Forza Horizon 2 – Xbox One
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date (NA): September 3rd, 2014
Developer: Playground Studios, Turn 10 Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Also check out our review for the DLC expansion, Storm Island!
After having a blast with Forza Motorsport 5 (and I don’t typically care much for these hyper-real racing games), I was excited to see this open-world variant hit the shelves. When GameStop recent had a sale on their Xbox One games, I gladly picked it up. Although it’s available on the 360 as well, I can’t imagine it looking and playing nearly as well as on the newer Xbox One.
Apparently this game has a great deal in common with the original Forza Horizon, but I’ve never played it, so I got to go into it with absolutely no preconceptions. Forza Horizon 2 introduces the player to a festival taking place around the border of France and Italy. There’s a structure to the game but there’s also a great deal of freedom to be had. In addition to “winning,” there are numerous extra challenges, bonuses, unlockables, secrets, and even a couple of add-ons to keep the player interested for a very, very long time. Much like Forza 5, the experience is highly customizable, so it can be perfectly tailored to one’s own skill level.
First let’s look at the story aspect. Horizon 2 is immersive; there’s a guide that talks you through certain events and happenings, a girl that talks to you at the garage, simple awards ceremonies, and a sort of never-ending road trip that puts all of these races into context. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “plot,” but there is more happening than just selecting a car, a track, racing, repeat. The game does a wonderful job of creating this sort of festival atmosphere. It doesn’t strictly affect the gameplay in any way, though I enjoy the feeling of being wound up in this world of European motorsports.
The races and tracks themselves aren’t based off of actual circuits such as those in Forza 5. Instead, they utilize the cities and surrounding landscape to fashion courses out of. Street races through small towns, long circuits down by the coast, and winding, twisting runs across the countryside give Horizon 2 an informal feel. Players have to deal with trees, guardrails, outdoor cafes, traffic, and all sorts of “real world” factors that are normally tightly controlled on a racetrack.
The cool part is that you don’t have to be in an actual race to experience the terrain of Forza Horion 2. In fact, you don’t even really have to do anything if you don’t want, you can simply drive around aimlessly hour after hour. Any and all points on the map are 100% accessible from the get-go. Aside from flying off of a cliff or into a lake, cars can travel virtually anywhere – through fields and crops, up stairs, on the sidewalk, it’s all fair game. However, in order to buy new cars, you’ll need credits, which are earned through races, but the point is that there’s plenty to do besides engaging in one race after the next. Exploring is essential to completing and discovering some of the nooks and crannies in Horizon 2, such as “barn finds” and “bonus signs.”
And this brings me to how realistic the environment is. Grass and dirt fly up when driving off-road, sparks fly when cars clash with each other, tables and chairs go flying when hit, and there are an infinite number of poles, stakes, fences, and signs to plow over. All possible interactions between moving objects have been accounted for; a tremendous amount of thought and planning has been put into every single inch of scenery. Even the cities look great. Roads vary in composition from asphalt, to dirt, to cobblestone. Nearly each and every surface provides its own unique haptic feedback to the controller. I could keep going and going about every little detail, but it really needs to be experienced. Clearly the developers have gone to great lengths to make the most realistic physical environment possible.
The racing itself is exactly like Forza 5. Things like gravity, friction, inertia, and momentum are all accounted for to make driving as close to the real thing as possible. Those that are more familiar with “kart racing” (such as myself) will find these real-world physics difficult to deal with at first, but that only adds to the fun. There’s a noticeable difference between how different cars perform, which keeps things fresh and interesting and also contributes to the different types of races one can engage in. Mastering the multitude of available cars is a major asset to the game’s replay value. To spice it up even more, Forza Horizon 2 accounts for both a day and night cycle and changing weather. Wet and rainy roads make it more difficult to maintain control, and night driving poses a serious visibility threat. Again, it’s amazing to see this level of realism, and all of these little factors pile upon one another to ensure that the racing doesn’t get monotonous any time soon.
Graphics are phenomenal. Each blade of grass or leaf on a tree is distinct and the whole of it is beautiful. Quaint villages are dotted around the hilly landscape, creating a sharp contrast with the modern machines that crisscross the area. The vehicles look great as expected. I don’t know a whole lot about cars, but it looks as though a great deal of detail has gone into portraying them as accurately as possible.
The top-notch game engine and immaculate presentation are at the center of Forza Horizon 2’s awesomeness, but it’s all the little bells and whistles that really make this title pop. The plethora of places and events are held together by an interactive map. All you have to do is click on where you want to go next, and the computer automatically plots an easy to follow course. Take a wrong turn? End up on a strange road or in the middle of a field? No problem, the computer will quickly calculate a new route. It’s as easy as following the green line.
Also part of this navigation system is an AI GPS known as “ANNA,” which is some clever acronym I can’t remember. If at any point the player gets stuck or doesn’t know what to do next, ANNA can provide helpful suggestions with regards to entering championships or other activities.
There are a wealth of little perks like this that give the game both depth and accessibility. In the past, complicated and in-depth games have had a high learning curve, while simple games had little to offer beyond an initial playthrough. However, the vastness of Forza Horizon 2 is tempered with a variety of reminders and prompts to keep the player engaged. Additionally, there are myriad settings at the player’s disposal. Difficulty is completely customizable. One can use simple presets like “easy” or “hard,” but one can also tweak the individual settings, such as assisted steering, assisted braking, skill of other Drivatars (more on them in a second) and about a dozen other options. Car buffs and the vehicularly challenged can both glean maximum enjoyment from what Horizon 2 has to offer.
The Drivatar system is brilliant, and carried over directly from Forza 5. Instead of a pesky, boring, exploitative, computer AI behind the wheel of each car, the game compiles data from hundreds of other gamers playing the game and then applies these behaviors to the opponents in the game. The player races neither AI machines nor actual players, but a wonderful melding of the two concepts. You get the consistency of AI behavior with the real-world reactions of real-world players. It’s a wonderfully crafted idea and I’m just as impressed with it here as I was in Forza 5.
Finally, there are all the social aspects of Forza Horizon 2, which I’m sorry to say I haven’t taken part in. Some of the features include joining clubs, challenging specific rivals and Drivatars, car meets, and more. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that there’s more than enough to keep online gamers busy for quite some time.
Horizon 2 also includes expansion options. Again, this isn’t an area I’ve fully delved into, but special car packs as well as a VIP package are available at an additional cost. There’s also Storm Island, which adds an entirely new area to the game, and which I plan on purchasing as soon as I’ve made a bit more progress in the main game.
I feel like there’s so much more that I’m missing (like the radio stations!), but I’ve at least hit the major points. Forza Horizon 2 is a massive game that racing fans are sure to love, and I would bet that anyone looking for a solid video game in general will be pleased with it as well. Typically I like my games steeped in fantasy, but I can’t deny the appeal of something so lifelike – especially an activity that I’m not likely to ever engage in. (In this case, ripping through the European countryside with millions of dollars worth of cars.) If you liked Forza Motorsport 5 then you’ll be sure to love this similar experience, and if you’ve got an Xbox One, this is another top tier title to add to your library that you won’t find on the PlayStation 4. I’m sure the Xbox One version has a little more “oomph” behind it, but the 360 version shouldn’t be too far behind for those without Microsoft’s newest console.
I don’t know that I’ll be any more likely to jump into racing games in general, but I’ll definitely be ready for more releases under the Forza umbrella.
Reviewed by The Cubist
Share This Post