Forza Horizon 2 Takes Racers Off the Beaten Path

As you take off from the starting line in “Forza Horizon 2,” the first thing that really stands out is how soon you abandon the track and tear off into a vineyard. Because, hey, you can do that now!

“Forza Horizon 2” is big, and it’s gorgeous. The locales, ranging from Tuscan vineyards, to oceanside cliffs, to city streets, are some of the most spectacular environments we’ve seen in a racing game. And the fact that you can now leave the track and take shortcuts through fields and forests expands each map on an even grander scale.

The E3 demo was limited to one race, with three playable cars – the Lamborghini Huracán, the Corvette Stingray, and the Nissan GTR – but it still contained all the attitude and style of the full “Forza” experience. Picking your car zooms in to show your ride, glistening with dew and rumbling. (We’re going to be honest, it was hot. The Lamborghini Huracán is a sexy car, and we’re not ashamed to admit it.) The demo route showed off some of the new features, like dynamic weather and lighting. Rain starts to fall about halfway through the course, providing not only a cool new visual dynamic, but also making you adjust to suddenly slippery racing conditions. From the interior-view camera angle you can watch your windshield wipers turn on, wicking water from your view. The rain makes the whole race a lot more intense.

As with the previous game, “Forza Horizon 2” feels more action-packed than the standard “Forza” title. And it’s even more so now that civilian traffic is a part of the game, forcing you to adjust a drift turn on the fly, or swerve suddenly when an opponent sends a car spinning into your lane. But you’ll also see the other racers bump and swipe more than in a pure racing simulation. The game still leans more towards a sim than an arcade or kart racer, but it’s more of a romanticized version of racing. Still, if the demo is any indication, “Forza Horizon 2” will offer a fair challenge to earn a podium spot, and will not hesitate to take advantage of your slipups. We, at least, had plenty of trouble keeping up with the Drivatars provided as competition. (Drivatars, for you “Forza” newbies, are the cloud-powered AI opponents that are trained by players.) Then again, those turned out to be the work of staffers at developer Playground Games, so perhaps it’s understandable.

We can’t wait to try out the more than 200 cars available at launch (including new off-road vehicles), and race in the nighttime and on the forest courses. We’ll have more info on “Forza Horizon 2” soon, leading up to its Sept. 30 release.