Forza Horizon 2 is the latest game in the Forza franchise, and it is a sequel to the 2012 game, Forza Horizon. The Horizon games are indirect sequels to the Forza Motorsports
franchise, and more of a separate set of “spin-off” games. The creators use much of the same technology for creating the Horizon games, but they have different style of play that is more catered than pure fun and excitement instead of pure realism. Think of it more as a Michael Bay film.

The new Horizon 2 is based around the idea of a massive exotic road trip, not unlike the Gumball 3000 or Bullrun. You and a massive group of wealthy auto enthusiasts who are getting to spend the next several days bombing around the coast of Southern Europe in all manner of machines that range from exotic like the Lambroghini Huracán to the classics like the a Volkswagen Bus. During your adventure, you are constantly upgrading to different cars and going on bigger adventures.

The first game promised a similar level of thrills and excitement, but it fell short in its scope. Whether it was design decisions or simple restrictions of the old hardware of the previous-generation consoles, Horizon promised a lot, but delivered much less. Now with the new powerful Xbox One system at their disposal, Turn 10 and Playground Games are promising that Horizon 2 rights all the wrongs of the first game, while adding even more content and exciting racing.

Did they succeed?

Continue to read our full review of Forza Horizon 2 for the Xbox One

The Cars

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From the moment the game starts, it is clear that Forza Horizon 2 has much bigger ambitions and goals than its predecessor. Whereas the first game started you in the driver’s seat of a Volkswagen Corrado, Horizon 2 starts with you blasting down the Italian coast in the new Lamborghini Huracan. As soon as you finish that race, you are moved down to a lower-level car, but not by much. The game lets you choose from a trio of starter machines; a BMW Z4, a Chevy Camaro SS, or a twin-turbo, fourth-generation Toyota Supra.

Yeah, you get some sweet metal to start the game, and all those cool cars keep coming. Turn 10 and Playground Games have built in many features to make driving some of the best, fastest, and most exciting cars in the game quick and easy.

An all-new feature to Horizon 2 is something called Bucket List Challenges. These special missions pair you with a unique and exotic car like the Ferrari LaFerrari or Koenigsegg Agera R, and then give you a specific task to use them for. The missions are short, and you only get the car for a few minutes, but these missions are free and give you the perfect chance to play with all the best and most powerful cars in the game without playing for months to save enough in-game cash to buy them.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever seen made in any driving game, and it was easily one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.

The Races

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There were some other smart decisions as well, when it came to creating the types of racing you get to do. For as long as most of you can remember, racing games will have been based around a performance-class system. Both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport have been doing this for decades. Basically, each car is given a rating that is based on its performance; usually in a letter grade from E to A, with some upper levels like R or S for race cars.

Horizon 2 takes this whole system and almost throws it out the window completely. Rather than forcing you to keep upgrading your base-level car to compete in ever faster classes of races, Forza Horizon 2 sorts all the races into car types, and then the game automatically scales the car’s performance class to match whatever you have chosen. This gives you more incentive to try out different cars and it allows you to stay within a performance envelope you feel comfortable with. The current car classes are separated into: supercars, sports cars, off-road, hot hatch, track toys, classic muscle, modern muscle, iconic rally, GT, and world classics.

I am now a bit more than halfway through the game, and thanks to this fun, new system I have never found myself being forced to drive a car I didn’t like just so make it through a set of races. I have been bombing around in a 900 horsepower modified Miata, a Golf GTI with a roll cage, and I even made a Subaru BRZ with a turbocharger and AWD. It has been wonderful.

The Game World

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So the cars and the racing modes have been modified for the better, but what about the world your are racing in? The first Horzion promised a grand and open world that you could explore, but it was actually quite closed off. That has changed with Horizon 2. For the most part, if you can see something in the distance, you can skip all the roads and drive directly to it. They even made new a new type of race that makes use of this by marking the course through fences across fields and across roads. There are a few areas you can’t travel across, but for the most part, the entire map is your playground.

There is not as much elevation change as I was hoping for, no trips to the Alps or anything crazy, but the environments are very well realized and full of great details and interesting touches.

Forza Horizon 2 also brings dynamic weather and time to the mix. As you drive around the countryside exploring the scenery, daylight will slowly fade into a beautiful night sky filled with stars and then eventually the sun will rise again. This adds a bit of dynamism and life to the world that makes everything feel a bit more real. The weather system works the same way. As you drive around, occasionally you will begin to hear thunder in the distance, and then the sky darkens and the wipers on your car begin to move. The rain doesn’t just add some extra atmosphere, it actually affects the handling of the cars in the game as well. It is brilliant.

