Forza Horizon 2
Two years ago, Forza Horizon marked a radical change for the Forza Motorsport series. This side game went with a different development team and had Turn 10 supervising, and went away from the more sterile look and feel of the mainline series to deliver a festival atmosphere. While games like DiRT do that on the surface, Horizon took the concept to the next level by having a full concert in the background and going with the idea that everything in the in-game playlist was being played at that concert. It was a little touch that added a lot to things.
Horizon was also the first Forza game to incorporate cutscenes with character models. That trend has continued here, but has been improved upon visually with a mix of live-action and in-game models. Right from the game’s start, you know you’re in for a fun time as a live action intro shows off tons of neon, pulse-pounding music, and fast cars. From there, you start off with a big road trip and get a feel for the vibe of the game as you switch between radio stations, ram into cars, hear some banter with the organizers of the festival, and finally reach your destination.
Races begin after this, and right away, things go where they never went in Horizon – off-road. Racing anywhere you want to is a huge part of the appeal in Forza Horizon 2, and the game features open-world races that bear a resemblance to the Midnight Club games in theory, but are far more fun than those. The loose structure here makes the layouts a lot less confusing, and you can keep a racing line on-track at all times to prevent any confusion. You’ll barrel through the terrain with other vehicles, dust flies around, paint flies off cars, and your blood starts pumping.
If you win the race, then you’ll be even more excited as you’re well on your way to conquering the Horizon festival. Horizon 2’s basic setup is a lot like the first game, which isn’t an altogether bad thing. That was an incredible experience and really captured a racing festival vibe better than anything. Now, you get that same concept, but with a better presentation and more things to do. The shift from a small area in Colorado to a series of larger European cities has made the game’s scale much greater, and it adds a lot to the experience.
You can still do crazy things like race a plane, a train, or even hot air balloons – but new things have been added to keep things fresh. One fairly noteworthy new addition is the bucket list, where you find a car on the map with a particular challenge attached to it. Completing the challenge nets you a ton of XP, and gives you a chance to try out cars you otherwise wouldn’t have. Small new features have been added like a wheel spin after you level up with XP and a skill tree that unlocks when you show off your skills. The wheel spin is an excellent new addition and something that you’ll get hooked to fairly quickly. It gives you large or small credits, and can even hand out high-value cars. In my first day of play, I spun into both a Lexus and a 250,000 credit result within one set. Some spin results give you bonus spins as well. Skill points are given out like kudos in the Project Gotham Racing games, which is how they were handled in the first game, but now you get a bit more of a reward for them beyond just increasing your level a bit faster.
The skill tree pops up when you boost your XP a ton and get a coin to spend in the perk tree store. You’ve got 25 things to obtain that can offer up XP bonuses and other perks to make your quest to take over the Horizon festival that much easier. XP can also be earned by taking photos of a lot of cars, and one of the perks you can unlock makes it readily apparent which cars you haven’t snapped photos of. It’s a small feature, but one that works surprisingly well as a dangling carrot to get you to play one more race. One scenario I encountered during a marathon session was swearing I was done for the night after getting a championship win (of which there are 68 to complete), and then I realized I was only three cars shy of reaching a new XP boost, so I soldiered on. Forza Horizon 2’s design is brilliant in how it keeps you playing through small incentives like that.
Horizon 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to its gameplay, and I’m glad for it. The original Horizon was a welcome change of pace from the norm, and after an iffy entry in Forza 5, it’s good to see the franchise back on track with its liberal doling out of credits and free cars. The new additions only add to the fun, and nothing has been lost from the original – even the barn finds are back, and easier to obtain now that you get a narrowed view of where to look throughout the world map.
Like Burnout Paradise, going from an offline game to an online one is a painless and fairly seamless procedure Beyond basic races and road trips, you can also make and join clubs and take part in car clubs. Online-only modes include Infected and King modes. Infected starts with one zombified player, and the last person to not be hit by a zombified car wins. Your goal there is to avoid people as long as possible, whereas King is the opposite. There, someone starts as a king and you want to hit them to become king and then run away from people as long as you can.
Visually, this is the best-looking racing game I’ve laid eyes on. The previous holder of that title was Forza 5, but this is even more impressive thanks to the use of rain and night-time lighting effects. The rain is some of the best ever seen in gaming, and only Project Gotham Racing 4 comes close to it. Overall, that may have more impressive weather since it’s so varied there and includes snow, but that’s the only game that can touch it in that regard.
Similarly, no games since the Rallisport Challenge games on the original Xbox have featured dirt-buildup effects on cars. The DiRT series comes close, but doesn’t quite top this one in that area. Windshield cracks are impressive too, and make racing a little bit harder in a first-person view, adding to the incentive to race as cleanly as possible. Small visual flourishes like rainbows and light reflecting differently off your car depending on it’s angle are impressive, while your jaw will drop when you see rain beading off of the paint. The only iffy part of the graphics, like with the original, lies with the character models. Everyone has a doll-ish look to them, and that’s made more apparent in the first-person view when you see a lack of forearm hair, which only exposes how poor the actual models are instead of having something there to mask it a bit.
Forza Horizon 2 keeps the club flavor alive with an impressive soundtrack spanning a wide array of radio stations. Chvrches “Mother We Share”, Chromeo’s “Jealous”, “Operators” by Jetta, and “Can’t Beat the Old School” by Bo Saris have already become parts of my daily playlist thanks to this game. Each station has a theme to it, and you’ll even get DJ banter talking about the festival and making amusingly bad jokes about the aforementioned challenge events that pit you against a train and plane, for example. Like the first game, the voice acting exceeds expectations in the sense that everyone plays their parts well. They’re not going for an Uncharted-level of character development here, but you do get a sense for the personalities of the few characters you can hear in the game.
The sound effect work is on-par with the rest of the series, so crunches are satisfying, big jumps elicit a satisfying whoosh, and hear every branch break in a small plant as you race over it at top speed. The addition of rumble triggers to the Xbox One’s controller really benefits this game because like Project Gotham Racing 2 over a decade ago, the rumble will change based on what kind of surface you’re driving on. It’s another small touch that adds a lot to the experience, and makes you want to keep playing even if you’ve had a long, and somewhat exhausting play session.
Forza Horizon 2 takes everything that made the original game great, includes it here without removing anything and then adds some new stuff to boot. The game plays smoothly, looks stunning, and has a soundtrack you’ll be humming for a while. Anyone who loved the first game will be right at home here, and those who didn’t, should at least download the demo. It gives you some races, a bucket list challenge, a few radio stations to flip through, cutscenes, minor tuning options, and even an event challenge. It’s the best demo available on the Xbox One and it’s exactly what a good demo should be – a free sample of everything that makes the full game worth owning.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Forza Horizon 2 for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft.