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Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One) artwork

Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One) review

"The most casual of casual games."

Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One) image

Why the hell does Forza Horizon 2 exist? Who was this made for? I should direct that question to whoever assembled the game's uncomfortably pretentious intro cinematic, a flurry of music festival footage played while a woman who sounds somewhat sexually aroused beckons me to close my eyes and "hurdle faster and faster into infinity." The most recent Forza Motorsport games were presented with the assistance of the Top Gear crew, while this one appears to have been aided by people who put together Coachella ads. "On the count of ten, everything you've ever known fades away," the voice tells me. "You will be in Horizon. I say... ten." What? What is this? I thought this was a racing game?

Whoops, my mistake. Horizon 2 is not a racing game. It is a driving game, and it only seems marginally interested in whether or not you're actually racing. If Microsoft wants to sell us on the features that make Xbox One unique, Horizon 2 is the perfect showcase for the Snap function, because I could never imagine playing this thing for extended sessions without having a TV show running in another window. This, friends, is the most casual of casual games. It's made to look cool and give people something to do with their hands.

I do not understand the appeal of sandbox racing games. I'm thinking back on my favorite sandbox games of the last few years and I don't remember being forced to drive a car in a single one of them. Surely the strength of an open world game is in the world itself and how you interact with it, and the moment I begin getting around solely by following GPS directions through streets is the moment you may as well be pushing me down linear corridors. Horizon 2 is set in a scaled-down rendition of Europe that begins in a Monte Carlo-looking city and progresses to lovely recreations of French and Italian countrysides. It looks nice, sure. But you're in a car. You can only look from a distance, and if you're looking for long enough to actually appreciate the artistry on display, you're not doing anything productive.

I rather like the Forza Motorsport series, and I can at least appreciate the first Horizon spin-off for catering to those looking for breezier and more immediate racing fare. But I cannot wrap my mind around why anyone thought that bare-bones RPG elements, aimless quests and all-around sandbox faffery would improve Forza. Why do supercars have offroad events? Why am I expected to participate in online hangouts in which people just stare at each others' fake vehicles? Why am I now taking a rally car around a golf course and chaining trick combos like I'm playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater? Can I just get to the racing in this purported racing game, please? Well, no, I can't. I have to drive there. Single- and multiplayer events are punctuated by "road trips," which are literally what they sound like: non-competitive outings to races, existing under the assumption that following GPS routes through solid-looking environments is its own reward.

Developers Turn 10 and Playground Studios push online interactions. The big idea in the last Forza was Drivatars, composite stand-ins based on the behaviors of actual players. They'd make races considerably more interesting than AI opponents in these games usually do. It was a good idea, but Horizon 2 takes it a step further. Now these Drivatars populate the roads of the sandbox. Whenever you see one driving about, you can challenge it to an impromptu race. This is meant to spark rivalries, but why would I get personal with artificial proxies? I can get competitive with actual players or even their ghost data, but not individual Drivatars. And if the idea of summoning a randomly-generated race event out of thin air sounds cool, well, I've got places to be, and that race just put me several miles in the opposite direction of where I'm trying to get to.

(Horizon 2 has a fast-travel system, by the way, but there's a surprisingly high credit cost for using it... and even then, if I'm playing a sandbox game and I constantly want to use a fast-travel system, I wonder if something is missing the mark.)

The straightforward racing is fine, I guess, but I remarked last year that with such an iterative franchise as Forza, everything that isn't a step forward feels redundant. You can either stick to one of the Forza games that knows its strengths, or you could play one that doubles its length in exhaustive downtime and appoints some impossibly pretty young grandsters to shout insufferable optimism in your ear the whole way. And the open-world aspect means that the developers had to lock the framerate at 30fps, effectively making Mario Kart 8 (of all things) the only mainstream racing title of the year that "gets it." That downgrade also kills the one hook that Horizon 2 actually had; woe be the technical showcase that isn't actually technically impressive.

I don't mean to criticize the concertgoing scene, since I reckon I've been to more music festivals than whoever thought that intro cinematic would be a good idea, but the aesthetic here seems to speak to a generation that drowns in privilege and doesn't want to be challenged. "Go ahead," the game says. "Just play through the whole thing in a supercar if you like. I'll even give you a free Ferrari less than a half hour in. Never mind that this lack of progression negates any purpose of there even being C- or D-class vehicles here to begin with. You're not here for progression." God knows what the people who like this are here for. It's not bad. It's not good. It's not anything.

P.S. For a game that's so blatantly trying to appeal to music culture, it's comforting that the soundtrack is at least pretty excellent.

P.S.S. Hey, Xbox One developers? Please stop using the Kinect as the default mic for online play. Most people either don't realize that they're being listened to or don't bother to turn their Kinects off, which leads to every online match being overwhelmed in fuzzy background noise. I understand your intention with this kind of functionality, but you know what they say the road to hell is paved with.


Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (December 10, 2014)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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