Forza has long been a name synonymous with the elite of racing simulators, but since Playground Games got their hands on it in 2012 they have managed to craft their own style into the traditionally strict formula of the series. This resulted in a unique hybrid of simulator and arcade style fun with an open-world twist in Forza Horizon. In the sequel, aptly titled Forza Horizon 2, Playground Games takes it to next-gen with the same engine that powered Forza Motorsport 5, but with a few tweaks under the hood that make the game stand out above its predecessor.
In Forza Horizon 2 players are back at the Horizon festival, but this time they are in southern Europe soaking up the sun as they travel across six unique regions. There players can experience hundreds of events and try to win over one-hundred different championships with various car types. Players will still be able to entertain themselves as they drive around and explore the huge open-world, earning experience and credits as they do so. Beating your friend’s speed traps, speed zones, and of course the barn finds, where players have to find one of ten hidden barns each with a unique vehicle inside.
The first thing you do in the game after the initial tutorial is choose a vehicle, but choose wisely as this structures how your first few hours with the game will play out and what events you will be grouped into. The choices essentially boil down to sports car, muscle car or tuner. This choice mechanic adds a cool spin to the game and creates a feeling of player freedom and agency. Eventually, you will gain the option to choose from a wide array of vehicles including off-road, toys, super cars and more. Each class has their own set of events and championships to win. The locations rotate in ‘Road Trips’ which is a cycle of one championship per city. Once a cycle is complete you arrive back at the Horizon main base, at the beginning, and do it all again selecting new championships to conquer. The end-goal is to win fifteen championships out of the hundred or so available, and eventually get invited to the Horizon Finale set of racing events.
As you race, and drive around the world you will earn experience and CP (credits), just as in the previous game, but with a few changes weaved in. You will now earn the ability for a wheel spin every time you gain a level which can reward you with either coins or even a new car. Also, every few levels you will earn a skill point which can be applied to purchase perks. Perks are new to the series, with 25 available to unlock, they add variety and choice for the player to manage as they see fit. You can purchase bonuses for head-to-head races, if that is your thing, or you can focus on earning more credits if people download your tuning or paint setup, this will give you a ten percent bonus on all cash earned and more.
Fresh aspects continue onto the pavement with new events such as street races, these usually involve sharp turns and take place within select cities in the game. These also test your reflexes as other NPC cars will be driving around the world as well and act as hazards. Cross country events are sort of like off-road races with on-road vehicles; these are quite fun as you will be hitting the hills and makeshift jumps of the countryside, while racing through checkpoints to the finish line. Returning are the speed traps and speed sections as well as the off road billboards, which now come in two flavors. Some will just earn you a bulk of experience, while others will help you earn a discount on fast traveling from one point to another. They also seem a lot better hidden this time around, but your map will still mark them if you fly past one during a race or in a free-roam session, so you don’t totally lose them. One of the other great additions is the ‘Bucket List’ which is made up of a set of challenges where you drive a pre-determined vehicle and complete challenges such as drive to point ‘A’ before ‘X’ amount of time, and so on. There is quite a bit of variety in these Bucket List challenges and they are fun to do.
From the lighting and the car models to the foliage in the game, everything looks fantastic
Photo mode also makes a return appearance and is quite nice if you want to take the perfect picture of you beating your friends score, or those gorgeous European vistas. While there are many collectible based challenges in Forza Horizon 2, such as the barns and signs to destroy, there is one new aspect that involves the game’s photo mode. Players are encouraged to take pictures of all the cars participating in the Horizon festival this year and are awarded for every twenty they take, which is logged under the ‘Horizon Promo’. It’s a cool way to get players to use the photo mode and gawk at cars while earning money at the same time.
Graphically Forza Horizon 2 utilizes the same engine that powered Forza Motorsport 5 on Xbox One. Where the previous entry focused on crowds and set race courses, Playground Games has tweaked that engine to make the entire world of Forza Horizon 2 come to life. From the lighting and the car models to the foliage in the game, everything looks fantastic. However, there is slight pop-in occasionally but nothing you don’t typically expect from an open-world title. This will happen even when you are playing offline, so it isn’t necessarily a network issue.
Kinect integration is quite fascinating in Forza Horizon 2 and very useful. It is by far one of the best uses of Kinect that I have seen thus far. Players are introduced to ‘Anna’ very early in Forza Horizon 2, she is the AI computer within every vehicle in the game. Think of her as K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider except without the crazy stuff. She serves as your GPS and on board computer system that helps the player maneuver around the Horizon festival. By simply saying ‘Anna’ a selection of commands pops up in the bottom left corner. They range from ‘what do I do next?’ which has her make a random suggestion to further your career, to the most helpful, ‘continue road trip’ in which Anna will set a waypoint to your next championship or story based event you have to go to in order to progress. It is quite useful and a great use of the Kinect.
It brings that festival feel, and community atmosphere alive within the game
Online was merely a background component in the first Horizon game, but there’s a lot more to do in Forza Horizon 2’s modes. Online functionality stretches across both single and multiplayer. You can challenge your friends or ‘rivals’ and their Drivatars while racing in single player, or you can party up via Xbox Live and do some real head to head racing. In Horizon Online, players can participate in a road trip of their own, going from race to race or they can just cruise around in free roam. Players can create or join Clubs and drive around with their friends and earn extra experience for doing it as a club. There are tiers within the club that reset on a weekly basis to track who is the best among the group. Any and all experience earned here is carried over to your single player as well so you never miss a beat.
The online component in Forza Horizon 2 also focuses heavily on the community atmosphere with emphasis on making new friends and sharing. Players can go to ‘car meets’ once they are unlocked and are transported to an area where other players may be there chatting it up via voice chat or simply their driveatar equivalent. Here you can look at other player’s vehicles, vinyls or design and if you like what you see you can have it for yourself. It brings that festival feel, and community atmosphere alive within the game. This is also apparent via the community menu once you pause the game. This allows you to browse designs and tuning setups online and vote for your favorite ones. The online portion is enjoyable and easy to access anytime, anywhere in the game and will have you and your friends playing long into the night.
Forza Horizon 2 manages to surpass its predecessor in not only execution, but the intricacy and scope the series has always been known for. The Southern European setting feels larger than Colorado from the first game, not by a geographical standpoint, but in the ability to explore and make your own fun by driving around with friends and creating an adventure. The game has a robust selection of modes and racing events, unfortunately the story is only a bite size portion of a much larger pie. Forza Horizon 2 begs to be explored with various vehicle types and styles to make a very engrossing experience for the car fanatic or the Forza fan. If you missed out on the last Horizon festival, then Forza Horizon 2 is definitely worth checking out. If you’ve already experienced the first Forza Horizon, and enjoyed it, then this is still a must own game. It is the new aspects that truly take Forza Horizon 2 to the next level and build on the foundation that was already a solid racing game.
Forza Horizon 2
- Available On: Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Published By: Microsoft Studios
- Developed By: Playground Games
- Genre: Racing
- US Release Date: September 30th, 2014
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Quote: "A sequel that does what it set out to do, raise the bar."