Even if you don’t consider yourself a car buff, it’s difficult to argue against the appeal of speeding along the beautiful Southern European countryside in a six-figure supercar. Even grinding along dirt roads and flowery fields in an old military jeep that you found abandoned in a remote farm is something that feels incredibly rewarding and inviting in Forza Horizon 2, a game that aims to celebrate both cars and you, the player at every possible turn.

A sequel to the original 2012 Forza Motorsport spin-off game, Forza Horizon on the Xbox 360, Forza Horizon 2 shifts the setting to the even glossier and sexier landscape of the French and Italian borders in Europe. It’s definitely a more lively and interesting backdrop than Colorado from the first game, with cheering crowds and bright, chipper fireworks hailing your welcome to each big championship at the fictional Horizon Festival. No matter what you drive or how you drive it, Forza Horizon 2 is always happy to see you, and always happy to give you no shortage of upbeat activities with which to both test and enjoy the racing prowess of your wheels.

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Forza Horizon 2 appears to take liberal inspiration from other recent racers, namely Test Drive Unlimited, Project Gotham Racing and Need for Speed Rivals, but it’s all in the service of great fun. As a result, the experience is an incredible buffet for racing gamers on Xbox One, where it’s clearly meant to be enjoyed, though Xbox 360 players are definitely in for a bumpier and less impressive odyssey. Frankly, it’s bizarre that Microsoft would even bother commissioning an Xbox 360 version of Forza Horizon 2, particularly since last year’s Forza Motorsport 5 was proud to be an Xbox One exclusive, so be wary if you haven’t yet upgraded your Xbox console.

For those who have already made the jump to Xbox One however, and have even the slightest desire to tear through sunlit valleys and entertain crowds of NPC’s with the roars of engines and the skids of tires, Forza Horizon 2 comes highly recommended, if for nothing else than its enthusiasm toward your gearhead wish fulfillment.

VISUALS

Forza Horizon 2 is a real stunner on Xbox One, and is perhaps one of the console’s most visually arresting games of the year. The sheen of colourful finish on your various vehicles is wonderfully realized, as are the superb environmental touches like the lifelike dust that kicks up as you drive on a dirt road, or the realistic lighting and shading that result from driving at night and amidst crowds of street lamps and festival lights. Even the NPC’s look pretty sharp in the Xbox One version, which is a rarity for a pure racing game! The best conditions for enjoying the graphics are driving on a rain-slick night as well, where the game is at its most glossy and majestic in terms of the visuals.

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Better still is that Forza Horizon 2 runs at full native 1080p resolution on Xbox One, finally giving us a Forza game to enjoy in maximized console resolution. Forza Motorsport 5 may have been pretty good-looking last year, but it inexcusably capped at 720p resolution, as with many other launch window games on Xbox One, which felt like quite a blow for a game that was meant to show off the early technical capabilities of Microsoft’s next-gen console. Forza Motorsport 5 does compensate by running at a full 60fps though, with Forza Horizon 2 settling for a lesser 30fps framerate on both consoles. Fortunately though, the 30fps framerate allows for consistently stable and brisk performance, with nary a mite of slowdown on Xbox One.

For all of the gorgeous beauty that one can enjoy in the Xbox One version of Forza Horizon 2 however, the Xbox 360 version takes a pretty dismaying visual hit, even considering that it’s a last-gen port of a game that’s clearly meant for a next-gen console. It caps at 720p resolution, which isn’t surprising, but the impressive little environmental details on Xbox One feel more canned and unimpressive on Xbox 360. Not only that, but the open world in general feels more constrained and static, creating less of a sense of freedom. Worse still is that the Xbox 360 version suffers from some bad framerate drops and slowdown at times, which can be a huge problem in a racing game! It also completely lacks the cool rain effects that are present in the Xbox One version.

The Xbox 360 version of Forza Horizon 2 is by no means ugly, and is technically functional for the most part, but its visuals and scale feel heavily compromised compared to the marquee Xbox One version of the game. Its gameplay suffers from the same downscaling as well, but we’ll get to that.

