E3 2014: Forza Horizon 2 Has Some Devious Tricks Up Its Sleeve

European holiday.

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After being announced in the run-up to E3, Forza Horizon 2 was all but guaranteed to make a showing at Microsoft's press conference yesterday. Sure enough, it did. Viewers were treated to a pretty slick trailer, all sweeping vistas of southern European countryside and close-ups of glossy sports cars like the Lamborghini Huracan. But a few hours later at Microsoft's evening showcase, I spent some hands-on time with Forza Horizon 2, and let me just say this: it's not all admiring beautiful Mediterranean sunsets.

See, Forza Horizon 2 has some devious tricks up its sleeve. In my brief time with the game, I spied a few new features that look poised to shake up the core driving experience. First up is the new weather system. You might find yourself driving along a scenic stretch of the Amalfi Coast drinking in the view only to see the sky open up on you and splash the asphalt with rainfall. At least that's what happened to me toward the end of a particularly tight race.

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Here I was in second place, fighting a neck-and-neck battle with the driver in front of me. We'd been trading places constantly as picturesque vineyards gave way to winding coastal highways throughout the race. Then he started to pull ahead, and I got desperate. Bad idea. Because just as I started to get too aggressive for my own good, the rain began to fall and render each one of my driving choices that much more dangerous.

Let's just say that while a Lamborghini Huracan is a pretty cutting-edge vehicle, it can still be awfully squirrelly when you hit 120mph on rain-slick asphalt. That rain definitely wasn't for show: it had a profound effect on the way my tires gripped the road, and I paid for it with my eagerness to reclaim first place. I can already tell that these weather effects are going to make certain races quite a challenge.

Another new challenge comes in the form of off-road detours. The original Forza Horizon had its share of dirt roads and shortcuts, but for the most part, you were pretty well confined to the established roadways and paved surfaces. That looks like it'll change with the sequel.

At one point in my race, well before the rain came along and sealed my fate, the racing line pointed me away from the road and directly into a wide-open field full of hay bales and dense vegetation. That can't possibly be right, I thought to myself, just before all the other drivers on the track cut left and began barreling through the rolling hillside.

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As soon as I joined them, I witnessed my driving line disappear beneath the plants below me as I careened along hoping I'd find the end of the field before I found a rock or a tree. It was especially challenging considering that I was in the cockpit view at the time, leaving me with a particularly lovely view of all these crops flooding my field of vision. But as my car rose up a crest in the hillside, I finally saw daylight and could breathe a sigh of relief. I made it through safe and sound.

It's stuff like this--the weather effects, the occasional detour away from the road--that make the driving experience in Forza Horizon 2 feel just a bit more challenging and unpredictable than its predecessor. It's still got those terrific vistas and stellar driving physics of the first game (which continue to feel a tad more forgiving than Motorsport), but it's definitely not a return trip to Colorado.

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