Forza Horizon 2 Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One
Debuting back in 2012 Forza Horizon was a more than welcome alternative to the slightly sterile, simulation based experience that the likes of its big brother Forza Motorsport and the PlayStation alternative Gran Turismo were offering. Bright, breezy and for the most part downright fun, the Playground Games title marked a bit of a breakthrough for the Forza spin off, creating a new franchise in its own right. Suffice to say that despite some faults which made for an uneven experience, with a slightly shallow, detached online element it was critically acclaimed, scoring a rather lovely nine here at the Digital Fix in fact - see our Forza Horizon 360 review for proof.
Now Playground Games return along with the new souped up Xbox One and of course, who could forget, the power of the cloud (wink). All joking aside the developers appear to have delivered arguably the Xbox One’s first killer app. Forza Horizon 2 is an open world racer that for the first time on the platform, is worthy of the phrase “delivering a next gen experience”. Sporting two hundred cars, all beautifully realised, you begin your career in a lowly Toyota Supra (or similar), looking to make a name for yourself (yet again) at the Horizon festival. Competing in class based races across the sweeping, often jaw dropping landscapes of rural Italy, France and Spain. Graphically it is arguably one of the best looking games on any system and is absolutely the best looking racing game on the Xbox One - the detail of the environments is surpassed only by the beautifully realised cars, from the sleek defined lines of the McLaren F1 to the boy racer’s favourite, the Honda Civic Type R. The game looks incredible, and the addition of rain and wet road effects are a late but welcome addition and have a genuine influence on the car's handling, and functional windscreen wipers in the cockpit view just add to the realism.
The single player career itself is a series of road trips. Road trips are multi-part; taking the form of a casual drive across the map to the next hub at which point a series of four new races, all with varying styles, will appear. The race variation is interesting and welcomed to a point. Track racing is at the core but of course with this being Forza Horizon you will find yourself racing through corn fields, through busy farms, traffic filled towns and more. It’s hectic at times and often quite tough given that you are racing american muscle cars (for example) through a farm - cars which are rear wheel drive only and are harder to corner than a river barge, but it all adds to the already established breezy fun that this game presents. It is most definitely not a sim but more of a racing game that both hardcore and casuals alike can enjoy, hitting a sweet spot that so many racing games down the years have failed to.
The online component has been expanded with this iteration and it is in this element that we see the biggest leap forward from the original. Removing the need for a lot of menus, the online component now takes advantage of the new road trip mechanics. Joining a road trip is as easy as finding one through a simple search or joining a friend’s and once part of a road trip, you seamlessly move from location, to race, to location, to race and back again. This all works pretty flawlessly and prevents any feelings of detachment from the task at hand...racing. Content wise the online racing is identical to the single player, which further enhances the feeling of immersion in the overall experience. Online is further embellished by the raft of social features included, such as the cringely named drivatars, effectively ghosts of your friends based on driver behaviour which has been collected from them during their on or offline antics. Clubs can be formed, creating tiered leaderboards and club based challenges; along with the neat little touch that allows you to add and receive additional XP for being part of an active club. Finishing off the online elements are the rivals. Again, the game takes advantage of your friends list highlighting those friends who have narrowly beaten your score on a given event or road trip, effectively daring you to do better and rewarding you with both credits and XP should you be successful.
Supplementing the core game content is a series of challenges neatly named “Bucket List” challenges. A simple concept that has you jumping in some random, usually insanely expensive, overpowered cars and being asked to break a speed record or a point to point time. Throwaway fun but with some really nice rewards. Alongside these are the return of barn finds, again a simple concept which has you scouring an area highlighted on the map to find a hidden, abandoned vehicle which is all yours if you can actually find it. Two parts interesting with one part annoying the barn finds rarely see you getting an amazing vehicle but for the completionists out there they provide an itch for you to scratch.
Standard collectibles are also included such as XP boards, fast travel boards and parts discount boards; combined there are well over one hundred and collecting them by smashing through them is oddly something which doesn’t get old - it is possible for seemingly endless amounts of collectibles to be fun!
Sadly it isn’t an absolutely perfect package, mainly for two key reasons; the soundtrack/radio stations, and the size of the world itself. The radio stations themselves have a really limited number of tracks, literally during a few hours play it feels like four to five per station and this is compounded by the fact that there is so little to distinguish the music between each station - everything just seems to merge into one. As far as the world is concerned the early messaging made out that the new world was huge...it isn’t. It’s big for sure, taking around twenty minutes of real life time to do a lap of the maps perimeter but pre-release the size was clearly overstated. Neither of these issues detract in a big way from the amount of pure enjoyment the game has to offer but it’s annoying, particularly with the radio stations, that more couldn’t be done for this release.
Taking the guts of the Forza “package” and re-purposing it creating a really accessible, gorgeous and most importantly fun racing game is what the developers have achieved here. Many will argue it is too easy and they would be right...on the default difficulty settings. Luckily unlike some of the competition almost every aspect of the difficulty can be tweaked, amending user aids as well as driver AI. Forza Horizon 2 is simply a joy to play - combining the gorgeous graphics, authentic but forgiving car handling, a wealth of single player content along with some fantastic social features. The the Xbox One does appear to have its first killer app.