Racing games are a genre that has long been split into two categories: simulators and arcade racers. Simulators tend to offer the ability to blast laps on a race track, and the fun of the game is often found in shaving milliseconds off of lap times, always striving to get that last percent extra out of the car. The physics tend to be the primary focus, with the cars having the ultra realistic handling characteristics us car enthusiasts love. Arcade games, on the other hand, tend to be open world, and are an absolute blast in concept – but the cars handling leaves a lot to be desired, with gameplay focused on entertaining the masses . The Forza Horizon series plants itself firmly in-between these two categories, offering an open world to explore, while also keeping the fantastic handling and physics the Forza Motorsport franchise has brought to the Xbox. The original Horizon was not the first game to attempt this, but it was the first to do it well, leaving expectations high for Forza Horizon 2.
Forza Motorsport 5 came out just under a year ago, and was quite a let down compared to previous iterations. The car list was far shorter, the track list was extremely compromised compared to previous games, and the community favorite market place was completely gone. The core gameplay was still there, and as good as ever, but it felt rushed to release alongside the Xbox One. It was still fun, and I, as well as many others have hundreds of hours into Forza 5, but that feeling that it wasn’t quite ready never faded. When I saw that Horizon 2 was to be released less than a year after Forza 5, I was quite worried. I had tons of time into the original Horizon, one of my favorite games of the previous generation, but I was expecting another rushed game to simply be out for the holidays. My expectations couldn’t have been farther off.
Forza Horizon 2 is an absolutely amazing game, and I am blown away that something this complete has came out less than a year after Forza 5. The game looks incredible, impressive for any racing game, much less in an open world that requires no loading to blast all the way across. The handling is turned down just one small notch from Forza 5, but in a manner that feels perfect for the open world. With all assists off, it is quite difficult to drive a car at it’s limits, just as you would want it to be. No mashing the throttle and slamming the brakes to go the fastest here; you will need to modulate everything, including steering input, to really nail the racing. Drifting feels absolutely fantastic, and you just can’t help but slide corners with any given chance. It’s tough to truly nail a corner, but this is what makes it so rewarding when you do. Tuning is in the Horizon series for the first time, and best of all, everything is adjustable on the fly: a brilliant feature and hopefully a staple for upcoming games. No dredging through the menus to make adjustments… Simply pause the game, change what you need, and get right back into the action.
If you are familiar with the original Horizon, you will feel very at home here. It is a faithful sequel, however it improves in ever conceivable manner. All of your previous favorites are here, such as barn finds, the various Horizon hubs around the world, and the ability to rip around the map with multiple friends. There are quite a few notable new features in the game, all of which feel targeted towards player enjoyment. Perhaps the most important is the ability to now select which championships you want to compete in, and with what car as you progress through the story. No more will you be forced to continually race classes you don’t want: you get to choose exactly what you want to race and when. The reason this works is the daunting amount of races and championships in the game. You need to beat 15 Championships to get to the Horizon finale, but there are 168 total Championships in the game you can choose from, ensuring you are always playing what you enjoy on your way to the finale. That adds up to over 700 races! Content is abundant here, and so is variety in the various racing. The map is more open than ever, so while you do have your standard asphalt only, and dirt only races, there are also hybrid races that will have you going in-between both seamlessly. Typically, these sort of races feel a bit forced, but it is quite enjoyable here and a challenge to adjust your driving styles instantly on the different surfaces.
Drivatars have made their way over from Forza 5, and fits well in Horizon, keeping your world populated with your friends and their driving styles even when they are not online. Italy was an awesome location choice, and you get a great variety of countryside, coastline roads, small cities, and tight windy roads. The team at Turn 10 knows their audience, and included a shipping port and airport as fun areas for precision driving and sliding in your downtime. I spent an hour the first time I found the shipping port, just sliding around the warehouses and containers “Gymkhana” style, all with a huge smile on my face. The soundtrack in the game is also well done with some great non-mainstream artists included, and you unlock more radio stations and songs as your progress further in the story.
The map is almost entirely open, allowing you to blast through forests, fields, and ravines to your hearts desire. While you do, on occasion, encounter an area that is closed off, for the most part, if you see it, you can drive on it. In a brilliant move, you can now fast travel to any part of any road on the map once unlocking the perk to let you do so. Other open world games should take note of this – it’s not fun having to trek location to location when you don’t want to. New challenges have arrived in the form of a bucket list, which is currently 30 various challenges to do around the map. The twist here is that each challenge requires the use of a specific vehicle which is provided for you, and is a great way to experience the more expensive cars in the game without having to save large amounts of credits. Micro transactions, the current plague of the video game world, are completely absent, a very welcome change from Forza 5. No more buying credits with real money to get the expensive cars before others; you either earn them outright or you don’t get one of your own, just the way it should be.
This wouldn’t be a StanceWorks review without a discussion on wheel selection, and the Turn 10 team has finally delivered an improvement after years of disappointment with the mediocre selection starting in the original Forza motorsport, and not being updated at all in-between releases. While they have not added many more wheel companies, they have brought in HRE Wheels’ full lineup, which is a big selection and adds a ton of variety. I just about hopped out of my seat when I saw the Vintage series is now included in the game – These wheels were made via a collaboration with StanceWorks, and the brilliance is that they look just as natural on a vintage racer, as they do a 2014 Supercar. We can rejoice as we finally have a three piece mesh wheel to put on our cars in Forza. As the full lineup from HRE is included, we have a huge selection of great lookers, and even a set of their beadlocks to put on trucks. While it would have been nice to see even more wheel companies added in, if you were going to add one big one, HRE was, hands down, the way to go.
I could go on and on about how great this game is, but that would be cutting into your time to play it, and that isn’t fair to you. As far as complaints go, they are so minor that it’s almost laughable to mention them. For one, it is still annoying to not be able to completely slam most cars.. it’s a video game, I should be able to lay frame if I want to. I also found the inability to skip past the spoken tutorial sections, which are admittedly short and to the point, a bit of a burden. The one big gripe, and it’s borderline a deal breaker, is the the BMW e28 M5 is yet again missing from Forza Horizon, come on guys, get it together! All joking aside, the game is simply impressive. The photo mode is the best I have seen in a game, the story mode is enjoyable and doesn’t drag at all, there are tons of side challenges, and signs to smash. The car selection is solid, the world is beautiful, there is just so much to love, and more than I can even begin to cover here. I can’t wait to sink hours and miles into this with friends. Turn 10 should be proud.