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On Xbox One however, which Forza Horizon 2 stands tallest on, the bright and carefree disposition of the game is at its most wonderful, creating a flashy sense of energy and optimism that is truly infectious. The game doesn’t care if you’re a pro racer or a wannabe underdog. It still thinks you’re awesome, and it wants you to know!

AUDIO

The Forza series has always been consistent with outstanding audio quality, and Forza Horizon 2 is no exception. The triumphant roar of a souped-up Aston Martin’s engine is its own reward as you zip along so many other cars on the road, while the crunching of gravel under a grinding offroad vehicle as you drift and sideswipe around the competition creates a similar sense of joy. No matter what you drive, or how you drive it, all cars sound the part, and all of them sound mighty and glorious!

Likewise, even when a race isn’t initially going your way, the roars of the crowd will cheer you onward. The flash of cameras, the crack of fireworks and the popping of confetti cannons all continually help to immerse players in the consistently festive atmosphere as well. It’s not whether you win or lose in Forza Horizon 2 after all. It’s all about having fun in your glistening four-wheeled beast!

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As you zoom around the open world, the game offers plenty of radio stations that you can gradually unlock access to as you proceed through the main championship events. Many of these consist of the usual suspects, having licensed rock, hip-hop and electronica tunes that feel Euro-friendly, and mostly uninteresting. It’s par for the course in a racing game with this setting.

Where the music really stands out however is in the surprisingly effective classical music station. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something that makes the appeal of Forza Horizon 2’s proud vehicles feel all the more exciting and fulfilling to drive when they’re played against the backdrop of Mozart and Beethoven, particularly in the races themselves!

Be warned however that the Xbox 360 version of Forza Horizon 2 recycles the same three basic radio stations from the first game, which is a let-down. Only the Xbox One version features new stations and new music.

The handful of voice acting you hear from your racing buddies is generally quite good, though your main handler’s attempts to hype you up all the more come off as hollow and eye-rolling, particularly when he starts to inevitably repeat himself later in the game. Still, there is genuine excitement that comes with you and your lead mechanic stumbling upon a Barn Find, or you putting forth a massive count of Credits to net yourself that Corvette you’ve been eyeing for numerous events.

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The audio is the one thing in Forza Horizon 2 that both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions can be equally proud of. As with any other game bearing the Forza name, it’s sublime all around!

GAMEPLAY

Forza Horizon 2 presents the same general idea on both Xbox One and Xbox 360. Being a contender in the Horizon Festival, spanning the South of France and the Northern borders of Italy, your nameless driver is out to enjoy the open road, whilst dominating championship events, earning Credits for new cars, and generally being awesome, taking their shot at being the grand champion of the festival in the Horizon Finale.

Some of the finer gameplay elements however are night and day between Xbox One and Xbox 360. Depending on whether or not you’ve upgraded your console, and how much you love Forza, you might want to be wary of that. To help illustrate the point, the Xbox One version of Forza Horizon 2 was developed by the same proven studio behind the original Forza Horizon on Xbox 360, Playground Games. The Xbox 360 version however was outsourced to Sumo Digital, who do have some great racing games under their belt, such as OutRun, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and the highly underrated Split/Second, but have no experience developing Forza, nor developing proper games for Xbox One. Since Forza Horizon 2 is a game blatantly designed with the Xbox One in mind, that may be an issue.

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In the marquee Xbox One version, you’re unleashed on an especially large open world, with little in the way of constraint. Yes, there’s the odd time where trees and knee-high stone fences stop you cold and ruin your fun, along with some annoying physics and loading bugs that crop up here and there, but at least there are few places that you can’t drive in the Xbox One version of Forza Horizon 2. Seeking out valuable Bonus Boards and hunting for hidden Barn Find cars often even demands that you move about sidewalks, or drive up hills, or race down to a lower dock. It’s not often that you’ll be frustrated at not being able to drive to a perfectly visible location when playing on Xbox One.

