Published on October 30th, 2014 | by Chris Scott0
Forza Horizon 2 Review
Summary: It is the sense of place that ties the game all together, the ability to just drive and have fun doing so.
I’m speeding down the Mediterranean coastline in my 2012 Dodge Challenger when something catches my eye. The sun is hitting the sea creating a beautiful orange glow. I slam on my brakes and skid to a stop, pulling out my camera and capturing the moment forever. I then ask Anna, my GPS assistant, to route me to the nearest event hub, crank up the radio, and continue on my relaxing drive through Italy and France. Welcome to Horizon.
Forza Horizon 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, but instead of the Colorado countryside, the game brings us to beautiful Southwest Europe, specifically the Mediterranean coasts in France and Italy. On the surface Forza Horizon 2 is a racing game with all sorts of events, including sprint lap track races, point-to-point races, off-road races, and even races against the seemingly impossible, like a freight train or a fleet of hot-air balloons. And if that is all you want out of Horizon, it does it perfectly well presenting some of the best racing available in a video game. But Forza Horizon 2 offers so much more than just that.
The fictional festival of Horizon is a celebration of speed, style and beauty, of friendship and rivalry, and most importantly, a celebration of good old fashioned fun. And you know what? The game succeeds on every count.
Utilizing a modified version of the Forza Motorsport 5 driving model, driving in Horizon 2 is more forgiving than its serious older sibling. Because of this Forza Horizon 2 delivers a driving experience like no other on a console. Horizon 2 wants drivers to push the cars they are driving to the limit, be it a cheap 1980s hatchback or one of today’s finest supercars. It rewards players with a great sense of speed. Pushing these cars to the limit gives an amazing sensation of being just on the edge of losing control. One wrong motion or delayed reaction can send a car careening out of control. In most games you want to stay away from this possibility because losing control of a car normally comes with stiff penalties. Forza Horizon 2’s penalties range from non-existent, with the use of the series staple rewind feature, to minor at best. Crashing into another car, a wall, a tree, or even a house are all recoverable events. You won’t wreck your car (unless you want to via a slider) and while you might find yourself off the podium, you will still be rewarded for your attempt, granting much valuable experience and credits along the way.
Another way to get experience and credits is to race with style. Returning from the original Horizon game is the skill bar. Skill points accumulate when you do cool things like slip between two cars, drift around a corner, or catch some crazy air. And as you string together more and more skill points you’ll receive bonus modifiers. Successfully completing a skill chain, by not crashing, can result in massive skill point totals which fill up the skill bar. This time around, though, the skill bar doesn’t track your popularity in the festival but rather serves as a meter to fill towards a new perk system. That’s right: Forza Horizon 2 has a skill tree, and filling it up via skill points can grant some great credit and experience bonuses. But what about the forgiving nature of Forza Horizon 2? While the skill system might seem a bit counterproductive to the style of driving the game offers, even sloppy unskilled drivers will be filling up their meter for things like running over trashcans or destroying fences, albeit progression will be a bit slower than more skilled drivers.
To go along with the speed and style is the beauty of the game. Everything in Forza Horizon 2 is wonderfully detailed. From the vistas with rainbows after an afternoon shower to the rolling hillsides filled with vineyards, everything looks amazing, complete with 3D modeled spectators. Heck, even the menus have an elegance to them. But where the game really shines is in its cars. Featuring over 200 cars, one would expect that some of the car models might have received a little less love. But, just like the game wants you to push even the weakest car to the limit, it also wants you to enjoy the experience of driving and riding in them by making them look amazing both inside and out. Following in Forza Motorsport 5’s footsteps, Horizon 2 offers the best cockpit cam in gaming today. For my money, it is the best way to play the game, putting you directly in the action.
But while speed, style, and beauty can in fact make a good racing game, Horizon adds in a social aspect that feeds off competitive progression. Social integration has become a huge part of racing games and Forza Horizon 2 might be the best to handle it so far. The social integration mixes aspects of the first Horizon (asynchronous competition) and Forza Motorsport 5 (driveatars) to create a social experience for those playing the game single player. Players will see cars being driven by digital representations of their real world friends via the Driveatars (yours will venture out in the world and race when you aren’t playing as well giving you a nice Driveatar bonus when you log back in.) and nearly every action, from running speed traps to discovering billboards, has some sort of leaderboard attached to them. This actively encourages players to compete against their friends both virtually and asynchronously.
But it doesn’t stop there. Forza Horizon 2 sees the return of car clubs to the overarching Forza franchise and this addition provides yet another layer of progression and reward. Each club has an experience ladder that resets weekly. Members are tasked with going out and earning as much experience as they can get to climb the ladder and reach the next tier. You’ll want to do this for simple bragging rights but also because advancing the tier delivers massive amounts of credits to your coffers. This helps you buy new cars and upgrades to better help you defeat your friend’s times and speeds, which in turn grants you more experience to climb the ladder.
And of course the multiplayer wouldn’t be complete without an actual competitive multiplayer mode. Featuring a variety of team and individual events, the online competitive multiplayer does a good job of delivering some solid online racing, along with some fun twists on the racing concept. These twists are the playground games, and they comprise modes like Infected (think car tag where if you tag someone they join your team). The playground modes are a fun distraction from regular racing, which is nice, especially after a few too many times getting rammed from behind by an inconsiderate driver. And all experience and credits carryover to single player, so you’ll always be advancing.
Advancement is a big deal in Forza Horizon 2 and players will always be climbing ladders, gaining levels, and trying to get to the next step up on a challenge. But the key to this sort of gameplay is making it always fun to do so. Forza Horizon 2 achieves that. All of this sounds like a wonderfully put together racing game. And yet, Horizon 2 was so much more than just a great, fun racing experience.
The best aspect of Forza Horizon 2 isn’t the awesome speed and style. And it’s not the beautiful cars or phenomenal social integration. It is the sense of place that ties the game all together, the ability to just drive and have fun doing so. I’d never played a racing game where I could stop and smell the roses. Forza Horizon 2 allows for that and in some respects even encourages it. A lot of amazing work went into creating a countryside that feels like the Mediterranean coast. Being able to stop and enjoy it is something that really stayed with me as I played the game. That is the primary reason I’ll continue to return to it time after time for the foreseeable future. No other racing game out now does what Forza Horizon 2 does and few games in any genre achieve the same sense of place that it does. And because of this, as we begin to close out the year, Forza Horizon 2 easily stands as one of the best games of 2014.