pretty much do what you please.
If that means you want to knock the difficulty up to its highest level, buy a supertuned supercar and take on a street race in downtown Nice, you can. Or you can take the suggested upgrades and literally race a family SUV against a trio of jets along a scenic coastline.
Better still, any time you get bored with either of these options (who gets bored of racing jets?!) you can just drift away from the set menu of events and go open world. The areas to explore are vast and varied and all cars handle much better than you might expect while tearing across vineyards.
Out there in the wilds you’ll find speed traps to bust through, forgotten barns to find (where you’ll discover derelict and delicious cars to acquire) and break out special missions in fancy Bucket List rides.
And no matter what you’re doing, where you’re going or how badly you’re driving on the way there you’re constantly earning skill points. And that includes smashing into signs and other roadside debris and trading paint with other cards.
What’s more, skill points can (and should) be chained – draft behind an enemy then nip through traffic to drift into some signage and keep it going to earn multipliers and take your score to new heights. Only crashing breaks the chain which sets up a delectable tension between driving like a maniac in a tricked out sportster and keeping yourself from wiping out on a wall or another car.
It’s an utterly addictive experience – the gorgeous scenery flashing by while your score collates and doubles on screen. Skill points are used to score you on individual races but also go towards unlocking perks. These are useful little buffs which are very cleverly crafted – for example might unlock a perk which gives you more points for drafting, making it possible to reward your specific play style.
You also get a wheelspin whenever you level up, with the reward a fancy new car or cash for new rides and upgrades. And thankfully this is the only currency in game, with Forza Horizon 2 dropping any mention of microtransactions.
It feels good to play as well. The physics are pleasantly tactile and meaty, varying in palpable ways from car to car. There’s a responsiveness to a supercar and a wonderful unpredictability to muscle-cars, while land rovers and SUV’s handle like you would expect them to. Just in a way that’s much more forgiving than real-life.
The fully licensed car models are gloriously detailed on the outside but we’d also encourage you to try out the cockpit views which are not only incredible to look at but also useful in game. Try it at night for the ultimate atmospheric trip – headlights bisecting the dark as tail-lights look and flares mark out the next checkpoint.
Graphically, everything about Forza Horizon 2 is stunning. The cross country rides – where your team moves to a new location – often feature changing times of day with incredibly lighting heralding the sunset and light and firework shows leading you to your destination. The landscapes are varies across the different countries and the new dynamic weather systems add even more variety (and dangerous driving conditions) into the mix.
Social and online functionality is both functional and accessible. Even when you’re ostensibly offline, you’ll see racers have a Xbox Live ID above their name. These Drivatars are a mixture of AI and the actual performance of real-life players in similar races. It’s a brilliant system which keeps the world populated without requiring you to connect to any live races, and these digital avatars will even challenge you unique racing face-offs.
Of course you can jump online as well in a quick and simple process. You’ll be seamlessly connected to other players in the same open world, combining many of the single player events or giving you the change to wander the game world with friends. And all while earning XP and credits, naturally!
There’s a minimal story, if you’re into that sort of thing, which quite randomly stars Sean Maguire (he was Leonidas in the piss-take Meet the Spartans and also in Grange Hill). He’s the organiser of the Horizon event and thinks you’re super cool. But really this is all about the driving, so its just as well it totally excels at that.
Forza Horizon 2 is, above all else, a brilliantly accessible racer. It draws you in with minimal introduction before unleashing you on a fabulously realised open world. And with a vast array of different types of events as well as secondary objectives and the chance to just drive around smashing things, there’s literally something for everyone. The difficulty level is also brilliantly scalable, helping to ease even inexperienced players into a game that eschews the genres of sim and arcade to create its own unique and compelling identity. Highly recommended.