Forza Motorsport 5 was a great game. For a time.
At the Xbox One launch, I was enamoured with the game. It looked great. Driveatars seemed truly next-gen – because that’s what we called the generation at the time – and heralded the promise of a new way to play.
Then the sheen of a new console wore off, and I started to see Forza as just another racing game. Worse yet, those fancy Driveatars just made you all seem like assholes who wanted to run me off the road.
Enter Forza Horizon 2. A collaboration between Playground Games and series mainstay Turn 10, the Horizon brand is the arcade arm of Forza, ditching highly technical racing for fast, furious, balls-to-the-wall driving. In short, it’s less stuffy and more fun.
Forza Motorsport 5 quickly became a grind-fest. It was an exercise in taking technical turn after turn, trying to stay as close to the green assist mark as possible; this was the best way to gain XP and cash for new cars. It stopped being fun quite quickly. Horizon 2 is the Tony Hawk of car racing, giving you style points for every drift, e-drift, j-turn, sideswipe and move you can imagine. You can participate in proper races, or you can ditch that and just tear up the countryside. Racing or not, you can constantly earn those style points, unlocking perks and levelling you up. Just be careful not to crash before banking those style points and skill chains.
Oh, and by the way — race or not, make sure you drive off-road. All. The. Time.
The game’s Bucket List is by far the best part of the game. Horizon 2’s narrator – a man who I constantly mistake for Jude Law – has made a bucket list of things you HAVE to try while at the Horizon Festival. The list is pretty varied — drive a car like you stole it. Drift through winding roads, dodging other cars as you go. Fly through a series of corners maintaining a certain average speed. Whatever you’re doing, the Bucket List provides a ton of thrills; you’ll find yourself tracking down those missions to get another adrenaline hit as quickly as you can.
In addition to stock standard normal, rally and mixed races, Horizon 2 throws in unique events like a race between your car and a stunt plane squad, or your car versus a bullet train. The variety of the game, alongside the culture of the part-car show, part-party Horizon Festival, makes for a joyous experience. Also thrown in the mix are Most Wanted-like breakable billboards – A-frames in Horizon 2‘s case, providing XP and fast travel boosts — and barn finds. Finding a barn means you’ll get access to the antique car that’s been stored inside of it. My favourite find thus far is a sick VW campervan.
The game wants you to get out there and interact with fellow gamers, through trading paint jobs and tuning schematics, checking out one another’s cars at meets or taking players head-on in Online Road Trip or Free Roam forms. Online Road Trips are the way to go, as you’re pitted against others with a bit of structure involved. You’ll be able to participate in a variety of game types, including races, stunt-offs, or my two favourites, Infection and King. Infection is exactly like the playlist in Halo — but with cars – and King is like King of the Hill. But with cars. Online Free Roam might be good with friends, but the lack of direction means you’ll basically be tooling around with a group and probably not actually getting anywhere.
Since its reveal, Forza Horizon 2 boasted its weather mechanics on Xbox One, and thankfully delivers. The game is as its finest in the rain, at night and under the glow of the Horizon Festival’s lightshows. It’s breathtaking. In the daytime the game’s no slouch either, providing picturesque vistas of European cities, wineries, countryside and more. Just don’t crawl to a stop inside a small town, or else weird, jumpy shadows betray the fact that you’re supposed to be zooming past them and not solely taking in the sights.
It’s kind of fitting that it happens, being an arcade racer and all, but Horizon 2 also employs the same type of rubber-banding mechanic seen in Mario Kart. I find that I can do super-poorly in a race, not trying at all, only to miraculously catch up to AI opponents even after smashing into every tree or building I can find. When I am giving it my all, I tend to find that I’ll be in the top 3 spot for the entire race, only to blow ahead of everyone else around the 75% completed mark for an easy win. Still, I like being victorious, so I can deal with that. Thankfully, the rubber-banding does stop in online events.
Horizon 2 also tries to make you competitive with friends by setting you up with a Rival. Said Rival’s completion time will display after you finish a race, giving you the chance to best them. It’s not all that fun to redo a race just after you’ve finished it – especially with Horizon 2‘s emphasis on everything OTHER than racing – so it’s good that Playground at least made the default response on the query a polite “No thanks”. Even then, it’s a good little addition for those competitive types. In the same vein, those who want the technical feel of Forza Motorsport 5 can play without assist settings in order to punish themselves.
Kinect can be used in the game, but in an unobtrusive way. Your personal digital assistant, ANNA (it stands for something), can be called by just saying her name. Other times, she’ll suggest an activity for you, and if you want to do it, you just say yes. If voice control isn’t your thing, simply ignore her.
Finally, you’ll all be pleased to know that Drivetars act a little less jerky in this iteration of Forza. Either that, or they haven’t learned how we all drive like maniacs. Yet. It’ll be interesting to see how they evolve; at the time of writing though, all of my friends – or at least their gamertags – have mellowed out quite a bit as compared to Forza Motorsport 5.
The bottom line is that this game is a far more enjoyable version of Forza. It’s a delight to play and a game that reeks of polish and pure fun. The only thing that gets me worried is that I’m having a blast with it, but wouldn’t necessarily buy this game outright because, let’s face it, this is a car game. Give Forza Horizon 2 a go if you like to feel like a bad-ass driver or want a chance to get into some great gameplay with friends. Just make sure your friends grab the game too.
Stevivor played the Xbox One version of the game for review.
Forza Horizon 2