September 28, 2014
There’s something about pushing a car to its limits that's akin to the battle that we as human beings face every day in our struggles to adapt to an ever-changing social landscape. There’s something very animalistic about man’s fight against machine that is liberating and soul cleansing. When it’s just you against the road, nothing else in this sorrowful tapestry of life remains. All of life’s troubles just fade out of existence. Exhilaration is all that exists. Ahem. Apologies for the pretentious opening, but I’ve taken a leaf out of Forza Horizon 2’s book; a book that opens with some spiel about the festival atmosphere… the festival of life, baby. Good news though, folks, because when it boils down to it, Forza Horizon 2 is anything but pretentious. It is in fact a mighty fine racer, and for that, we are grateful.
Here we are then, another festival and another racing showdown, except this time the main event heads to northern Italy and the south of France. In a racing world three times the size of Horizon’s Colorado, players can tear through cobbled streets, smash through unspoilt vineyards, take in the sights along the coastal highways and whizz around the snowy-peaked mountains, Forza Horizon 2’s playground is a map full of wonderment and delight. The key change between the sequel’s map and the originals is, in fact, not its size, but instead its more open-world orientated environment. It’s not a case of see it, go there, as the world is populated with bizarre fences and walls – not to mention some incredibly jarring invisible walls – but the freedom itself is one of the sequel’s major selling points.
Speaking of major selling points, Horizon 2 welcomes an overdue weather system as well as a proper day/night cycle, and you know what? It’s chuffin’ ace, and most certainly worth the wait. Whether you’re racing through the woods at night in your Subaru Impreza, immersed in cockpit view and fearing for your life as you weave in and out of the trees, or you’re drifting around the cobbled streets of Castelletto in your souped-up 2011 Bugatti Veyron in the torrential rain, it’s all rather bloody spectacular and a perfect fit for Forza Horizon 2’s superb setting.
That freedom lends itself to the game’s new race addition as well, which comes in the form of cross-country events, which are thrilling off-road races through many of the world’s various open-world settings. Other than that, there’s the usual fare of street races, circuit races and sprints. As was the case with the last Horizon though, the pinnacle of the game’s events come in the form of Showcase events, where it pits you against an alternative form of transport, like a train, a fleet of hot air balloons and so on. Unfortunately these events are few and far between and used much too sparingly. With such a unique selling point, Playground Games really needs to roll these out far more often.
Other than that, players can find boards around the world to smash, get knee deep in the new – and excellent – Bucket List challenges, which give players a specific car with an objective of varying difficulty and type, and of course, the usual ‘Barn Finds,’ where players can get their hands on iconic, but rather useless, vehicles.
From a career standpoint, Forza Horizon 2’s structure is far too formulaic and repetitive. It’s a case of: road trip to a championship, do four races in the championship, road trip somewhere else… and that’s it really. Do this 15 times and you can race in the Forza Finale, which is a bit of a letdown… it’s basically just a really long race.
Gone are the funky outposts with loads of challenges – although they now exist somewhat in the Bucket List feature – and even the Rival events, where you race for pink slips are gone – presumably to introduce Drivatars to Forza Horizon 2. Yes, the whole Drivatar stuff is a nice addition, but at the expense of some genuinely fun pink slip races? We’re not entirely convinced.
From a handling perspective, it’s classic Forza, in that it’s genuinely brilliant. If you’re after an arcade-style experience, you can have it. Want some more simulation-based? Then tweak the settings. There’s something in there for everyone. It is shame that even now Forza lags behind the likes of DiRT and GRID when it comes to damage models, but you can’t have it all, eh?
What makes Forza Horizon 2 so addictive though is its style system, carried over from the original Horizon. Being able to link stylistic driving moves together and watch that multiplier and score go up is what gives Horizon an edge over its competitors. The addition of perks to help you drive that score up – as well as offering some other benefits – and the new Wheelspin mechanic, which rewards you every time you level up, are great new additions too, meaning you’ll want to get the most out of those combos and get as much score as possible. There’s an immense replay factor in this alone, especially as you try out the 200 or so cars to find out which one best suits your style.
While the single-player’s tedious slog might frustrate and grind down even the most resolute gamer, the game’s multiplayer is where it’s at this year. The new online Car Meets might be a tad pointless, but the online Road Trips and online freeroam is where the game gets its legs. The opportunities are there for players to just drive as a group and take in the sights, or should they be feeling more competitive, partake in a Road Trip, which pits players against each other in a series of various different events.
In freeroam, players can quite easily select a leader and then bounce from whatever event they should please, or if they’re feeling particularly adventurous try the co-op Bucket List challenges – it’s just a shame they’re only two-player. In all, the online portion of Forza Horizon 2 is all sorts of excellent, the only thing that currently makes it awkward is its party system. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as setting up a world and just inviting friends and players may end up with other people in their world even if they weren’t invited. This whole auto-party/game invite bollocks that the Xbox One has at its core is nothing but a pain in the arse.
Then there’s the achievements, which, for want of a better word, are a bit naff. There’s zero originality, lots of achievements by the numbers and a ridiculous amount of grind. The worst bit? Having to complete all 168 championships, which is probably in the 100 to 200-hour mark on its own. Considering that you’ll have seen most of the world has to offer by the time you’ve finished the 15 championship main game, well, that’s a bit of a piss take if you ask us. Even if you love the game to pieces, this one achievement on its own will likely drive you to tears… literally.
At its core, Forza Horizon 2 is one heck of an impressive racer. With a new weather model, an all-new day/night cycle, a more open-world and some exhilarating off-road races, Playground Games has certainly upped its game for the sequel; and that’s not including the excellent online freeroam and online Road Trips either! Unfortunately though, it seems as if the latter were included at the expense of the original’s interesting and varied single-player. Still, Forza Horizon 2 is a bloody great racing game and one that Microsoft and Playground should be proud of.
A great soundtrack, but it falls short somewhat of the original Horizon’s. The engines roar and purr, just as you’d expect though.
Visually excellent, especially the new weather effects. Would have been nice to see a more extensive damage model.
Plays like Forza, feels like Forza, moves like Forza. Whether arcade or simulation is your poison, Horizon 2 will be right up your alley.
The multiplayer is excellent, bar a few party issues, but the single-player structure is far too formulaic and repetitive to be enjoyable in the long-term.
To say Horizon 2’s achievements are a grind is an understatement. Complete 168 events? Yeah, good luck with that. Rather uninspiring, which is disappointing considering the style-combo system ingrained at its core.
Forza Horizon 2 is another impressive racer from Playground Games. That said, while the original Horizon nailed the single-player and lacked on the multiplayer front, Horizon 2 is the polar opposite to that. If they can nail the two at once in the inevitable sequel, then Horizon will surely take the crown off Motorsport.