Forza Horizon is back and better than ever on Xbox One. Building off the successful formula of the original, Forza Horizon 2 is better in every way. It is three times as large as the original Horizon which means a lot more territory to explore and new things to do. Horizon 2 takes place throughout Southern Europe with the same basic premise of the original, get to the Horizon festival and then once you are there work your way up to the finale and win it all. Along the way there are around 700 events to complete and over 200 cars to get you around Europe. Some old favorites have returned like the barn finds combined with new technologies such as the Drivatar system from Forza Motorsport 5. Playground Games has put it all together here to get one of the best racing titles I have played in quite some time.
For those who might not be familiar with the Forza Horizon series, it is a bit different than Forza Motorsport. The Forza Motorsport franchise is a simulation racing game where you race around tracks around the world whereas the Forza Horizon series is about open world racing and straddles the line between being a simulation and arcade-y racer. The “story” for Forza Horizon 2 has you competing in a variety of championship races. The way it essentially works is that you get to a location, such as Castelletto, and there are a number of events there that you must complete in order to advance. After winning the appropriate number of championships you’ll be invited on a road trip to the next city where there will be more championships awaiting you. Certain cars can only do certain championships though so if you have already gone through all of the championships for a souped up sports car, then you can go to the Horizon hub and switch out your car which will give you access to more races. There are different races to go through such as a street race, a scramble, a sprint race, a trail race and more. This should definitely keep you busy for quite a while.
In addition to all of the championship races available throughout Forza Horizon 2, there are a number of different activities to do as well. There are over 300 roads to drive down and PlayGround Games tied an achievement into finding every road and driving down it. Speed traps have returned where you need to drive by a camera as fast as you possibly can so that you can not only set your personal best but also obliterate your friend’s time as well. There are also a bunch of XP boards strewn around the environment to smash into as well as travel discount boards. You will gain additional XP by smashing into any of these boards you see laying around and by racing through the travel discount boards you will receive a discount on the price it costs you to fast travel around the map. You can even use Kinect to help you find the locations of the boards as well as a number of different items. Simply by saying, “Anna, Nearest, Bucket List” the game’s GPS automatically routes to me to the one that is closest to my location. Then, when I am done, ‘Anna’ will ask me if I want to be directed to the next one. It is quite helpful and worked really well for me. There was even a point when I was racing around in an online free roam session where ‘Anna’ told me some of my friends were starting a race and asked if I wanted to join. I simply said no and continued on with what I was doing.
One new addition to the Forza Horizon franchise is the Drivatar system. This debuted last year in Forza Motorsport 5 and adds a bit more of an authentic feel to the racing. Utilizing their cloud technology, the team over at Microsoft essentially lets you create your own AI driver which has become known as the “Drivatar.” In short, the Drivatars are racers that will replicate the behaviors of your friends (as well as strangers) so that they will drive more like real people. The more you play the game the more it learns about your tendencies, what kind of racer you are and various other things that it then uploads to the cloud to create your Drivatar AI. What this essentially means is that I can race against my friend Scott while he is still at work and I am at home on my Xbox One. The good thing for Scott is that even though he is busy at work and not able to be playing in that moment, his Drivatar is still earning him experience and credits for participating in races in his absence. It is really a very cool system that works really well in Forza Horizon 2. This leads into the Rivals aspect of the Horizon franchise. When you are done completing a race or another type of event there will be a lot of times where the game ask you if you want to beat a rival time and you have the choice on whether to accept or decline. Yesterday after completing the race the game informed me that Major Nelson was my biggest rival on that particular track at that moment and asked me whether I wanted to try and beat his time. I accepted and essentially raced Major Nelson’s Drivatar and ended up winning. After that it asked me whether I wanted to race against a tougher rival and, if I won, I would get an even bigger reward due to the difficulty going up. It is a great way to compete against your friends even if they aren’t in front of their console.
Community is a big part of the Forza franchise (both Motorsport and Horizon) and with Forza Horizon 2 it is no different. For those casual racing fans who just want to race around the environment and not worry about anything else you can do that and have a great time doing it. For those who want to get underneath the hood though there is a plethora of options for you to mess around with. You can change the tire pressure, alignment, how soft or stiff your springs are, how your brakes work, the differential in acceleration and deceleration and much more. You can also look at designs and vinyls that others have created and if you like them you can download it and apply it to your car. If you have a favorite creator that makes a lot of stuff that you like you can also choose to follow them.
Forza Horizon 2 has a big online component as well if you choose you want to compete against other people. There are online road trips where you will travel from city to city in a string of events that includes championship races and playground games. Once that is complete the group gets to vote on where to head next in the world. For those wondering, “playground games” are mini-games such as Infected or King. In Infected there is one car that is infected and must try to infect the other racers by ramming into them. If there are four cars in the event and I “infect” someone with my car then he becomes infected as well and tries to go after the other two cars. In King there is a “king” racing around with a crown icon. The objective here is to ram into that guy and become king yourself. As king you need to stay “alive” as long as possible by avoiding other drivers and not letting them hit you. It is a tremendous amount of fun and changes things up from the other activities in the game. There is also online free roam where you can be in a party with friends and you can either do your own thing or someone in your party might try and start an event and it is up to whether you want to participate. If you do you can either drive to the starting line or hit a button to fast travel there. If you don’t want to participate then you can continue doing whatever it is that you were doing. I know during one play session I declined the option to join in a race because I was in the middle of searching for a barn find. During my experience with the online everything ran silky smooth and there wasn’t any lag at all. It essentially ran just as well as when I was playing solo and going through the map by myself.
