When Forza Horizon came out in 2012, it offered a festive, open-world alternative to Forza Motorsport’s brilliant but sometimes dry take on motoring, focusing more on the culture that often surrounds it than just the simple act of racing. While it didn’t offer the same hardcore simulation appeal as its parent series, it certainly made a fine place for itself in a genre that has unfortunately been whittled down to just strict simulations and exceedingly-busy action racers. Now, two years later, the Horizon festival is back, having traded the high mountain terrain of Colorado for the more diverse settings offered by southern Europe.
What is it?
Functionally, Forza Horizon 2 is not all that dissimilar from its predecessor, and by extension, even the Forza Motorsport franchise as a whole. Even when you take into account the festival setting, or the open world format, or the ambient traffic you find everywhere you go, you’re still taking cars from disciplines of your choosing and playing through a series of championship circuits and other one-off events as you make your way from town to town. Seldom do you ever feel that progression hinges on you taking on a discipline you really don’t want to be bothered with, though things do tend to lean a little further toward supercar and hypercar classes toward the end of the festival proper.
A functional description of the game does it no justice at all, though…
Why should I care?
The real beauty of Forza Horizon 2 comes across when you add Drivatars. These are AI representations of players on your friend list and throughout the community, even imported in from Forza Motorsport 5 if need be, with whom you will share your Horizon Festival experience. Oftentimes, you’ll be driving around the town in which you’re currently competing to find your friends going about their own festival business, but when it’s time to pack it all up and head onto the next destination, your friends’ Drivatars will all convoy up with you for the trip. This means that even when you aren’t in multiplayer, you still get the feel of a road trip across Southern Europe with a bunch of your good friends. For that reason alone, it’s kind of a shame that Horizon 2 didn’t manage a Summer release, because this would’ve been a perfect game for the season.
Apart from the multi-stage championships, there are plenty of one-off events that are nothing if not memorable. One has you racing a train from point-to-point in a car that can only be described as “vintage”, while another puts you in a Ferrari for a checkpoint race against an aerial display team. With activities like these available, it’s kind of surprising that Forza’s recent Top Gear branding didn’t somehow find its way into Horizon 2, since you’re often imitating challenges and misadventures from the show when you take part in these. Also of note is the Bucket List series of events, which are crazy challenges that usually involve cars you aren’t going to afford in game for awhile. The first one you encounter dares you to “drive a Koenigsegg Agera like you stole it,” brilliantly leaving the reality of the challenge in the fridge. Finally, here-and-now spot races with Drivatars you encounter are also on the menu, returning from the first Horizon.
Horizon 2 doesn’t do everything brilliantly, however. The biggest standout flaw has to be the rally discipline, with many courses that have no discernible route apart from your car’s SatNav, leaving you entirely on your own to careen through fields, rivers, and farms with next to no visibility and no real beaten path to guide you. Mechanical damage also makes its Horizon debut here, but with the ability to turn it on and off at will any time you aren’t in an event, and a rather steep fee to instantly transport yourself back to town should you be determined to tough it out 100% of the time, it doesn’t take you very long to realize why it was left out of the first game.
What makes it worth my time and money?
While certainly not perfect, Forza Horizon 2 specializes very well in the good times, road trip motif of the game as a whole, and decorates it with a really wide array of championships and other events to round it all out. It’s certainly not without its competition — the hybrid arm of the genre fielded the admirable DriveClub, The Crew finds itself waving the action racing banner all by itself this year, and Project CARS waits in the wings as a rival in the simulation field — but you’d be hard pressed to find a racing game more complete than Forza Horizon 2 right now.