Grab your keys, start your engines and GO, GO, GO!
Forza Horizon 2 is here and oh my, how the Xbox One has needed this title. Microsoft fans have traditionally been blessed with superb racers over the years from Project Gotham Racing to Forza Motorsport. The Forza series has become more than just a game, it is now more a brand which has split into two directions; full simulation (Forza Motorsport; completely developed by Turn 10) and Simcade; for the more casual gamer and that game is Forza Horizon 2, developed on the side by Playground Games, dare I say a very fitting name for such a game.
For those of you that played the demo of Horizon 2, the game starts where the demo does. You begin a road trip to the Horizon festival in the Lamborghini Huracan. Horizon 2 is based across Southern France and Northern Italy. Throughout these two beautiful countries you’ll find yourself amazed by the landscape where you plough through vineyards, cruise around glamorous harbours and drift daringly on edge of cliffside roads which lead to the Alps. Sounds good? Well the map actually features a staggering 350 roads for you to find. The game has a light story but nothing major, once you reach the Horizon Festival, the main setting of the game, you’re then gifted a car for helping deliver the Huracan. You have a choice of three cars; the Toyota Supra, BMW Z4 or Chevrolet Camaro. A nice selection, giving a great range of options for all kinds of car fans whether it’ll be a more after-market car, casual car or that bad boy American Muscle. Forza Horizon 2 has over 200 cars readily available, subject to credits of course, that you can drive and modify to your own liking and consists of a whopping 700 events that are offline, these are estimated to take around an impressive 100 hours to complete. These events consist of championships which include off road races, track races, sprints and cross-country events. After every five or so championships special events appear where you can race against jets, a train and hot-air balloons to a specific finish line. These are definitely put into the game for a more glamorous and fancy finish as they don’t actually offer much else, in the way of rewards. There are also 10 barn finds in the game where every town has one or two barn locations. Rumoured barn locations appear as you progress through the game, they appear on the map as a circled area, you’re then challenged to drive around and find the hidden barn, when you succeed you’ll be rewarded with an abandoned historic/classic car that will join your garage.
In-between events as you’re driving around you’ll be setting times across speed traps, and finding XP boards along the way that will help you not only rank up, but reduce the cost of credits for fast travelling across the map. This really comes handy later as you advance through the Horizon festival.
One of my favourite things in Horizon 2 is the reward system. Why you may ask? It’s very basic but each time you rack-up twenty thousand XP you then level up. Every time you level up you receive a wheel-spin. A wheel-spin is basically a system where a reel spins and gives you a random prize. This could be a Ferrari worth one million credits or it could be one thousand credits. It really helps you as you progress and the extra credits help to buy and modify cars plus if you do earn cars along the way this will help you in certain championships so your credits earned in game can go to other bits and pieces you wish to spend on such as modifying your cars performance wise and visually. The full tuning from Forza Motorsport comes into Horizon 2 including performance and liveries that can be downloaded directly in game through the store. A very nice touch that separates it from other boring racers out there. This will make the game appeal to those who may not be great at the game but are good artistically; it gives those people something fun to do which they are better at than others. Designs can then be sold online which results in earning in-game credits for themselves.
Cars all handle differently in this game which is a great thing as you can really find ‘your car’ for each class. I would say it’s the closest handling we’ve had to PGR since PGR4 itself. Horizon 2 heavily promotes clean, skillful and dare-devil driving. You earn skill points which converts to XP the better you drive or as some may say the more crazy you drive. These skill points convert to points where you can unlock perks, these perks aid you offline and online. A perk for fast travel will set you back 5 skill points and an XP boost for speed traps may set you back 2 skill points, or you may even pick up a perk for infected online where it grants you extra seconds of invisibility. A nice little touch in the game I think and they’re not hard to earn as they simply happen just as you play.
Kinect is introduced into the game, very discretely I must say. Kinect is used for your in game GPS called ANNA. You can request that ANNA creates a route to your nearest Horizon hub, nearest race, nearest event and just about anywhere you can go. As someone who isn’t a massive fan of Kinect I find it really handy as you no longer have to pause your game just to set a GPS route, it keeps everything more fluid with less interruptions in gameplay.
The online side of things such as races and club-joining are hidden for the first hour or two. It gives you a chance to get used to things which I think is also excellent as people then start on equal footing which gives the player an idea of how certain races work etc. As I prepared to fire up Horizon 2 online for the first time, I was dubious in regards to how the game would handle. The first game was very good fun but for me lacked something, and that was car balance. For example, a specific car in say ‘ A’ class would absolutely own anything else in its class, and the cars to me felt a touch floaty as if they were driving on an layer of air. Vehicles felt too light and pushy; especially online when that dreaded first bend would arrive it was so easy to smash people off the track and ruin it all in an instant. This has all changed now. The cars in Horizon 2 all have a more individual feel to them, you can tell that a major amount of physics have been taken from Forza 5 which, in my opinion is brilliant. Why wouldn’t you take a lending hand from the game that actually helped create you in the first place? Especially with the huge success Forza 5 has had since the Xbox One released. After my first few races online I felt that Playground Games had nailed Horizon 2 and perfected everything for a fun video game. A bold statement some may say but I truly believe they have created the best ever online racing game. Everything works fluidly with no interruptions or loading screens and it is easy to join friends online whether it’s just for cruising around or racing. You can play online championships with friends and/or random players via the match making system, have private races too. You’ll never be bored in the Horizon online world between events as you’re required to drive to each event, doing so and fast will net you extra XP that adds to your championship total, if you miss out you will receive half of the XP to those that arrived at the destination within the set time limit.
There are four extras online, these are; King, two randomly selected players must avoid being hit, similar to Tag, the longest holding king wins. There’s also; Infected, which is the opposite to King, where players who start infected are instructed to drive into and infect other players. The last car standing wins. Also team races, where you have red Vs Blue team, it really forces team-work as the XP for each team as a whole is given to everyone in the team, these often result in championship deciders. Finally we have online car meets; from here you can join random players for championships or even start a Showdown. Showdowns are where players from a car meet are thrown into one race, they are in different classes but have one target and that is to finish first. A very fun and challenging mode which is also fair. If two people are racing and one person is S2 class and one is A class, the A class will receive a head start that reflects the lower car class. It is then the job of the S2 class car to catch the other player and win the race.
If I could knit pick one thing that bugs me about this game it would be the online team races at certain points. For example, when it’s the last event of a championship and first and second place are then on the same team it realistically gives no chance of second place winning as XP is rewarded as a team. This rarely happens, but when it does it’s frustrating. After having so much fun I must add that Horizon 2 runs at 1080p and a very stable 30 frames per second with no drops. It results in a very beautiful and smooth atmospheric game that helps bring the sense of speed to life.