On Xbox 360 however, the world, while still large and open overall, gives you noticeably less freedom. There are more impenetrable fences and teasing, inaccessible locations on Microsoft’s last-gen console. Several areas that are accessible on Xbox One are completely missing on Xbox 360 to boot, inexplicably walled off, as if the developers didn’t have time to finish them. The Xbox 360 version too often forces you along the same paths, and doesn’t give you nearly as much means to discover your own environment.

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On both consoles however, there’s tons of activities, all of which will effortlessly keep you busy for many, many hours, even after you’ve become the festival’s champion and completed the main game. You can seek out the collectibles I mentioned above, try the very cool Bucket List Challenges that have you undertaking certain tasks in preset cars under a time limit (some even allow you to bring a friend!), participate in Showcase Events that have you trying to outpace a crop duster or a train for example, or perhaps hang out at a Car Meet to find matchmaking opponents on Xbox Live to race and share cars with.

The Xbox One version makes racing both in dedicated events and the free roaming all the more appealing as well, since it brings back the rather cool Drivatar mechanic from Forza Motorsport 5 last year. With Drivatars, no A.I. drivers are featured in the game at all, with every other opponent and almost every other car wandering about the open world being an asymmetric representation of a real person’s driving habits. If you’re aggressive and ram other cars frequently, so will your Drivatar. Likewise, if you have a knack for slick drifts and skimming curves in races, your Drivatar will have the same aptitude. It’s very neat, and it can help you continually challenge your Xbox Live friends’ scores and times as if you were actually playing with them, even if they’re not there, which is surprisingly addictive!

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This is another pretty major knock against the Xbox 360 version though, which doesn’t have Drivatars at all. Instead, when playing Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox 360, you’re up against the same old A.I. drivers that would be present in most any other racing game. The racing may still be fine-tuned and well-designed in the Xbox 360 version, but something is definitely missing when racing on Xbox 360, since the racers are more predictable and far less interesting to race against in any given event.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the car list on Xbox 360 is noticeably smaller than on Xbox One. About 30 or so cars available in the Xbox One version of Forza Horizon 2 are completely absent in the Xbox 360 version, which has a slightly smaller car selection overall. This even radically alters one particular Showcase Event, as the car that’s featured in it on Xbox One is only available in that version of the game, forcing you to drive something else on Xbox 360. You still get plenty of awesome cars to work with on Xbox 360, but if you were keeping up with the game’s car reveals leading up to its release, and don’t yet own an Xbox One, you may feel cheated if you opt to play on Xbox 360, and then discover the hard way that a car you really wanted for your garage is missing in the game’s last-gen port.

It gets worse too, since the Xbox 360 version is completely missing any and all DLC. Yes, any new car packs and expansions that you can readily buy to expand your garage and event roster on Xbox One, isn’t offered to you at all on Xbox 360. The loss of Drivatars is a big enough disappointment, but the complete lack of DLC options is perhaps an even bigger deal-killer for many would-be players. The complete lack of DLC on Xbox 360 is the biggest part of what makes this version feel bare-bones and downscaled, badly punishing Forza fans who haven’t been able to upgrade to Microsoft’s next-gen console yet.

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One good omission from both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions however is the obnoxious in-game advertising and microtransactions from the original Forza Horizon, which have been entirely removed in Forza Horizon 2, and are hopefully gone for good. This is very welcome, as the in-game ads from the first game were a real eyesore, and the microtransactions were an even bigger issue, making an otherwise great racer come off as a greedy cash grab when it shouldn’t.

It’s also reassuring to see that Microsoft has truly learned their lesson from Forza Motorsport 5’s controversial launch build, which had inexcusably aggressive microtransactions, and a slanted in-game economy that tried to strong-arm players into frequently spending more real-world money for viable cars, after the initial $60 purchase for the game itself. Freemium elements like microtransactions have no place in full $60-$70 console games, and Forza Horizon 2 immediately comes off as better-produced and more user-friendly by giving them the boot.