The Drivatars

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When Forza 5 debuted, it brought with it the idea of Driveatars. Rather than have a normal computer simulation running the many cars that you were racing against, Turn 10 had developed a system that would calculate and collect data on every player that ever raced. It would then upload that information into the cloud where it could be used to populate a racing grid. The result is a game is that feels more realistic and a computer AI that behaves like a real person.

This same system has been brought into Horizon, and it has been used to populate the entire game world. As you drive around there are literally dozens and dozens of Driveatars that are wreaking havoc and honing about the countryside. At any point, you can drive up behind one of these Driveatars and initiate a race. No menus are needed, just press a single button and begin racing to a set point on the map.

The only issues I have seen so far is that with constantly racing human facsimiles, the difficulty level has not really changed. I have been slowly turning off driver aids and increasing the "drivatar skill," but still most races are easier than I want them to be. Especially as I am getting farther into the game. At first the challenge was in learning to manipulate the cars across this crazy terrain. Now that is a less of an issues, and that worries me.

Online Multiplayer

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If you aren’t satisfied with a facsimile of your online friends driving around the European coast, you can start an online match and have them join you in person. Just like the normal game, you and all your friends can run around the map and do anything they wish, but if you wanted to do actual races or road trips, just drive to the start line and hit accept. Every member of your party can automatically warp to your location and you can get to racing. Your friends can also drop into and out of the game at will without disturbing anyone else’s game.

The best part of online play though is just cruising around with friends to see the world and find the many hidden items that are scattered about.

Returning Trademarks

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Some of the things that made the first Horizon game enjoyable have been returned for the second title. Namely Showcase Events and Barn Finds. Showcase events in the first game seemed varied and exciting, like they were straight out of the petrol-head’s favorite show Top Gear. You raced a P51 Mustang plane against a classic Mach 1 Mustang in the very first one. It was interesting and fresh. Those missions may be back for Horizon 2, but they are decidedly less fresh and new. When trying to think of something so epic and grandiose to do as a race, you tend to run out of ideas quickly. There were multiple plane v. car races in Horizon 1, and there are multiple in Horizon 2. In fact, there has only been one Showcase event so far that I have played in Forza Horizon 2 that didn’t feel just like a remake of the first game’s missions.

Thankfully the Barn Finds are just as epic and as enjoyable as they were the first time around. As you work your way through the game, you will occasionally get a notice that there is a car abandoned in a barn somewhere, and it is your job to go and find it. You get a general area marked on your map, and you have to explore that large area until you stumble across the barn and secure your car.

Conclusion

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Christian Moe got his hands on Forza Horizon 2; did it take home first place or end up in a muddy ditch?

Forza Horizon 2 is more than a bigger or prettier version of the first game. Forza Horizon feels like a grand combination of every great idea that Forza Horizon was built from, but couldn’t quite manage to bring to fruition. The game is exponentially larger, the world is far more detailed, and the feel and excitement that come from an epic automotive spectacle like the “Horizon Festival” is perfectly captured. In short, it is everything I wanted the first game to be and more.

From the vast collection cars, the freedom to choose and explore any car class and type you please, as well as the varied styles of races and environments, Forza Horizon 2 really feels like a game that lets you do anything you want, anywhere you want, for any reason you wish. It’s a breath of fresh air in a gaming genre full of stagnation.

It is not perfect though. The lack of difficulty ramp-up has begun to make me question its longevity, the retreading of past Showcase Events feels like a cheap way to pad content, and as great as the weather changes are, they don’t seem to come often enough.

I can’t help but think that other upcoming open-world racers like DriveClub and The Crew have a lot to be worried about. Forza Horizon 2 has set a solid benchmark for what players will expect from a next-generation, open-world racer.

I am not sure that Forza Horizon 2 is a game good enough to sell consoles, but if you have been looking to buy an Xbox One, and you want a great game that will show off its graphic abilities while providing you with several hours of fun, I heartily recommend Horizon 2. It may not have the staying power or replayability of its sister, Forza Motorsports 5, but damn is it fun while it lasts.

Forza Horizon 2 was reviewed on the Xbox One with a game copy provided by Microsoft

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