Let me start by saying I’m not a fan of most driving games. Any Gran Turismo title has left me cold, and aside from Mario Kart, Rad Racer and San Francisco Rush, I’ve mostly been content to let the genre alone. So reviewing Forza Horizon 2 was not among my top asks for this season’s crop of new games. The launch Forza title for Xbox One left me nonplussed, and I’d never played the original Horizon, either, to add to the stacked deck against my liking Horizon 2. But I did like Horizon 2; quite a lot, in fact.
Basically the game is like Grand Theft Auto except you come by your cars more or less legitimately, and you can’t get out of them and walk around. You can drive around freely, however, along the coast of southern France and northern Italy. The locations provide plenty of eye candy, and this is definitely one of the prettier games overall I’ve played on next-gen console hardware. You can wander, but you unlock new routes by completing challenges, which include championships featuring multiple types of races, and which change depending on the class of car you’re driving. There are plenty of side mission challenges, and bonuses for doing things like going as fast as possible past speed traps.
Doing well in races, which can involve either placing well or just pulling off a lot of pretty trick driving, or just driving with precision, will net you both credits and experience. Credits can be used to purchase and upgrade new cars, and experience will level up your driver, giving you access to bonuses in the form of cash or new vehicles, which you can customize to your liking via new parts, upgrade passages, engine tuning and paint jobs.
What’s nice about Horizon 2 is that it spans all ability levels – you don’t have to be great at driving games to jump in, as there’s a persistent arrow path activated by default that gives you a pretty good line through any road or track, and turns red when you need to brake, or stays green when you can pound the gas. Add to that the fact that placing in the top three in races isn’t necessarily all that important compared to driving with a bit of flair, in terms of racking up points, and you get a driving experience that can stretch to accommodate both track veterans and newbies alike.
One strange thing about Forza Horizon 2 that may not be immediately apparent – any enemies you face are essentially versions of online players A.I.-ified. That means you aren’t actually facing them live, but you also aren’t just facing computer-generated enemies. It’s a combination of the two, with computer drivers picking up the habits and driving styles of your Xbox friends and other online gamers. Likewise, a Drivatar of you is also out there, in other people’s games, collecting rewards for you to use when you log back in.
Forza Horizon 2 offers great in-map navigation, as well as plenty of depth when it comes to car customization, as well as options that make it easy to stay on the surface with essentially one-click upgrade packages. There’s a huge library of cars that you can potentially buy, and there’s also a lot of community content including car paint designs to download. Creating your own will net you points, too, if they become popular.
At heart, Forza Horizon 2 is a game that you can easily get lost in. I was not expecting this, provided it sounded to me initially like a more restrictive Grant Theft Auto-style experience. You actually never end up feeling like you’d rather get out and walk around, and the car customization and purchasing system provides plenty of motivation to keep playing for completionists, even if you’re not a huge fan of driving (though Horizon 2 makes this part of the experience as pleasurable as possible, too).
If I have any complaints about Forza Horizon 2, they’re mainly about the wrapper the game is sold in. The premise of the plot is that you’re at some kind of music/car festival, so there’s a pretty ridiculous intro with a woman’s sultry voice narrating a countdown alongside videos of attractive club kids dancing around cars which strikes me as incredibly cheesy. But it’s a relatively short thing to have to wade through to get to the meat of the game, which represents hours and hours of entertainment. Maybe it’s the old RPG grinder that hides within me, but Forza Horizon 2 has managed to sidestep my anti-driving bias, and that’s impressive.