Forza Horizon 2, the offshoot of Microsoft’s flagship racing IP evolves and sets the bar for the new generation of racers.
Forza Horizon is one of the best racing games from the ‘last’ generation of consoles in anyway you want to slice it. Bright colours, satisfyingly chunky arcade-style car handling, a good sized open world, and that all important XP system for those that need to see the numbers as a quantification of their time and skill invested in a game. All married in perfect tandem to create a superlative racing experience. Or some such cobblers, basically it was ace. Well, once you got past the appalling DUDE BRO presentation of it all. That bit was rubbish. Oh and the slightly wonky online bit of the game, but the rest? Golden.
So it’s no real surprise that Forza Horizon 2 doesn’t deviate far from the template set up by the first, and instead builds on what was good and alters what was bad. Relocated from Colorado to Southern Europe, you’re given an approximation of the south of France and northern Italy to charge about in a variety of cars ranging from old school to the very peak of modern vehicular technology.
First though, you have to sit through a short-but-really-way-too-long intro of beautiful 20 something hipsters (or maybe that’s how all young people look these days, Christ only knows) having the time of their live at raves while careening about gorgeous countryside in ridiculous cars and looking gorgeous while a willowy voice over spouts some rubbish about the summer of your life. Or something. It has to be said, attention tended to wander as it went on because you couldn’t skip the bloody thing.
To be perfectly frank, this is almost the only thing wrong with Forza Horizon 2. This and Sean Maguire and the woman that fixes your car that calls you ‘dude’ all the time. Fortunately the DUDE BRO nature has been dialled right back, and the game is much better for it.
Forza Horizon 2 has a lot in common with classic Xbox racer Project Gotham Racing 2, not only in handling style, but also with the (now overhauled) skill system resembling that games Kudos system. XP earned from driving like a professional lunatic and performing skill chains, such as drifting, drafting, smashing objects, overtaking, clean racing and generally hooning around without breaking the chain is put towards levelling up. Attaining a level awards skill points to put into the Perk grid, unlocking online and offline benefits for you, as well as Wheelspins which award credits or even a car if you’re lucky.
The game does a good job of keeping the races varied, with the conceit being you’re on a road trip around southern Europe, and you partake in a Championship when you reach one of 6 hub locations. You can choose from a group of Championships at each location, such as Supercar, Offroad, Hot Hatch and Classic Muscle to name a few. Each of these groups has 2 to 4 sub categories which breaks the car classes down even further, providing easy variety. All 28 Championships can be completed individually at each hub, but you need much less to hit the Final.
One of the games biggest added features is the near complete free roam of the map. Best exhibited in the Cross Country races, you’re encouraged to stick your foot to the floor and drive just to see what’s over the hill and beyond. This could have been crippled had Playground Games been daft enough to to limit this to 4 wheel drive, high clearance cars but nope, you can go off road in a Countach just as easy as a Bowler.
Aside from the actual racing it’s also chock full of other brilliant distractions, such as Barn Finds (barns hold rare cars where you’re given an approximate location to search), XP and Fast Travel discount boards to smash, speed cameras to find and break the limit on, the Bucket List, where you’re usually given a super bonkers car to perform specific task in a certain time limit, and even a Pokemon Snap style side mission to photograph every car in the game. The photo mode needs a special mention, simply because it showcases the games ridiculous good looks. There’s a big hoo hah about 30 frames per second these days, and to be honest it’s not getting touched with a barge pole here, but if the 30 frames sacrifice was to keep it rock solid and looking this good it was worth it. Maybe Horzion 3 will be 60 frames and people can let it go. We can hope.
The Online portion of Forza Horizon 2 is substantial and incredibly well integrated, moving you seamlessly from single player to multiplayer with a couple of button pushes but it’s pretty incredible and sets a very high bar for games to follow. You can free roam with access to every course in the game, do co-op Bucket Lists and join Road Trips.
Road Trips are 4 event mini tournaments consisting of races and more offbeat events like Infected and King, where you have to be the last person to not be touched by an infected player and you have to hold the King title longest to win respectively. After each event you’re awarded XP, then you’re hareing off to the next one. Whoever has the most XP amassed at the end of the tournament wins. It’s also ace how the XP counts toward your single player total as well. It’s an incredible amount of fun, but comes with the usual caveats of level really is no indication of the skill of someone, and beware of people playing the game like it’s Destruction Derby.
The antisocial so and so’s.
The Xbox One has had a rough start, and in some ways deservedly so. It was created by a company who completely misunderstood their target audience with an emphasis on TV and multitasking with a peripheral almost no-one wanted. As such a lot of people plumped for the PS4, with it’s proven greater performance on multiformat titles and general ethos of “For The Gamer”. However, Driveclub has been dismally let down by PSN’s awful reliability and some seemingly terrible design decisions, and even though one game is not enough for many to fork out another £300+ for a second console, Forza Horizon 2 makes a very good case for those looking for an amazing racing experience to taking the plunge.
An amazing example of online and offline racing built around an engaging, satisfying handling model with the looks to match. Very, very nearly worth buying an Xbox One for alone.