First we had Forza 5, now its really time to see what Microsoft can do with the Xbox One in our Forza Horizon 2 review. This time? I think Microsoft really have finally cracked driving games. Forza’s attention to detail crossed with it’s finely tuned handling has been unleashed in a truly open-world driving game and it’s gives an unparalleled sense of freedom to the series. The series ditches Forza Horizon 1’s SSX style presentation, it’s been refined and the game really has matured in style. There is now a cast which wants you to experience the best of the Mediterranean coast and countryside. It’s not all on-road this time too. This time you’ll find yourself off-roading through vineyards and fields. It adds an interesting dimension. Do you stick to the track in your Ferrari or do you chance cutting across a vineyard and hoping for the best? Forza Horizon 2 lets you decide.
Forza Horizon 2 is set in a two-country festival which is reminiscent of Motorstorm but with less mud. The festivals feel alive, driving up to them and seeing fireworks, balloons and hearing the noise slowly rise really feels like you’re approaching an event. Around the map are mini-festival hubs where you’ll be based for each championship. There are 15 championships with 4-5 main races in each with a main event. Each championship is different as you can choose from any type of championship at each point. For example, if you fancy taking a kit-car F1 championship around some tight city circuits? You can. If you want to switch it up, you can go for a classic championship or an offroad one. It can give you great freedom and its a welcome change to most other driving game.
The game does have a few more innovations up it’s sleeve. It has a Siri-like voice assistant called ‘Anna’ who you can ask questions while you’re free roaming. It’s a quick way of finding a close event or a garage and it’s something that really becomes second nature. Secondly is this year’s progression system which sadly is a bit too overly complex. There are two different XP ladders. One awards XP based on your race result combined with your difficulty setting. One awards a different type of XP based on your in-game performance (e.g. slipstreaming, jumps, near misses). One grants new ‘perks’ allowing you to get more of the other type of XP which is used on, the other allows you to earn ‘Wheelspins’ where you can win credits and cars. Nothing in the game is locked, no car is out-of-bounds, every piece of road is drivable from the off. Forza Horizon 2 feels like an unlimited playground but as a result, you lose any reason to really push yourself. There isn’t much to gain bar credits and the two XP systems quickly become pretty meaningless outside of a few unlockable perks. It’s here when the game starts to run into difficulty.
“Bucket-list challenges breathe fresh life into your time in Italy and France”
In a purist game, in an open world, you would think that the developers would use their free-reign to create beautiful, difficult, crazy and challenging tracks but it really disappoints. With only lap and point to point races, staleness quickly hits home. Tracks are just that bit too easy. I never felt challenged to stay on track when it was dry (even with driving assists mostly switched off). Get to the front of the pack early on and you’re pretty much guaranteed a win. You’ll be penalized by doing so by getting less on-track points. It gets a bit frustrating and without the threat of cops like in Need For Speed Rivals, you find yourself switching off for the rest of the race. Saying that, Bucket-list challenges breathe fresh life into your time in Italy and France thanks to it’s unique challenges and range of cars. These entail one-off challenges in special cars such as getting near misses in a kit car, or driving a souped up McLaren F1 through the countryside at 250 KMPH. The variety that bucket-list challenges give should have been the norm and not the exception.
Forza Horizon 2, like the gameplay, it the perfect game to take a trip to every now and again. Taking a classic car, throwing on some classical music and drifting around Italian Mountains a perfect game to relax for a few races and tour around Italy. However, the prospect of those 15 championships truly becomes daunting when you realise that each isn’t going to be that different.
Handling wise, the game slightly suffers thanks to it’s transition to 30FPS. The trademark Forza smoothness is dampened. I can only imagine how driving through Italy’s twisting mountain roads would feel like if it was still there. Each of Forza Horizon 2’s 200 cars handles differently and thanks to the Xbox One’s impulse triggers, you’ll feel every brake, every step off the track. Put simply, each car is a joy to drive. This time around, Forza Horizon 2’s new dynamic weather system brings rain into the mix. When the heavens are open, the game turns into a fight to stay on the racing line. A normal track turns into a genuinely difficult but rewarding fight and it’s possibly my favourite elements in the game.
Annoyingly, the game doesn’t have that detailed a damage model and cars barely even get dirty. Two slight bumps with a competitor and your handling breaks and your car starts constantly straying to one side. It’s a really annoying problem and it’s something I hope Playground Games fix before launch because it really hampers having fun with the cars. As drivatars can be aggressive, you’ll find this happens a lot. I suggest you turn damage off in settings to ensure this doesn’t happen.
