It’s been seven years since Aquiris’ outstanding arcade racer Horizon Chase (Free) arrived on the App Store. Since then, the game has been on a tour of its own, hitting a variety of other platforms and constantly adding new content to enjoy. About a month ago, we finally got a sequel when Horizon Chase 2 () roared onto the Apple Arcade service in anticipation of a wider release in 2023. I’ve been playing the wheels off the game since then, and I figured I’d write up a review in case anyone needs a nudge.
Just as the first game was, Horizon Chase 2 pays heavy homage to classic arcade-style racers like Gremlin’s Top Gear/Lotus and SEGA’s Out Run. Races are high-speed affairs filled with plenty of hairpin turns, nitro boosts, and nasty collisions. The colors are vibrant, the tunes are pumping, and the physics are more interested in being fun than being realistic. As a sequel, Horizon Chase 2 has an extra job beyond just being a good racer, however. It also has to show what it has to offer that the first game didn’t, a task that can be pretty tough when the previous game saw new updates even as recent as a few months ago.
If you just jump into the game, the first big difference is an obvious one. The simple, albeit attractive, flat-shaded, low-poly look of the original game has been replaced with something a bit more visually impressive. There are more trackside objects with greater detail, nicer visual effects, and an overall greater complexity in how everything looks. There’s a lot of verticality to the tracks, and you’ll travel through locations the first game never deigned to take us. Amazingly, the game hasn’t lost its retro charm while making this step. It reminds me a bit of how Out Run 2 managed to significantly improve on the graphical fidelity of its predecessor without losing its pure “blue skies" energy.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, sticks to what works. That means Barry Leitch is back to grant the game a peppy synth vibe that practically oozes the feel of the early 1990s. While I wouldn’t say it surpasses the original, it certainly stands comfortably beside it. A good reason to play with the sound on, no doubt. It’s just stunning to me how easily Leitch can establish the setting and stakes of a race just with the first few seconds of each track. Like all of the best video game soundtracks, it’s just as much a part of the game’s character as its graphics.
The other very obvious new element is the online multiplayer. The new Playground theoretically allows you to race against other human players in rotating events. I must admit that in the month I have spent with this game, I’ve had only the spottiest luck finding other people online. I end up racing against AI bots for the most part, which I probably don’t need online play for. I suppose this is the cost of the game being temporarily exclusive to a specific service on one specific platform. At least for now, if you want to play against other players, you’ll probably have to arrange something among your friends or using the game’s official Discord server.
But hey, even if you don’t touch the Playgrounds at all, you’ve still got plenty to dig into. There’s the returning World Tour mode that takes you through a whopping fifty-five new courses set across five different countries. The sheer variety of these tracks is fantastic, and when combined with the upgraded visual punch, it’s easy to get distracted looking at the courses while you’re racing on them. The difficulty curve is familiar, with the first handful of races being simple enough to handle regardless of your skill and subsequent tracks turning up the heat gradually until you’re boiling in your own sweat. I find the track design in this game to already exceed the first, and that was no easy feat.
In terms of the actual mechanics of the game, Horizon Chase 2 covers familiar ground. This, like the music, is a case of not fixing something that wasn’t broken. You get that same weighty-yet-light feel from the first game, a system that is baked into the fingers of Top Gear and Lotus veterans, but applied to far more advanced course layouts. Weaving skillfully between your opponents, kicking on that nitro at the perfect moment to fly into the lead of the pack, and narrowly missing a brutal crash with a signboard as you lean like hell into a tight curve is just as triumphantly thrilling as ever. Like in the first game, it’s just plain fun to drive in Horizon Chase 2. What more could you ask for?
Of course, you’ve also got unlockables and upgrades to consider. As you race, you’ll unlock new tracks, cars, and customizations, and can use the currency you’ve gathered to tune your favorite car as you like it. Using cars in races earns experience for that car, and when they level up you can upgrade their stats. At the start of the game, you have five very different vehicles to choose from. You’ll unlock ten more, and if the first game was any indicator I’m sure that number will only go up over time. That said, the way the upgrade system works incentivizes you to find a car you like and stick with it. Well, you can always grind up another one if you like. It just means more racing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Is there anything else I should mention? The touch controls feel a little better in this game than the first, but that could just be down to a better UI layout. You can naturally use an external controller if you’d prefer to. I found there was just a touch of added lag by playing that way, but nothing too serious. Such is the nature of Bluetooth devices. You’ve got some new Achievements to go for, and some of them are pretty clever. Oh, I didn’t mention the unlockable Tournament mode either. It’s just a way to dip in and play some quick challenges when you don’t feel like getting stuck into World Tour. More scoops of ice cream on an already teetering mountain of sweet treats.
If you loved Horizon Chase, you’ll love Horizon Chase 2. If you’ve never played the first game, you can easily jump in with this sequel and have a great time. It’s in some ways an expected sequel, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that when there was so little to complain about in the first game. I had actually let my Apple Arcade subscription lapse, but I signed right back up again for Horizon Chase 2. It did not let me down. Now all we need is to get the online population a little more active. Hopefully that’s an issue that will solve itself with time.