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    Forza Horizon 2: smells of petrochemicals

    Being a jaded, ornery games critic is pretty tough sometimes. For example, any time a game features shiny happy people partying it up at phony festivals my eyes start rolling with such vigour and speed that my corneas detach and I go blind. The only way to fix it is to hear another terrible scene where some good looking guy exclaims that he's so happy to see you, like you've been friends your entire life, and then he gives you the keys to his million dollar sportscar and tells you to race it somewhere. This causes my eyes to roll in the other direction, and centrifugal forces put everything back in place. I guess you could say I'm not crazy about Forza Horizon 2 thematically. It's a good thing the rest of the game is so bloody good then.

    The Horizon festival has moved to Europe, letting you drive a variety of cars  from Volkswagen Kombi Vans up to Mclaren Hypercars around an oddly compressed version of the Riviera. It's a much nicer setting than the Colorado of the first game, capturing a lot of the style of both France and Italy while still providing a wonderful playground to explore.

    The biggest new feature is the addition of Drivatar, which is still in my opinion the only truly next-gen feature to drop since the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launched. For the unfamiliar, Drivatar creates a profile of the way you drive how aggressively you protect your racing line, whether you like to brake into corners early or late, the essence of how you race and feeds that profile into your friend's games. The results are amazing instead of competing against rigid AIs who robotically take the perfect racing line every time, you get a grid of names you recognise, all of them racing differently. The drivatars have personalities I constantly hear reports of how my racer is an overly aggressive jerk, which represents me beautifully.
    Once you get out into the open world of Forza Horizon 2 the entire affair really begins to shine. It's heavily reminiscent of Test Drive Unlimited, one of my favourite games on the Xbox 360 (even if it was too ambitious), giving you a group of vague goals and letting you work out what you'd like to do from there. You'll start out in a pretty basic car I picked a Toyota Supra for some old-school flavour but it didn't take me very long before I was rocking my personal favourite car, a 2011 Mercedes-Benz
    SLS AMG.

    This is because there are a number of progression systems in place. The first is cash money, which you earn by racing and winning, stock standard stuff. You can increase how much cash you earn by increasing the difficulty of each race turning off assists, turning on simulation damage models and so forth which means any halfway competent racing game fan will be earning cash by the fistful in no time flat .

    There's also a levelling system in the game, tied to perks mostly used to augment your cash earnings. The real trick here is the Wheelspin, a pokie machine mechanic you get to use every few levels. You can win cash and cars from the Wheelspin, which makes it a nice bonus, even if bare faced gambling mechanics in games give me the heebie jeebies.

    The final progression system is tied to the barely present story, where the previously mentioned shiny happy people party their way around Europe and you tag along. As stories go this one is absent drive here for some reason, do these races for some other reason and this might be a turn off for some (not me).

    It fulfils its function however, encouraging the player to try new cars and visit new places.

    In between races Forza Horizon 2 takes advantage of its open world, giving you huge areas to explore, billboards to smash and wrecked cars to find and fix up. The roads are populated by both drivatars and pedestrians, and you're able to challenge other racers on the fly if you want. There are also Bucket List races, which put you behind the wheel of an eclectic group of cars for time trials and these are no joke. Some of them are straight up nightmare races, and it's great to see a game actually testing a player's mettle.

    It's not all good, unfortunately. The game has a problem with texture pop in when you're driving fast, which you're doing almost all the time. It's a good looking game, but it's nowhere near as pretty as Forza 5 or DRIVECLUB to be expected in an open world game. The other kicker is that it straight up copies Forza 5's tuning and upgrades system, and the class based power system of the Forza franchise is possibly its weakest element, reducing the passion of pouring over torque charts and weight changes to a basic, mindless "spend money to increase number" process.

    Forza Horizon 2 isn't the prettiest racing game on the market, and it's definitely not a game for the simulation racer fans, but Playground Games has chosen only the best elements from a handful of other games Test Drive Unlimited's world and organic challenging, Forza 5's physics and drivatars, Fuel's off road/on road racing to create hours of pure racing bliss.

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