Take Forza 5's core structure, remould it into a socially connected open-world - set in Southern Europe - and you've got yourself Forza Horizon 2. Continuing the trend of the 2012 spin-off, Horizon 2 breaks the boundaries of what defined the Forza Motorsport series, providing a more arcade-y structure and vast world to explore. Never imposed to tarmac, you can veer off the beaten track, smash through fences, drift across country fields, slice through vineyards and poppy fields, all at your leisure. It's what Horizon is built for, and with a huge catalogue of vehicles, collectibles and rewards, doing so couldn't be any less enticing.
Once again, the Horizon festival is in full swing. Only this time, it leaves behind Colorado, the setting from the original, and opts for Southern Europe, bordering Southern France and Northern Italy. The change of setting was a smart move, not only for it's refreshing nature, but it's increased scale. The map of Southern Europe is huge, filled with plenty of environments; from small towns, country lanes, forests, vineyards and more. It's incredibly varied, and the landscapes can be utterly breath-taking. Whether it's overlooking the Mediterranean coastline, watching a sunset, or rainbow forming above the countryside hilltops. Everything is lush and crisp, and it's easily the most attractive racer currently available on Xbox One.
The main goal is participating in championships, earning wristbands, as you slowly work your way up the ladder. You'll meet a few people to begin with. Ben is the main guy, the one that helps you into the festival. He's a friendly chap, giving you the low downs of your progression, as well as complimenting you on your victories. Expect to hear him a lot, and with plenty of repeated dialogue. Then there's Ashley, the mechanic. She's presented simply as a tutorial foundation, informing you on the various customization options. None of the characters add much to the overall experience, but they're not meant too. Horizon isn't about strong storytelling, it's about racing. The people you meet are simply a means of making everything feel a lot more connected, and it works a treat.
Each Championship consists of two event types; traditional lap-based races and sprints. Completing four events finishes with a road trip, as you travel to the next festival hub. From here, you can tune and customize your rides, purchase new vehicles, or simply continue the road trip to the next championship. You'll soon begin to notice it's repetitive themes. Yet, with each championship featuring it's own vehicle class and landscape, everything remains fresh and appealing.
Showdown events are also added to the mix - a returning event from the original. These are few and far between. It's a shame too, because they are some of the most thrilling aspects of the game. There something you'd probably expect out of a Top Gear episode. It's all about the fastest time, only, your not competing against the same breed of automobile. Instead, your facing steam trains and stunt jets. It's extremely fun, and something I would have liked to seen more of.
Drifting, near misses, air time, clean racing, and destruction, all contribute towards a skill chain. Larger scores can also be racked up by stringing these types together. Eventually, this awards you with a skill point. These can then be spent on a variety of perks. From the 25 in total, you choose the order you wish to unlock them. Some require more dedication, as they can require 3 or more points to be purchased. There's a nice variety available, ranging from increased skill scores when near missing traffic, skill chain lasting longer, and so on. The perk system doesn't add a great deal to the overall experience, but it's still a well implemented feature nevertheless.
Your progression also earns you experience points, gradually increasing your driver level. This can be achieved in numerous ways. From completing activities, smashing XP billboards, discovering retro vehicles from barn finds, and so on. Once your level is raised, your given a go on the Horizon Wheelspin - a slot machine of sorts - awarding you with credit pay-outs, or maybe a brand new car, if your lucky. It's a great new feature, and something that helps you towards owning the more expensive automobiles.
Aside from the main career, you can also compete in a series of Bucket List Challenges. These are a series of challenges, pitting you with a specific vehicle and challenge. For example, you could be told to tour the Italian coastline in a classic Ferrari 250 GTO, or receive airtime in a Dodge Dart at the docks. Tackling them provide a fun little distraction, and are a welcoming addition to the series.
Although Horizon steps away from the Forza roots, the attention to detail and passion remain the same. Expect fluid, precise handling, stunning detail, authentic cars and sound effects. It perfectly blends the Motorsport ingredient, into a fun sandbox environment with few boundaries. It's the freedom to go anywhere, on, and off-road, what makes Horizon 2 a breath of fresh air.
Forza Horizon 2 is a remarkable spin-off to an incredibly authentic racing series. With it's stunningly vast world, solid controls and seamless online, Playground Games and Turn 10 have crafted one of the best open-world racers to date.