Car clubs are also in Forza Horizon 2 and you can either join an existing club or make your own. I created one for Gaming Target (hint, hint) that is open for anyone to join. Once you are part of a club you can compete against other club members by earning as much XP as you can each week to climb the ladder. As you gain more XP and reach higher tiers you will also be rewarded with credits as well. This is a great way for club members to meet new people, add them to your friends list and explore the world of Forza Horizon 2. The more XP you get and the more you do overall gives the club itself experience as well and will move us up in the rankings against all of the other clubs that are out there. Car clubs can hold up to 1,000 members so I’m looking forward to watching our car club grow as more people get the game.
One new addition Playground Games has brought to the Forza Horizon franchise is the Bucket List. This is a list of 30 items that you “must do” throughout the game. These range in difficulty from easy to hard and allows you to do things you most likely won’t ever get the chance to do in real life. One of these instances is to find a McLaren P1 and escape to the countryside. The kicker here is that you only have a limited amount of time to get to your destination and they don’t really make it easy on you. Another bucket list item is touring the Italian coast in a classic Ferrari 250 GTO. A couple of other examples are showing off your skills in a Mercedes SLS AMG and being able to tear around the streets of Nice in a Huracan. These are really fun challenges and it is a great addition to the franchise by the developer.
As you are going through and completing all of these different challenges there is going to be a point where you want to check on your overall progress. The developers have created a pretty extensive stats menu where you can get your general statistics such as how many hours you have played the game, how many races you have been in, what your most valuable car is and various items like that. If you want to get a little more technical you can look at your telemetry stats that give you the average left-front tire load, the average acceleration Gs, the average left-front tire temp and a lot more. Additionally, there is a “discovery” section that keeps you up to date on everything you have found. It will tell you how many XP boards you have smashed, how many speed traps you have triggered, how many destinations you have visited and more. It will give you your personal records too such as your longest drift, longest jump and your total distance driven. It is a really detailed list depending on how far down you want to go and if you are a completionist you will most likely be consulting these screens a lot.
In addition to simply looking at your progression stats, there are rewards for leveling up and generally performing well. Every time you level up you will unlock a Wheelspin. This is essentially a slot machine mini-game. You simply press the button to get it started and whatever the machine stops on is what you win. I have won some really amazing cars with this all the way down to something as small as 5,000 credits. There is also the perks system which allows you to unlock special rewards. Once you earn a skill point by performing various tricks you can go in to your Perks menu and choose to unlock the perk where you earn XP when you bank a skill chain, have better odds at winning better prizes more often with the Wheelspin, build your skill chain twice as fast and much more. There are 25 perks you can unlock and they will definitely help you make the most out of your time with Forza Horizon 2.
Aesthetically speaking, Forza Horizon 2 is an absolutely breathtaking game. The environments look fantastic and the cars themselves look phenomenal. You can see the smallest little details whether you are controlling the car from a third person point of view or are sitting in the cockpit view. The soundtrack has an eclectic mix of music and you will gain access to more radio stations as you progress in the game. Forza Horizon 2 also features a day/night cycle with dynamic weather so you never quite know what to expect. Forza Horizon 2 looks beautiful in the daytime but looks just as great during the night too with all of the cities beautifully lit up, fireworks in the sky and the headlights of all of the cars racing past you. There have been times where I start a race with perfect weather but then all of a sudden the sky gets dark, the dark clouds begin rolling in and before I know it the rain starts. Rain definitely changes the composition of the track a bit by making it more slick so if you are racing in inclement weather you are going to want to keep that in mind.
Another item that is making a return is the skills system. You can earn credits and XP by putting on a show and demonstrating your skills behind the wheel whether you are competing in an event or simply roaming around the countryside. If you can chain together moves successfully then that is when you can start earning points at a faster pace as your combo begins to multiply. I had one instance where I gained 6,000 XP from chaining together a few different moves and since I had the multiplier all the way up to “3X,” by the time I was done I had earned myself 18,000 XP. You do want to be careful here however that you don’t crash into anything. If you ram into a wall or crash into a car before you can bank all of your points then you will lose everything you just earned. This encourages a risk/reward mentality where you want to do everything you can to get the best possible score but you need to keep your car under control so you, hopefully, don’t slam into anything and erase the points you just earned. Some of my favorite maneuvers were drifting around a corner, getting a “near miss” on upcoming traffic, getting bonuses for racing cleanly and more. It is another layer on top of everything else that you can do although being able to master some of these skills will go a long way between you coming in first place and just missing the podium.
Forza Horizon 2 is the best driving/racing game I have played in quite some time, perhaps even since the original. Playground Games has really hit it out of the park here and I am excited to see what they bring to the table in the future now that they are more familiar with the Xbox One hardware. The new additions coupled with improved returning features make this a must-have game this holiday season. The way everything flows is amazing and the seamless play whether you are playing solo or online is fantastic. If you are unsure about this game and want to try it out for yourself there is a demo you can download which shows off a small portion of the overall game. Overall, Forza Horizon 2 is an improvement over the original which was also an excellent title in its own right. There are a good number of racing games coming out over the next few months but be sure not to miss out on this one.
Originally posted on Gaming Target