FH2 begins with a required, non-competitive "road trip" to the game’s home base, driving your choice of a small handful of starter vehicles. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the controls (especially if you’re new to racing games, or it’s been a minute since you’ve loaded up Forza 5). What’s different from the first Horizon, though, is that you’ll take a bunch of forced, guided road trips as you progress, relocating from village to village. It has a weird effect: even though FH2 is an undeniably massive open world with over 700 individual events to enter, I often found that it felt smaller than the original because you’re frequently being ushered between different event-dense areas separated by long stretches of open road. Getting from Nice to Castelletto takes some time, even in a 903-horsepower McLaren P1.
THE CARS AND SCENERY ARE AS FLAWLESS AS I’VE SEEN IN ANY CONSOLE EFFORT
Under normal conditions, cities and roads have looked great in racing games for a long time, though; it’s the extremes where FH2 really shines. It features dynamic time of day and a variety of inclement weather scenarios, which alone add an entire dimension to the game that Forza 5 — perpetually sunny, warm Forza 5 — is woefully missing. I found myself looking forward to the sound of thunder (yes, you occasionally hear thunder before an in-game downpour) because it kicks the graphics to another level: slick roads shine under sun and moonlight, spray kicks up from the drivers around you, and your beautiful car slips and slides on the asphalt just a little more than it normally would.
The limited controllability out in the sticks can end up working to your advantage: some events in the game lack checkpoints and simply require you to get from point A to point B in the shortest time possible, so shortcutting across a field or through a forest can destroy an opponent who’s playing by the rules — as long as you don’t hit a tree or get lost in the process. It’s an entertaining and challenging hack.
When you’re online, FH2 doesn’t lose its open-world feel; there are no lobbies like withForza 5, you just wait a few seconds while the game finds a world with an open slot. Once you’re there, participants can vote on events to compete in. You need to "road trip" from event to event, which I have mixed feelings about — it certainly helps maintain the feeling that you’re actually scooting around Europe with your buddies, but it can mean several minutes’ worth of driving before you’re even competing.
YOU CAN’T CUSTOMIZE YOUR DRIVER AT ALL
In my dreams, the Forza and Forza Horizon concepts would be joined in holy matrimony. A Unified Theorem of Forza, if you will, in service of a single Forza Universe. But as long as people like me are willing to pay $60 for each of these titles, I don’t see them coming together — so unless you absolutely detest racing games, Forza Horizon 2 is a really easy one to recommend. Look for me, I’m the guy with the green and purple color-shifting Ferrari.
Forza Horizon 2 comes to Xbox 360 and Xbox One on September 30th.