Forza Horizon 2
Forza Horizon 2 isn't a hard restart for the offshoot series, but the game has shuffled the deck slightly for its new-gen debut. It keeps intact its plethora of races, abundance of cars, XP system, and credits, while augmenting online play, tweaking its overall structure, and offering more open landscapes. The sum of these changes splits both ways, making Forza Horizon 2 a worthy sequel that is not necessarily head-and-shoulders above its predecessor.
The game strips away some of the Horizon Festival structure (although the visual trappings and cheesy characters are still there) to present a progression more tailored to your whims. Critical-path race events to get your Horizon wristbands are populated according to which car you're driving, similar to Forza Motorsport 4. However, the Sponsorship Challenges and Horizon Outposts (with their requisite events required to unlock them) are gone. The breadcrumb trail is lessened, and so is some of the feeling that you're truly building up to something.
At least with the first Horizon's Sponsorship Challenges I felt I was working toward another accolade on my list. Similarly, the now-absent Outposts were convenient ways to combine opening the map while exposing you to different activities like photo taking (there are no new promotion events like this, by the way). Forza Horizon 2 gives you more to do and makes it easy to experience, but I wish it were organized in a way that spurred me on more.
This is odd, because one of the game's great strengths - even without the Sponsorship Challenges - is its progression. XP and credits flow from everything you do, and the new Perks system for awarding skill points (for going fast or knocking stuff over, for example) confers great rewards. Bucket List Challenges are also a welcome addition. These put you in challenge-specific cars and have you do things like bomb down a forest mountain or notch a certain number of near misses with traffic.
Online races are easy to access and perhaps the biggest focus of the game. The map is full of free-roam events you can enter whenever you like, and Road Trips are developer-created playlists of events you and participating racers tackle and travel between in succession. While the plethora of events (including fun playground games like King and Infected) is a good thing, I wanted more overall direction from the game.
Another example of Horizon 2's give and take is the open environments. You can blaze a trail while taking a shortcut or during a cross-country race, but the more you explore, the more you realize how empty the game can be. Despite Forza Horizon 2's changes, it remains true to its core concept, and for that, it's a worthy game in the franchise canon. Challenging Drivatars you meet in the world to races (still only point-to-point events), buying liveries and chatting in car meets, and the ease of online play encourages you to explore and interact with a world whose new Italian/French surroundings look great and inspire your wanderlust.
Forza Horizon 2 may not be the perfect sequel, but it still delivers stiff challenges, fun racing moments, and a variety of experiences. Hopefully another few years on the Xbox One can create a clearer direction forward for the series and enable it to continue being a worthy branch of the Forza brand.
Forza Horizon 2 is a worthy sequel that is not necessarily head-and-shoulders above its predecessor.