Forza Horizon 2 Review: Drive my car

When the Xbox One launched last year, Forza Motorsport 5 accompanied its launch as one of the console’s few launch titles. The game took advantage of the Xbox One’s improved hardware by offering some impressive visuals, improved gameplay and blending multiplayer and single-player modes thanks to the inclusion of “drivatars.”

Now that the Xbox One has been available for retail for nearly a year, a new Forza title is upon us, this time giving those who prefer open-world driving games to standard racing titles a chance to get behind the wheel. Forza Horizon 2 offers a number of improvements that was made to Forza Motorsport 5, but gives it the same overall feel 2012’s Forza Horizon as you’ll once again be attending yet another festival that combines music and cars. Instead of driving through Colorado, you’ll instead be driving across southern Europe, primarily within the southern France and northern Italy regions, offering approximately three times the driving area of Forza Horizon. With all of that drivable surface, has Microsoft delivered a first-place racing experience or will you be spending more time in the figurative pit stop?

All racers welcome

Players will progress through Forza Horizon 2 by taking part in several championships that lead up to a final championship race. Each championship race will focus on a particular vehicle type, which will give you the opportunity to purchase additional vehicles if you don’t get a chance to during regular play. Horizon 2 has over 200 vehicles from nearly every vehicle manufacturer that you’ve ever heard of, and from my experience, no two vehicles will drive the same as each have their own base statistics that you can replace parts in order to either upgrade or downgrade your vehicle’s statistics. What I enjoyed the most from Horizon 2 is the variety in its vehicles as you’ll come across the usual staple of high-end sports machines, but on the other side of the spectrum, you’ll finally to be able to drive older vehicles like the VW Camper Van.

If you consider yourself a gearhead, you can even tune nearly every aspect of your vehicle to give it the exact feel you’re looking for. I am in no way an expert in vehicles, so I didn’t know exactly what my tuning was doing to my car, but if you’re into that sort of thing, then I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it.

If you’re like me and you enjoy racing games, but don’t have vast knowledge of vehicles, then Forza Horizon 2 holds your hand through its experience for as long and as often as you need it to. For example, by default you’ll be presented with a color-coded driving assistant that will inform you whether or not you should be accelerating, cruising or braking. If you feel like you’re a more advanced driver, you can change the game’s settings to pull back the driving assistant to only come up when you need to brake, or remove it entirely. There are several other ways you can tweak Forza Horizon 2 from being arcade-based to a more simulation-based driving experience. Switching off these various assistances in the game will reward you with increases to your overall experience points multiplier.

Rewards aplenty

As you drive around southern Europe, you’ll begin to gain experience points, credits and style points. Experience points can be earned both in single-player and online multiplayer races and will increase not only your level, but it will change the color of your Horizon festival wristband, which can be viewed by others either by your drivatar, in online multiplayer races or in leaderboards. Each level increase also rewards players with a spin on the Forza Wheelspin, which pays out either credits that can be used to purchase vehicles, upgrades or enhancements to your vehicle, or a brand-new vehicle altogether. This isn’t the only place where you can earn credits as you’ll receive them after a number of races or as a reward for completing challenges.

Style points are awarded to skilled drivers who are able to drive through southern Europe without experiencing any major crashes. Drifting, drafting and burnouts are just some of the skills Horizon 2 will reward drivers for performing without accidentally driving themselves into a wall, guard rail or causing a 15-car pileup. Fortunately, the game is lenient as you can bump into most obstacles slightly without losing your skill points total, which if you combine skills back to back, can multiply into some big points.

With those hard-earned skill points, Forza Horizon 2 has gotten into the “perks” game. You can use your skill points to unlock perks for your driver, which vary both in their ability and cost. Some perks offer a small boost in the amount of style points you earn, while others are more beneficial. The perk system feels a bit unnecessary as the majority of improvements racers can earn increase their ability to earn more style points and discount how much they spend in the garage. It would have been fun to see Playground Games really get imaginative with the perk system.

Drive anywhere

The last console generation gave birth to the open-world driving genre as the players could drive anywhere within the game’s world with little to no loading times. These games had their limits as you weren’t able to venture out from beyond the road, although they did have their small designated areas of off-road driving. Forza Horizon 2 takes the open-world driving genre into next-gen as you can truly go beyond roads and drive into massive fields, entire golf courses and expansive crops. Sometimes these off-road moments could serve as a shortcut to your destination, while other times you just get the urge to drive through a field of beautiful lavender just because you can. Regardless of whether or not I decide to drive off road on purpose, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying the experience, so long as my vehicle can handle the change in terrain.

You won’t be able to absolutely drive anywhere in as there will be some barriers saving racers from driving into lakes, while some other barriers are put in place to reflect real-world driving conditions, such as barriers on the sides of highways. Other than that, I didn’t find many limitations to where I could drive across southern Europe and felt the overall driving experience to feel extremely liberating. There’s no better feeling than driving with your friends across multiple fields and other off-road terrain, especially when the terrain reacts in a realistic manner. For example, bushes will be obliterated when your car plows into them and your vehicle will create a path as you drive through fields.

Do anything

Forza Horizon 2 gives you the keys to a completely open-world driving experience, allowing racers to drive pretty much anywhere within southern Europe. If you're looking for activities outside of completing championships, you'll be able to partake in a wide variety of bucket list challenges, speed traps, car meets, boards to smash to earn either experience or credits and barn finds, which rewards players with unique vehicles that are found in old, hidden barns.

Multiplayer is usually a key component in modern-day racing titles, and Forza Horizon 2 doesn't disappoint. You'll be able to partake in two game modes: Online Road Trip and Online Freeroam. Online Road Trip allows players to come together to take on one of the various challenges southern Europe has to offer. Drivers will connect with other players within a certain area in order to take on a number of challenges and races. Freeroam, on the other hand, gives drivers a completely open-world driving experience as you can come or go as you please across southern Europe. If you choose to challenge other players, initiating one is as easy as driving up to one and activating it. Or, you could hang out with your pals and drive around to take in the sights.

Even if you never access the online multiplayer options included in Forza Horizon 2, you’ll come across various drivatars, which were first introduced in Forza Motorsport 5. In fact, if you’ve ever played Forza 5, your drivatar has already been driving around southern Europe without you even realizing it. These drivatars will pop in and out of your game, giving Horizon 2 a real social feel that is a first of its kind. This is a feature that I really couldn’t get enough of and has led me to real-life arguments with friends and colleagues over their drivatars terrible driving etiquette.

Shut up and drive

Forza Horizon 2 successfully captures the feel of the original Horizon title, and in fact, surpasses it in every way. Forza Horizon set out to give racing fans the opportunity to enjoy the Forza series in an open-world environment, and with the addition of a vast and beautiful locale, multiplayer options, both online and in single-player mode, and all of its activities, Forza Horizon 2 is yet another sequel that vastly improves on its original.

Final Score8 out of 10

This review is based on a downloadable Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Forza Horizon 2 will be available for Xbox One and Xbox 360 on September 30 for $59.99. The game is rated E10+.