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Forza Horizon 2

There's a place in France where Kid Rock drives over plants.

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Giant Bomb Review


Forza Horizon 2 Review

  • XONE

Forza Horizon 2 is a solid open-world racing game that takes Forza's slavish devotion to car culture in a friendlier direction.

With as much off-road space as the game has, it's nice that you'll have a few trucks and SUVs at your disposal.
With as much off-road space as the game has, it's nice that you'll have a few trucks and SUVs at your disposal.

Forza Horizon 2 is a strong, fun-first racing game that will be best suited for people who like to just drive around and do whatever. I can say this, because I spent my first four or five hours with the game just cranking through its championships, one after the next. That, as it turns out, is an extremely boring way to play. Also, it's not an especially effective one, as most of the progression indicators in Forza Horizon 2 are sort of meaningless. Aside from needing to earn credits to purchase cars, and unlocking a handful of novel showcase races by playing championships, the game is mostly laid out right from the start, letting you take it in however you like. Don't make my mistake--just cruise around and enjoy the scenery and you'll find Horizon 2 to be a relaxing, good time.

Ultimately, this game is largely similar to the first Forza Horizon, released back in 2012. It takes the serious car game chops of Forza Motorsport and gets it off the track and into an open-world take on Europe. Bits of France and Italy are represented here, which boils down to long stretches of windy roads that connect small villages and other, more populated areas. The off-roading in Horizon 2 is a lot of fun, but overall I think I slightly prefer the road layout in the previous game. Either way, there's plenty of ground to cover in a decent collection of different events.

The championship events take you around the environment--you start a "road trip," which takes you to one of the game's hubs. Then you participate in four race events. Then you road trip over to the next hub and do it all over again. Before entering a series the game gives you a chance to change cars, which determines which sorts of races you'll enter. The game equalizes your competition against your vehicle, so in addition to a series only allowing "hot hatches" or "hypercars," they'll also be upgraded to a similar level. This makes sense, since it keeps the races close, but it also sort of makes upgrading your car feel a little meaningless since everything else just upgrades (or downgrades) alongside you. Racing through and winning championships is the primary bit of progression for the single-player portion of the game, as it brings you closer and closer to the "horizon finale."

You can race against those hot air balloons, but those showcase races are more of a novelty than anything else.
You can race against those hot air balloons, but those showcase races are more of a novelty than anything else.

Beyond that, there are other ways to progress as you play, but since the only things that limit you are the cars you own, things like your "driver level" and how many perk points you've earned don't feel like that big of a deal. The perks, however, are a nice touch. As you drive skillfully you'll earn skill points that, when a meter is filled, spit out a perk point. You spend this on a screen full of different full-time perks... some of which just give you more credits and XP for finishing events. But the later perks let you fast travel anywhere and put icons over the cars you need to take photos of for the "take pictures of every car in the game" challenge, so they're certainly of some value.

Online, the road trip takes on a slightly different style and starts to resemble EA's Need for Speed Most Wanted. The online players are asked to drive to a location, then an event jumps off. Along with standard races, things like team races and sillier modes like infection come up, too. At the end of a series, credits and XP are doled out, players vote for the next location and car class, and the whole thing begins again. There's also a large social leaderboard aspect to Horizon 2, which tells you when you've blasted by a speed camera faster than your friends or fellow club members and serves up ghosts for you to race against. The rivals/ghosts aspect of the game is less than ideal, though, because it tells you after you've finished a race that there's someone faster than you. I don't know about you, but the last thing I wanted to do after completing an event was to race that exact same event again.

Here is a third picture of a car.
Here is a third picture of a car.

Forza Horizon 2 has a decent variety of events, but it's not bursting at the seams or anything. There are little XP and fast travel bonus boards to smash through, a "bucket list" full of short, specific tasks to complete, an online freeroam, car painting and tuning, AI drivers that roll through the world, daring you to challenge them, and so on. Overall, the AI is much more reasonable than it was in Forza Motorsport 5. Also, while we're comparing, it's worth noting that Horizon 2 doesn't have any of the "car token" stuff from the previous couple of Forza releases. You can't use real money in lieu of in-game credits and you can't buy a "better" map of the world that shows all the collectibles. The only transactions in there involve adding new cars to the game via a "VIP" purchase or buying a season pass of cars... or a "car pass," if you will. This wouldn't normally be worth mentioning as it's pretty standard for games to have post-release DLC, but considering how nuts the past couple of games could be with this stuff, it's worth noting.

Visually the game looks really nice, and it's not just polygonal crowds that make it look that way. The game delivers a really nice sense of speed and tears up crops and other terrain quite nicely when you find yourself spinning broadies in the middle of a field. The car models are top-notch and it's got a good draw distance, though I found myself noticing some low-quality shadows and a little bit of draw-in here and there. It also sounds nice and features a larger soundtrack of radio stations, though the radio DJs get a little repetitive and I think I preferred the tunes in the previous Horizon to this batch.

Overall, Horizon 2 isn't quite the breath of fresh air that the previous game was, but it's a good open-world driving game that benefits from slow play. If you're the type of person who wants to lay back and relax with a video game, you'll probably have a great time. But let me reiterate, if you're a "blaze through this game as quickly as possible" sort of player, the endless chain of races in Horizon doesn't deliver enough variety to make the trip worthwhile.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+