A unique element that Forza Horizon 2 keeps from the first game however is the use of Kinect on both consoles, to issue voice commands to your GPS navigator, Anna. It’s a cool and immersive feature, and one of the better uses of Kinect, at least on paper. In execution however, using Anna can be annoying, since, while she recognizes the longer word commands without a problem, she seems to have a lot of trouble recognizing simple, “Yes” or, “No” answers for some reason.

Since the game pretty much forces you to use Kinect to set automatic waypoints and get directions (though you can also set waypoints on the in-game map from the pause menu), this is very annoying, and tarnishes an otherwise cool feature. Even worse is that the issue is just as bad on Xbox One, even if the Xbox 360 Kinect seems to be a tad spottier in terms of voice recognition, but even that doesn’t matter when you can’t say, “Yes” to confirm commands on either console by the look of things. The feature is optional, yes, but it definitely could have used more refinement, especially when Anna already has trouble hearing you over the roar of your engine, pretty much forcing you to radically slow down or stop if you want to speak to her, especially on Xbox 360.

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More user-friendly is the transition between offline and online gameplay, without ramming online elements down the player’s throat. With barely a couple of button taps, you can immediately start an online road trip where you drive around the countryside with other live players, participate in matchmaking events like Infected and King, along with straightforward races, and invite a friend to attempt Co-op Bucket List Challenges with you, or simply roam around with you. You can bring Xbox Live friends just about anywhere in Forza Horizon 2, but if you’d rather play by yourself and not have other players intrude on your experience, you easily have that option, with no penalties incurred. It’s probably one of the most effective and user-friendly unions between single-player and multiplayer gameplay that I’ve ever experienced to date!

At this point, the unfortunate launch issues that plagued Forza Horizon 2’s diverse online multiplayer suite and dedicated social network on both consoles appear to be solved, thankfully. Now, online sessions seem to run stress-free and without lag or any other issues, so feel free to jump in!

Regardless of what you decide to do though, the real star of Forza Horizon 2 will always be the cars. Whether you’re driving big-wheeled rigs, restored classics, or souped-up modern powerhouses, every car feels like it handles realistically, and drives perfectly true to its real-life counterpart. You can also tweak the game to be as realistic or as accessible as you want in terms of driving control, so hardcore car buffs can feel like they’re more immersed in the game, while newcomers won’t constantly feel overwhelmed by all of the driving mechanics. If you so choose, you can even force your car back to the garage when it takes too much damage, or simply have the damage be purely cosmetic, though you’re only given the damage option on Xbox One. Regardless of your skill level, the game allows you to make the kind of experience you want, whether arcade-y and laid-back, realistic and challenging, or somewhere in between, and that’s wonderful!

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Dedicated gearheads will find tons of options to tweak their rides with in the Xbox One version as well, which allows players to minutely tune individual car parts and components to alter performance of any vehicle they own however they see fit, so long as it’s reasonable. You won’t suddenly make a heavyweight Chevrolet Camaro sleekly sail along curves the way a BMW X5 can, but if you want to make some small modifications to better maximize your car’s potential, you certainly have that option. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know your transmission from your suspension though! You can just as easily tell the game to approve automatic upgrades that decide improvements for you, which will be plenty advisable and helpful to more casual players who still want the most out of their cars.

Unfortunately, despite this wealth of customization options, Xbox 360 players are again left out in the cold here. The Xbox 360 version of Forza Horizon 2 doesn’t feature manual car tuning at all, which will be a massive disappointment to people wanting to tweak their rides to the smallest detail. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that car decals and palettes are ripped directly from the original Forza Horizon in Forza Horizon 2’s Xbox 360 port, while the Xbox One port features all-new designs, and even allows you to create, rate and share custom paint jobs.

