The roar of the engine, the aerodynamics of an automobile's body, the screech of the tyres as you drift around a corner... these are all things that I'm not too fussed about for my gaming experiences these days, at least not on their own - I do enjoy a good car chase in the likes of GTA but I’ve always got a pistol on hand there. Driving games aren't my video game genre of choice I find, I favour something that's going transport me to another world with dragons or aliens, getting the chance to create my own characters and forge my own stories. However, I think it's safe to say Forza Horizon 2 has definitely made me fall at least a little bit back in love with the driving game genre.
The first thing you're going to notice about Forza Horizon 2 is that it's an utterly gorgeous looking game. I would often find myself telling my brain that ‘no, it’s not a real vista you’re looking at.’ The cars, being the stars of the show, have been meticulously recreated in digital form, with every minute detail being present, even down to the interiors and dashboards. There are over 200 of these masterfully recreated vehicles in the game, and there’s all sorts of ways to get your hands on them.
Sometimes when you’re cutting through fields you’ll need to be wary of invisible barriers, you won’t be able to jump over some fences or walls, resulting in more than just a clipped wing mirror.
Some of the cars are awarded to you by way of the game’s story. The story, albeit a loose one that I never felt too invested in, sees you at a music festival in southern Europe – the Horizon Festival. It takes place all across the southern European setting in various locations throughout the hills, coast, and towns. As you play the game you set off on road trips to these different locations to compete in many championships that are sorted into categories; do you take on the American Muscle championship in your classic Chevy Camaro, or would you rather something a little slower paced with your Ford F-100 truck? There are cars to cater to all tastes; the insanely-quick Ariel Atom being a personal favourite of mine at the moment.
The events and races vary from circuits that stick to the roads, fully offroad races through checkpoints that leave a little room for you to create your own route, to ones that use a mixture of both. The cross country races were pretty intense, cutting through crop fields with limited vision, switching to roads then back into fields, it really mixed up the gameplay and made you think on your feet, or your tyres if you will. I had to, sorry.
Showcases inbetween championships in the main story are a nice break from hitting race after race. First I was tasked with racing against an aerial display team, which shook the screen and rumbled the controller whenever they flew overhead, adding an element of tension and causing me to hope I wouldn't stove into the barrier or cliff every time they did so.
The second thing you’re going to notice about Forza Horizon 2 is the environment; the southern Europe setting looks stunning as you cruise around the quaint backcountry roads of southern France and northern Italy, it’s a beautiful backdrop. Driving one of the many sports cars along the quiet backroads that twist alongside fields and farmland makes you feel like you’re in an episode of Top Gear. The dynamic weather and lighting provides a great added extra to make you feel like this is a living environment – it could be beaming hot sunshine onto the tarmac one moment, until you notice a few specks of rain and you’re engulfed in a downpour.
All the screenshots in this review were taken using Forza Horizon 2's Photo Mode. It's a brilliant tool.
The progression in the game felt just right. Not once did I feel it was a struggle to move ahead or gain new cars, and I never felt like I was easily ploughing through everything either – a great balance. As you play you’ll earn XP to level up, and when you level up you’ll earn a ‘wheelspin’. Wheelspins are a lottery draw, you’ll earn a random amount of in-game currency credits or even a new car. Credits are also earned through racing, awarded at the end of a race with the amount you receive depending on how well you’ve performed. Skill points are awarded for driving skillfully, so drifting around a corner, slipstreaming an opponent, or driving cleanly will rack these up eventually earning you a skill point. Your skill points are used to buy perks that’ll give you extra credits and XP when completing races, fast travel to anywhere on the map, or icons above cars you need to take photos of for the ‘photo challenge’.
Forza Horizon 2’s Photo Mode was something I spent quite a bit of time with, both taking photos and also browsing through other players’ shots too. As someone who’s dabbled in Photography a little, I found my love of the medium catered to in spades when playing about with the in-game camera. You can stop the gameplay at literally any moment to shift into photo mode, even during replays, allowing you to move in quite a wide area around your car. There’s plenty of realistic photographic options too with shutter speed, aperture, focus, exposure and other settings at your disposal to be tweaked. This is just another example of how diverse and rich the game’s experience is, I was literally lost inside the game for hours on end just messing around with photography, not even racing.
