I have always thought that car games are split into two – driving games, and racing games. Sometimes the line is a little blurred but generally they end up on one side or another. Forza Horizon 2 is definitely a driving game.
So what’s the difference? Well, a racing game is all about the competition. It’s about shaving times down by split seconds, battling and jostling with your opponents to beat them to the line, drafting, overtaking, skilled positioning of the vehicle into turns and blood racing, adrenaline rushing high pressure tyre squealing. Driving games are about the machine. The roar of the engine, the sleek looks, the elegant sights, the enjoyment of piloting a high performance machine, being one with it. You are the car.
This is very much Horizon 2. Set in the South of France, crossing into Northern Italy, the Horizon festival is on again and it’s time to party and drive nice cars. The festival atmosphere is well conveyed with spotlights, fireworks, neons, party music and party dudes! ‘Party dudes’ is very much the term, as you meet Ben straight away. And Ben is annoying. Ben is cool, hip, and radical. He is organising the festival that is seemingly about driving around lots then partying, hopefully not drinking at the same time. He doesn’t mention this but I’m assuming not.
Horizon 2 looks the part. It looks fantastic and runs smoothly most of the time (I encountered a few frame pauses now and then, presumably some loading of environment but it was not often). Draw distance is impressive and textures look great although the shadows experience a stutter that is particularly off putting when driving down roads at high speeds. Nonetheless, sun blessed Europe has never looked so good and the weather effects are also well done. Rain looks nice and has a high level of detail on the cars and roads although spray from the vehicles isn’t at quite as high a level. Interiors are modelled well and fully, which will be nicely familiar if you’re lucky enough to own any of these cars in real life.
Cars all handle well and it’s fairly easy to control slides around corners and turns, with handling differing appropriately for the varying terrain and weather conditions. Zipping around traffic feels comfortable and you feel in control with the cars handling and moving as you would expect them to. Handling is the most important part of a car game and it’s great that this is done right. It should be no surprise given the Forza history and how good Horizon 1 was, but there’s always a chance things can change, particularly with a generation shift. In true Forza fashion, there are hundreds of cars to obtain.
It’s odd then that there are some significant changes to the design of the game from Forza Horizon 1 that may surprise returning fans. In the first Horizon, you had a number of races available to you based on the colour of your wristband. Completion opened up longer and hard races, along with more wristbands. You could unlock fast travel to various locations around the map and once challenges were completed you could travel without cost. At points you unlocked Showcase events with gave access to a specialist race pitching your vehicle in a spectacular fashion – for example vs. a plane.
Horizon 2 borrows the structure of its brother Forza Motorsport 5. There are six main cities on the map, which is large. Each city has 28 championships you can compete in, each containing 3 or 4 races. So for those looking to 100% complete the game, you will need to take part in 168 championships – that is well over 500 races. A lot of content. However, each city has the same championships. Do you love retro hot hatch racing? Hope so, as you have this tournament in 6 different locations to do. The wristbands are still there; you get them for each time you get enough XP to level up. You level up a lot, each time you get to ‘spin the wheel’ to get a prize be it cash or another car. You do still get awarded wristbands but it’s not clear what the point of this is.
Showcase events return but there are only five in the whole game. Three of these are versus various types of planes, which is a shame as this has been done already. I won’t spoil the other two but they’re more interesting although it does feel like they’re timed so it’s a split second victory each time (although possibly that’s more of a reflection of my ability!). The uninspiring career structure is simply ‘beat 12 championships’, and despite the amount of content, the lack of variety is compounded by Forza Horizon 2’s desire to be a driving game rather than a racing game.
Each championship start requires a road trip to the next city (once the 12 are done you can choose but the route is set until then). You have a certain amount of time to get there, along with your fellow festival goers and are reminded that “this isn’t a race – although you wouldn’t want to be the last one there!” The routes are deliberately mapped so you can see the sights, you can take your own route of course but you’ll miss out on some of the deliberate vistas. Once there, you need to drive to start each event, then drive to each in the championship before a road trip to the next city. There is a LOT of driving to and from races and cities to start new championships. The time is generous so there is no rush; it is all about the journey. Fast travel can only be done to each city and only becomes free once you get all of the Fast Travel boards dotted around the map. Guess what – you have to drive around to find them.
Collectibles exist to draw out the variety around from races. There are roads to drive, XP boards to level up quicker, fast travel boards to cheapen the price of fast travelling before eventually becoming free. Skill points become available giving access to perks which can be spent on XP bonuses helping you level up quicker (including a very helpful ‘fast travel anywhere’ perk). These and the races seem to exist purely as a different theme to your driving.
Sadly the races are the most evident of this. More often point to point than circuits, roads are merely a part of the world as you are often driving off-road, across fields, forests, through alleyways, around barns and small towns, parks and even a golf club. What was novel with Horizon 1 becomes part and parcel of Horizon 2. With so much variety, time trial activity is spread too thin and an afterthought; success in events often comes to those who can survive a rough jump without rolling their car. The drivatar AI from Forza Motorsport is here which helps vary the AI however Medium is a little too easy and Hard is a little too hard. Bucket List events do add some welcome variety though with specialist car challenges available.
To aid this, there are a vast amount of upgrade and tuning options. This is also borrowed from Motorsport and should make petrol heads happy but the finesses of brake balancing and camber are lost me on as I am hurtling over sand bunkers and through fences.
Multiplayer is present but feels like an afterthought. Online freeroam allows you to join a group of 12 and start a race – but you have to drive to it and then hope the rest of the group opt to join you. You can do an online Road Trip but this isn’t like in Horizon 1, it’s simply a playlist – you vote on a location and races are selected for you (which can include party games such as Infection). It’s sorely limiting with a lot of driving to and fro inbetween to start events, and the netcode is reasonable but not hugely stable on a fibre connection.
Horizon 2 is so eager to please. You gain XP doing everything – clean racing, dirty racing, driving fast, missing traffic, hitting traffic, smashing into all sorts of obstacles, missing the obstacles. It is constantly showering you with praise and leveling up that it knows you need that sweet constant endorphin release. Forza Horizon 2 is a good game, but a little too eager to please and a bit too afraid of its own identity. It is a shame that it is not a little more Horizon and a little bit less Forza.
Reviewed on Xbox One