Actually, before we get to Forza Horizon 2, there’s three things on my mind that I should get out of the way first:
1. I’m currently at just under 7400 words for NaNoWriMo. As I’d mentioned last week, the topic that I eventually wound my way towards is somewhat emotionally charged, and at this point I really don’t care about hitting 50,000 words; I’m mostly just heavily invested in figuring the thing out. And it’s hard to carve out time to sit and write about stuff that keeps hitting me harder than I expect it to; it’s tough to come home from work and do that when I’m already exhausted, and it’s even more difficult to find time during the day to do it, when I’m expected to be professional and not, say, an emotional wreck (as was the case last Friday).
2. I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt, but after wading through 2 1/2 missions of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, I realized I’d had enough. Because I don’t care about, and totally suck at, the multiplayer side of things, I was only ever going to play their campaigns. And the campaigns have always been a bit silly and convoluted and contrived (and I’m not even talking about “Press X to Pay Your Respects”, although that’s a perfect example of something silly and convoluted and contrived). As far as CoD:AW goes, I appreciate that it’s going for this sci-fi not-quite-near-future vibe, giving me quasi-superpowers and such… but at the end of the day it still feels like it’s always felt, which is a very tightly scripted shoot-em-up gauntlet running through blandly pretty corridors. I don’t play enough Call of Duty to have an already-intuitive grasp of the controls, which makes the campaign trickier than it should be; I try to melee someone and end up throwing a grenade. There is clearly an audience for Call of Duty, and I might as well come to grips with the fact that I am clearly not it, and haven’t been it for quite a long time now. (For the record: my 2014 shooter of the year is still Wolfenstein, and that means Far Cry 4 has a very high bar to meet.)
3. I finished Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Slow Regard of Silent Things“, a slim side-story to the Kingkiller Chronicles. As Rothfuss himself says, it’s not the book you should start with if you’re new to his work. I enjoyed it; it’s a bit of an experiment for him, which he fully acknowledges in his afterword, and I think he succeeded rather well. The book features no dialogue, and only one character, and it does not explain itself – and yet, at the book’s end, you know this character incredibly well, and you’re given a very interesting, very specific slice of the world of the larger two books that you’d never see otherwise, and it gives him an opportunity to be more playful with language than he usually gets. I’d recommend it – but, again, only if you’ve read the first two books, and only if you’re aware that you’re not reading a “traditional” story. To say any more would ruin the book’s magical, ethereal quality; that’s something you should experience as nakedly as possible.
Long-time readers of this site (the number of which can probably be counted on one hand) will know that I am prone to excessive use of hyperbole. I make no apologies for this tic; it is what it is. When I feel inclined to write about something, it’s most likely because I’m already fired up about it.
So take this with a grain of salt, if you must, but I think I’m ready to say something ridiculous: I’m starting to think that Forza Horizon 2 very well might be my favorite driving game of all time.* The only real thing it’s missing is some sort of crash/stunt mode, which is a feature so closely associated with Burnout that it would be damn near impossible to implement without being charged with plagiarism.
Actually, here’s three more minor knocks that keep it from being a perfect game: (1) the game looks absolutely gorgeous, but it also suffers from pop-in from time to time and it can be somewhat distracting at times, especially when trees are popping up along the suggested driving line. (2) I don’t give a shit about car culture, and while I appreciate that the “Horizon Festival” is as good a justification as any for why you’re doing what you’re doing, I don’t really need a narrative justification for driving anywhere, especially if it involves something as contrived as the Horizon Festival – though at least the main guy isn’t that annoying. (3) But if you are going to go through the trouble of having a narrative justification for doing all this stuff, then why not let me create my own character? True, you’re behind the wheel of a car for 99% of the game, but I’m there in that other 1%, and while I might be a white guy with brown hair, not everybody who plays this game is also a white guy with brown hair.
Those three knocks aside, I’m loving the hell out of it. It’s everything I loved about the first game, but better and larger and more beautiful, and I genuinely feel bad that my gaming schedule is about to get crowded, because I’d be happy to keep playing this and only this for the next few months.
More to the point: it’s a fantastic showcase for the Xbox One, and the more time I spend with the Xbox One, the more I really, really like it. I took a few minutes during the weekend to load up Ubisoft’s The Crew beta on the PS4, and the PS4’s interface is so bland and dumb. (Also, The Crew is bland and dumb, and I’m glad I saw the beta if only so that I know to take it off of my GameFly queue.)
* I’ve been thinking about what my Top 10 list of driving games might look like, and the list is tricky because while there’s no shortage of driving games out there, there’s only a few franchises that really moved me in any specific way:
- I’m certainly a big fan of the Forza series in general – and I like it more than I ever liked any of the Gran Turismo games I played – but to be honest, Forza 1-4 all kinda bleed together for me; there’s not one particular title that stands out in my memory. (As I only just bought my Xbox One last week, I have not yet played Forza 5, though considering the scuttlebutt that surrounded it, I’m not sure I ever will.)
- Certainly I’d put both Burnout 3 and Burnout Paradise near the very top of the list.
- I’m a big fan of both DiRT and DiRT 2 – the latter is the better looking of the two, but the former had the best replay system (which was inexplicably changed) and had some of the best UI in any driving game, ever.
- I loved the first two Rallisport Challenge games on the original Xbox.
- It’s a bit of a lost gem, but does anybody else remember Midtown Madness 3 on the original Xbox? That game was awesome. That was the first real experience I had with online free-roam driving, and to this day I still remember all sorts of silly stuff we used to do – like trying to jump as many trucks as we could fit onto the roofs of various buildings.
- I was also especially fond of both Project Gotham Racing 2 and 3 (4 was the one where they introduced motorcycles, I think, and that’s also where it fell off the rails for me).
- Split/Second was terrific and criminally overlooked…
- I will always have a soft spot for OutRun…
- My loathing of The Offspring is the main reason why I try not to think about Crazy Taxi, even if the game itself is pretty great.
- I always enjoyed the Midnight Club games, though I never stuck with them that long.
- I’m conflicted about the Need for Speed franchise, because (a) the driving is fine, but the cutscenes and the “car culture” is just flat-out ridiculous, and (b) while I really enjoyed Criterion’s two Need for Speed titles, it also meant that we weren’t getting any more Burnout games, which is a supreme bummer.
- Speaking of “flat-out”, I also have a weird soft spot for that first Flat-Out game, especially on PC, because the physics were completely insane.
- Could I include Night Driver from the Atari 2600?
- Or Pole Position?
- Could I get away with not including any Mario Kart games, because I don’t give a shit about Mario Kart? or Ridge Racer, for that matter? or Wipeout, or F-Zero? or F1 on the PC?
Am I missing any? Feel free to call me an idiot in the comments.