Forza Horizon 2 Review: Fantastic Voyage

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Developers: Playground Games (Xbox One), Sumo Digital (Xbox 360), Turn 10 Studios (Support)

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Platforms: Xbox One (Version Reviewed), Xbox 360

Release Date: September 30th

The lore of driving exotic, super fast cars is something most everyone has experienced. Watching a new action movie wouldn’t feel right without an Aston Martin or super-charged 1975 Dodge Charger in an epic car chase. While most of us will never get to experience such thrills, we can experience driving fast cars vicariously through video games. On September 30th, the successful Forza racing franchise releases its newest incarnation, Forza Horizon 2.

The game is centered around the Horizon Festival, (which is nestled in Europe) and is where the main story of the game takes place. The game really couldn’t start any better. You are thrown immediately into a Lamborghini Huracan cruising down winding roads along the coast of Italy. It really is a fantastic entry into the Forza Horizon 2 world. As you drive along, you immediately notice the beautiful environment. The game outputs at 1080p, and right out of the gate the developers want that known. The drive to the Horizon Festival does a magnificent job accentuating the stunning colors, realistic scenery, and incredible cars you’ll be experiencing throughout the game. Bravo Playground Games, Sumo Digital and Turn 10 Studios, because if the hooks weren’t already in, after that first drive, they sure have a hold now.

When you reach the Horizon Festival your host gives you the low-down on how things at the festival will work. First things first, time to pick a car. Wait, you mean the Lamborghini I was just driving is not mine to keep? Unfortunately not, but never fear the three cars you can choose from are by no means “beaters”.

magnificent job accentuating the stunning colors, realistic scenery, and incredible cars

You get your choice between a BMW Z4 SDrive35IS, Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe, or a Toyota Supra RZ. Not to shabby for your first car. Being a fan of the classics, I chose the Chevrolet Camaro SS and off to my first race I went.

It is at this stage where the “World Map” appears and you get your first glimpses at how expansive the environment of Forza is.  At any time in the game if you press the menu button it will pull up the World Map and you can set your destinations. It is in here that you can see all the events that are available and set markers to guide you to the event. At first there are not many available, but the more you race, the more events pop-up. Forza Horizon 2 has more than 700 events, that correspond with the different cars you will be driving. Each event has several different races dependent upon the kind of car you choose to race. There are circuit races, sprint races, cross countries and more. These choices allow you to play at least three different racing series for each of the Championships.

After the first race, you are introduced to the “Drivatars”. The Drivatars are found throughout the game and are built upon the way real Forza players drive. From the way they turn, accelerate, maneuver it really mimics the good and bad habits. Everyone who played Forza Motorsport 5 will be very familiar with Drivatars.

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As you drive around the world you can challenge other Drivatars to races. They are all labeled as either Beginner, Average, Skilled, all the way up to Pro. There were many times throughout my time playing that I would be heading to my next race, but couldn’t help myself from challenging different Drivatars. For the record, the “Pro” Drivatars are exceptionally challenging, but equally rewarding upon victory.

After your first Championship series you are introduced to ANNA. ANNA stands for Automated Natural Navigation Assistant and is essentially a Kinect powered navigator. If you have a Kinect you can ask ANNA questions like “what to do next” or any number of things to help keep you totally focused on the road. At first, I was not sold on the idea of voice commands (simply because so often they are lack luster, and more burden-like than useful), but these worked beautifully. It is very clear that Microsoft Studios had encouraged aspects of the Kinect to be integrated into the game and I was pleasantly surprised at how well they worked.

Not only do you gain XP and money from races, you can get them from doing any number of tricks. You can side-swipe, burnout, glide, just to name a few and all of these gain XP. As you level up, you get Perks. Perks are bought by spending Skill points which you gain by building XP. The Perks are set up like a Skill-tree. Depending on the individual driver, you can select which Perks would best fit your style. Each one you select opens the path to a new set of skills.

Another reward system that Forza Horizon 2 employees is a “Wheel Spin”. The Wheel Spin occurs after you reach an XP milestone. Usually after you finished a race, or accrued a certain amount of XP. The spin is completely random but it does give you the ability to win money and if you are lucky enough, even new cars! I found myself diligently working to try to get another spin. I was lucky enough to win a couple of cars, and one that would have normally cost $90,000.

At this point I must address the Tuning abilities in Forza Horizon 2. Wow! The level of detail at which you can dial in your car tuning is nothing short of extraordinary. Although, unless you are highly versed in car tuning, (not me) then it is a bit overwhelming. You can swap engines, upgrade exhausts, add turbos etc. in the Horizon Garage. Sound impressive? Well, believe it or not, the tuning doesn’t stop there. Right before a race you can make the finest of adjustments. Lower tire pressure, adjust shocks and the options go on and on. I switched pressures and adjusted numbers, but of course I had no clue what I was doing; I just knew I was “making my car better.” Since my car tuning skills are less than adequate I was not able to really notice what differences those adjustments could make, but for those that are able, this option must be incredible.

the level of detail at which you can dial in your car tuning is nothing short of extraordinary

The single-player mode was great, but that brings us to the next chapter of

Forza Horizon 2;

the multiplayer. First, the seamless transition from single-player to multiplayer is wonderful. Once you unlock multiplayer mode, you can jump back and forth with the click of a button. There are no lobbies, no wait times and no opportunities to get bored. Once in the multiplayer mode there are a couple different options. You can join Online Road Trips, which are where you party up with different players and race along the open road competing in a series of different events. After each event, the player with the highest XP is crowned the champion. When the series of events is over the players can vote between three different locations for the next race. Of course once the new destination is selected you all drive there together, which is really enjoyable. The other two options are an Online Free Roam or private matches with your friends.