Way back in the mists of time – 2014 in fact – the world was a very different place. I was getting used to the power of my shiny new Xbox One, and hearing that the next Forza Horizon title was due to be released on the platform had me very excited. I had loved the open world feel of the first Horizon, and having seen the leap in visual quality that had been made when going from Forza Motorsport 4 to Forza Motorsport 5, I was gagging to see what the developers could do with the new power available to them. The demo was released on the 16th September, 2014, and I was immediately blown away, pre-ordering the new open-world driving experience that very same day.
As the 30th September dawned, I had to go to work, what with it being a Friday. I worked in an office in Nottingham, UK at the time, and had pre-ordered the disc from the GAME store in the Victoria Centre. It must be saif that the morning seemed to drag as I counted down to my lunch hour. As soon as the clock hit 12 though, I was gone, running to pick up my game. My pre-order bonus this time was a particularly fetching Forza Horizon 2 carrier bag, and I was quite happy for this little gift. Of course, this was in the time before we really understood the problems of using a carrier bag…
But boy was it worth the wait – and the run down to the store.
Set in Southern Europe, we were thrust into a race, someone throwing the keys to a brand new Lamborghini our way and told to follow them. Without question, I didn’t need asking twice, and blasting through the countryside was a real eye opener, with smooth, flowing roads and fantastic handling. However, with Forza Horizon 2 being more on the arcade side of things, I broke a golden rule of racing when playing this game: I used an automatic transmission. I know, I’m not proud of it, but it’s a habit that has stuck with me through all the iterations of Forza Horizon since.You see, while Forza Motorsport most certainly equals manual transmission, as I feel it gives a better lap time, for just bimbling about the countryside, or tearing through a corn field, it appears automatic transmission wins. Anyway, playing through the campaign, gaining wristbands and better cars saw the game open up like a flower, blossoming in the gentle Italian sunshine.
Forza Horizon 2 was the genesis of a staple of the Horizon stages now, namely the Bucket Lists. As you drove around, every now and then you’d come across a car parked in the middle of nowhere with a challenge attached. Whether these involved racing to a certain point, scoring a certain number of skill points or even jumping a certain distance, the one thing they had in common was the difficulty. Completing all the Bucket List challenges was not the work of a moment, and the cross country ones are still among the hardest of racing challenges; I would always think “shortest distance between two points is a straight line!” and go charging off across the fields, usually ending up in a ravine or a giant tree. But hey, practice made perfect, yet even now, some five years later, I still haven’t managed to nail every single one.
But it wasn’t just about the driving and tuning and upgrading the cars, even painting them and creating vinyl groups has always been a big part of the Forza experience for me, and Forza Horizon 2 was no different. Swapping engines, uprating gearboxes, and generally turning a car that looked like a family runabout into a fire-breathing monster was great fun. I remember I had a Ford Focus with over 1,000bhp present in FH2, and while it was hilariously fast in a straight line, it was also hilariously uncontrollable if there was the slightest bend in the road. More than once I crossed the finish line on my roof, still doing more than 100mph, and this car could almost literally fly if it hit a bump.
It wasn’t just a single player game however, and I recall having some good times with groups of friends online, and this is where my greatest Horizon 2 memories lay. Back in 2014, I was a writer for another, sadly defunct Xbox website, and we used to organise community nights, where punters from the forums could line up against the staff and have some fun. As the hot new Forza Horizon 2 soon came up in the rotation, we decided on a night in which we could all get together. The editor of the website – a nice chap named Ken – was delayed, so while we waited we all decorated our cars with stickers saying things like “Bye Ken!!” on the rear bumpers. Obviously this lead to much hilarity… at least until he rocked up onto the starting grid and proceeded to batter us all in the races.
Thankfully the online section of Horizon 2 was hugely well designed, whether it be the organised races, the Online Roadtrip where you and a group of buddies could just explore the map, or via the Playground Games playlist, where various mini games could be experienced. Virus was a great addition, with one player being infected and charged with crashing into other players, infecting them; being the one uninfected car was a frantic experience, as you tried to escape being rammed.
The base game was nothing but brilliant but there was always room for more and DLC was introduced for Forza Horizon 2, pretty much as you’d expect, with the Storm Island expansion delivered in December 2014. The new setting, the Storm Island of the title, brought in not only a new location, but critically, new event types, cars and an expansion to the weather system of the base game. Driving an off road vehicle through a full-on storm on the island was amazing the first time I saw, it, and the wet roads made the handling more than a little tricky!
But then in February 2015, there was also the release of “Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious“, a tie-in that was linked to the release of the Fast & Furious 7 film. This was like a dream come true, as it allowed you to unlock the cars from the various F&F films, including Brian’s Skyline R34 from F&F2, one of my favourite all time cars. Being able to drive the real thing in a game was like all my Christmases coming at once. The rest of the cars were all present and correct too – Dom’s Charger and the orange Supra from the first film, for instance – ensuring that challenges to unlock them were a lot of fun. It was also an easy 1000 Gamerscore completion as well; and that never hurts!
The last expansion that released for Forza Horizon 2 was a Porsche expansion pack, which again added new cars and more Bucket List challenges. This was particularly notable because at the time EA were the licence holder for Porsche cars, and they had to give their permission for the expansion to be made. Was this a rare example of EA being the good guys?
Anyways, Forza Horizon 2 then, a game from 2014 – a game that still stands up today, and obviously Microsoft agree, as it was released for free via the Xbox Games with Gold scheme back in August 2018. It may be overshadowed by Forza Horizon 3 and Forza Horizon 4, but to me, its importance as genesis on the Xbox One can’t be underestimated, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with both the game and the expansions. Now though it’s time for you to tell me about your memories with the game. Does it stick out in your memory like it does in mine? Did it pass you by? Let me know!