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The first hour with Forza Horizon 2

Ben is a douchebag.

I mean, that's just my opinion. But after a few minutes in the company of this oily chap, I just didn't like him. He seems like the sort of creep who might aspire to appear on The Bachelor.

Ben is the virtual host of Forza Horizon 2, which I played for an hour earlier this week, at a Microsoft press event. He's the affable jokester who, in the fictional world of this arcade racing game, is one of life's connectors, organizing a giant racing festival in Southern Europe.

He is the sort of fellow who has a million Facebook friends, and won't hesitate to tell you about it. His function in the game is to set up all the challenges and explain how the game's mechanics work.

Forza Horizon 2 isn't merely a driving game, it's an aspirational simulation to a life that you probably don't lead. A life that Ben does lead.

In this fantasy, you don't just get to drive nice cars in a lovely part of the world, you get to partake in a simulation of carefree, wealthy youth. Forza Horizon 2 is a festival of fun.

There are actually people like Ben, attractive and vibrant, who get to hang around in the hills above Nice and party til all hours, and drive insanely expensive cars, but it is a cruel fact of life, that I am not one of them, nor shall I ever be.

Ben would probably tell me, at this point, to lighten up, man. He'd rest his hand on my shoulder blade and give me a smile in which his gentle eyes too seem to be happy. That's the moment when I would ram a fucking screwdriver into his retina, but this is not an option available in Forza Horizon 2.

The options that are available in Forza Horizon 2 are every bit as impressive as you might expect from a social-arcade racing game in 2014. Lots of courses. Lots of perks. Lots of cars. Completely gorgeous worlds in the best bits of France and Italy. Friendly young women who handle garage services.

It's crammed with interesting to stuff to look at, changeable weather conditions and lighting. Forza Horizon 2 is a good-looking game.

Driving is way less of a simulation than the core Forza series. When I drift off the asphalt, into a forest of knee-high bushes, the game gives a little Gallic shrug of its shoulders. So what, it says. Drive on monsieur. In the core driving sim, Forza 5 itself, two seconds rolling over the sandy bits next to track carries a real penalty, but here, anything goes.

I like how, each time you level up, you go visit a giant wheel of fortune that just doles out some cash or even a new car. Dotted around the world are astonishingly beautiful cars that come with a series of "bucket list" challenges. Ben urged me to drive one such chrome confection "as if you had just stolen it" and I did. It was so rapid, it was like driving a space ship.

You can join a club with your mates. Up to a thousand people can be in each club. Heck, Ben is probably in about a hundred of these clubs. You race against "drivatars" which are AI representations of how real people drive in the game. You choose races, challenges, you level up and take on your mates.

We can but hope that the final game is not quite as insistent on enriching its makers through aggressive DLC offers as its predecessor, but based on playing the first hour of this game, it looks every bit as fun, every bit as lovely as an Xbox One arcade racing adventure ought to be.

After a while, even Ben becomes just about tolerable. Look on the bright side. At least he's not Jeremy Clarkson.

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