Forza Horizon is an open world racer developed exclusively for Microsoft’s Xbox 360. It was developed by British studio Playground Games, in association with Turn 10 Studios. Will this new vision of the franchise tarnish the impressive reputation of previous Forza’s or will this title further enhance the series?
Longtime fans concerned about the new direction of the racing, open-world style that Forza Horizon has taken can rest easy. Forza Horizon has had direct support from Turn 10, the original developers of the main series. Horizon’s main developer on the game, Playground Games, is a proficient team made up of expert developers from various racing studios, some notable studios such as “Codemasters”, as well as other known firms. As the first open-world game in the Forza Motorsport franchise, the single player storyline starts you as a new guy trying to make his name in the speed-celebrating, car-meets-concert aptly named Horizon festival. The Horizon Festival is a grand event for car lovers and skilled racers everywhere, set across a massive stretch of roads and expansive fields and plains in the middle of countryside Colorado. Playing as an unnamed protagonist new to the circuit, you will speed on over to the Horizon Festival. From here, you will work your way from the bottom to the top to become the festival’s Champion. While there is a story behind the goal to reach the top, and a few memorable cut scenes with some quirky characters, it’s mostly forgettable and many of the characters only appear early in the game anyway, which is a shame as Playground Games missed an opportunity to inject some more narrative depth into the impressive backdrop they constructed.
As I stated, the game takes place within a Colorado setting that provides an enthralling asphalt playground for you to rip up with a suitable list of exotic and non-exotic autos. The game’s landscape is grand and the environment is rich. Terrain is divided into distinct areas like Grand Canyon Red Rock, little town Carson, and scenic Gladstone and many more. All roads lead to the central Horizon-carnival hub where you can do a number of things. You can purchase new cars and modify your vehicle, while progressing through the single-player campaign and join/create a car club. Forza’s refined physics model, real-world car selection, and renowned attention to detail are all on display here. Horizon might be a completely new venture, yet it has a familiar feel that will please most fans of the series. Horizon encompasses a large amount of settings for control breaking and handling, which easily makes the game accessible for any gamer of varying skill levels. Terrifically, the rewind feature returns for those who need to train a little more on achieving their drift and corner turns. For those driving simulator fans (aka the “Veterans”), you can simply skip all this and tune the difficulty to realistic conditions and all assists off. This will now create a fast-paced, ultra intense racer.
The game’s first two races of Horizon are served to introduce the player to the environment and controls. As expected, Forza Horizon incorporates many different gameplay aspects from Forza Motorsport. The large variety of cars, realistic physics and high-definition graphics are all present and impressive. Every car is fine-tuned to feel and drive accurately based on their size and power. The level of aesthetic and under-the-hood detail imbued upon them is just as impressive as in Forza 4. Whether you’re driving a Ford Focus or a Ferrari, the handling is relative and precise. With over 60 different terrain surface types, players will test the physics of each vehicle. Drifting corners and speeding through the highways while the sunset is setting in your rear view window is pure fun. There are times where frustration will come, however I found myself becoming more of an aggressive driver than in previous Forza’s. Basically, I was ramming A.I. cars into guard rails and off road in order to come in first place. Customization is as enormous and finely detailed as ever before, with a plethora of car upgrades, aesthetic vinyl designs and paintjobs to interact with. Forza Horizon has over 120 cars to unlock, though a massively increased collection is on the way via DLC. The true goal of Forza Horizon is to rise above the ranks and become the champion of the Horizon festival. This is achieved through obtaining “Wristbands” from Horizon events set all across the Colorado valley. Each wristband color is a different level and as you progress the levels, the cars and races become more exotic and intense. Certain events range from simple start to finish endeavors, while others have you competing against various fighter planes. Yes you read correctly, certain stages have you racing against planes and hot air ballons. You’re also encouraged into completing daredevil stunts, like pulling off some crazy drifts and barely missing oncoming vehicles a number of times to boost your popularity and rank up from the initial 250th place. You’ll also win a multitude of classic cars and earn plenty of cash along the way, offering plenty of incentive to progress.
Horizon’s events are diverse and most often involve driving fast and aggressively. Some races will encourage destroying property, while others focus on off-road challenges and so on. There are heaps of street race hubs and other racers on the open roads who you can challenge during free-roam to a friendly race, and the game lets you know how well your car matches up to the challenger before-hand. Scattered throughout the map are Hot Spots, which offer PR Stunts such as chaining together drifts and near misses to raise your street rep with the festival goers. There are also photo challenges where you drive your selected car to a visually pleasing area of the map and snap a photo. In addition, there are a number of speed traps across the map that record your fastest speeds, challenging you to top the time it takes to get to the next one.
The multiplayer portion of Horizon also has plenty to offer. The famed “Rivals” mode makes a return after each race, where you are encouraged to beat the “ghosts” of friends – in other words, their recorded race times – to earn some extra cash and rise the leaderboards. There are heaps of other individual challenges to undertake with fellow race fans, but what really shines above all else are the playground games like “Infected,” where one “infected” car aims to ram into others and “infect” them until no more cars remain or “King”, where one car racks up points while avoiding other cars. These events help you rank up online and get rewarded with new cars and cash. However all is not great as I noticed frequent times of lag in certain match-ups. The lag would send other players flickering across the map at random points which made online races a tad annoying to continue. Another negative aspect is the multiplayer doesn’t blend seamlessly with the single-player game. If you choose to hop into multiplayer from the main menu, you must be taken to an online location where you can join up to seven other players in a variety of circuit, point-to-point, and free-roam co-op racing events.
