Forza Horizon 2’s intro couldn’t be more misleading. Forget about the obnoxious 20-somethings bumping their fists and the nonsensical monologue during the game’s introduction cutscene. Forza Horizon 2 has some of the trappings of modern music festival culture, sure, but they don’t distract from what the Forza franchise has always done best: deliver a fantastic racing experience through and through.
Forza Horizon 2’s biggest departure from the traditional Forza Motorsport franchise, like its predecessor, is its open world. You can freely drive across large swaths of France and Italy, blasting through open fields and driving across winding seaside roads. The game is split up into six different “Horizon Hubs” that represent a certain area of the map. Each hub feels unique and they’re all immaculately detailed. Some areas feature more open spaces and have more off-road events, while city hubs focus on tighter circuit races or highway sprints.
The world really meshes well with the gameplay; the roads feel like real roads while still being fun to race on, though they’re not always perfect — some areas will be inexplicably closed and, although most fences and barriers in the game can be driven through, some will stop you dead in your tracks. However, getting from place to place is hardly a chore. Often open-world racing games seem to design their maps without putting much thought into how fun they are to drive across, but Forza Horizon 2’s roads have produced some of the most interesting and varied racing I’ve ever experienced.
Forza Horizon 2 takes the hardcore simulation elements of the Forza Motorsport series and tweaks them, giving the game an arcade-like feel. Cars are a bit easier to handle than they are in the traditional Forza Motorsport series, but it’s still nothing like a Need For Speed or Test Drive game. Don’t expect to take each corner full-speed; Forza Horizon 2 still requires some of the finesse needed in a racing simulator, yet the handling is just forgiving enough to keep the game from alienating less experienced racers. Forza Motorsport 2 also has a highly-customizable set of assists so you can adjust the difficulty how you see fit. The game’s AI also aids in the game’s accessibility. It uses the same “Drivatar” technology introduced in Forza Motorsport 5, where AI racers are all based on the racing habits of real people and each AI racer you encounter will have someone’s Gamertag associated with it. The AI is unpredictable in the best way, with racers making mistakes along with terrific passes. Races are almost always tense, and you’ll need to race well up to the very end in order to win.
The map is good, the physics are good, but the car selection is just great. Any gearhead will find themselves right at home in Forza Horizon 2’s roster of over 200 cars. The car selection is as large as it is diverse, offering up high-end Lamborghinis and Ferraris along with a 1960s Volkswagen Bus and a mid-90s Honda Civic. The cars have the same amount of detail one would expect out of a Forza game, with both interiors and exteriors looking absolutely stunning. Each car has a unique feel and flavor to it, which led me to experiment with different cars to see what their strengths and weaknesses were. Forza Motorsport 2 is as much of a celebration of car culture as the Forza Motorsport series is, maybe even more so. It invites you to try out a new car and drive it just for the sheer pleasure of it.
It’s also important to note that Forza Horizon 2 is perhaps the best-looking video game on the market right now. The sense of speed from blasting through a cornfield at 120mph, coupled with amazing lighting and a solid framerate, just looks stunning. The day-night cycle also adds flair and produces some great sunrises and sunsets. Another huge addition to Forza Horizon 2 is its dynamic weather system that adds rain to the mix. Rain-soaked cars will glisten in the sun and wet pavement casts reflections, making the game really come to life in the rain. The rain also changes the handling a bit, but the effect is subtle and rain ends up serving more of an aesthetic purpose. However, it’s a welcome addition, and Forza Motorsport 2 looks better because of it.
The game’s structure is pretty straightforward — you jump from each of the six hubs and compete in a few races with a specific class of cars. You’ll earn money to buy cars and XP to level up and earn Wheelspins, where you can then spin a roulette wheel that can earn you anything from thousand credits to a new car. For the most part, the game keeps races varied and fresh. However, after each race, the game spits you back into the open world to drive to the next event, which would be great if the map had more things to do in it. Other than the XP signs and the occasional hidden car to collect, there’s no real reason to explore the map. Forza Horizon 2’s open world serves as a great backdrop for its races, but unfortunately, it serves little other purpose. I couldn’t help but feel that there should’ve been some incentive for me to drive around the map for a reason other than to get to the next race.
Multiplayer is standard faire, but it’s still super fun. You can join an online free-roam lobby where 12 players drive around in the game’s open world and vote on races or challenges to do. It’s fun, but it didn’t keep me entertained the same way that the game’s second mode, called “Online Road Trip,” did. In “Online Road Trip”, you race across the map from event to event, much like you would in the game’s single player campaign. However, those that get to the event first get a points bonus towards their overall score in the series, which leads to some incredibly hectic racing to the start line. Non-race events like King of The Hill and Infection provide a great change of pace, too.
Forza Horizon 2 is a great game, but a mediocre follow-up to 2012’s Forza Horizon. Yes, it has a bigger open world, more cars, and more events, but the game doesn’t do much to really shake things up. I did thoroughly enjoy my time with Forza Horizon 2; while the first Horizon game is still one of my favorite games, I think the sequel does it justice but fails to bring much of anything new to the table. The Forza Horizon series is a great opportunity to do something radically new with the racing genre, but Forza Horizon 2 plays it safe. This isn’t exactly a bad thing; I’m certainly not upset that Forza Horizon 2 is, well, more Forza Horizon, but I’m not blown away.