Horizon Chase 2 Review – Still Chasing Memories

Horizon Chase 2 Review - Still Chasing Memories

Earlier today, I had to explain why I dislike gacha to someone. It’s not a difficult argument to make out the surface level – it’s tantamount to gambling in a very thin disguise; a cute, seemingly innocent enough side puddle that could nonetheless make one a little more comfortable with the idea of entering the ocean. In extreme cases, it’s a path that can lead to lost work, broken marriages, and ruined lives.

In less extreme, and seemingly more common, cases, it’s a path to broken games. Most frustratingly, these games are intentionally broken, and the luck-of-the-draw mechanics become charged with extra FOMO. The whole idea of games on smartphones went from exciting to mostly toxic in just a few short years. The scene was a mess when the original Horizon Chase – a game that fantastically evoked the sprite-based racers of old, featured a banging soundtrack and actually felt responsive on a touch screen – landed. I remember my delight when I found that not only did it offer a traditional demo, but that everything past that point could be had for a one-time purchase!

God, it felt good to play a mobile game that felt so free of… so free of bullshit.

Horizon Chase

Bulls poop, too

Enter Horizon Chase 2, originally released (fairly and appropriately) onto more portable-focused formats, but now making its way to current generation console hardware. I guess this is in large part thanks to Epic, because the very first thing you are greeted with when booting up the game for the first time is an end licence agreement, and you had best bet your behind that you need to link an Epic account if you want to dive into the online offerings (to the game’s absolute credit, though, it fully supports local play for up to four players). 

This is annoying, and a souring of the milk of good intentions from the original game in the mouth, but it is ultimately out of the way once it’s been done and dealt with. From here, impressions pick up – for one, there’s no gacha to be seen, and unlike almost every modern game in existence that seems to want to cause hearing or speaker damage, Horizon Chase 2 actually sets all of its volume sliders to the middle at 50%. In fact, the audio felt a bit soft, so I turned it up. Then I turned it up a bit more.

Horizon Chase

The soundtrack to Horizon Chase 2 is up-tempo, certainly, but that’s… about it. Everything seems somehow hollow, possibly compressed, like the body has been sucked out leaving a vaguely recognizable puddle of skin in its wake. It’s worth noting that I reinstalled my old copy of the original Horizon Chase, and can confirm that its music remains absolutely banging; it had heft, depth and a sense of physicality to go with its tempo. By comparison, its numeric sequel seems just kind of hollow, both through a soundbar and a pair of headphones.

In fact, the entire audio package seems under-baked. Cars make a token humming noise that could be mistaken for mild strain on your console’s fan as they race; the sounds of skidding and kicking up dirt around corners feel like they came from a bargain-basement royalty-free SFX pack. There is no whip or whoosh or air when hitting turbo or passing another car. Typically, audio is able to fill my living room. Here, it felt like it somehow got stuck in a wall.

But… Fast

All of this is a gigantic shame because it sucks the air out of so much of what Horizon Chase 2 gets right. This is a game that presents itself as a no-nonsense arcade racer, laced with bright colours and visually blistering speed, and on these terms it absolutely delivers. Even with a significant lift in graphical density over the first game, it should come as little surprise that everything looks pin sharp and runs buttery smooth on a current generation console, even when there are as many cars on screen as a track will visually allow.

It controls smoothly, too. Arguably too smoothly – there is a palpable sense of steering assistance that is very understandable for a game that a lot of people would be using touch-screen controls for, but the way that cars glide over the track ensures that things never feel particularly tactile when using analogue sticks (unsurprisingly, the haptics functions of the PlayStation 5 controller have been left out to dry; Chase 2 seems to have very little interest in physicality). This is a criticism, but it does lesson with time as the back half of Horizon Chase 2’s course selection gets increasingly daring with narrow stretches of track littered with sharp, snaking corners and a willingness to throw in a steep incline at any given moment. There is at least a certain surface-level joy to being able to whip around so many corners with scarcely a feathering of the brake trigger.

Some of these later courses are incredibly daring in the twists and turns of their designs, their maps often looking close to the crayon scrawl of a four-year-old. They’re bubblegum fun and have to be appreciated as such. They stick to the classic flavours, though. There is the occasional weather event or time of day shift, but the tracks never really deign to get experimental with just what could be used as track. Don’t expect to go crashing through an abandoned mall or to have a forest course shaken up by a giant, hollowed-out tree.

Horizon Chase
Horizon Chase

It feels like I’ve been criticising Chase 2 for what it’s not, rather than for what it is, and this may be unfair. The thing is, the one thing this definitely is not is an actual, traditional arcade racer. Forget the mileage that a meagre handful of tracks in a Daytona game could offer, the way that each race was a learning experience, that each of those tracks mattered? Horizon Chase 2 shuttles the player along quickly, doling out coins and trophies for placement that are spent on upgrades that serve as phantoms in place of actually getting better. I played a handful of races after making a pasta sauce that used two-thirds of a bottle of wine, leaving me a good third to consume myself, and did perfectly fine.

This is perhaps my biggest grip with a game that l need to make clear that I do actually like. It seems to actively refuse to do enough to make me love it. There’s an almost aggressive ambivalence to the actual physical presence of the player. From audio that just outright lacks the oomph to get under the skin, through to races themselves that, while fast, seem keen on shuttling you through with no resistance from wheel or asphalt, there’s a certain something almost auto-pilot about it all.

And yet… I do like it. It’s fast, it runs great; it’s a fairly polished offering for a largely starved niche. It does an excellent job of using horizontal texture patterns on the road itself and heavy clusters of small objects on the roadside to recreate the look of an older breed of racer while not being not nearly so mean about unfair crashes and game-over screens. Ironically, I’ve definitely accused it of oversteering in that regard.

Horizon Chase

The Extras

Horizon Chase 2’s main initial offering is a world tour with the occasional time trial. This takes the straightforward form of racing from track to track, region to region, unlocking more as you go. Beyond this, Horizon 2 offers enough extra to perhaps fill an empty weekend. There are several torment races set across different difficulties, but the main hope for long-term value probably sits with the specific challenges, that task players with using a certain number of nitro bursts, avoiding coins, maybe don’t use any nitro)

Mostly, though, the home console fun with Horizon Chase 2 will likely be short-lived.  It’s difficult to imagine that online play would have long legs, although local play may help to round out the odd pizza night with mates. It’d certainly pair well with a couple of beers. Not that this matters in the current landscape – in the absence of notable other options, it’s difficult not to recommend Horizon Chase 2 if it’s high-octane arcade thrills that you’re after.

Horizon Chase

Horizon Chase 2 was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher. 

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