Forza Horizon 2 is like a magical genie in a lamp to car enthusiasts. Starting the game on the Xbox One is akin to rubbing the lamp, and getting all of your automotive wishes granted. Horizon 2 allows you to fulfill fantasies ranging from becoming an off-road rally racer, to exotic car photographer, to complete hooligan - sliding sideways through a vineyard at 150 miles per hour. While there are some small faults, it’s hard to get hung up on them when looking at all this game has to offer.
Unlike the Forza Motorsports series, Horizon takes place off the race track. In Forza Horizon 2, the game is set in southern Europe between France and Italy. The open-world map varies from the narrow streets of medieval villages, to long stretches of open highway, and all the way through rugged backwoods terrain. Horizon 2 fills this wonderful world with ample traffic to dodge, “Drivatar” competitors to race in one-on-one matchups, and tons of hidden bonus boards.
While the world created in Horizon 2 is fantastic, the real star of the show are the cars. There are a wide range of over 200 vehicles in the roster. The spectrum goes from the basic Ford Fiesta all the way to insane exotics like the Pagani Huayra and Mclaren P1. Each car is accurately modeled to a stunning level of detail, whether it’s the reflective chrome bumpers on a Pontiac GTO Judge, or the gauge cluster in a 1997 Mazda RX-7. The sound and handling of each car is unique and feels accurate, although I have a hard time comparing them to real life, as my daily drivers (2004 Nissan Sentra and 2015 Subaru WRX) are sadly absent from the roster. It’s this level of detail that puts the Forza series ahead of the Gran Turismo series, where only a small percentage of their cars get this amount of love in their digital recreation.
It wouldn’t be a Forza game without the potential for upgrading and tuning each car to your specifications. Gearheads will be happy to know the full range of upgrades and tuning, from tire compounds, engine swaps and camber adjustments, are available in Horizon 2. Upgrades allow you to make almost any car competitive in almost any class. Want to race an old Willys MB Jeep against a Lamborghini? Throw in a Hemi V8, twin turbos, and some sticky rubber and you’ll be able to hold your own. The wide range of upgrades and tweaks allow each individual to customize the car for their style, whether it’s all out speed in the straights, or lightweight, nimble handling in the turns, Horizon 2 has you covered.
Along with upgrades and tuning, each car can be painted in any color imaginable. The options range from factory colors to woodgrain and everything inbetween. Along with paint jobs, the vinyl graphics from previous Forza games make an appearance here as well. When purchasing a car, you can choose from popular graphic sets as voted on by the community. For example, my Nissan GT-R is wrapped in a Nyan Cat vinyl. Small things like this help to make each car you own uniquely yours, even if you’re using somebody else’s design.
Another area where the Horizon series differentiates itself from the Motorsports series is the reward structure. In Forza Motorsports, you’re rewarded for fast lap times and clean racing. Horizon will reward you for those things as well, but it also encourages things like huge burnouts, drifting around corners and getting all four wheels off the ground in the form of Skill Points. Once you begin chaining together drifts and jumps, it begins a combo score. The longer they go, the more points you get to level up. After you level up, Horizon gives you skill perks which unlock things like discounts on cars and the ability to fast travel anywhere on the map. Along with skill perks, leveling up gives you a turn on the “Wheel Spin”, which is basically a pull on a slot machine lever, providing in-game currency or even cars.
Aside from all the awesome racing and drifting, is the photo mode. This is by far my favorite aspect of the game, because it allows you to show off the amazing level of details on every car. Photo mode provides tons of tweaks and adjustments, so whether you want to manually dial in your camera settings like a pro photographer, or just slap on some Instagram-esque filters, the options are there. The fantastic photo mode tweaks coupled with the amazingly realistic car models makes for some truly stunning photos, some of which are almost indistinguishable from photos of real cars.
Of course, there are some downsides to the Forza Horizon 2 experience. The aforementioned Wheel Spins granted after every level up feel inconsequential. The credits awarded are often very small, averaging around 15,000 during my time with the game. That wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t see the massive totals flicking past during the spin, sometimes upwards of 200,000 credits. Besides the wheel spins, is the relatively light car roster in comparison to previous Forza Motorsport titles. Of course, DLC is available to fill out the roster further, but I’m not totally sold on its value. A glaring omission from the roster is, once again, Porsche. Unfortunately, the Porsche licensing isn’t available for use in Forza titles. Its hard to fault the game for this situation, but its worth mentioning for any of the Porsche-philes out there. The one saving grace in the Porsche situation, is the inclusion of RUF cars - essentially factory tuned version of some of Porsche’s most iconic cars.
Forza Horizon 2 is the reason I bought an Xbox One. I’m an admitted Forza fanatic, and knew as soon as the new consoles were released that I’d be throwing down on an Xbox One solely because that’s where Forza lives. Horizon 2 is such a great experience for car enthusiasts of all stripes. Whether you love spending hours in the photo mode getting the shot just right, or shaving a tenth of a second off your lap time like a regular track rat, Horizon 2 has you covered. Its a shame the Forza series only lives in the Xbox environment, but “you gotta pay to play” is the sentiment often echoed by people in motorsports and gaming.