Now is a good time to be a gearhead, especially for those whom own a next gen console or decent gaming PC. Over the next couple of months a glut of racing titles are due to appear on our shelves: DriveClub (PS4), The Crew (PS4, Xbox One, PC), Project Cars (PS4, Xbox One, WiiU, PC) but beating them all to the front of the grid is Forza Horizon 2 exclusively on Xbox (One and 360).
Forza Horizon 2 is the sequel to the well-received Forza Horizon. Like its older brother, Horizon 2 is based around a driving festival where lovers of fast and exotic cars meet up to dance and look at dump valves, carbon fibre and pretty coloured HT leads. The experience begins as the player arrives on the ferry into Southern France, racing a Lamborghini Huracán to the start point of the Horizon experience, the first of many road trips that precede the main race events. Sadly after that drive the new 2015 supercar is taken away and things start off with a rather more modest choice between the BMW Z4 (Sports Car), Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe (American Racers) or Toyota Supra RZ (JMD Icons). Not that any of these cars are particularly slow.
Whichever car is chosen they are all great lookers – there is an immense attention to detail even down to the wheel nuts and tyre tread. There are options to view the car from the third person when racing, though the choice to play this game from anything other than the driver’s seat view not only misses out on a very immersive experience but it’d mean forgoing the lush interiors where many hours of modelling must have been spent.
The environments are an equally engaging experience; weather seems to be the big thing in this year’s racing games and when things start to rumble the rain comes down, beading off the paintwork in a remarkably lifelike way. Windscreen wipers feel a bit off but unlike in many games wet races and night races are fun to do, they add to the experience rather than detract from it. The roads travelled on give a wealth of different surroundings, from tight street circuits bordered by stone-clad cottages & coffee shops, open wide highways to get the speed on, and to fields filled with trees and haystacks.
This visual feast would be for nothing if the driving simulation side of things wasn’t equally first class; thankfully it shines as much as the polished paintwork of the visuals. The game errs more towards arcady fun rather than clinical precision – want to take a Ferrari F50 through a field? No problem! Indeed the game rewards the player for their off-road excursions and this can keep things interesting and fun, so long as the check points are hit. There are tweaks for driving aids too, meaning players of all skill should find settings to suit their abilities, so long as they’re not expecting a full on sim. The cars do feel different to drive however, with FR vehicles understeering and extreme track toys giving the impression of being a drifting king with plenty of feedback through the Xbox One pad. All cars can be modified, both mechanically and cosmetically, in the garage so it’s possible to make US muscle cars into four-wheel drive sub-three-second-to-sixty track day monsters if so desired.
Car class choice helps determine the types of races the player faces, although the game tries to mix up the type of circuits and point-to-point sprints as much as it can. Cross country and trials races are favoured for the off-road vehicles and street and circuit events for the supercars and hot hatches. One of the race types seems to have been introduced purely to show off the free roam nature of the game; the Cross-Country racing is a little hit or miss though. At times these can be a thrilling, absorbing experience and at others frustrating, as the lack of a clear race track can lead to getting lost. Things can be saved with the rewind feature and those that feel like this is cheating can simply turn this option off, increasing race result payouts due to the higher perceived difficulty settings.
If the main racing events are not enough, there are plenty of side quests to contend with along the highway. Barn Finds make a return but seem to be more difficult to locate, typically well hidden in the wealth of trees and shrubbery. The special race events such as going up against trains and balloons return; they’re a bit silly but a lot of fun, especially for those with surround-sound setups – the first race against jet planes makes the sub roar as the display team rips off the vinyls at low level.
The player is quickly introduced to The Bucket List near the start of the game, a fun way to get to drive some of the more exclusive cars in the showroom without owning them; the first of these is driving the Koenigsegg Agera like you stole it, with plenty of others to discover on the journey. Highway hooliganism is the way of things in Horizon 2. With over two hundred cars in the game there is a set of wheels for everyone and another task beset the player is to photograph them all for financial gain.
All of these events and quests provide the player with plenty of experience and cash; whether it’s driving through speed cameras, taking on the Bucket List challenges or entering the races, rewards are heaped upon the player in short order. Levels seem to be gained at the rate of four an hour so it’s not long before this is into double figures, they just don’t seem to do very much other than provide further cash or cars through a random wheel spin and provide a numbered badge; progression is based on completing championships not ranking. The skill points earned by extreme driving and showing off are more useful and can be used to unlock a skill tree of twenty-five bonuses, such as permanent discounts on in-game upgrades and car purchases.
One very welcome change to the sequel is actually an omission – there are no car tokens or nags to spend more real life money after outlaying a couple of ponies in order to progress or speed up car ownership. Lessons seem to have been learnt from Forza 5 and although some might groan at the lack of pay-for-progression, the rate at which cash is earned makes this irrelevant anyway.
Although there is no provision for split-screen multiplayer, online events are well catered for. There are two main modes of play, road trips and free roam. The former of these gives a structured four event championship per round across the different multiplayer game types (infected, king of the road, race events) whereas free roam is player’s choice. There are also car meets and car clubs to get to get stuck in to; there’s so much content on offer it’s impossible to cover it all in a single review.
It’s not completely rose petals and perfume though; the music won’t be to everyone’s taste as much of it is club oriented. The decision to hide additional radio stations until further progression into the game is an odd one however, especially since the first three available radio stations (eventually unlocking to seven) seem rather similar. It would have been nice to have the option of listening to Radio Levante from the off, as driving to The Marriage of Figaro and Rossini’s Barber of Seville has a certain charm unlike Anna, KITT she is not. Like all satnav devices they should never be properly trusted; the path finding seems to order u-turns when none are required and it is very slow at rerouting – eventually for sanity reason the voice guidance was turned off. Likewise the event organiser voice over starts to grate after a while, not because of an over enthusiastic Sean Maguire, it’s just that the same trite phrases about how well the player is doing are trotted out again and again.
These are minor niggles however, as the overall experience is sweeter than the harmony of V10s on full blatt. Anyone who is a car fan and doesn’t like the clinical slow progression of Gran Turismo (or even Forza Motorsport to some degree), will get a lot of enjoyment from this game.
The love of cars at Turn 10 and Playground Games certainly comes across in play; from the lavish attention to detail in the environments, lighting and car models, to turbo whines on throttle, there’s a lot to like here. With weather and night time races that add to the experience rather than detract, fun side events that give the player more to do, a great variety of roads to speed along without the threat of a ticket and simply the sheer amount of content for the money, it makes Forza Horizon 2 a must have on Xbox One – it’s a road trip unlikely to be forgotten.