Review: Forza Horizon 2

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Forza Horizon 2 is the follow-up to the critically well received Xbox 360 game released in 2012. It was developed by Sumo Digital for Xbox 360 and Playground Games for Xbox One. Turn 10 Studios (developers of the base Forza Motorsport games) have also worked closely on both titles to ensure that they are both above par. The game takes place during the fictional ‘Horizon Festival’. Southern Europe is the reference point for the game’s large map with major events taking place across Southern France and Northern Italy. The game world has approximately three times more driveable area than that for the original Forza Horizon, with events set in Provence, Tuscany and Côte d’Azur, among other regions. Players will explore the region, taking part in races and special events in order to advance through the game.

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Forza Horizon 2 is without doubt the best looking racing game that I have ever played. The game does extremely well to integrate a huge variation of different locations within one large map. You’ll seamlessly go from driving within the narrow paths of Italy to quickly being able to let loose in huge open country terrain.

Seamless weather and night to day transitions are a huge talking point of Forza Horizon 2 and they deserve to be. You’ll often find yourself cruising along smoothly at 250 KM/h when rain hits and you instantly start to slip around the racecourse. It’s things like this that instantly provide an extra point of challenge and realism to the game. Similarly, day changes to night whilst driving, your headlights come on and it instantly becomes a whole different race.

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The UI in the game is one of the best that I’ve seen in any game, let alone any racing game. Everything is so sleek and minimal, whilst still providing a wealth of information and customisation. Racing novices will easily find whatever they’d look for whilst experts will be more than happy with just how much information is available.

The one negative that I did have is that in some places there was a lot of pop in. Trees and other random terrain would often load quite slowly, taking me out of the experience and providing an unrealistic obstacle that shouldn’t be there in a racing game. It wasn’t happening all the time, but when it did, it would be extremely noticeable. Aside from this, the frame rate seems to be extremely solid and everything appears to be crisp and sharp. The game almost never loads whilst driving through the vast open-world which is a huge positive in such an ambitious game.

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Forza Horizon 2 definitely feels like a Forza game; however to me, it lends itself to being a much more versatile game. It finds a great balance of realism and skill that should appeal to most racing fans. The narrower parts of Italy and France really require the precision and skill that is expected from the Forza series, however the open highways and off-track segments allow players to really rev their motors and pull off unbelievable stunts that can put them ahead in the race. I’m not a huge simulation racing fan, however I can really enjoy Forza Horizon 2. It’s a great entry point into the racing genre for gamers who aren’t usually racing fans. It gradually increases your driving skills whilst still allowing you to be totally crazy in small bursts.

Much like the first game, Horizon 2 takes place across a open-world map. In each major city, you will find 3 events which you must finish atop of to progress. Races are fairly similar in objective, some take place across the aforementioned off-road terrain whilst some take place in city streets. Players are required to drive from race to race which can become troublesome, however Playground Games allow you to spend credits in order to fast travel. Whilst this seems cheap, it is sometimes necessary in order to get to the action faster. There are more than 700 racing events in total, all which depend in what type of car you’re currently in.

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Leveling up will allow you to spin a wheel allowing you to win random items such as credits or brand new cars. It’s extremely novel, but does provide an extra incentive to level up. Similarly, perks are unlocked through skill points. These range from things such as gaining an extra 10% of XP from drifting or 25% XP for having a clean start to a race.

One of the things that I really loved about Forza Horizon 2 was that it always felt like I was driving in a real world full of real people. People that played Forza 5 on Xbox One will know all about Drivatars. These are racers that are based off your friends list that are supposed to drive in the same sort of way that your friends do. Drivatars are constantly filling the open-world map with racers from your friends list and also competing against you in every race. Whilst it’s not obvious that these are real world racers, they act a lot more like it than you’d think. They’re constantly speeding past you giving you the feeling that you’re not alone.

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From the start of the game, racers get to choose from three different cars: The BMW Z4 SDrive 35IS, Toyota Supra RZ and Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe. There are over 200 cars in Forza Horizon which is sure to make car fanatics extremely happy. I’m not a huge racing fan and I was more than happy with the selection of cars that can be unlocked throughout the game. I actually felt like each car controlled differently which was important to me. The Xbox One’s Impulse Triggers were more at play than ever and really make you feel every bump in the game. Break hard and your left trigger feels the pulse, change gear and the right trigger gives you a little whip of vibration.

There are a wealth of customisation options in Forza Horizon 2. Players are able to create custom designs and upload them to the internet for others to see. Racers can also tune their car to their ensure that it meets their driving patterns. I’m extremely glad to report that Playground have ensured to cater to both sides of the racing spectrum. You’re able to tune each part of your car or automatically have the game tell you which parts it would recommend that you upgrade.

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Bucket List is brand new to Forza Horizon 2, which is a group of challenges for the player to complete, similar to the 1000 Club in Forza Horizon. There is a separate list for Italy and France. These are scattered throughout the map and allow players to take place in short, skill based challenges such as performing 15 air jumps within a 2 minute period, or making it to a point in the map in a short amount of time in a super-fast Ferrari. Apparently more Bucket List challenges are going to be added throughout the game’s lifespan. This can only be a good thing as they do extremely well to break up the flow of normal races.

There is also a lot of other things to fill your time whilst playing Forza Horizon 2. Showdowns are amazing events that put you in out of this world scenarios. These range from racing stunt planes to a train. The best part of all is that you get to keep your car for passing the event. Barn Finds is also a great little side quest to break up the racing. These require you to find special cars that are hidden in certain parts of the map. A wealth of other side quests such as Speed Traps and Rival races will ensure that you’re never left without something to do in Forza Horizon 2.

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Anna is your new driving assistant. She leads you around the map and points out new and exciting events for you to partake in. You’re supposed to be able to activate her menu by saying ‘Anna’ to connect however I have mixed results in getting it to work. I’m not sure if this is due to the Kinect’s lack of being able to understand the Australian accent or the developers implementation of the feature.

The online modes of Forza Horizon 2 has taken a step forward since the last game. Jumping online is as simple as pressing a button from the start menu. You’re able to join a suitable Online Road Trip with random people or join a private match with friends. Online Road Trip sees you racing from event to event with a hand full of other races in order to compete in a series of events. After four events, the player with the most points will most likely come away with the most XP. The events range from team races to modes such as ‘King’. This was by far my favourite multiplayer mode. One racer will be crowned the king whilst each other races tries to bump into them in order to gain the crown. The player that has held the crown longest after a certain amount of time is the winner. Online for the most part seemed to work fairly well however there was quite a bit of lag which became a small problem. While Forza Horizon 2 comes with dedicated servers (a must for online racing fanatics), there are no local servers for Australia, and as far as it’s been, the Azure servers from Microsoft aren’t up for Forza Horizon 2 yet, meaning Australians will most likely struggle to keep up with less responsive internet.

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