Forza 5 was technically brilliant but also a bit soulless, so it's a pleasure to report that Forza Horizon 2 is a vibrant, fun-filled, open-world racer. Sure, it's effectively the Forza 5 engine transplanted to a new setting, but its immersive, interactive world is far more fun to navigate than the locales of Forza 5. Barrelling through a vineyard at 200 km/h has never been so much fun.
Of course, there has been a trade-off in the shift to open-world: Horizon 2 runs at a rock solid 30 frames a second compared to Forza 5's 60, but the downgrade is well justified. It still boasts a dynamic day/night cycle, a rain system, and the excellent Forza physics model.
The weather system in particular is very well implemented and has a genuine effect on the handling of cars. The Ferrari F40, twitchy at the best of times, becomes an absolute handful in the wet. Handling alters yet again as the puddles slowly evaporate, the road drying dynamically. But there's no time to rest, as soon it will be dark, and that brings another set of challenges.
The Horizon festival is an imaginary event that combines a large outdoor concert with a love of cars. Think 'the Big Boys Toys Day Out' and you'd be close. This event serves as the backstory for Horizon 2, and is as good a justification as anything for recklessly blasting around Europe in some of the world’s fastest cars, or some Hondas. Whilst it's not going to win any Writers Guild awards, the plot here is certainly better than the recent Need For Speed movie.
Winning events nets rewards including XP and new cars to drive, and race types are the usual circuit and street races, timed runs, and point-to-point events. However, many races aren't confined to the track and instead take racers off-road through fences, fields, and even dark forests at night.
Showcase Events are also interspersed between career steps and have players racing planes, trains, and other surprises that won't be spoiled here. Suffice to say, they are a great addition, and add a level of adrenalin to proceedings.
When not racing in the campaign proper, players can opt for a number of other activities. The speed traps and speed cameras from the first Horizon title return, along with a new feature called the Bucket List. All around the game world, iconic cars are placed at the side of the road, to be unlocked with the completion of a challenge.
Some of these challenges are as simple as driving to a certain point in the world in a limited time, while others have you trying to earn skill points by drifting around a golf course, for example. The wide variety is refreshing, and with over 100 hours of gameplay available before DLC, there is certainly value for money here.
To navigate to these activities and around the game world in general, the player can use a GPS called Anna, which is integrated with Kinect and responds to voice commands. This works better than is to be expected. However, on occasion in certain areas of the map Anna can get lost herself.
Multiplayer for up to 12 is seamlessly integrated into Horizon 2. All it takes is a quick dip into the menu to select your mode, and you’re dropped back into your car. Daytime and weather then sync for all players, and the race is on.
Forza’s Vista fans are also catered for, with car meets being an online gathering of racers where players can explore each other’s cars in full detail, inside and out. If you like their design or tune, you can purchase it then and there with your in game credits. Car clubs also make a return, and owners of previous Forza games are rewarded for their loyalty with in-game credits, which is always a nice touch.
More than 200 cars are available in the game, and of course DLC will bring even more. Most appear to be direct ports from Forza 5, but all are rendered to an astonishing level of detail, with no recycled last-generation cars to be found. Interior view are available for all cars and a full damage model is lurking under the hood to make your shiny new toy look much worse for wear.
Forza 5's Drivatar system returns, so players will find themselves racing against AI cars based on the driving habits of real players. This adds an exciting edge to the races as opposition cars become much more unpredictable.
Other core Forza systems are in place too, including assists, damage, AI skill – it's easy to tailor the game to your driving level.
Horizon 2 is a well-oiled racer that rolls out complete with a plausible storyline, plenty of exotic and familiar cars, and an impressive level of polish. The racing genre has plenty of choice coming in the next few months, but fans would be wise to head straight for the Horizon.