Australian Review: Forza Horizon 2 - Shapeshifter

Forza Horizon 2
Australian Review: Forza Horizon 2 - Shapeshifter

Forza Horizon 2 is the racing game you want it to be: it's zen cruise through the European country-side; it's a breakneck arcade racer; it's a fine-tuned racing simulator. It's up to you.

Forza Horizon 2 is an open-world racer set across southern France and northern Italy. It uses a similar mission structure to a game such as Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim, and provides you with countless objectives at once. These missions range from fairly standard races to left-of-centre challenges that require you to make 15 jumps in two minutes or have 20 near-miss encounters along a certain route. There is no way anyone can accuse Forza Horizon 2 of being short on content.

CyberShack reviewed Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One

Before every race, Forza Horizon 2 gives you the option to adjust your difficulty. On top of the standard easy-medium-hard options, the game lets you fine-tune a wide range of settings. For example, you can toggle stability, traction control, anti-lock braking and assisted steering.

The more options you choose to automate, the more arcade-like Forza Horizon 2 becomes, while using manual settings makes the game much more like a driving simulator. Rather than penalising you for playing on an easier difficulty, the game simply adjusts yours winnings; the harder your settings, the more credits you'll earn. These are predominantly used to buy new cars, extra parts and to fast travel around the map.

As someone who's hasn’t played too many racing games, the granular control over difficulty really helped in making the Forza Horizon 2 much more accessible. In addition, the game also displays a "Driving Line", a guide on the road that displays the optimal position for corners and whether you should accelerate, slow-down or break.

Forza Horizon 2 is quite forgiving too; pressing Y lets you rewind the game by a couple of seconds (without penalty) in case you crash or break too hard. This was particular useful when I first started. It was very refreshing not to have to restart a race because of a few (or a lot of) careless mistakes. The rewind feature only works when playing offline, and can be disabled to earn extra credits.

The combination of these features also helps you improve. After every few races, I found myself making the game just a little bit harder, while still being able to place consistently.

Rev-heads have the option of going even more in-depth and adjusting minute details such as tire pressure, gear ratios, suspension and wheel alignment to name a few. I found these a little too overwhelming personally, but ignoring these completely didn't affect my enjoyment of the game.

Despite having the makings of a driving simulator, Forza Horizon 2 never quite stops feeling like an arcade game - which is great for me, as I much prefer my racing games closer to the Mario Kart end of the spectrum. The game encourages off-road exploration, smashing through fences and driving as fast you can. 

It would have been great to see some optional tutorials to help explain concepts like drifting, drafting and the difference between using the e-brake and your regular brake. The omission is a little bit odd, because aside from this, Forza Horizon 2 is super accessible.

Admittedly, this wasn't a problem most of the time, but I felt like I had no-idea what I was doing wrong occasionally. One mission requires drifting around a corner at high speeds, and I had to retry it at least 15 times to pass. While I'm sure this won't be an issue for someone more familiar with the genre, it got frustrating fast after the first few failed events.

Forza Horizon 2 has a pretty comprehensive list of cars, including vehicles by Ferrari, Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Chevrolet and Dodge. To put it concisely; there's no shortage of rides. These encompass a wide range of styles, including off-roaders, modern supercars, classic muscle and super sedans. Forza Horizon 2 even includes one of CyberShack's favourite cars - the Tesla Model S. Unfortunately, it along with a few others, is locked behind a VIP Membership, which requires an additional AUD$27 purchase. The VIP Membership also provides faster in-game reward acceleration and access to exclusive multiplayer events.

Open World
Rather than just selecting a race from a menu, Forza Horizon 2 is a completely open world. If you want to enter a race, you have to drive your way there - potentially tearing up a vineyard along the way. It's possible to quick travel to the game's main hubs for a moderate fee, but Forza Horizon 2's core driving mechanics are so satisfying that I almost always preferred making my own way to every event. It helps that driving through the European country-side is pretty zen.

