Open-world racing games have never appealed to me. I’ve always been a fan of racing games that involve tracks that you can learn and get better at. The older Need for Speed titles and games such as Forza Motorsport 5, DIRT, GRID, Project Gotham Racing and Gran Turismo 6 have therefore been my preferred choice when I feel the need to burn some rubber. Until now.
Forza Horizon returns for its second outing with a simple number confirming sequel status. It still incorporates this whole festival Motorstorm-wannabe feel to it, but it’s toned down. Instead of focusing on the ‘cool’ effect, which became an issue in racing games in the last generation (ask DIRT 3), they’ve directed their attention to the racing. You see, Forza Horizon 2 is, in essence, a best-of collaboration.
Playground Games, the developers, are made up from some of the best minds in the racing game business and the influence is rather obvious and extremely exciting. As soon as you get into your car and press the right trigger, to inject some fuel into your engine, you know there’s some form of Déjà vu at work. The handling of the cars are all reminiscent of DIRT and GRID, especially when you take your car off-road, which is a common occurrence in the game. The open world will remind you of Test Drive Unlimited and a combination of Burnout Paradise, but only the best bits of both games. Your aim is to take part in a Road Trip. You’re tasked with choosing a car class (or ‘Championship Group’ as it’s called in Forza Horizon 2) and make your way to locations based in Italy and France.
Your drive to each location sees you taking your time to get there. It’s literally a Road Trip along with your Drivatar buddies. On your way there you have time to marvel at the beautiful locations. See a hill in the distance? You can drive there. Don’t want to travel via the suggested roads? Sure, plow your car through any vegetation you see. Obviously it’s advised that you dodge big trees as you’ll end up as scrap metal, but you can drive just about anywhere you want. Each location, whereof there are six, will come with it’s own unique roads. Castteletto is made up of twisty and narrow roads, which is great for hatchback cars, whereby Nice Masséna provides you with open roads to race at breakneck speeds in your Ferrari. The events are just as diverse as the locations.
The Championship Group lets you choose from Super Cars, Sport Cars, Offroad, Hatchback, Track Toys, Muscle Cars (oldshcool and modern), Rally, GT and World Classic Cars. There’s just over 200 cars to choose from. Because of the class variety no race is ever the same. You’re either doing a sprint from point A to B or you’re racing through a made-up city track, which reminded me very much of Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast. Some races will see you jumping between on-road and off-road sections, which can get confusing, but each race comes littered with checkpoints. Your aim is to pass through the gates. Miss a gate and you’re required to hit the Y button to reverse time and retry again. You can drive anywhere you want, as long as you pass the gate. This makes for very competitive car-bashing passing moments. Make no mistake, the AI is incredibly intuitive.
Because you’re always racing against your Drivatar friends, seeing that you’re connected online, the AI is a bit more life-like. If you’re offline it’s still just as competitive, but you don’t get to see the character in each car coming to life. If you’ve had enough of Road Trip there’s always something else to do. To help you level up you can smash boards (as you did in Burnout Paradise before), battle it out in Speed Trap leaderboards, dice other rivals by driving up behind them and pressing the X button, car meet other players to show off your ride, jump into an online Road Trip with friends or take part in a Showcase event where you’re either dicing a plane, train or hot air balloons. It feels very much like a Top Gear challenge. Oh, but wait, there’s more! There’s a new event called Bucket List. Here you’re given a car and a task. Drive a Pagani Zonda to a specific location and arrive there in the allocated time. Take this muscle car and drift around 15 corners. There’s so many side quests to keep you busy that it’s always tough keeping up with everything that’s there. This means you need to become a master of the map. Here’s the thing, if you own a Kinect you’ll never see the map. Ever.
Say hello to Anna. Quite literally. She’s the voice of your navigation system, but she’s even more than that. You can talk to her via Kinect and task her to assist you. Simply say “Anna” and she’ll provide you with navigation options. If you know what you’d like to do you can ask her for the nearest event, showcase, autoshow, bucket list or garage and she’ll automatically point you in the right direction. If you’re not quite sure what to do next you can say ‘What should I do?’ and she’ll suggest an event. This includes side missions such as smashing boards and dicing rivals. It perhaps sounds a bit simplistic when reading it, but once you’ve done it for the first time it just makes the game that much more convenient. Here’s the truth – I never used the map. Not even once. Anna did everything for me. I went as far as to disable the mini map and guides on the road to see just how accurate she was and it worked rather well.
Forza Horizon 2 is likely the most fun I’ve ever had playing an open-world racing game. The developers made everything fun, even levelling up. Every time you level up you get to spin a wheel of fortune. You can either win some credits to buy more cars, give your car a new paint job or tune it up or you can win a car. Each and every drift, obstacle you smash or racing a clean race will provide you with skill points. Earn enough points and you can unlock new perks such as Double XP, Double Drivatar payouts (which happens when you’re not around and your Drivatar is making money for you) or a percentage increase of credits earned. You can take and upload photos to the online community and download the Forza Hub on your smartphone to get extra credits and other benefits.
Could I find anything wrong with it? Not really. More cars would be great and the radio stations are annoying, which can be turned off to hear your car purring instead. I’ve not even touched on the fantastic real-time weather system, the pinpoint accurate dashboard camera, the classic car hidden barns and various other social aspects to the game. Know this – it’s a racing game that’s placed the emphasis on the ‘racing’ and is an immense amount of fun. If you own the Xbox One this is a must have, if you don’t and enjoy racing games there is a Xbox One purchase for you on the Horizon.