Forza Horizon 2 – Review

I’ve been a fan of the Forza series for a long time (fact: when I saw the cost of a PT Cruiser in Forza 3, it prompted me to see the cost in real life, and shortly after, I bought one…….), so in one way or another the series has had an impact on me.

That’s not to say I’m good, nor is it to say I’ve ever finished one of them.  I love to play through a few classes, buy some cars, do them up, get some cool paint jobs, and then it gets too hard and I move on.  I did used to love that auction house though! What a way to try and bag a bargain.

The core Forza Motorsport series improved, and was releasing version after version over the years, and I lapped them up (no pun intended!).  Knowing I’m not great, I had no expectations other than having fun, but in the frame of mind that these games are a simulator and “pure” if you will.  I loved that.  We had an exclusive Xbox series, which was exceptional and it was all I wanted in a racing game.

Then they released “Forza Horizon”, it was getting good reviews, but all I kept seeing were the words “free-roam” and “arcade” and I couldn’t believe it, I was not impressed by the notion, and I wrote the “Horizon” series off, without much thought or research (I’m an arse).

What changed?

The arrival of Forza Horizon 2 marked no change in my mindset.  It was reviewing well and some of my friends were loving it.  But it wasn’t a proper Forza in my mind, and for some reason that was enough to put me off.

Then, some time last year I was hankering for a racing game, but not a simulator-type game.  I’d had loads of fun with the likes of “Juiced” and “Need for Speed” etc over the years, and they seemed like a good idea.  As always, price was king, and I stumbled across an eBay listing that had Forza H2 going dirt cheap.  I wasn’t even looking for it, but it dawned upon me that it’s supposed to be excellent and it might hit that beautiful intersection of the imaginary venn diagram of “Forza game” and “Free-roam racer”. I let go of my nonsense prejudice and placed my bid.

From then on, my fate was sealed, I was going to play it, to cure the itch for a racing game, and to see what all the fuss was about.

Why on earth did I wait so long? I swear, 9 times out of 10 my nonsense principles hold me back from some amazing things (hopefully my wife and siblings don’t see this confession!).

What’s the deal?

You’re a driver invited to compete in the fictional “Horizon” racing festival.  Set in France and Italy, you drive around this gorgeous open-world hitting different race hubs, where you pick the type of championship you want to take part in (types of car dictate the type of races you’ll be offered).  You progress through the championships which are purposely hosted in different regions and towns across the HUGE map, and just keep plugging away at them until you’re ultimately the festival champion.

The festival vibe is really nicely portrayed, with loads of live-action scenes of people at the evening parties having a good time.  The areas are decked out, and at the end of championship, you go back to the central hub to join in the festivities for the night.

It’s set in a stunning part of the world, and really gives you that rustic vibe, really really nice setting.  Helped by the fact that the lighting is excellent.  Those sunsets when you’re cruising on some open road……wow.  Paired with the right soundtrack, I find myself just at ease when playing this game.  It really dawned on me this morning how calming and wonderful it really is.

The game has 7 radio stations, playing over 150 tracks.  I tend to stick to Horizon XS as it mostly fits my tastes, but they all work really well.  That’s because of the way they fit into the game.  It’s so tidily implemented, I can’t work how it’s done.  The songs are there and prevalent, but they’re never overbearing and you don’t lose the impact of any other audio.  No idea how they’ve managed to hit that sweet-spot, but it’s perfect in terms of audio level.

Speaking of the audio, the game has excellent, excellent audio.  The gravel tracks, the tarmac, the fields, the engines.  Honestly, paired with my new-found love of a headset, this game sounds wonderful.  The audio cues when you unlock something, or crash into something.  It’s all balanced out so well.  It’s just excellent.

Judging by my gushing praise of the audio and the visuals, it’s pretty safe to say that this aesthetic really works for the game, and it really works for me.

Racing games traditionally set me on edge, trying to eke out that first-place with the tension of that competitor on my rear bumper, trying to get past.  This game is the same, but it also has the serene side, I can just cruise and take in the scenery whilst trying out my latest car.  It puts me in a really good place mentally, and there are very few games that do that these days.

How does it feel?

A big part of any Forza game is the realism.  The cars have to not only look and sound good, but they need to handle appropriately, too.

Now, I’m no expert on cars and my frame of reference is limited to the cars I’ve personally driven and the cars I’ve used in other games.  So I can hardly be deemed a voice that matters, in this arena.  However, I can say this.  To me they feel pretty good.

The difference between types of car is significant, super cars are genuinely “super” compared to the 1980’s hot-hatches and the modern 4×4’s.  The difference in the drivetrain is definitely there, I cannot drive rear-wheel drive at speed, no matter the game.  I know, that no matter what car I choose, I’m going to have to spend some time with it to get used to it before I race.  Much like you do in real life……minus the race part, for me, anyway.

Cars “feel” heavy and light where appropriate, the acceleration and top-speeds genuinely make a difference, braking is crucial, and the upgrades to these things really make a difference.

I can’t comment to say that it feels realistic, nor could I say it’s as realistic as say, one of the “Motorsport” games.  What I can say is that they feel good and suitable to the game.  You need to pick the right cars for the right races and terrain.  It works, it’s noticeable, and I still can’t drive supercars, or use my brakes properly.

Feeling lonely?

One thing that stands out to me in this game, is the use of the infamous “Drivatar” system.  A digital copy of your racing data, that is implemented to create a kind of personal racing AI.

It works so well here because even when you’ve been driving for ages and just taking it all in, someone you know will drive past, giving this extra level of immersion.  Only this morning, I was cruising, to find that my brother (Danielk2954) was just driving past, in a small village I’d ended up at.