Even leveling up as you win races and accomplish events feels lame and unrewarding in the Xbox 360 version. On Xbox One, you can spin a roulette every time you level up, which can allow you to win a varying amount of bonus Credits to spend on new cars and upgrades, or even a new car itself. On Xbox 360 however, you get the same underwhelming payout of 2,500 Credits with every level gained. That’s it. Lame.

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At least the Skill system works better on both platforms, and is a great improvement over the more vague and unrewarding ‘Popularity’ mechanic in the original Forza Horizon. Now, when you do things like skim across other cars, weave and drift around other cars, perform tricks like burnouts and sideswipes, and bounce around on road bumps, among other things, you can build up a Skill Chain that fills a meter if you go a certain amount of time without crashing into another car or obstacle. When the meter fills up, you gain a Skill Point, which can be used to upgrade you with permanent perks, such as increased rewards for your Drivatar appearances and decal downloads, or counting your vote twice for an Online Road Trip, among other things. It’s a cool new improvement to what was a shakier system before, and it makes it more rewarding to try to drive skillfully, rather than just quickly.

No matter what kind of driver you are though, or what kind of vehicles you prefer, the game welcomes you with open arms, and encourages you to play the way you want to play. As you proceed through the main game, visiting each new location for the new stops of the Horizon Festival, you can choose to participate in the Championships that you want to participate in, for the cars you must want to drive, and you can ignore the cars that you’re not interested in, without barring your progress. That’s a very appreciated design decision, and it’s another thing that makes Forza Horizon 2 fun and welcoming to would-be racers of all types.

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Overall, Forza Horizon 2 is so good at maximizing fun and energy that it’s virtually impossible to dislike, even if you’re not normally a fan of car games. The extensive downscaling in the Xbox 360 version sometimes gets in the way of the appeal, but as a gameplay experience, Forza Horizon 2 provides an upbeat and addictive open-world race party that feels like it will never get old on Xbox One, at least not until the inevitable Forza Horizon 3.

THE VERDICT

Forza Horizon 2 is a game that’s all about pure, unabashed joy behind the wheel, not just for car nuts, but for everyone. It’s a friendly, feel-good racer that’s as inviting or as realistic as you want it to be, depending on your tastes. Whether you’re a pro or a novice at car sims though, the game absolutely spoils players with a massive world, hundreds of activities that are equally appealing both online and offline, and persistent, motivating rewards that will constantly encourage players to keep coming back and taking in even more of the sunny, festive experience.

As I’ve repeatedly stated however, Forza Horizon 2 is definitely best enjoyed on Xbox One, where it’s far more polished, far more massive, far more rewarding, and far more detailed. Taken on its own merits, Forza Horizon 2 is still a good open-world racer on Xbox 360, but compared to the Xbox One version, the Xbox 360 version of Forza Horizon 2 feels like a compromised, constrained disappointment. Even hardcore Forza fans who haven’t yet upgraded to an Xbox One may want to skip the Xbox 360 version of the game and keep saving their money for an Xbox One, since Forza Horizon 2 is clearly not able to realize most of its potential on Microsoft’s last-gen console.

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The Xbox One version especially makes for a superb, sugary blend of various racing game flavours. Put in some Test Drive Unlimited, stir with a bit of Need for Speed, season with some Project Gotham Racing, ice with a bit of Midnight Club, bake in the extra clean Forza Motorsport 5 oven, and put a tiny little Burnout cherry on top for appearances, and you have an Xbox One dessert that makes for one very tasty open-world racing treat, even if the Xbox 360 version could have used a lot more sweetening.

Forza Horizon 2 Review
Forza Horizon 2 is an incredibly stylish and enormously fun open-world racer, packed with tons of compelling activities, and heaps of highly customizable cars that you can enjoy in all manner of rewarding ways!
VISUALS90%
AUDIO85%
GAMEPLAY85%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Huge open world, packed with activities
  • Xbox One version is absolutely gorgeous
  • Extensive and diverse roster of licensed cars
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Kinect doesn't work well
  • Xbox 360 version is heavily downscaled, performs poorly
  • Some bugs here and there
87%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
95%

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