In addition, the game also rewards you with bonus experience points whenever you're driving; another good motivator for not skipping straight to a location. Almost anything you can do in your car will give you experience and skill points, whether its drifting, jumping, a burnout, narrowly dodging another car or driving clean. Skill points can then be used to unlock perks which can for example, reduce the cost of fast travel.

As aforementioned, Forza Horizon 2 has an incredible amount of content - the game features over 700 different events. As with games like Grand Theft Auto, it's very easy to get distracted with the vast number of side missions available. My favourites were called "Bucket List Challenges", events that put you in a specific car and with slightly-left-of-centre goals.   The first Bucket List Challenge I attempted instructed me to drive my ride like "I stole it", while another involved high-speed drifting in a Ferrari.

To top it off, there are also a couple of pretty impressive events in the game dubbed Showcases. The first of these sees you racing a team of stunt jets; a pretty amazing experience, even if it is just a video game.

While there's plenty to do, Forza Horizon 2 can get a bit repetitive at times. The content included doesn't feel like it's there for the sake of padding, but there's a certain formula to the main quest (if that's what you want to call it). Fortunately, there's plenty of great distractions on the way (such as Bucket List Challenges), and it's these distractions that really help make Forza Horizon 2.  

Some of the game's repetition is a result of re-occurring scenery; while the Forza Horizon 2 looks beautiful, a lot of the world looks a little sameish. You'll see a lot of rolling autumnal plains, countless coastlines and a plenty of villages. There's certainly no fire level or ice world here, but I guess that's the consequence of using real-life locations. The game's open world nature means that everything blends together, there's no circuit you can really call your favourite and hone your skills on, because there's no concrete circuit. It's just one map for the entire game.

Forza Horizon 2's expansive world is populated by artificial intelligence known as Drivatars. These are based on other real players, and as such, share their characteristics. Driving up to one of these and pressing X starts an impromptu head-to-head race against the player (well, the player's best speed of a certain route), but even at a superficial level, it makes the game feel a lot more dynamic and alive.  

Graphics & Design
Forza Horzion 2 is grin-inducingly gorgeous. The entire game is stunning, from the cars to the scenery to the menus. Hooning along the beautifully-rendered Italian coastline at 250km an hour is an exhilarating experience, to say the least. It's (probably) not quite as good as the real thing, but Forza Horizon 2's level of polish and realism feels like it provides with at least a fraction of that experience from the comfort of your couch. 

While the game never stops looking great, it looks amazing when weather effects come into play. The way rain-slicked streets reflect your headlights and spray as you take a corner begins to border on surreal. Sunsets are also spectacular. Forza Horizon 2 is a beautiful game. 

What's more impressive is that the game's menus have all also received the same attention to detail. Everything is presented in a simple, clear and concise manner. Even the game's controller mapping is thoughtful; you press X to start a race rather than A, meaning it's almost impossible to enter an event you don't want to.

All it takes to go online in Forza Horizon 2 is the press of a menu button; waiting in lobbies is a thing of the past. Players have two choices of online mode, Online Roadtrip, which takes you through four different races, or Online Free Roam, where you're free to pick and choose individual events.

Small design decisions really showcase how much thought has gone into making Forza Horizon 2 a cohesive, polished experience. 

Final Thoughts
Forza Horizon 2 is a slick, polished package that gets almost everything right. The game looks beautiful, driving is satisfying and there are some very fun events.

My only complaint is that the game's open world nature and mission-based means that it starts to feel repetitive and a little too structure-less at times. It doesn't necessarily pit you against the track in the way that other racing games do. 

Nonetheless, Forza Horizon 2 is easy to recommend. It's a racing game for anyone. It's simple to pick up and play without getting overwhelmed, but at the same time you ramp up the difficulty and spend countless hours tweaking your ride. It doesn't get the ambitious blend between open world game and racer quite right, but it's almost there.

Cybershack Score - rating backgroundrating 4

Incredibly polished, looks beautiful Can get repetitive
Customisable play-styles No tutorials
Lots to do

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