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Forza Horizon 2 release date: September 30th
Demo coming September 16th
Exclusive to Xbox One(tested) and Xbox 360

What is Forza Horizon 2?

As the follow-on to the successful Forza Horizon, we had pretty high expectations for our extended hand-on time with the Forza Horizon 2.

It’s been in the works for two years and developer Playground Games is touting Horizon 2 as the “largest, most beautiful and most fun” driving game it’s ever produced.

From our hour and a half play through with the opening section of the game, we’re confident that Horizon 2 will not disappoint.

Horizon 2 is set across the beautiful landscapes and cities of France and Italy as part of a rather expansive music festival. Well, I say music festival, but obviously it’s a bizarre blend of a car rally and a music festival – something that could really only happen within the confines of a video game.

You’re travelling with a pack of mates with the ultimate goal of becoming the Horizon Challenge Champion at the end of the festival by topping championship leader boards across the two countries.

Just like its predecessor, Horizon 2 features a pretty awesome soundtrack that you’ll want to be blasting through your speakers or headphones as you play. There are three radio stations to choose from, all with strong festival vibes. They basically act as the different stages at a festival, each offering a track list tailored to a different music genre.

Forza Horizon 2

One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the dialogue and storyline is a little bit cheesy. Your guide is a chap called Ben. He leads you through the mini tutorials and seems to be your man in the know for the entirety of the game.

Now, I know the game is very playful in its overall nature, but Ben is instantly dislikeable. He’s a little patronising and over enthusiastic. It makes you feel like he’s trying to be an over attentive tour guide on a package holiday that you’re desperately trying to ditch so you can enjoy the scenery.

When you get into the races, thankfully he disappears, but be prepared to see a lot of Ben in the early stages. He even breaks the immersion a little, highlighting specific in-game features like the Drivatar technology introduced with Forza 4, which does away with AI and has you racing against the ghosts of real players.

Forza Horizon 2

One of the main appeals of Forza Horizon 2 from the off is its graphics. As we saw at E3, Horizon 2 is one of the most visually impressive racing games we’ve seen on new-gen consoles so far. It’s beating rivals like The Crew and DriveClub to market, which is possibly a good thing as it offers a little of the same in terms of visual quality.

However, Horizon 2 has the edge in terms of location. You can’t deny that the Italian and French landscapes offer beautiful vistas and picturesque towns and cities, all of which you’ll be screeching through in Horizon 2. 

It runs on the Forza Motorsport 5 graphics engine so you get the visual fidelity in the cars, but you’ll be paying lots of attention to the scenery around you. The water effects see the oceans sparkle in the sunlight; hot air balloons and lanterns rise into the sky as the sun sets; and your headlights pick out the bales of hay as you roar through the fields when the sun has long gone down.

Like the original Horizon, the latest game features a dynamic 24 hour lifecycle, but with real enhancements that Playground says would be “impossible on the last generation” – namely dynamic weather. This is an Xbox One exclusive feature, so you won’t find it in the 360 version.  

Forza Horizon 2

Expect to be driving through torrential rain storms, fog and drizzle among other weather conditions. These come and go as unexpectedly as European weather is prone to. You’ll spot puddle reflections, realistic spray effects and raindrops changing direction on the windscreen. Not only is it visually on par with the teasers and hands-on time we’ve seen from DriveClub, but it also really changes up the driving conditions at the drop of the hat.

You’ll really feel the car skidding around in the wet conditions, with the Xbox One’s Impulse Triggers rumbling under your fingers.

As with its predecessor Horizon 2 expertly aims to blend arcade and simulation driving experiences. You’ll get the realistic handling presented in the main Forza titles, but with the arcade elements featured in titles like PGR.

Due to that you’ll notice that car damage is only superficial and there’s a strong focus on the in-game Skills system, which is taken from the Kudos system found in the PGR series. It’s fundamental to your career progression in the game, as your skill level attained through races and free roam will earn you XP, which leads to levelling up.

Forza Horizon 2

Every time you reach the next level, you are given a free Horizon Wheel Spin. This Wheel of Fortune type of mini-game gives you a reward every time you level up. These rewards might be a lump sum cash prize or one of the 200 Horizon 2 vehicles, if you’re lucky.

The overall focus of Horizon 2 is that it is a truly open-world game. Anything you can see, you can (theoretically) drive to. You are totally incentivised to go off the beaten track, especially to discover Bucket List challenges. These are 30 individual cars hidden around the world that requires you to complete challenges to obtain. Obviously these range in difficulty, but they’re the only way to pick up these specific vehicles and are well worth discovering.

Horizon 2 is three times larger than the original Horizon and it really shows. You can drive across fields, make your own tracks and generally have fun speeding through forests and other landscapes. Thanks to its open world nature, you’ll notice there’s a new type of race – Cross Country Races. These see you race from point A to B across various terrains.

Forza Horizon 2

Now, these Cross Country Races are particularly fun and introduce an entirely different style of driving that rewards creativity rather than precision. There’s not many games that will see you racing a BMW Z4 across a corn field, struggling to handle it as the wheels slip on the earth. They take a while to get to grips with, especially when you through in an expected rain storm.

Thankfully there’s a rewind feature available in races, letting you roll back time and restart a particularly tricky session where you failed to correct your racing line, which happens frequently in these open world races.

The game claims to offer over 100 hours of gameplay with hundreds of challenges to complete and we spent a good period of time just driving around, exploring the scenery.  Along with the new Cross Country Racers, you’ll encounter speed camera challenges and other race types contained within 108 different championships with over 700 events.

If you don’t fancy the fields, there are 315 roads to be driven, with each checked off as you drive – perfect for those who have to complete everything.

First Impressions

From what we’ve seen so far, there’s a perfect blend of driving simulation and the more fun, but less realistic arcade style that will see you trying to rack up the best skill points. Visuals are fantastic and the sprawling landscapes presented in Forza Horizon 2 are some of the most beautifully rendered that we’ve seen on the Xbox One.

There’s plenty to do and see in terms of races, mini-quests and exploration. From my first hour and a half of play, we were totally sold on the locale if not the characters in the game. I’m keen to see how the game progresses and the different locations you get to explore.

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