Forza Horizon 2

2014 saw a huge number of top drawer Xbox One games to choose from, and choosing the ones to actually sit down and play became ever tougher as the year went by. There's no doubt with the likes of Halo: Master Chief Collection, Dragon Age: Inquisition, GTA V, Shadow of Mordor and Sunset Overdrive gracing our consoles, we've been spoiled for choice.

But, none of those are my own, personal pick for my game of the year. For that we need to strap in and head to Southern Europe. That's right, Forza Horizon 2.

Perhaps more incredible is that the first time I played Forza Horizon 2, I didn't like it. Not at all. At the Eurogamer Expo in London, I got a pre-release play and I didn't gel with it at all. Traditionally I enjoy the racing games like Forza Motorsport, I go for the realism. Forza Horizon 2 felt too 'arcady' for my tastes.

But all that changed upon actually sitting down and playing it. Thankfully it's one of the titles that offers a free demo from the Xbox One store, so if like me you're not sure, it's a good opportunity to try it out without opening your wallet.

Forza Horizon 2

It isn't a game without fault, but there aren't many of them. Perhaps my only real criticism is that the Drivatars you're playing against are too aggressive in the wrong places. Trading paint in a race situation is fine, but when you're just driving around and getting shunted at high speed from nowhere, it's beyond annoying. If the players they're based on drive like this, then the game should really be smart enough to rein it in a little instead of spoiling the experience for others.

But when you get past that, what a game it is. In the same way that GTA V boasts a big open world to explore, Forza Horizon 2 has the same. The game world stretches across parts of southern France and Italy, with real world locations such as Nice to put your skills to the test.

Graphically, Forza Horizon 2 is one of the best looking games you'll find. With dynamic lighting effects that change from day to night – making the cars glisten all the while – as well as a weather engine that goes from glorious sunshine to torrential rain, the world of the Horizon festival is more immersive than any Forza game that came before it.

Forza Horizon 2

The single player, story driven challenges give you a real target beyond just buying cars and winning championships, and the side missions like the bucket list break things up nicely and keep you busy wherever on the game map you are. And with Horizon 2 not reliant on a race track, the different races really do test your skills and take you across the whole spectrum of terrain on offer. And who doesn't want to beat a train or a place or, well, a hot air balloon, in a race?

Racing games are a tough nut to crack, because it's too easy for them to become repetitive and ultimately boring. I found that with Forza Motorsport 5, it's a superb game but in the end you spend most of your time doing the same things. With Horizon 2 there's none of that. If you're bored of racing, just go out and explore for a while and take on some of the side missions. The online mode will keep you entertained indefinitely, since it's all of the good bits about the game, played against real people.

I can't wait to see what comes next...

If you're a regular Forza Horizon 2 player, be sure to seek out and join the Windows Central (WPCe) car club!