Visually, the game is striking. The representation of Colorado is impressive, and the landscape itself is energetic and meticulous. However, the game is surpassed ironically by its predecessor, Forza 4. This is by no means a negative for Horizon. Overall, Forza 4 is a slightly superior looking game, but Horizon’s night and day sequences are truly a new benchmark for racing game visuals. The day/night cycles system is truly a sight to behold. When you’re driving down a stretch of highway and the sun sets behind the high mountains, the car’s dashboard brightens and the headlights switch on automatically. All the textures, colors and surfaces are crisp. Another impressive feat is the draw distance, which is a sight to behold when traveling 220mph and all areas ahead are fully detailed in 1080p. These small subtle touches further add to the overall visual presentation of the game.
Watching the fireworks explode in the sky while cruising for races is jaw dropping, and is a great chance to use photo mode. Car models are spot-on, and the damage modeling is terrific for a franchise not known for damage intensive detail. This is one slick looking game. The wide variety of environments and scenery is amazing and the level of detail is stunning; from the bustling, celebratory atmosphere of the center Festival, to the twisty mountain passes, country towns, open grasslands, dusty desert roads and massive freeways, all of the locales present are distinct and a pleasure to speed on past.
The audio in Horizon does range from amazing to average and I will explain with the negatives first. The voice acting for the festival workers are good and do the job. However, the rival racers you will compete against are a tad too phony. Basically, the rivals range from an assortment of severely stereotypical characters we have all seen or heard before. You have the typical white surfer dude who seems to be a burnout, to an urban guy being a thug, followed by a stereotypical foreign guy who can possibly be from somewhere in Eastern Europe and is acting like Borat. Lastly, there’s the ditzy blonde girl who seems to be very one dimensional (surprise, surprise). The strange radio DJ is another character they could have did without. However, he can be turned off thankfully. The game’s soundtrack, which consists of three radio stations mixed with rock, indie and techno, are something of a letdown.
Ironically, the best part of everything that hurts the audio (acting, music, and DJ) is all facets that really do not take much time throughout the game. And of course, these trivial issues stick out more because the rest of the game is crafted and impressive. The audio effects for every car in Horizon are truly impressive. Engines rev as they should, and the pure power behind them as you accelerate is pleasing to hear. The sound effects are simply outstanding. When you have a packed corner full of cars, the sounds of 5-10 high horse-powered engines all revving at once sounds beautiful, especially playing on headsets. These sound effects create a lot of excitement throughout the game and the crashes sound as intense as they should. Everything involving the sound effects just sounds correct to the ear and adds to the thrill of the race.
Replay Value: 4/5
Completing everything Horizon offers is definitely an endeavor. There are tons of events, side races for cash, speed traps and zones to hit, and the quintessential collectible, discount signs. Hitting these gives you discounts on certain items. You also have a challenge list that keeps track of things like drifting and slingshot passes. Each level gives you even more discounts on certain items. All of this happens in the background, and before you know it, you have accumulated tons of discounts. You can also earn tokens that can be used to buy cars or even a treasure map for the world. This shows you the locations of all items, including discount signs. Buying tokens to unlock everything takes away from the whole point of Horizon’s experience: exploration and discovery. In terms of online gameplay, it may not be a “seamless” experience that the game screams to be, but it will keep your attention for a decent amount of time. However, these issues were minor and didn’t detract significantly from the expertly crafted, visually impressive and enjoyable driving experience Playground Games has provided.
Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10
Forza Horizon is a worthy spin-off and entry that steers the Forza franchise into a new direction. Open-road racing has never been this visually pleasing and fun. The game crafts a balanced experience enjoyable for racing veterans, car enthusiasts and casual racing gamers everywhere. Forza Horizon is an ultra-realistic driving game where the physics transpire through its rich heritage. Horizon is a bold new take on the famed franchise. There are areas that could have used improvement and longtime fans will immediately pick up on this as I have. However, the courage to try something new does not go unnoticed. Forza Horizon was definitely a great surprise. Not only does it carry the Forza name, it tries to carry the quality, just in a different form. Fans of games like Burnout Paradise, Dirt, and Need for Speed should definitely check out Horizon. It carries a horde of content,, as well as being really fun to play. The pacing is enjoyable and will have you coming back for a long time to come, whether for DLC or the content already packed into it. When it comes to racing games, they are usually a love/hate relationship for gamers, particularly when some are crafted as arcade-style gameplay. Horizon creates that fine line and manages to entertain on almost every level. Microsoft has a definite winner on their hands with the latest iteration of the Forza brand.
+ Superb visuals
+ Solid gameplay mechanics
+ Amazingly accessible
+ Massive range of vehicles
- Soundtrack is somewhat generic
- Voice Acting/ storytelling
- Lack Of Seamless Online integration
A special thank you to Microsoft for providing us a review copy of Forza Horizon!
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