Review: Forza Horizon 2

Forza Motorsport has been going strong for nearly a decade now, but it was less than two years ago that the series spun off into something special. The newly formed Playground Games, made up of former members from Codemasters, Criterion Games, Bizarre Creations and more, took a swing at the series with Forza Horizon, and the results were nothing short of spectacular. It contained everything fans loved about the racing simulator, but now with more of a focus on an open world and the various activities that inhabit it. With its success, Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios have converted it into a biannual release, and with the turn of a new console generation, what better way to celebrate than with a new, vast arcade racing game that’s begging to be played. Rev up your engines as Forza Horizon 2 soars past competition.

Forza Horizon 2 takes place in Southern Europe where the player will be able to travel to incredibly compressed versions of Nice, Castelletto, San Giovanni, and more. The world is absolutely brimming with activities to partake; whether it’s posting a speed trap score on the leaderboards or smashing through signs on the side of the road, there’s always something to do. In addition to those examples, Bucket List challenges are by far the most entertaining as they have the player swap cars in order to complete a trial. These are generally racing to a certain location in an allotted time, doing specific actions, or posting a high speed score at a speed trap. While the racing mechanics remain incredibly diverse, not to mention speeding over 400KM/H has never felt so satisfying, completitionsts out there will be spending hours on end digging through everything Forza Horizon 2 has to offer, and there’s a lot.

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The world itself is massive. While there were off-road sections in the first game, it still was more of a vast network of interconnected roads, so the sequel has stepped it up to another level by offering a virtual open world. It’s not entirely open as there are barriers that cannot be destroyed, but the number if of vineyards and bushy fields that can be driven through will allow for a great deal of options when cruising around. With that said, the races in Forza Horizon 2 don’t necessarily allow for much wiggle room. The majority are linear paths that contain checkpoints that must be hit, but there are a couple of sections that take place in the fields, and this is where the game really shines. It’s a challenge to control a vehicle in the bushes at high speeds, so sliding around trees and taking flight when hitting a steep hill is far more satisfying than racing around the same corner three times.

The main content is based on the brief story that you’re a new driver in the Forza Horizon Championship and making your way up the ranks to the finale. There are fifteen championships that need to be conquered before stepping into the final, with each one selected from the twenty-eight available. There’s a strong variety to go through. With 200 cars to be purchased at the Autoshow, ten Barn Finds to be found, and even more coming down the road as downloadable content, there’s very little repetitiveness in the campaign, especially considering it’s broken down into ten different car classes, such as Super Cars, Sports Cars, Off-Road, GT, World Classics, and more. As the story continues on, there are five Showdown events that open up, and each one, with the exception of maybe one, is better than the last. These are completely crazy events as they have players racing against trains, planes, and various other fast forms of transportation. My only real complaint is that five is not enough and will leave everyone wanting more as it breaks up the championships nicely.

The progression is also done perfectly, giving the player both a currency (credit) and experience points to level up when completing a race. Levels are separated in two different categories, each progressing at their own speed. One is basically used as a trophy online to show off what wristband class has been obtained, not to mention gaining a random prize. The second is tied to earning skill points to purchase perks to be used in various ways in single player and online. In addition, the difficult also ties into how much currency can be gained, so turning off guides and features such as the rewind button will net more credit when crossing the finish line. It’s the perfect integration into both single player and multiplayer as it’s not the level that gives the player the advantage, but their skill and vehicle.

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Multiplayer has been a significant component to racing games since early on in its life. Racing against a rubber banding AI is never any fun, so with the integration of Drivatars from Forza Motorsport 5, gamers will be able to play against the aggression their friends and club members have. Through this, it’s as if the roads of Forza Horizon 2 are populated with living individuals, and challenging them on the road can be an easy way to earn credit and level up. It’s not just asynchronous multiplayer, though, as there’s an incredibly diverse online component. The first thing that needs to be done is joining a club. By doing this, leaderboards filters and opponents in races won’t entirely be just random individuals, not to mention daily payouts for your own Drivatar racing in other worlds. There’s a robust communal aspect to the game that really helps add to the experience, allowing for those with similar tastes and expectations to join together.

