Forza Horizon 2 Preview - E3 2014
Drive together, no matter the weather
When the original Forza Horizon hit the streets of fictional Colorado, it was a surprise success. An arcade spinoff of a very prominent simulation racing franchise, Horizon managed to combine numerous gameplay and design elements to create a great mix of open world exploration, fun racing and a surprisingly strong sense of atmosphere. The freshly announced Forza Horizon 2 looks to build on that success when it arrives later this year on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. We had a chance to see the game in action at E3, and were impressed with the goals that Playground Games have set for this sequel.
The demo was being hosted by Martin Connor, the lead game designer who began by reiterating the passion that the development team holds for their corner of the Forza world. With Turn 10 once again assisting in the development of the sequel, the team at Playground Games aims to take advantage of their experience from the first game in order to create an even better sequel.
Key areas of focus for this racing title are beauty, fun, freedom, and seamless connectivity. The first three of these four areas are being carried on from the first game, where they were all nearly fulfilled to the fullest potential. With Horizon 2, beauty takes on the form of 1080p visuals on the Xbox One, and using the already powerful and well-adapted engine pioneered by Turn 10 and Forza Motorsport 5. The setting also adds to the visual fidelity – selecting southern Europe as the backdrop for the game allowed the developers to create some wonderfully looking environments, iconic locales and picturesque vistas. A music festival will still be at the heart of the game’s themes.
So the cars and environments look fantastic, but beauty isn’t just about polygon counts. A dynamic lighting system creates a lifelike atmosphere, with realistic glow and reflections off surfaces. For the first time ever in a Forza game, dynamic weather is introduced into the world, with a simulated sky that emits a radiant glow depending on the time of day. As rain falls, puddles form realistically, first seeping through the cracks and then pooling together on the sides of the road and in low lying areas of the asphalt. These simulations are only possible with the increased power of Xbox One, we were told, so it’s unclear what these features may look like on the Xbox 360 version of the game (being handled by Sumo Digital) .
Weather affects handling too – but the developers were quick to point out that this remains a realistic but accessible experience, so going offroad in the rain will feel different, but won’t suddenly create a great challenge for racers just wanting to cruise around. We were able to get some hands-on time with the game later on, and can confirm it handles tighter, feels better, and is just as fun to play as the original. Horizon 2 will remain, for all intents and purposes, an arcade driving game – and that’s just fine. Another checkbox seems filled in the four areas of development focus.
Much as before, driving in a fun and stylish way will earn you multipliers and experience points, which can then be redeemed for new perks. The new perks system lets players select active or passive bonuses, anything from allowing fast travel to earning more income from your tunes and liveries. With over 200 cars to choose from, with various disciplines and eras, players should never get tired of discovering new vehicles to experience. And you’ll be able to take those cars further than before, thanks to the removal of artificial invisible walls that were so prominent in the original game. Racing through fields, forests, or pretty much anywhere that it would make sense in the real world is allowed in Horizon 2.
There is three times more driveable space than the original game, filled with over 700 events for every car type. The familiar circuit and point to point races are joined by new event types such as endurance and cross country. Unique Showcase events will also return, hoping to provide even bigger thrills as you race against a steam train, cargo plane, and more. Freedom of exploration has indeed taken significant steps forward in this sequel.
Drivatars are also being borrowed and improved upon from Forza Motorsport 5. This time around, these AI profiles are brought into an open world setting, thus they learn not only how you drive, but where you drive. For example, following a Drivatar around may even lead you to locations of hidden secrets that the player whose AI you’re following have discovered. Drivatars learn your favorite shortcuts, hangout locations, and places that you enjoy visiting. These avatars fill your offline world, driving around just as the AI did in the original game, and can be challenged for impromptu races on the spot. In the same way as in Forza 5, your Drivatar will appear in other people’s worlds and earn you cash even when you are offline.
When you’re ready to head online, the switch is reportedly seamless. Now instead of Drivatars, your game world will become populated with real players, also freeroaming. With the support of Xbox Live, dedicated servers and superior matchmaking on Xbox One, Forza Horizon 2 hopes to seamlessly connect your experience to the rest of the community. Simply roaming about, you can once again climb the leaderboards by posting times at speed traps and other events, then challenge your friends. Your XP and perks will carry over, and the developers say there is no waiting around in lobbies for events to start, as you can continue to freeroam and complete challenges while the event is organized.
Two new features meant specifically for interacting with others have been included. First is the Clubs system – where players and their friends (or up to 1000 people) can meet, chat, and attempt events together. It is like a community feature of sorts, helping you stay in touch with the group of players that you enjoy competing and socializing with. The other new feature is Car Meets. Here, players simply meet up at a location to chat and showcase their rides. You can browse through the vehicles parked at the meet, see their stats and liveries, and even instantly purchase their designs for yourself. These meetups can also act as lobbies before setting off to a race or other activity.
Forza Horizon was a bit of a pleasant surprise, and it certainly wasn’t easy for a brand new studio to not only take on an iconic franchise, but to transform it into something new and different from the franchise norm. They pulled it off, and the sequel looks to be an improvement in almost every area. It already plays well, looks great, and the freedom and multiplayer aspects sound like huge strides for the title. Look for Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in September.