Exploration is encouraged, with many hidden bonus billboards to crash through, old cars hidden away in barns to find, ‘Bucket List’ challenges that require you to complete specific conditions, and much more.
When driving at night you'll see the festival in full swing, with fireworks firing off in the distance and the faint drum of music.
It’s a car enthusiast’s paradise, there’s literally every type of car you can think of, from old classics to bulky offroaders, to coupes and supercars. The game caters to all tastes, so if you’re someone who prefers to just pick up and play you’re totally covered . You can lower the difficulty and up the assistance with your braking, traction, gear shifting, and turn off damage if you like, but it does lower the amount of experience you gain in exchange. However, if you’re all about the simulation experience you can turn all assists off, changing gears manually and suffering every scrape and bump during a race which could potentially ruin your ride. I’m more of a middle ground kind of guy, so for most of the game I had the difficulty set to medium, although I did try a few races with everything but the braking assists and gear changes off, and I did surprisingly better than I thought I would.
The Drivatars take real players’ traits and ways of driving, creating AI opponents in the single player that are said to drive like their real-life counterparts. I did enjoy this more personal aspect, often spotting the AI version of my brother in races whilst cruising about in the open-world. I knew it wasn’t really him, but it still compelled me to beat him in every race he appeared in. When driving about freely there are AI drivers racing along roads and cutting through fields, and odd times I’d see them come a cropper by crashing into the slower traffic in ridiculously obvious ways. This was quite funny at times, but often a little off-putting.
The drivers of the cars were all the same. I would sometimes be watching a replay back, or playing about with the photo mode, and I’d catch a glimpse of the drivers. It was like everyone who drove a car in southern Europe was a clone of some generic-looking white dude. Being someone who likes character creation and customisation in other games, I would have liked to have been given the option to alter the look of my driver even just a little.
Like I said earlier, Forza Horzion 2 caters to all tastes, and that extends to the car customisation too. You can change almost every part of your cars from the engine, suspension, body, wheels, and more, completely altering your factory Nissan Skyline into something that would feel at home in The Fast and Furious movies. The tweaks extend to tuning your rides too, altering the tiniest details to get the most out of them. If you like to tinker around with all that stuff then you’re sorted. Me? I preferred to opt for the auto upgrades that allowed me to simply choose what class of car I wanted from whatever vehicle I was currently in; so that standard Mitsubishi Lancer I bought for the rally stages was quickly turned into a force to be reckoned with via a couple of button presses.
I couldn't get enough of the cross country stages, they're great fun.
There’s a good mixture of music to listen to as well, with a choice between a handful of radio stations that offer up Drum & Bass, Indie Rock and even Classical. There’s something deeply poetic about cruising at almost 200mph whilst listening to Mozart.
There's more than enough to do in the game, and then if you ever get through it all you've got the online components against other players, and trying to outdo your friends on the leaderboards. Going online you can join a road trip, similar to the ones encounter in single player, where you and a group of matched players race to the next event start point, racking up skill points as you go. Once you arrive at your destination you’ll be entered into a race, and occasionally a king of the hill mode where drivers smash into oneanother to hold onto the king title for the longest time. This mix of race, cross country point A to B freedom, and ‘battle mode’ mixes it all up enough to keep you pleasantly entertained. Of course not only can you race but the online side of the game lets you download and upload car designs, tuning setups and photos to and from the online community. You can even join or create your own car club.
If you want a game you can just pick up and play for the sheer joy of cruising southern Europe, or a game where your more hardcore racing needs are met, or even if you just want to enjoy in-game photography of well-crafted pixels that cause you to take a second glance as to whether they’re real or not, Forza Horizon 2 will fulfil all those needs. Forza Horizon 2 has something for everyone and it’s a much-welcomed addition to the Xbox library of racing games.
Score - 8/10