Besides that, there’s a free roam feature that allows multiple people to cruise around Southern Europe together and participate in various races and events with ease. Throughout the map, there are also Road Trip events that can be joined, basically getting together with others online and completing in a set of championships. The only problem here is that, while in single player there’s more of a focus to relaxing and enjoying the sights while driving to the next city, multiplayer it’s more of a mad dash to the next spot, otherwise experience points will be lost. Regardless, it’s a smart way to issue in multiplayer modes, and forcing for the same voting system at the end of each championship to select the next destination allows for some choice between players instead of one leader picking everything. The races themselves range from traditional 3-lap circuits to off-road rallies to a specific location. There are different events than just racing around, such as Infected Mode which starts off with one person having to infect everyone else by smashing into them. There’s also King Mode, where the goal is to try and steal the title of king, and hold onto it for as long as possible. Suffice to say, Forza Horizon 2 has traditional online events, while throwing in some rather captivating and well-designed unique modes.

For hardcore racing fanatics looking to adjust the littlest details on their vehicles, they’ll be happy to know that car tuning is available. This gives the player access to adjusting aspects such as tire pressure, gear ratio, wheel alignment, downforce and more, slightly giving them the edge in a race while making tradeoffs in specific places. This is something a lot of people who don’t know much about car specifics most likely won’t even touch, that’s why they have a simplistic upgrade system in place. Here, upgrades to vehicles can be purchased, shaving off valuable milliseconds off shifting, reducing weight, or just increasing speed and various other attributes. If the player doesn’t even want to go through that process, there’s an Auto Upgrade option available, setting the class in which the player desires to race in. For the amount of credit the game dishes out, upgrading most vehicles isn’t all that expensive. For those with artistic talent, the extensive decal design application remains in the game. This allows not only those looking to create the best design possible, but players to go to the marketplace and download someone else’s concepts for themselves.

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Visually, Forza Horizon 2 can look breathtaking, but is a little rough around the edges. As should be the case with any racer, the vehicles are by far the most visually striking aspect. The subtle reflective material vehicles are rendered with give off an unbelievable shine, especially at night or during a thunderstorm. Seeing the trees and cars reflect off the bumper, or the raindrops run off the hood is a spectacle in itself. This is somewhat contributed to the lighting techniques as the time cycle will change how the game is played, although it’s unfortunate that races have preset factors going in. The mirrors in and on the vehicle also reflect the environments almost perfectly. There’s still a little bit of fading when driving too far away from the background, namely starting with shadows, but rarely will it be an empty world in the rearview mirror. With that said, there are some models that don’t necessarily have a strong coat of paint. Namely, getting too close to buildings will reveal their low resolution, and that’s not to mention the flat texture on the bottom of each vehicle. Thankfully, good players won’t be flipping or hitting any walls, but they were notable in a couple of instances. Regardless, with over 200 beautifully rendered cars to drive around the rich world, players will rarely get bored at what’s on screen.

Based on the ratio of hits to duds, Forza Horizon featured one of the best licensed soundtracks to date in a non FIFA-game. We’re talking a non-stop cavalcade of bands like Hot Chip, Cut Copy, LCD Soundsystem and Miike Snow. The ratio has gone down slightly in Forza Horizon 2, but the soundtrack has more than doubled. There’s almost a Grand Theft Auto level of radio stations here (although that series still remains in a league of its own thanks to its originals) predominately focusing on indie and EDM that are unlocked as progress made in the Horizon Championship. Pulse has the best overall line-up, with contributions from Jungle, CHVRCHES, Architecture in Helsinki, Holy Ghost! and Chromeo. Expect to hear tracks on other channels from the likes of Jessie Ware, Band of Skulls, The Heavy, Papa and many more. It’s an incredible effort that should be applauded for speeding past competition and ensures that races aren’t just engine roars and gear shifts.

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Closing Comments:

There’s an exhausting number of features that have been implemented into Forza Horizon 2. The open world isn’t just an empty free roam field to drive through; there’s so much stuff packed in that it’s a little daunting. Whether gamers fancy playing by themselves or participating in the online features, there’s something here for everyone that will keep them engaged for hours on end. Those seeking realism will be happy to see the highly upgradable and tunable options, while everybody else will find the arcade mechanics deeply enjoyable. With a strong communal focus and a sense of delight when driving around Southern Europe, there’s nothing more relaxing than what Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios have created. One of the most versatile racers on the market, Forza Horizon 2 fires on all cylinders.

4point5outof5Version Reviewed: Xbox One