Forza Horizon 2
Forza Horizon was a freewheeling brother to the comparatively staid Forza Motorsport. Where the main Forza series has prided itself on offering a serious take on racing and automotive culture, the 2012 release essentially said you could love cars while racing, exploring, and occasionally driving across fields. The sequel moves the action from Colorado to Europe, though the change in venue doesn't mean the series isn't retaining what made fans love Forza Horizon in the first place.
The sequel is set in southern Europe, including the French Riviera and Northern Italy. Creative director Ralph Fulton says he wants Horizon to be a happy place, and while I can't speak for its joviality, it's certainly beautiful. While he began his presentation, we saw the cover vehicle – a Lamborghini Huracan – as the sunlight played off its immaculate yellow paint. The skies subtly changed to an amber hue as clouds drifted in, and raindrops appeared on the vehicle. Fulton says the team at Playground Games is obsessed with detail, to the point of modeling the atmosphere to determine the levels of particulates in the air, the ways that puddles form, and how they in turn evaporate as the sun comes back. I can't vouch for the accuracy of those statements, either, but again, the game looks great, and the addition of dynamic weather is certainly welcome.
Forza Horizon 2 is building on Forza 5's Drivatar system, which modeled A.I. drivers based on a player's performance. Horizon isn't a track-based game, so the game's Drivatars have to not only mimic how a player might drive, Fulton says, but it also has to reflect where they drive as well. I saw it in action as we engaged a Drivatar-driven car on the road for a one-on-one race. It went on like a traditional road race until the A.I. veered off-course, taking a dirt-road shortcut. While that can make races more challenging (and interesting), Fulton says that players can use Drivatar behavior to their advantage, too, by following them around. When you discover hidden cars in the world or secrets, your Drivatar will learn them. Friends who follow your Drivatar when you're offline might be led to those same secrets.
The game's scale has increased significantly for round two. Fulton says there's three times as much area to explore, and barriers only exist where they are in the real world. That means you're free to drive through fields, crash through vineyards, and speed over hills. As you explore (on or off-road), you'll earn experience for drifting, catching air, and smashing stuff that's in your way. You can then unlock perks that will benefit the way you play the game. For instance, if you're a person who enjoys tinkering with tuning kits or painting liveries, you can unlock a perk that earns you an additional 25-percent credit bonus.
Forza Horizon 2 will feature more than 200 cars on disc, and they won't be gated behind microtransactions. You'll be able to unlock them as you play through the more than 700 race events, which now include long-range endurance courses, hill climbs, and cross-country events. Showcase events are also back, and they sound even more dramatic than before. You'll be able to race against a team of jets, a steam-powered train, and a 150-foot cargo plane that's coming in for a landing.
Racing solo isn't much fun, and Fulton says the game's social components are getting a big upgrade. Players can band together in clubs with up to 1,000 members, competing against other clubs in global leaderboards. Racers who are looking to see how they fare in a larger event can also join up with other drivers in car meets. It functions similarly to a city square in an MMO, Fulton says, and once players decide to take off together, they can compete in a multistage road trip that features special events and culminates with an awards ceremony at the festival.
Look for the game on September 30.