Like all Forza games, Forza Horizon 2 has a dynamically color-coded line that tells you where to drive and when to brake. If I turn the line off, I’m at a major disadvantage to everyone else playing Horizon 2, some of whom I’m asked to compete against after every race. “Would you like to race against a rival?” the game asks me after I’ve finished a race, suggesting a specific player. It’s challenging me to beat a time on the track I just raced, but without any information about what tools were used by the guy who set that time. How many times did he rewind?, for instance. Which driving assists was he using?
After the jump, red line stop, green line go, yellow line go very fast
But if I leave the line on, I’m doing that same boring Forza thing of being led down the road by a string, essentially on autopilot, cruising along some of the most banal driving physics this side of Pole Position. Forza games are so often so sterile because they let you make them that way. Time was I liked this. In the first Forza, that line was a bit of a revolution. Over successive games, it has killed the gameplay for me. Learn a track? Pshaw. I’m just following the line. You’ll never write an article like this when you’re just following a colored line.
I should probably turn off some of the assists, at which point I’ll have to turn down the driver AI — excuse me, drivatar AI — because now I’m tackling a whole new level of challenge as actual driving physics are introduced. Am I ready to spin my wheels by running races that I don’t win? Or do I just keep following this colored line through the obligatory number of wins it takes to get to the finale? Tuning the gameplay in Forza Horizon 2 is more challenging than tuning the cars themselves.
This is something driving games — heck, lots of games of any genre — have struggled with. How hard should a game push back? How much challenge does the player want? Does the player really even know? Can he be trusted? Shouldn’t the developer take a stand? “I win” buttons are a hell of a thing and Horizon 2 is lousy with them.
And even when you try to make Horizon 2 challenging, the game seems surprised. Maybe you switch on simulation damage to encourage clean driving. But the punishment you’ll incur from having simulation damage on isn’t anywhere commensurate to the reward you’ll get. Extra money? Money that you didn’t need? Money that the stupid slot machine spits out anyway? What do you get for your extra money? A handful of restarts.
Or consider the importance of the road. It doesn’t have any. Driving off the edge of the road doesn’t slow you down. Plowing through street signs and parked scooters (this is Europe, see?) doesn’t slow you down. In fact, there are entire offroad races where nothing short of a treehouse worthy tree will slow you down. Driving through a vineyard is as efficient a way to travel as motoring down a freeway. Horizon 2, like every other Forza game, is a set of systems that don’t know how to interact in meaningful ways, and one of the most disappointing, fundamental, and entirely optional of its systems is its driving physics.
If you feel that you should be able to shut down any degree of challenge, this is yet another game for you. Horizon 2 will slide by inconsequentially, with nothing memorable happening, like the scenery on a long road trip down an interstate you’ve driven a hundred times. There are events that aren’t even races. It’s just you and a mess of drivatars going someplace. It doesn’t matter who gets there first or how long it takes. It’s just a road trip. Forza Horizon 2, like Forza Horizon 1, is a driving game where you have to do driving between the driving. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: yo, dawg, we heard you liked driving, so we– Oh, you have heard that one?
Horizon 2 takes place in Europe, or “Europe”. Here is yet more blandly pretty scenery, as generic as you can possibly be while still calling the setting Europe. You progress through barely French countryside to the Mediterranean coast to Italy, but it mostly might as well be the Colorado of the first game, but with vineyards and villas to remind you you’re in Europe. Europe. That’s why there are roundabouts at some intersections. Because Europe. Just drive over the roundabout. With driving physics like these, only chumps actually go around a roundabout. Horizon 2 and its paltry excuse for traffic won’t mind. This is a worst case example of how open worlds are often worlds leached of any personality.
The most disappointing thing about Forza Horizon 2 is how little it’s improved since the first Horizon. There is still no meaningful career progression or economy. The career is quite literally running a circle around six chunks of Europe, over and over and over again, in the pursuit of colored bracelets with, as far as I can tell, no significance. Canned bucket list challenges and barn scavenger hunts supposedly break up the action if you feel like heading off in that direction.
As for my own progression, I go up a level when I earn enough experience points. What do I get for my trouble? A spin on the slot machine and a point to spend on perks. The slot machine can’t be bothered to include interesting rewards. Here, have 11,000 credits you don’t need. Sometimes it gives me a car. And by sometimes, I mean pretty much never. At level 20, I’ve gotten one car I’ve never cared to drive, and I’ve seen a couple more flash by and then disappear. What kind of slot machine is it that’s hardly worth pressing X? But if you think that’s worthless, wait until you get a look at these perks. So minor, so specific, so very “why should I bother?” +10% experience points for near misses.
To its credit, Horizon 2 does far more than the first game to encourage clean driving. I wouldn’t say it rewards it, because all I’m getting is an experience point bonus, and leveling up isn’t the least bit rewarding. But I get notified of my clean driving bonuses as I work my way through a race. At least me and the game both know I’m trying to be a better driver. Meanwhile, the guy who’s not a better driver, not to mention all those drivatars with names from my friends list hovering over them, are setting way better times by racing dirty.
The upgrades are as hands-off as ever and your collection of cars is as pointless as ever. Here, have a new car. Or spend some of that money already to buy one. Oh, Forza says, you wanted to buy that car? Did I mention, Forza asks, it costs real world money? No, asks Forza with a coy look on its face? Well, I didn’t tell you when you picked it, Forza says, but you have to pay $19.99 to be in our VIP club before you can buy that car. Pick another one, Forza suggests, sensing your reluctance. Oh, sorry, Forza fake apologizes, that one is also for VIPs. Just $19.99, Forza says hopefully!
Lucky for me and my $19.99, I couldn’t care less about the specific cars. With the glut of assists and the unfettered rewind option and an upgrade system that minimizes the differences among cars, what do I care what I’m driving? What do I care what wacky custom paint jobs I can download from the community? There are no substantial moneysinks until the snoozeworthy lategame supercars. You want 3 million credits for that generic looking thing? Ha! Forza Horizon 2, on so many levels, does a lousy job of making me care. And I can think of no worse thing for a caRPG to fail to do.
Forza Horizon 2
Race through a supposedly European wide-open world featuring weather and day-tonight [sic] cycles that you won't care about. Instantly connect with friends and their drivatars in what the publishers call "the ultimate celebration of speed, style, and action-packed driving". Explore beautiful and exotic locations that look a lot like the first game's Colorado in more than 200 of the world's greatest cars, or at least the ones we licensed, all created with precise detail in stunning 1080p, but locked at 30fps.