Forza Horizon 2 Review

By Andrew Ogley, 2 years ago
Fans of the BBC TV show Top Gear will know that the team have been busy in the past searching for the world's best driving roads and in doing so have always gravitated towards European roads; roads that have been formed by some sort of history, shaped by wandering sheep and shepherds, by arbitrary border disputes between rival clans, elephants trying to cross mountains, or some other important military route. In any case, they are roads that have evolved over time, matured and have developed a rather special character. It seems like the makers of Forza Horizon 2 have been struck by the same thought because that's exactly where they are taking us, and for a very good reason.

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Back in 2012, Forza Horizon took the much respected and critically acclaimed Forza away from the circuits for the first time and to the open road. It was a bold move for such a revered franchise, fortunately it was an unmitigated success, fans loved it, and the title even claimed the community's racing game of the year award. The open world racing title makes its return with Forza Horizon 2, and promises a world that is four times larger, even more open than its predecessor, and, for the first time in the Forza franchise, introduces a dynamic weather system.

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Inevitably, the first thing that will hit you is the visual presentation. Unsurprisingly, the title takes advantage of the power of the new consoles and creates an automotive world of stunning beauty. The cars look jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the world in which they drive looks almost photogenic at times. As you drive off of the ferry ramp for the first time, you are greeted by glorious sunshine, cheering crowds, and are immediately dropped behind the wheel of the newest Lamborghini with the instruction to head off to the first of the festival's location's, driving along winding roads on the coast, through small European city streets, before eventually arriving at the first location with all of the appropriate fireworks and fanfare. This leisurely drive through picturesque settings sets the tone for the rest of the game.

In fact, essentially, that is the game. The storyline, or theme, is that the Horizon Festival is taking place in various towns along the Italian and French border, and you drive roadtrips between the different cities, taking in the sights, before competing in a championship consisting of four events in a specific car class around that location. Win fifteen championships and you will become the Horizon Festival Champion... and that's it. However, to dismiss it so summarily would be akin to saying that Formula 1 is nothing more than racing cars around crooked circular tracks very fast. Such a summary bypasses the whole essence of the game.

The title is based on a festival of speed, and that festival feeling permeates the whole game; this is about pure unadulterated and unabashed driving pleasure. True, it might lack some of the detailed depths of its circuit-based bigger brother, but this is small price to pay for the sheer amount of fun and diversity to be found in the title. Don't be fooled though; there is enough here to keep tuning fanatics happy, and the racing is just as competitive as any circuit racing game.

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Driving and racing in the different events earns the player both XP and credits. Credits are obviously used to buy new cars, upgrades, and tuning setups. The XP takes the player through the different rankings in the game, and just like in the original title, earns them another fancy coloured wristband. Additionally moving through the rankings also earns the player skill points which can unlock certain perks, 25 in total, which can then help speed their progress just a little bit more. Finally, there is also a sort of slot machine game appropriately called the "Wheelspin Game" which awards the player some extra cash bonuses, or if they are lucky, a new car. To be honest, it's nice but it tends to fade into the background; as a player it's about the racing and the driving, and the whole ranking mechanism is something that tends to get skipped over.

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There are over 200 cars in various classes, from hyper-cars and supercars, down to something you might (or might not) drive during the school run. There are 168 different championships in which to compete, and 315 different roads to race along. Other than for a specific achievement, there's no reason to restrict yourself to the confines of tarmac, gravel, or dirt. This is genuinely an open-world, so fields, forests, and even golf-courses, can become your driving playground. If you can drive on it, then you can actually drive on it. Water is the only place that's off-limits, and I'm sure that if you had access to a very specific Lotus Esprit, that restriction might have been lifted, too.

Water also plays a significant role in the new dynamic weather system. Players will find themselves driving through rainstorms for the first time in a Forza title. Again, the graphics and the water effects look stunning. From the glistening reflective puddles on the road surface, to the beading droplets on the windscreen and the small rivulets around the wiper blades. At the rear of the car, water sprays up and then cascades down mudflaps and wheel arches in a truly realistic looking way, but the realism doesn't end there. Just as it is on real roads, water is a treacherous and dangerous animal. Car handling is affected, with the tires having less grip making previously familiar roads become instantly unpredictable with a whole different set of characteristics.