When racing, you’re competing against people you know,and it really makes you want to win that much more.  Getting cut-up by TommyGunLovers before being pipped at the post by ScruffyJACK96.  I was livid, however, because it’s my friends, it was more funny than infuriating, so I just got ready to restart the race to beat the bastards.

I signed in to the game for the first time in months, to find that I’d competed in 223 races and earned myself a decent amount of credits (in-game currency).  So I’d been working, without doing anything.  How cool is that?

What do you do?

At its most basic, you race other cars in different events to win championships, which will ultimately lead to a final championship and the winner will be the winner of the Horizon festival.

You pick the type of championship you want to compete in (type of car i.e. 4×4, Rally Cars, Supercars etc), and these dictate the races you’ll run.

You can buy cars to meet the championship requirements, with a massive selection of brands and models.  Note that there is a good selection, but the inclusion of microtransactions to buy additional cars and car packs really kills the vibe of the game.  So many cars “available” to purchase, so many options, only to find that a high percentage of them are part of a DLC, and man, these DLC’s aren’t some tiny “loot box” microtransaction cost, these are expensive.  It really ruins the experience.

Microtransactions aside, you buy your car, then you have the freedom to customise it, both visually, and “under the hood” as it were.  The options are impressive, too, with the level of detail you can get into, and the work you can do to tweak and change things goes down to an almost granular level.  Very similar to the Forza motorsport series, which surprised me, as I’d expected a more arcade-like experience.

After completing championships, you get to compete in some “showcase events”, and these are superb.  I was blown away when I found myself racing against an aerial display team of jets, and then when I was trying to beat a train, and then hot air balloons.  Not only where they fun, and mixed it up, they’re a little more cinematic and set up as events.  They look incredible! Each one I’ve done so far has left me awestruck, and how often do you get that in a game these days?

Other than the races and events, you’re free to roam at your leisure.  There are “bucket list” car events, where you drive up to some amazing cars and get to thrash them around a course.  Giving you the opportunity to drive these cars that you’d normally never get the opportunity to do, hence “bucket list”.  There are speed traps, boards to break for XP (this is actually more fun than it sounds), roads to discover and “meets” to race online against others.

I think one of my favourite parts is seeing a pop up telling me how close I’m getting to beating the amount of roads driven, and boards broken that my friends have done.  It’s tiny, and ultimately insignificant, but it keeps me moving to try and creep past them as I’m cruising.

One thing that stood out to me was the means of discovering new locations on the map to start new race events.  You get sent out with the other racers to actually drive from point A to point B and truly discover it yourself.  Pick whatever car you want, and ride down there with your competition.  It’s not a race, it’s just a great way of seeing all there is to see, whilst still having an objective.  Really nice touch.

You can stop, pull over and use the in-game camera mode to take some shots of your favourite car in the wonderful sunset, or you can try and snap a photo whilst taking past your brother who’s been a thorn in your side for the whole of the race.  It’s a really great way to not only show off your car, but to see just how great the details in this game are.  The lighting, the scenery, the cars.

The closest replica of my first car, I could get. Same wheels, same body, same colour.

On top of that, there are the “Barn Finds” where you get told about a rumoured location that has an old classic of some kind that’s just been left to fall into ruin, in a barn somewhere.  You go the location, and then you have to explore and find said barn.  I’ve found a couple, and one of them was really tough to find, even with an online guide.  You find the car, send it off to be re-built, and you get a free classic of some kind.  Not only encouraging further exploration, but you get to build your collection for no cost.

There’s a lot to do, but it’s varied enough to never get bored.

The not so good….

The only real let down is the implementation of the car packs and DLC.

It’s so jarring to be picking a car to purchase, only to find that of the 5 options, 3 of them actually require real money to have them.

I wouldn’t mind, but they’re not cheap and I don’t really use a car more than on a “per-championship” basis, so it’s a complete waste.  Sure, I don’t have to buy them, and I haven’t, but it makes it look like the initial selection is lacking, and the cars available aren’t quite as good.

It pulls you out of this great experience and makes you remember that it’s just another game, with microtransactions.  Mixed in with the additional menu screens that you have to select but can’t use because you don’t have the DLC, it really dulls the experience.  If I had the money, I’d buy the lot, just to remove that barrier. Having to buy the extra stuff to enhance the experience (not enhance the game, which is what the DLC is for) isn’t really justifiable.

Is it worth it?

As usual, I’ve gone off on a tangent about how good a game is.  I don’t do that if I don’t like something.  In fact, being this enthused about something is credit to how good a game is. It just so happens that I bought this game, going against my principles, and my really low expectations were shattered.

It looks, sounds and feels excellent.  There’s a ton to do, and none of it ever feels like a chore.  Showcase event races are a really nice way of mixing up the formula, and the barn-finds are a great means of exploring the map and being rewarded.

Driving some expensive car isn’t what really does it for me in real life.  Cruising in a beautiful setting, competing with, and just seeing my friends out and about? That does.

I’ve not officially rated any games as “Exceptional” yet, and this is so close, but the microtransactions and DLC stuff really pull you out of the experience.

It just makes me feel good whilst I’m playing, and it’s just pure fun. I never thought I’d say this when it was released, but Forza Horizon 2 is excellent.

Definitely recommended to anyone and everyone that asks.

Given the opportunity, I’d jump straight into Forza Horizon 3.  Alas, in all of my contacts with developers and publishers for review copies, or any kind of help, I hear nothing back, at all.   So I’ll try with Turn 10, but dealing with a nobody is hardly going to be their priority.

6 thoughts on “Forza Horizon 2 – Review

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