It’s not uncommon knowledge that the Forza series is one of the best in racing. It has built up a vast following and garnered positive review after positive review all the way up to its fifth iteration with Forza Motorsport 5. When Microsoft enlisted Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios for 2012’s Forza Horizon they wanted to take racers off the tracks and into the open world. Colorado was the backdrop for the fictional Horizon Festival which combined fast music and faster cars. Critical reception of the first Forza Horizon was hugely positive and without a shadow of a doubt the bar has been raised with the sequel Forza Horizon 2.
If one was to describe a game like this to someone they’d inevitably call it a racing game but in reality this is much more of a driving game. Sure, there are the championships available but in order to complete all of the game you’ll spend most of your time in free roam. Free roam allows you to partake in all the extras that make Forza Horizon 2 such an entertaining experience. When you do choose to compete in championships you’ll find that they are always tailored to whichever type of car you’d like to drive. You can take a Ford Raptor or Subaru Impreza on an off-road rally championship or sprint race your favourite supercars like the Bugatti Veyron or McLaren P1. Hell you can even upgrade a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle and race in retro car championships. No matter your vice, there’s a championship that suits you.
When you choose to leave the championships behind that is when the game really opens up. As you drive around from city to city there is so much to encounter that it will make your head spin. First and foremost you’re going to be encountering a lot of Drivatars. You’ll not only race against them in the championships but anytime you feel like it you can challenge them to a head-to-head on the open road. Unless you’ve played Forza Motorsport 5 you probably won’t know what a Drivatar is so let me explain. As your friends and other people play the game their play style is saved and sent up to the cloud which can then be dropped right into your game. When you race against a Drivatar you’re not racing an AI opponent with a set line but a true representation of the way these other gamers race their cars. Your own Drivatar will be dropped into their games as well earning you credits even when you’re offline.
Other activities you’ll find out there are XP boards that you can smash for extra experience or Fast Travel boards that will reduce the cost of fast travel to previously visited destinations, Bucket List items will have you driving a certain car and completing a task, there’s Barn Finds where you discover an abandoned car that can be fixed up and taken for a spin too, and there’s Speed Traps where you can compete against your rivals to have the fastest speed. All in all between these and all the championship events there are over 700 to try your hand at. Add in the ability to join car clubs to compete with and against as well as car meets where you get to show off your ride and even purchase versions of other people’s cars and it’s no surprise that the estimated 100% completion time of this game is over 100 hours.
One of the most highly touted features of the game before its release was its dynamic weather and while it’s certainly noticeable in game and pretty to look at it isn’t the new holy grail of racing games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid feature with a full day and night cycle where you’ll come across rain, fog, drizzle and more but what’s really cool is the fact that it affects the way you need to drive makes it better. One of the most impressive things about FH2 is that every car feels different and you’ll need to adjust your driving style to it. Add in weather with wet roads and sliding out on corners and it adds another layer of depth to an already complex system. It’s no small feat that Playground and Turn 10 managed to make nearly every car out of their 200+ feel unique on the road. My point is that the driving mechanics are way more impressive than the pretty weather!
Just as each car feels unique to drive they all have a full suite of customization options available to make them stand out even more. If you’re a gear head you can custom upgrade everything from the air filter to the engine to the drivetrain and then fine tune it to your heart’s content. If you’re less mechanically inclined (like me for example; I could screw up an oil change) you can always choose the auto upgrade option and the game takes care of all the work behind the scenes. Of course you also have more visual features like rims, spoilers, skirts, bumpers and paint jobs to tinker with too. The ability to download popular designs from other gamers is a plus for the less artistically inclined too (again just like me) and gives everyone a chance to drive a badass looking car.
Forza Horizon 2 is essentially the crazy younger brother to its counterpart in Forza Motorsport 5. It takes itself far less seriously and gives you a massive world to enjoy in whichever way you like. Fast cars, fast music and a festive atmosphere make FH2 the perfect way to waste away hours of your day without feeling like it. If you’re looking for the perfect blend of simulation and arcade racing then this is where your hunt ends.
To read Shawn's extended review of Forza Horizon 2, check out the October issue of CGM.