Forza Horizon 2 Review
Microsoft
  • Developer – Playground Games
  • Publisher – Microsoft Studios
  • Platform – Xbox One (tested), Xbox 360
  • Release date – 3 October
  • Price - £44.99

Forza Horizon 2 Review

Forza Horizon 2 carries a reverence for cars and exotic locations that borders on the sophisticated. This is a game where you can climb behind the wheel of '57 Ferrari California and drive the length of the Italian coast. You can cross the border into Nice. You can roam the French countryside, or weave through the streets of Sisteron.

It's a splendid, quixotic, practically unheard-of type of driving game where the amount of detail on the vehicles is matched only by the credibility and lustre of the player's surroundings.

But that tastefulness is tempered somewhat by the other half of Forza. What you have here is a kind of clash of sensibilities, where occasionally the game truly captures the jet-setty feel of a continental car tour, and other times feels like a homage to smug, noisy youth culture. Set against the backdrop of a fictional motor and music festival, the eponymous Horizon, Forza features a soundtrack, a cast of characters and an overall pretension that feel like they've been lifted from a strawberry cider commercial.

Forza Horizon 2 Review
Microsoft

Bellpieces

Invariably, the people you meet are coiffured, self-satisfied bellpieces, the kind of insufferable arse-ends you'd expect to find on a youth-orientated TV show. They all have haircuts, iPhones and t-shirts, and they bomb around the European Riviera seemingly not giving a chutney-toss about anyone except themselves.

This is a game that celebrates conspicuous consumption; decadence; excess. It's telling that after about one hour of play you'll have accumulated more than a hundred grand of in-game money and taken cars like the McClaren F1 and Pagani Zonda out for a joyride. Compared to Gran Turismo, which starts players off with a petty amount of cash and a rudimentary road car, Forza Horizon 2 dives head-first into opulence like Scrooge McDuck.

That's not a problem by itself. It's refreshing, and certainly part of Forza Horizon's unique flavour, to be plunged directly into Lambos and Porches right from the get-go. And if the game threw absolutely in with this sumptuous aesthetic, like its predecessor, then it'd work fine – it'd be purposeful and consistent.

But there's always that other side, just straining for release. From the deadly serious opening cinematic to the overt focus on real-world locations, there's another, more nuanced half of Forza Horizon 2, constantly at war with all the chortles and preening. It's like a car with two steering wheels.

Behind one is Vin Diesel, behind the other is Marcello Mastroianni. They're each of them fine in their own right, but because there's a contest between them, it's making the car slide gradually off the road.

Playful abandon

Forza Horizon 2 Review
Microsoft

I'd like to be able to say that you can ignore all of this, that you can pick a play style and bend Forza Horizon 2 to suit your preference. But that conflict between airs and presentation repeatedly catches you in the face.

Your car appears to you in a mini cutscene, and the camera slowly glides around it, capturing all the perfectly recreated contours of the bodywork. Next thing, you're smashing it through the hedgerows of some poor local's cattle field, collecting points for knocking down scenery and narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic. It becomes hard to lose yourself, either in Forza's enthusiasm for motoring or its playful abandon.

But still, the core driving is fantastic.

Cars thunder, drift and screech with believable weight, meaning that every race requires utmost attention and lightning reflexes. Especially in the supercar championships, when you're piloting some crazy horsepower Aston or Ferrari, you can feel every dip in the road, every slight bump against an opponent's chassis.

Tight and dangerous

This is a much more varied game than its predecessor. Where the original Horizon took place exclusively on the verdant plains of Colorado, the sequel, thanks to its European backdrop, features as many sprawling off-road rallies as it does tight, dangerous street races.

Those, actually, are the best part of the game. Rather than screeching across broad, open landscape, you're often in claustrophobic, rainy, night time competitions, easing your car around the narrow bends of classical Italian hamlets.

If you find the right track on one of the game's radio stations, some moody electronic number with a thumping bass loop, crawling through these cramped little streets is a truly nerve-racking experience. Without meaning to oversell it, it's rare for a driving game to carry such an intense mood.

Your windscreen wipers are frantically brushing off the rain, the headlights of your nearest opponent are in the rear-view and in the distance, you can see a fireworks display exploding above the festival proper. This is when Forza Horizon 2 really works, when it quietens down and lets you indulge in the visuals and the core, immaculately tuned mechanics.

Enjoy the cars

And there's a huge quantity of different events. If you're not down for the low-tempo, Winding-Refn night races you can kit out a four-wheel drive and go ploughing through the countryside. As in the original, there are "Showcase Events," which pit you in a time-trial against, say, a fighter plane display team. There are also new "Bucket List" challenges, kind of mini-missions where you have to dodge 20 oncoming cars or beat a record lap-time.

It's a fantastic structure, because primarily what Forza is interested in is the cars. This enormous catalogue of races encourages you to buy, tune up and test drive the game's myriad vehicles, extending to you Playground's clearly vast motoring knowledge.

If there's a reason to play Forza Horizon 2, then that's it. This is a game where you're given the space, encouragement and opportunity to crash around in some of the most impressive motors ever made.

If the exuberant aesthetic clashes with some of the game's subtler tones, it's a small price to pay, considering that Forza is foremost concerned with getting you into these cars as quickly and with as little grinding as possible. The competition elements almost feels moot.

Considering you can customise the game's difficulty down to a minute degree, it seems plausible that rather than worry about evenness and consistency, the game designers just want you to enjoy cars as much as they clearly do.

Scores:

  • Gameplay: 7/10Incredibly slick and fun core driving, but the conflict of tone makes it hard to lose yourself
  • Graphics: 9/10Superb. The condensed version of Europe and of course the cars look spectacular
  • Writing: 6/10It's hard to criticise too much, since Horizon features more of a framework than a story, but despite the convincing dialogue on the in-game radio stations, a lot of the supporting cast are frustrating, obnoxious archetypes
  • Sound: 8/10Thunderous engines and a well-curated soundtrack which successfully captures the feeling of a summertime music festival
  • Replay value: 9/10There's loads to do here, a variety of races and events plus some practically endless online modes.
  • Overall: 7/10A colourful, energetic driving game which suffers from an uneven tone and an abundance of ideas