Just look at that rain!
The Forza Horizon series was initially designed as a spin-off to Microsoft’s perennial racing franchise; something to keep fans thinking about the next numbered entry. It has become much more than that. The original Horizon spawned a massive fan base, and even won over some players not as interested in the more simulation-type experience the Forza series brings with it. I am included on that latter list. I enjoyed the original Horizon game. It combined great driving physics, open-world terrain and just the right amount of trickle-down unlockables that kept players coming back. Now with new hardware the team at Playground has delivered what is possibly the best racing game on Xbox One, or either of the new consoles for that matter.
It is scary to think that Forza Horizon 2 is not the first in the series on a console that is less than a year old. Forza 5 had its problems for sure, but pushing out another game with the name in the title is a dangerous proposition. Thankfully none of that matters, as Horizon 2 delivers one of the most entertaining and gorgeous racing games yet. From the minute I was dropped into the world I was pushed forward. Unlocking new cars, venues and even some wild events like racing a train, it never lets up.
Price I’d pay: $59.99
Time to beat: 20-30 hours (varies)
The open-world nature of the game is also perfectly paced. The next event is never too far away, road trips between areas turn into adventures all in their own way, and the addition of joining clubs with friends to do online multiplayer is a great idea (and also one Sony’s upcoming racer has). In fact, the online integration with Horizon 2 is some of the best I have ever seen. Jumping into races is seamless, and I could have the game search for partners while I continued my single player game, something Xbox One does on the system level very well.
There is plenty to do both online and off. I could spend months unlocking all the championships and cars, as well as discovering hidden billboards and barns. The game does a nice job of tracking all of this within the menu system. The upgrades are now complemented with a spin for each level gained, which awards random prizes. Most of the time it is simply credits, but every now and then I also received a new car. This is a great system, as skill points are not awarded with every level.
The perk system is also well done, offering up bonuses for XP for things like drafting, or making my vote count more for an online road trip. I also really enjoyed the skill-tree branching of the perk system, where opening up one skill unlocked all the ones adjacent to that particular skill.
Probably the most impressive thing about Horizon 2 though are the visuals. This game is jaw dropping. There was a moment where my wife turned around and looked at the TV, saw me racing in the rain and asked why I was watching racing…it looks that good. I know it is a cliché thing to say that games are mistaken for real life, but the first time the roads dampen, and the reflections start to shine, the game simply stuns. Combine all that with 1080p resolution running at 30 fps and you have one of the best looking games on either new console.
The only downside to the visuals is that I always wanted to play with the follow-camera so I could see the vistas. I actually prefer the dash cam, but it masked so much of the visual fidelity, I rarely used it. Another small gripe with the visuals is the lack of variety. I spent most of the game racing on open roads with the sun shining down. Rain was the biggest change in scenery. I like my racing games like my fighting games, with lots of variety to the environments. Horizon 2 does lack in that sense.
Forza Horizon 2 is a fantastic racing game, probably the best released so far in this short-lived generation of consoles. Xbox One owners should definitely check it out. The amount of content is impressive, but even more impressive is that most of it is really fun to play. Horizon 2 starts off a laundry list of exclusive titles for MS, we can only hope the rest are as excellent as Playground’s latest racer.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.