This is an easy one. Forza Horizon 2 has some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen and that’s not hyperbole. It’s easy to forget while you’re driving at top speed down a country road but when you hop into Photo Mode it suddenly hits you. I cannot think of a console game off the top of my head that looks better and it’s a true testament to the work of Playground Games. To pack the amount of detail in at 1080P is an achievement. Even if you compare it to highly modded PC games it holds its own. There will be moments where you swear that it’s an episode of Top gear.
Forza Horizon 2 has three main online components. ‘Drivatars’, Clubs and it’s main online modes. Drivatars (like in Forza 5) are AI-opponents taught by your behaviour on the track. If you’re aggressive? Your drivatar will be. If you’re a precision racer? Your drivatar will be. However, they don’t get more difficult as you play and it really becomes a big problem as there is no learning curve to the game, only the car. If your friends played Forza 5, you’ll already find them driving around the festival and joining you in events. It’s a great touch and something I hope the Forza series keeps.
Clubs are where you can meet up with fellow members and appreciate those hand-made decals and get ready for another race. Up to 1,000 players can be in a club and compete in the ‘Club Ladder’ where the player with the most XP each week gets the most reward. Handily, by completing in-game events you’ll get pop-ups on your position. For example, while travelling to a new area you find out that a club member has broken more XP boards than you. You get engrossed, ensuring you’re beating that club member. It adds an addictive level to the game which it was previously missing.
There is also the usual collection of competitive online races but this time around, there are no typical lobbies. As you drive around, you can join or create online sessions while you’re free-roaming. When you do that, you have the option of choosing from a road trip or free roam. Free roam is pretty self-explanatory, one player can decide the destination and create events in their own leisure, or just drive around. I had the chance to do both and leading a crew of players while driving through the French countryside, stopping for a quick race every ten minutes or so for a race. It’s a fun, organic way to spend time in the game. However, In road trips, that is decided for you.
Sound wise, this year Forza introduces GTA-style radio stations curated by BBC Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank. It’s a fantastic setlist added to by indie labels such as Hospital Records, Innovative Leisure, and Ninja Tune. Driving down the coast with Duke Dumont’s ‘I Got You’ playing is a pretty special feeling. Something odd happens when you get into the Italian countryside though. You come across a classical music radio station. You suddenly find yourself bombing around the countryside in a hot hatch to the tune of The Marriage of Figaro: Overture by Mozart. It’s a complete shift change and to me, it’s when the game discovers itself.
Strip away the annoying cast, strip away Ben (your human guide), strip away the festival and you find something very special underneath. Forza’s best moments aren’t those when you’re trying to drive a Ferrari around a lap for a personal best. It’s when you leave the racing behind. Some of the most fun moments are when you’re driving through a vineyard in a 60’s Lotus not being able to see, when you’re driving down the coast and relaxing to some classical music free from the restraints of the festival. It’s those times when you can relax, appreciate the car and the beautiful views which are some of the most stunning I’ve ever seen in gaming. If you approach Forza like you’re taking a Top Gear style tour around France and Italy, you’ll experience something very special.
If you are a driving game fan, it’s an insta-buy. It’s attention to detail is now better than Gran Turismo, it’s cars handle better and the developer’s passion is really starting to shine through. But, if you’re looking for a deep, fun racing game, you won’t feel the exhilaration that Need For Speed Rivals gives you when you escaping from the cops, you won’t experience Burnout Paradise’s blink and you’ll miss it action. How much you enjoy this game really depends on where you approach the game from. I approached it from the perspective it was a racing game, but when I shifted to the perspective of a driving game, it all clicked. It’s almost like a spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited.
Playground studios haven’t made the best racing game ever, there are games which are more fun, have better single-player action etc. What they have done is made the best driving game ever. I want to find more cars, to explore France and Italy and to chill in the world with my friends. Away from the fireworks, the brash colours and craziness of the festival. This could have been the best racing game in a very long time if only the main event had a bit more variety and its frustrating that it doesn’t. The fact still remains, Forza Horizon 2 is an amazing drive. We highly recommend you get behind the wheel.
Forza Horizon 2 was reviewed on the Xbox One using a retail download code provided by Microsoft.