Today, racing fans everywhere can finally indulge in Forza Horizon 2, Microsoft's long-awaited follow-up to its hit open road racing game. This time around, you're setting out across the European countryside, finding every driving thrill you can across a variety of events, both offline and Xbox Live-supported.

Before you get started, however, there are a few basic tips that will do you some good as you hit the open road. Whether it's finding some much-needed shortcuts or plotting your next course for racing greatness, you'll find that these will be helpful in the long run.

Your Map Is Your Friend

After making your way to your first location (through a road trip that automatically opens up the game), you'll be able to use your map by pressing the menu button. This is an open-world map that shows you all of your events at any time, as well as other convenient locations, such as Car Meets and Garages where you can fine tune your ride (or, at the very least, give it a different color).

Using the map is excellent, as it also points out other events that you might have missed, such as the Bucket List activities that give you access to special cars, as well as hidden events that are off the beaten path, highlighted by a gray-ish area that needs to be explored.

Once you find your desired location, set a waypoint by pressing A and off you go! Markers on the ground will show you how to get there, and Anna, your onboard GPS, will also guide you should you get lost!

You Don't Always Have To Stay On the Path

When it comes to getting first place in victories, it's vital to make each corner count, and keep up as much speed as possible – especially when you're going up against rival racers in real time. That's why it's important to get a good look at the course you're on, and take advantage of shortcuts when you get the opportunity.

There are times when you'll be so far-spaced between checkpoints that you can actually cut your route short by going off-road. In fact, sometimes it's encouraged, as you can explore and maybe even find a new activity or special racing circuit just by going off the beaten path. So plot your course carefully, make sure you don't miss any checkpoints (the game will force you to rewind if you miss a crucial one), and then take your shortcut. It can really pay off and shave a few seconds off your completion time – ideal for going up against rivals.

However, watch out for obstacles. Sometimes you'll come across a fence that won't allow you to cross over (it'll be marked on the map, look for solid lines), and trees tend to get in the way, and can end your run early if you ram into one. Drive carefully, and then get back on the main road as soon as possible so you can continue on your way.

Be Kind, Rewind

There are instances where you're going to crash or make a mistake during a race that could cost you a crucial first place victory. Not to worry. As with previous Forza games, Forza Horizon 2 comes with a rewind function, which can be accessed by pressing the Y button.

By using this, you can rewind a race several seconds and start fresh, avoiding the costly crash altogether. There can be occasional penalties for using this, especially on higher difficulties or during online events, but it sure beats the humiliation of ending up dead last after hitting a tree or another object.

Use your rewind sparingly if you can, but don't be afraid of it. Again, you're going to make mistakes every once in a while, especially when you're getting used to a car. It's a learning process, but one that will reward you with better driving skills down the line. Just don't go crazy with it.

Finally, Remember To Adjust

Last but certainly not least, remember that you have to make adjustments with certain cars in the Forza world. Some speedy models, for instance, handle much differently than the bulkier cars, like the Hummer or the 1945 Jeep. With that, you'll need to change a little bit when it comes to handling turns, and not try to skid off the road in the process.

In addition, when you're going off-road with a sports car, or dealing with weather conditions such as rain, you'll need to make adjustments there as well. Driving with these two situations could eventually lead to a skid that you don't want, leading to an error that you'll need to rewind. Get used to how a car handles both off-road and in wet conditions, and turn a little earlier when you find it convenient. Again, try not to hit anything.

If you need to, you can adjust the difficulty settings if the pressure gets too hot for its own good, perhaps even down to Easy level until you get used to how your vehicle performs for you overall. Don't be afraid to do so. You'll lose a little bit of your credit bonus in the process, but you can easily earn that back with first place victories and random Skill slot pulls, which occur each time you level up. You won't find any shortage of money here.

We'll break down more of the game over the week, so be sure to check back for more tips. In the meantime, enjoy the ride!

Forza Horizon 2 is available now for Xbox One and Xbox 360.