Nice, France. A city dominated by the sheer beauty of the French Riviera and the surrounding mountain passes. These passes act as playground to those fortunate enough to race around in some of the fastest, most visually stunning cars on the planet. Racing at illegal, break neck speeds with the sun setting on the horizon, providing the perfect backdrop to the exhilarating core of what driving really is. In every way, Forza Horizon 2 feels exactly like this – A playground for you to lose yourself to at 200 km/h.

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Nice is only one of the many locales Forza Horizon 2 takes you to. The Horizon Festival is back, bring together the world’s best drivers and the hottest cars for a festival of different, varied championships. Horizon 2 puts you in the action immediately, giving you a bright red Ferrari and tons of open road to break it in. This sets the tone for what Horizon 2 is primarily about; getting into a stunning ride and just letting loose.

Horizon 2’s map is a condensed version of Europe, primary in the Italian and French regions. This in no way means it’s small, with roads stretching far and wide and providing hours of unadulterated driving pleasure. It might be difficult to recognize when you’ve crossed over into a new region though, with most of the architecture and style of Horizon’s hubs not differentiating themselves enough. Regardless, taking a road-trip in Southern Europe is a real treat, and a welcome change to the concrete jungles that street racers usually find themselves set in.

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It’s all about the Horizon Festival though, and this is what you’ll spend the bulk of your time doing in Europe. You’ll take road-trips to all the different locales, signing up for championships and competing in various classes of events throughout. These events have a wide range, with anything from a condensed Formula 1 car to an old rusted pick-up truck finding a class. Each area allows you to choose  events based on whether you have a car to compete with, tailoring the events to suit that class.

The issue is that you’re locked down to whatever championship you choose. For instance, I entered a Modern Muscles event early on in my Horizon Festival campaign, with four events popping up for the championship. About half way through I purchased a new track toy, the Ariel Atom, and expected the chance to at least swap mid-championship. Instead, you’re either forced to finish your current one or restart the area completely. It makes sense in the grand scheme of the Horizon Festival, but it feels a little restrictive most of the time.

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You are able to tweak and tune your vehicles in a great deal of detail. I don’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to the fine mechanics of cars, which meant I was pretty much lost in terms of what upgrades did what in the big picture. Racing nuts will feel right at home with Horizon’s suite of upgrade options, and thankfully anyone like me can simply hit auto-upgrade and just feel the difference on the road. These upgrades come more into play if you decide to play Horizon as more of a simulation title than arcade, so you don’t really need to think of this as the “lighter” or “easier” version of Forza. The vinyl and decal customization suite is also back in full force, so be prepared to lose a few hours in there too.

The real beauty of the Horizon Festival, however, is actually outside of its main events. Every now and then a “Showcase Event” pops up. These rare events form part of your Festival journey, but they stand out for being carefully crafted racing set-pieces. I don’t want to spoil the magic of all of them, but one fairly early on had me speeding down a mountain pass, racing against three synchronized airplanes to the finish line. It was incredible to hear the engines come roaring from behind me as the planes passed overhead, spurring me take that next corner just a little faster for a photo finish at the end. All of these events are as exhilarating as the last, and they’re easily the best pieces of racing I’ve ever had the chance to enjoy.

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Horizon 2 also flourishes when you take the time to enjoy the openness around you. The large map has many events open and waiting for you to partake in. You can smash boards for discounts on fast travel or a boost to your XP. There are ten barns with gems of vehicles just waiting to be found, making for an interesting super car scavenger hunt. There are car meets which hook you up with other online players, letting you check out their specific tuning and car customization. You can even challenge them directly from here, making for a very personalized throw down.

But best of all has to be the returning bucket list challenges. The very first Horizon named it differently, but it’s essentially the same thing here. Southern Europe is littered with exotic and iconic vehicles waiting for you to get behind the wheel of. These vehicles aren’t yours, but you are allowed to take them for short spins to complete specific challenges. Some are simple A to B races, while others get a little more interesting with Speed Trap challenges and skill show offs. These bucket list entries offer a decent challenge most of the time, and give you a good taste of some of the horsepower you’ll be able to get your hands on a little later in the game.

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The Horizon Festival doesn’t feel that empty either, which surprised me a little bit. Every now and then you’ll probably destroy the backend of some poor innocent civilian driver caught up in the racing (this is a legal festival, right?), but most of the time you’ll see fellow racers in and around the roads of Southern Europe. These racers are controlled by Forza’s Drivatar system, which collects all sorts of complicated data from players over all its titles. What this results in is a world that feels like it’s connected, populated by your Xbox friends and random players – a social experience without the need to be online.

These Drivatars also hop over into Festival events, which makes it feel like you’re racing against your close friends throughout the festival. It gives races a unique feel, which Forza attributes to the fact that none of the racers are pre-programmed AI. Friends or not, all the computer controlled racing draws data from other Forza players, although if I wasn’t told that I probably wouldn’t have noticed. A nice touch is the ability to challenge any of these avatars at any given time on the open road, giving you an instant racing event whenever you see fit. You’re personal driving assistant also notifies you when a particularly challenging opponent is in the area – if you’re looking for extra credits and bragging rights.

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Drivatars really do bring Horizon to life, but at the end of the day they’re still little more than automated racers. If more real social interaction is your thing, than Horizon 2 has you covered as well. There are two modes on offer, both of which drop you into an identical world populated by slightly more people. Online road-trips are the more serene and peaceful events, allowing you to link up with some buddies and just enjoy some cross-country driving. That usually translates into trying to see how many times you can ram each other into oncoming traffic, or that could mean I just have really terrible online friends.

Online free-roam is a little different. You still roam the streets of Europe with a crew of online players, but here you’re able to partake in specific online events and races. Party leaders can initiate an event at any time, some of which aren’t available in the single-player portion of the game. These can range from normal sprints to frantic four-wheeled games of Infection. Horizon 2 is a thrilling experience alone, and adding more players to the mix just makes it that much sweeter. There’s also nothing better than proving that you drive far better than your programmed Drivatar. And as soon as you’re done with online, single-player is just a button press away. It’s a nice choice to have rather than forcing a persistently online world onto you.

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No matter where you are though, Horizon 2 is a consistently gorgeous title. Forza Motorsport 5 was already stunning last year, but this just proves that developers have merely scratched the surface of what this new-generation has to offer. Southern Europe is breath-taking, with the dynamic weather system bringing it to life. Car models have a striking amount of detail, and the combination of the two is a sight to behold.

Racing down a mountain pass is beautiful in the clear skies and sunlight, but it’s even better when there’s a little rain involved. Seeing small droplets fall off your car as you take a corner sharply is absolutely incredible, and the attention to detail is immaculate nearly everywhere you look. This truly is the next-generation of what racing games should look like.

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Your eyes aren’t the only ones being treated though, with the audio in Horizon 2 being just as spectacular. There’s something indescribably exhilarating about the roar of a car’s engine, and Horizon 2 nails this on the head. It adds beautifully to the immense sense of speed nearly ever car brings, elevating the entire experience to new heights. I should also mention that Horizon 2’s various radio stations are all superb, with my personal favourite being the all electronic, all the time, Horizon Pulse station.

Last Updated: September 25, 2014

Forza Horizon 2
The first Horizon was hailed as one of the best racing titles on the Xbox 360, and its sequel just raises the bar. As an arcade or simulation racer, there's not that much that Forza Horizon 2 does wrong. This shouldn't even be a question for racing fanatics, and I'll easily recommend it to every other Xbox owner out there.
Forza Horizon 2 was reviewed on Xbox One
86 / 100

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