Up: Incredible graphics, jaw-dropping locations, insanely fun gameplay
Down: Unless you love techno pop, it could use more of a variety of popular music.
Neutral: This game demands smiles.
Back in 2003, I found myself at a long since forgotten electronics store while my mom was buying a new TV or something. I would have been around 13 so naturally I was in the enclosed room with all of the car stereos and subwoofers. Nothing could bring me more joy than turning up speakers I couldn’t afford that belonged in a car I didn’t have. But, since all good things must come to an end, and actual paying customer walked in the room and I was left to wander around the store.
As I strolled by all of the aisles I heard the faint sound of Lil Jon’s “Get Low” towards the back of the store. Since that was the anthem of my generation, I decided to head in that direction. Upon further investigation I spotted an unmanned Xbox controller and a TV with the title “Need For Speed: Underground” on it. Since that was a period when you had to wait for a periodical to learn about upcoming video games, I had no idea what was in store for me.
I hit the “start” button and on-screen was a Honda Civic that I could drive. If I tapped the joystick to the right, there was a Nissan 240SX, then a Subaru Impreza STI, then a Toyota Supra, and so on to better and better cars. I was in heaven. I could select the car of my dreams, customize it, and then race around on streets to some of my favorite music. No racing game like that had ever been done before, and since then, no other racing game has ever made me feel that sense of stupefaction… until now.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Forza Motorsport series. I have them all, excluding the first Horizon, and I have put extensive hours into them. However, outside of improving graphics, adding new cars, and having the recent addition of the Top Gear integration, the game hasn’t changed too much. And it can’t because that’s the dynamic; super accurate racing simulation on real life circuits. So props to that. I just found myself less and less excited about racing games, which is weird because I love cars. Luckily, Forza recognized that and branched into new territory.
I popped the Horizon 2 disc into my freshly purchased Xbox One last Friday and I was welcomed with some ambient music and a recently rained on Lamborghini Huracan. Just like in 2003, I hit the start button and was transported to an introduction video with a lady telling me that on the count of 10, I will be in Horizon. It went back and forth between live action people to computer generated cars but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you weren’t concentrating. The music built up and then went into a cinematic intro that would be fit for a movie. Then the screen went black and I was already hooked.
The lights came on and I was in a shipping crate filled with only the most exotic of supercars. I was greeted by an announcer, whom I swear to God is Jude Law, that told me I could put my foot down once I got on the road. Suddenly I was no longer in my living room. I was in a Lamborghini Huracan driving as fast as I wanted along the French Riviera toward some unknown destination in the south of France. I didn’t care about anything going on in the real world anymore because I was engulfed in pure driving bliss.
And Horizon 2 only builds from there. Aside from the jaw-dropping graphics and ear-tickling engine sounds, there’s a lot more to the gameplay than first meets the eye. Just like Forza Motorsport, you earn credits so you can buy faster cars and compete in different challenges, but Horizon has more of a dynamic way of approaching it.
For starters, to get to the next event you have to go on a “road trip” where you set a waypoint and drive there by either traffic infested roads, dirt paths, or simply straight through somebody’s garden. If you choose the latter, your car does collect dirt and damage but Horizon doesn’t punish you for this since your car simply “rebuilds” itself at each event. And speaking of events, they all vary from street races, to off-road adventures, to top-speed challenges. I guarantee you’ll find some form of motorsport you’ll like.
Like to compete against real people? You’re in luck since this game has virtually no AI. Everyone you race will either be a real person or a copy of a real person. You can tap “x” to take on anyone at anytime or you can head to designated parking lots that hold car meets. The best part is that it’s all virtually seamless so you can pop in and out of online play without even a hesitation.
My personal favorite section of Horizon 2 is the bucket lists. It’s a selection of cars that people would need to work a lifetime to afford that each have a specific challenge. In a McLaren P1 I had to arrive at a destination while only given a certain amount of time, and in a LaFerrari I had to maintain an average high speed on a certain stretch of road. That one’s tricky because it’s right after a hairpin turn so good luck!
Forza Horizon 2 takes everything that’s great about racing games and puts it on a single disc. Add a dash of graphical magic and a pinch of popular music and Forza has a recipe for instant classic. The super technical Forza Motorsport games are some of the best simulators out there, but Horizon 2 is the only game that makes me feel like that 13 year old boy playing Need For Speed: Underground for the first time again.
*Screenshots from Forza Motorsport 2