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Whilst driving might, just might, get a little boring after a while, those championship races and events will keep you busy. The races vary between off-road and tarmac. There are sprints against other racers through checkpoints to a finish line, and similar variant that includes other non-racing drivers on the road making the race all the more challenging. To accommodate those that still pine for circuits, there are lap based races, too. On top of these, there are also thirty bucket list events that you can try. These put the player in control of a rare or highly-sought-after car, and dares them to take on a particular challenge. It's a nice touch that the player can get behind the controls of such a car, however brief it is, so early in the game.

To top it all, the very appropriately entitled, "Showcase Events" make a welcome return. The very first of these highlight just how spectacular they can be; racing a Ferrari against a display team of jets along a coastline road. Whilst I was playing, every time the jets passed low overhead, the screen would shake, the controller would vibrate in my hands, and thanks to the surround sound system, the whole room shook. It's hard to describe just how thrilling that race felt, it simply has to be experienced first hand.

Races against other drivers can be equally as exciting and adrenaline filled, although on the default setting I found it a little easier than I expected, but with all of the options it is possible to make the game as challenging as the player wants. Real players take the place of the AI and provide plenty of competition whilst playing online, and there is an extensive suite of online modes including online road trips and races. For those who prefer to stay with the single player side of the game, there are of course AI racers to compete against. On the Xbox One version, the AI uses the Drivatars from Forza Motorsport 5, so if you've already played that title, there is a good chance that your Drivatar is already racing around the south of France enjoying the Mediterranean sun whilst leaving you at home.

It's also worth noting that this is one of the key differences between the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One versions of the game. The last-gen version of the game does not feature the same level of graphical detail or the drivatars. Again, we are beginning to see a divergence in the titles between the platforms. As we reported yesterday, the 360 version of the game won't be receiving DLC, as well.

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One of the important features of the game is available on both consoles, however. The festival radio stations are back and provide a fantastic soundtrack for driving with music as diverse as the roads that you drive on. From drum and bass, through to classical, there is something for all tastes. Personally, there was something cathartic about tearing around the roads with Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" blaring from the speakers.

For the achievement hunters out there, there is a varied mix of achievements to be had and they include online, offline, and co-op play. There are a number for progression through the ranks, and a number for winning showcase events. There are also some gimme's and, in the first few hours, achievements will be popping quite frequently. Unsurprisingly, there are also a few collectibles amongst them, including the barn finds, and snapping photos of 100 different cars, which is not as easy as it sounds. Most players should be able to unlock a fair percentage of the total, but it will depend on the individual skill level of the player.

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For the more the social among the racing fraternity, it is possible to create or join car clubs, where fellow players can meet up, join in with online road trips, and have the opportunity to earn more XP and credits. Of course, as we already reported, the TA Car Club has already been formed so you can join up and race with or against Mr. TA himself and some of the other site staff members (including myself) although we might not make for the strongest of opponents.

Forza Horizon 2 picks up where the first game finished, and improves on just about every area. The FM5 engine produces some absolutely stunning graphics, which is matched in equal parts by the audio and sounds of the cars. The world is as open as it can be and leaves the players to drive and race wherever they want. Add to this all of the single-player events, multiplayer races, co-op events, road trips, and car clubs, and this is a mammoth package of pure petrolhead pleasure. The festival atmosphere is felt throughout the game. It is fun from start to finish. Due to its diversity and replayability, it's hard to say what more you could want from such a title. In short, following in the tire treads of its predecessor, this could well be the racing game of 2014.

Summary

Forza Horizon 2 picks up where the first game finished, and improves on just about every area. The FM5 engine produces some absolutely stunning graphics, which is matched in equal parts by the audio and sounds of the cars. The world is as open as it can be and leaves the players to drive and race wherever they want. Add to this all of the single-player events, multiplayer races, co-op events, road trips, and car clubs, and this is a mammoth package of pure petrolhead pleasure. The festival atmosphere is felt throughout the game. It is fun from start to finish. Due to its diversity and replayability, it's hard to say what more you could want from such a title. In short, following in the tire treads of its predecessor, this could well be the racing game of 2014.
4.5 / 5
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Negatives
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent about ten hours on the Xbox One version racing around Europe on 215 of the 315 roads, completed three showcase events, reached level 34 and a blue wristband, discovered four barn finds, and unlocked 19 achievements for 280 Gamescore. The review was done using a personal Xbox One copy, with VIP and Season Pass.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.