Remember when the thought of driving a real car was the most exciting thing imaginable? I do: being 17, getting my first car, pimping it out and driving it like an idiot. Nine years on and driving is rarely a pleasure and more of a chore thanks to traffic, bad drivers and crazed parents on the school run. Misery. Enter Forza Horizon 2, which promises sunshine, super cars and an enormous playground in which to reclaim the joy of driving.
Two years on from the release of Forza Horizon, Turn 10 and Playground Games are back with the sequel, Forza Horizon 2, which promises to be bigger, brasher and prettier than its forebear. Forza Horizon 2 takes us back to the car lover’s paradise of the Horizon Festival, a fusion of music and motorsport. This time out the festival takes place in southern Europe, in particular the French / Italian border, so expect to see sun-drenched roads, open fields and cliff-top vistas. Horizon lets you take the role of one lucky festival goer, and it is your job to try and become the Horizon Champion by competing in various events, road races and competitions.
Let me just get one thing out of the way here: Forza Horizon 2 is huge. Not just in terms of its playable area, which contains three times the amount of drivable roads than its predecessor, but in terms of the amount of things to see and do. There are so many game mechanics on show here it is just about impossible to get bored when driving from point to point. Need to hop across the map to take part in the next championship? Expect to be distracted.
Along the way you will come across speed traps that encourage you to go hell for leather in an effort to get to the top of the leader board. Average speed traps that assign you an average speed to hit between points. Collectables (there are hundreds of them) in the form of smashable boards give an XP boost or fast travel discount. You may even be tempted into an online road trip or car meet. Honestly, I have never had as much fun not racing in a racing game as I have in Forza Horizon 2. All this fun is there to help you build up XP, which in turn allows you to level up and earn perks and prizes.
But how does Horizon 2 actually handle? Forza Horizon 2 has been built using the same engine as Forza Motorsport 5 – the racing thoroughbred that launched with the Xbox One last year, and a lot of that racing DNA has made the jump to Forza Horizon 2. A track racer this is not, of course, so it is obvious from the get-go that things have loosened up a little to suit Horizon 2′s more casual nature.
After booting up for the first time and clicking past the beautiful splash screen, a short intro to the Horizon Festival is shown, and you are thrust behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, which you drive from the port in the south to the Horizon Festival hub. Easing into the first corner, the Lambo’ feels heavy, weighty, the back end starts to slide without much coaxing and, it’s obvious that this is an arcade racer at heart. There are no sim pretences here: Horizon 2 sets out to be an open world arcade racer and it does it better than any title I have played before.
Every car in Horizon 2 has its own subtle handling characteristics – I’m not talking about the difference between a Racing Ford Transit Van and a McLaren P1 (both of which feature), I’m talking about the differences between two seemingly similar cars. Take the Chevvy Camaro and the Ford Mustang, for example. In another arcade racer (naming no names) the two would feel largely the same – big, heavy and good in a straight line. Here they feel totally different, with one being an over-steering stallion and the other an under steering nightmare. I’ll leave you to figure out which is which.
The Horizon Festival Hub acts as the central location for festival events. It is where you go to buy, tune and paint your cars, which sounds annoying, but more of these hubs pop up as you progress, so you are never too far from a new lick of paint should you get bored of your cars standard look. The car tuning options are vast, allowing you to tinker with a myriad of car components to get the most out of your motor. You can make adjustments to components you already own or by new upgrades, and thankfully there’s an auto upgrade option, which lets the game do all the dirty work for you. Lovely.
The core game takes you from town to town, entering you into to a new championship in each location. When entering a new championship, you are given three car class options to choose from, and you then need to buy a car to enter your chosen championship with. Super 1, Super 2 or Sports Saloon? Old school, 90’s or Modern Rally? There are 20 championships to choose from, most of which can be entered into at any of Horizon 2’s championship locations, with each championship comprising of at least 4 races. That is a staggering amount of races to get through. You won’t need to beat all 160 championships to see the credits roll, but it’s great to have the choice of class at every location.
Forza Horizon 2 left has left me breathless on a number of occasions, thanks in large part to the addition of “The Bucket List”, a series of challenges scattered around Horizon 2’s environment that are just begging to be mastered. Bucket List challenges range in difficulty and are always fun. “Drive a Pegani Zonda Like You Stole it” is the title of one challenge, which sets you the task of driving from point to point in under 45 seconds. “Ignore the Roads in a Bowler EXR” has been my personal highlight: barrelling across fields at 150mph, dodging trees and houses in an effort to hit a punishingly difficult challenge time. I couldn’t get the smile off my face.
Horizon 2’s spectacular driving is made all the more enjoyable thanks to the way it looks. Did I not mention the visuals yet? Do yourself a favour and check this one out, it deserves to be seen in motion. 1080p and a rock solid 30fps, this is a game that oozes class. The lighting is such that is made me want to get off the sofa and book a holiday, it is that realistic, that inviting. Horizon 2 (on Xbox One) is the first entry into the Forza series to feature dynamic weather effects, and it is in an early road trip that you are exposed to the elements first hand.
Never has rain looked so good. A quick shower followed by sunshine leaves the roads looking stunning, with the vehicles looking even better, as beads of water roll around on their immaculately modelled surfaces. Driving using the in-car or over-the-bonnet view reveals even more weather effects, as the rain builds up on the hood and windscreen. It really has to be seen to be believed. And yes, the rain impacts handling just as you would expect – a rain shower means you need to be easier on the throttle, and watch that back end.
The opponents you face are “Drivatars”, digital representations of other players, who carry on burning rubber even when they are not online. It is a nice touch, and it is fun to wipe the floor with a couple of people on your friends list (even if they are completely unaware). Being the sort of happy-go-lucky racer that it is, there are a few online game modes on offer that I have not come across before, like the awesome “King”, which is basically the playground game of tag, only in half-million pound super cars. You can go to nerdy car meets, exchange paint decals (and earn credits in the process), get into a free roam session or enter a road trip with your buddies. Put it this way: I will be forcing my friends to buy this game so we can go cruising together.
Being a racer set at a festival, Horizon 2 is backed up by a choice of 5 radio stations, each offering their own brand of in-your-face coolness, voiced by DJs who say things that real human beings never really say, like “keepin’ it real” and “far out”. It’s all harmless fun, and it does a good job of keeping that care-free festival vibe going throughout.
Racing game fans are going to be spoilt for choice in the next few months. The number of new racers and even new IPs is great for fans of the genre, but I will be amazed if any of them live up to the experience on offer in Forza Horizon 2. Its breathtaking take on the world of cars is a petrol head’s wet dream.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.