2014-10-22

Forza Horizon 2 – Familiar Yet Sublime

by Yo Snyder

Taking the precision and beauty of the Forza Motorsport
series and unleashing it on the open roads of Colorado was a stroke of genius
in Forza Horizon. Sure the handling was a bit more forgiving, but to be able to
take your favorite car – classic, supercar, hatchback, muscle car, whatever –
and race around the high plains and twisty mountain roads of Colorado was pure
bliss. Forza Horizon 2 brings back everything, adds more, makes it bigger…but
pretty much keeps to the formula established by the first game. In the end,
it’s just more; which left me wondering if that’s all I wanted in the follow-up
to one of my favorite racing games of the last generation of consoles.

While I miss being in Colorado (my home state), I can’t
fault for the team at Playground taking this sequel to the roads of France and
Italy. Having spent some time there, I can say that it’s unequivocally
gorgeous, and a perfect setting for an open road racing game. Forza Horizon is
lavishly gorgeous. The cars look amazing (as one would expect from a game with
Forza in the title) and the environment is lushly beautiful. Rolling hills,
vineyards, mountains and gorgeous coasts make this the perfect setting for
driving around in a bunch of fantasy cars. Rain effects add to the beauty, and
the night racing gives events a nice, unique feel. Speeding down some back
roads with only your headlights showing you the way is thrilling. Oh, and thank
you Playground for allowing cars to get dirty when they go off road; that was a
major nitpick of mine in the first game. Having driven some of those dusty
Colorado roads for real, I could never get over how my car remained pristine
when driving those same roads in the game.

Speaking of off-road, the first Horizon felt oddly confined
for an “open world” racer due to many barriers like guardrails keeping you from
racing across the open plains. In Horizon 2, when you go off-road you can
pretty much go off any road you like. Want to do donuts in that vineyard? Go
for it. Want to speed across that rolling plain? Speed away. Want to try and
weave your way through a forest at night? Good luck, you’re welcome to try.
Horizon 2 wisely makes good use of this freedom with the Cross Country races
which really take you across the country side. They’re easily the best new race
addition to the series thus far.

There are some flaws here, however. The team at Playground
could still learn a few things from Criterion and what they did with Burnout
and Need For Speed so far as an integrate online experience goes. It’s not
quite as bad as last game where you literally had to quit out of your single
player game to set up a multiplayer, but it’s not as seamless as Burnout
Paradise was, and certainly not as integrated as Need For Speed Rivals was.
There are other small nitpicks, like the fact that though the rain looks
amazing, it doesn’t streak across your car at high speeds like it should.
Shadows seem a bit jumpy at times. And the attempt to add a very light
narrative misses the mark. It took me awhile to cop to the fact that the guy standing
next to my car after each race was supposed to be me. It’s also disappoint that
while freedom has been greatly expanded, I still can’t crash into the ocean or
try and drive across the bottom of a lake. Still, most of the flaws are small,
so they’re easy to forgive.

Which leaves me with that nagging feeling that perhaps this
is all too familiar, and whether or not that matters. After all, Forza Horizon
was one of my favorite racing games, so wouldn’t I want more of it. And this is
all the same stuff. There’s weather this time. Some new race types. Lots of new
locales to explore. A new perk system that’s marginally interesting and useful.
Still, there were those times when I had to remind myself I wasn’t still racing
my Mustang through the back roads of Colorado; that I was in a new place in a
new game. And yet…I don’t think it mattered. I love driving cars in Forza
because of the way they feel, the way they look, and the way they sound
(especially in Horizon 2’s epic tunnels). The races have a nice variety, more
so with the new additions, and it’s easy for me to race and compete in the cars
I like. There’s more real estate to play in, and that’s really what Horizon is
all about; get in the cars you love and go play. Or, get in a new car and play
and perhaps end up with a new love. Yes, this is all more of the same from the
first Horizon, but perhaps in this case, more really is better.

Score: 6 of 7 – If
you love cars – or even just like cars – love racing, and love car racing
games, Forza Horizon 2 is easy to recommend as a must have.