During the down period after an incredible holiday in the South of France I decided to buy this game to get that lovely bitter-sweet nostalgia hit by driving along the stunning coastline rendered on my new piece of beastly hardware. It had been a long time since I’d been interested in racing games but this one turned me full circle, giving me nostalgia not only for my summer holiday, but for those hours spent on GT2 endurance races, in NFS Underground 2 street races and in destructive high speed rampages on Burnout Revenge.
Graphically Forza Horizon 2 (FH2) remains, after a year, in my opinion one of the best looking games on the Xbox One. The light quality especially astounded me, lighting up a sun caked French architecture of countless farms and settlements with vibrant colours during the day and casting a delicate orange glow across the (delightfully destructible) maize fields as evening drew in. The dynamic day/night cycle is impressive enough without the knowledge that Turn 10 had actually worked to create a computerized atmosphere to act like the atmosphere in the real world. It is clear a lot of care has been given to the aesthetics of the cars making them look almost photo-realistic, and the smaller details such as the beaded rain running off the windscreen and the sides of the car make the game seem worth buying just for the visual experience.
The size of the map on FH2 is large but manageably so and is organised around a number of hubs within major towns where events are based. These can either be driven between or fast travelled between, however I rarely used the fast travel option because the freeroam was so rewarding. Each town/city has its own unique style which offers diversity in events from nail bitingly tight street races in Castelletto along cobbled roads, to Cliffside sprints along the Cote d’Azur, to crazy off road races which defy all laws, physical and legislative. These off road events for me are what provided the most entertainment, where the game completely diverts from the series roots of racing sims; where Lamborghinis and Ferraris easy venture across open fields, through forests and over high-speed suspension wrecking jumps. The world is also filled with barn finds, bonus boards and bucket challenges which add some variety to the championships which can get a little tedious especially if you are trying to complete them all! The bucket challenges especially provided hours of frustration (the good kind I think).
With the primary focus on solo play, I can say the game runs very smoothly despite the huge vistas and incredible attention to detail. Each class of car and indeed each car within those classes has an independent feel which can be tweaked for hours using the tuning and a modification options to give you the perfect driving experience. There are also assists which can be altered and a number of incremental difficulty ratings to challenge yourself with. This appealed to me after forgoing driving games for years because I could gradually change the difficulty as I got better. After turning off all the assists including traction control and occasionally switching to manual gears the game started to feel more immersive as I was forced to think about how to control the car as well as how to get around the corners. Also the sense of reward with the percentage increase of Credits with difficulty encouraged me to push myself in championships. The fact that I didn’t constantly win races made the championships more exciting, and the drivatars of other people made the experience more competitive especially when theBigGray (my uni housemate) overtook me in the championship in the penultimate race.
The way online roadtrips work require you to be present for up to 7 races until you have a chance of winning because it often enters you into a road trip after the first race has already been completed. But such is the way of matchmaking which is mostly smooth and likely bandwidth dependant. Most races online are exciting however it involves staying ahead of the maniacs who use walls as a breaking mechanism… Which is sometimes me I’ll admit. Playing with friends is where this mode is strongest especially with the non-racing arena-like modes. Even after a year there is still a large user base so races are easy to find. One thing I found interesting and took away from the race finishing positions is the XP earned when doing skills during roadtrips and in races, however that can be overlooked because its just pure fun really.
Forza Horizon 2 is a beautiful open world racing game which has smooth, rewarding gameplay, a tonne of things to do and strong online game modes. Even without the nostalgia of the setting, the attention to detail in the landscapes and with the cars adds to the gameplay to make this game stand out against the gen market.