The last few months of this year are going to be absolutely jam packed with racing games. On the PS4, DriveClub will be leading the line on the PlayStation 4, while Project Cars aims to be all things to those who favour Sim racing and we can surely expect to be hearing something about F1 2014 soon. The Xbox One, meanwhile, is in the off year between Forza games.
Having switched to a two developer system a few years ago, this just means that players can look forward to the somewhat more mischievous and much less straight-laced exploits of Forza Horizon 2.
Right away, it clearly follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, taking as many gloriously fast cars as they can and slapping them into the loose narrative of the Horizon Festival. Where this was previously set in Colorado, the festival has now made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to mainland Europe, specifically in the idyllic parts of France and Italy along the Côte d’Azur.
Graphically it does a great job of recreating this location. It adapts the same graphics engine that was featured in Forza 5 on Xbox One – the Xbox 360 game created separately on the original Horizon’s engine and merely inspired by the same ideas – but halves the frame rate and pushes this extra power to try and really flesh out the game world and the scenery that borders the tracks.
Additionally, this game features a new dynamic weather system, and halfway through the race, as I was rattling along a cliff face, rain started lashing down from the skies. This can happen at almost any time, so that you start a race in the dry, endure a brief downpour half way through a race, culminating in a drier finish. The rain leaves a lovely sheen to the road surfaces, whether its uneven cobbles as you whizz through a town or the more uniform and reflective puddles on a tarmac road.
Partly as a consequence of the more ambitious graphics and effects but also through featuring an open world environment, the frame rate has been sacrificed to give 30 frames per second at 1080p, rather than 60FPS. If this helps to broaden the scope of the game, then it’s a forgive able compromise in my books. There’s also a gut feeling that it doesn’t quite match up to the astonishing visual delights of Driveclub, its more open design perhaps not allowing the developers to go to the same lengths for absolute verisimilitude in the environments.
The point to point race that I was able to try on the show floor at E3 highlighted this amply. Rather than just featuring the fictionalised meandering roads of the region, it pushes you to break the rules, almost, and take your lean sports car off road. You’ll find yourself clattering through vineyards, dodging local traffic, taking alternate routes and more, as you tussle for the lead.
The returning Drivatar system was quite interesting here, already able to provide a challenge that wasn’t afraid to bump and scrape during the race, and similarly eager to head off road or take the other route on the way to the festival.
They’re still more than happy to crash and bash into you during the heat of battle, something that is dependent on the actions of the racer from whom the Drivatar was created. It helps to make them challenging, but these were far from the most offensive creations that might inhabit the system. It will certainly be interesting to see how the AI creations fare once the game is released, especially because it will take existing Drivatars from Forza 5 as a huge baseline database.
The game seems to shift a little away from being a simulation, and the Lamborghini Huracán was eminently drivable and controllable regardless of the surface on which I was hurtling across. Admittedly, I didn’t fiddle with the assists that were available to me, so this will have mitigated the effects of the rain shower or dirt on the handling. The biggest impediment to my control was that the hedges of the farms I was crashing through was higher than my favoured bumper cam was!
The arcade trappings are only increased by the fact that the game awards you points for practically anything. Take a corner well, oversteer into some destructible scenery at the side of the road, overtake a car, overtake a car while off the ground and on and on. It feels like anything but a head on crash into a wall will net you a few experience points.
Certain comparisons to Driveclub will invariably be made over the coming months, with certain thematic similarities clear to see, but I personally feel that the end results will be quite different. Compared to Driveclub’s aching accuracy across the globe and more personalised racing, Forza Horizon 2 picks the one setting and goes wild, chucking its high performance cars along the coast of the Mediterranean in a fit of rallycross infused madness.