Forza Horizon 2 is available for Xbox One now.
- Drivatar inhabited open-world
- 1080p visuals
- Rumble trigger
"Race through a massive wide-open world featuring dramatic weather and day to night cycles. Instantly connect with friends in the ultimate celebration of speed, style, and action-packed driving. Explore beautiful and exotic locations in more than 200 of the world’s greatest cars, all created with precise detail in 1080p."
Disclaimer: I am not -- and I really do mean this -- a racing gamer. It's not that I don't enjoy them, I loved every Gran Turismo ever made for PS2.
The problem is, I'm not very good at them.
Racing games haven't helped themselves either. For some reason I now have the impression that a good racing game has to be so complex and so hard to play that it prices the novices like me out almost immediately. The last good and accessible racing game I played from start to finish was Need For Speed: Underground 2. So with that in mind...
Forza Horizon 2 is a bit special. It's a game that for me marks the return to a genre which has previously terrified and infuriated me in equal measure.
It's the first Horizon game to be launched on Xbox One as well which means that Turn 10 have been able to really stretch their already considerable abilities in tweaking the console to its limit.
It's one of the most beautifully realised driving environments ever committed to hard drive.
The game itself follows on from the original: the premise is that you're attending the 'Horizon Festival'. It's a ludicrous proposition that puts forward the idea that entire swathes of country are simply 'set aside' for millionaire playboys to drive their hypercars around, race trains and then steal old classics from people's barns.
Horizon 2 justifies the entire festival under the guise of, 'hey, lets just have fun, this is going to be the BEST Summer ever'. This carefree attitude is personified by Ben, the festival host and your in-game companion. Ben's a bit of a dick, he calls you 'mate' long before it's considered OK to start calling someone 'mate' and he has this way of encouraging you to do things much like a 'cool kid' would at school.
I'd hate him if it wasn't for the fact that almost every event he organises is so much fun. It would be a massive spoiler to reveal some of them but there are set-piece moments in the game that will have you grinning like an 80s playboy in a Diablo.
In Horizon 2, the festival's main area is the in the centre of the map. This is the start point for your road trip over the summer. The important point there is 'Road Trip'. Forza Horizon 2 is NOT a racing game. Sure it has races in it, but it also wants you to take time, occasionally, to leisurely cruise along the coast in a classic Aston Martin with the music turned up. And reward you XP for it.
Each destination on the road trip will bring with it a new championship consisting of three races as well as providing you with little side-missions called 'Bucket List' challenges.
These 'Bucket List' challenges are fun, and very silly. Whether it's 'Racing the sunset in a Ferrari F40' or 'Beating the midday traffic in a Pagani Zonda'. They're short, sweet and are a great way of trying cars that you won't be able to afford till much later in the game.
Horizon's economy and experience system is incredibly straightforward. Each event earns you credits, credits buy cars and cars let you enter different championships.
No matter what you're doing in the game you can earn XP depending on the skills you employ, if you're not the world's best driver though then don't panic. Horizon lovingly showers you in enough XP per race that you'll never feel like you're getting 'stuck'.
There was always going to be a risk that in the single-player parts of the game you might end up feeling like a drop in a very large ocean of computer characters. Horizon neatly sidesteps this issue by populating the game with Drivatars: computer-generated ghosts of your friends. Each Drivatar has the same skill level and the same characteristics that you're friends employ as each one is modeled and built around you. Think of it as your virtual self.
The result is that even in single player you still don't feel like you're playing on your own. This is further accented by constant notifications at the bottom of the screen which show you your achievements compared to the friend that's your closest rival.
The cars themselves are entirely customisable, right down to tuning the tyre pressures or the suspension. The best part though is that it's entirely optional. If you don't care about all that technical jargon then you don't have to, it still plays just fine and you can still enjoy it just as much.
Speaking of the cars, there are 200 of them. Each one has been lovingly recreated with the same level of detail that you'd find in Forza 5. Speaking of which I remember having a full 15 minute conversation with Dan Greenawalt -- creative director at Turn 10 Studios -- about paint.
If a person can spend 15 minutes talking about the process of adding paint to a virtual car then it should give you some indication of how seriously they take authenticity. It shows. The cars are the best they've ever looked.
At this point it would be remiss of me to mention the soundtrack. A lot of Horizon's lure is in creating gaming moments that suck you in, and the soundtrack plays a huge part of that.
The radio stations are glorious. Whether you're after grinding bass riffs from Royal Blood, or fast-paced drum and bass courtesy of Hospital Records. Hell there's even an Italian version of Classic FM.
Multiplayer is handled in a way that can, at first seem a little confusing. You can create and join clubs. You'll be able to race each other and engage in 'online road trips'. But for now, that seems to be it. It may not be enough for the hardcore racing fans. It'd be great to have joint 'Bucket List' challenges as well, and that's very plausibly something that could appear in a later update.
I realise by this point that it's all starting to sound a bit gushy, that it's all too good to be true. In some ways yes, it's hard not to get sucked into the world that Turn 10 is selling. And sure, this isn't a genre-changing game, and no, it's not asking any particularly serious questions. The environments aren't especially varied either, but that was always going to be a risk when you base a game on a real place.
What it is though, is fun. It's the kind of laser-focused, well-executed fun that Nintendo has managed to bottle and sell on such a regular basis.
I'm sure that there will be those driving game vets that will see the game in a more cynical light, and in that respect I'm happy to concede to their experience. But as a gamer that has become mildly disenfranchised with the genre it's great to be playing a driving game that puts a smile back on my face.
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