Open-road racing at its finest.
What Forza Horizon Got Right
- + Cars, cars, cars!
- + Visually stunning and detailed
- + Horizon Festival backdrop is great
- + Race challenges and events are diverse
What Forza Horizon Got Wrong
- - Repetitive radio soundtrack
- - Forgettable storyline
- - Less cars to unlock
- - Lame NPCs and dialogue
Forza Horizon is the wild love-child of Forza Motorsport and Test Drive Unlimited. It’s got the realistic driving physics of its respected mother franchise and the open-road environment of its ambitious father, and through its rich heritage and inspirations, Horizon manages to steer the franchise into its own impressive and immersive direction that balances the best of both worlds.
Whereas Forza Motorsport 4 was focused on revering the cars themselves, Forza Horizon is all about the open-road experience and celebrating car culture in high-definition, high-octane racing.
Check out the official trailer.
Loyal Forza Motorsport concerned about the arcade, open-world racing direction that Forza Horizon has taken can rest easy. Forza Horizon has had ample support from main Forza studio Turn 10, but the lead developer on the game, Playground Games, is an experienced team made up of veteran ex-developers from numerous U.K. racing studios, including Codemasters and Bizarre Creations. From the way Horizon plays and looks, the team of Playground Games definitely know and appreciate their cars, how they drive, how they look and how to cater for all types of players: from the veteran Forza fans, to extreme car enthusiasts looking for a new game to play, to newbies driving into unknown territory.
Horizon contains extensive settings for control breaking and handling, which makes the game extremely accessible for anyone of varying skill levels, and the rewind feature returns for those who need to practice a little more on perfecting their drift and corner turns. Veterans can simply skip all this and set the difficulty to realistic conditions and all assists off.
After slugging through the somewhat corny cinematic opening of the game, which attempts to evoke a young and hip party atmosphere through splices real video of young people partying at music festivals and showing off their cars, the first two races of Horizon kicks the game into gear and introduces players to its gorgeous backdrop. As an unnamed, silent rookie new to the circuit, you speed on over to the the fictitious Horizon Festival to secure a spot, ranked 250 out of 250, and work your way from the bottom to the top to become the festival’s Champion.
The Horizon Festival acts as a central HUB for upgrades, paintjobs, races and the garage.
The Horizon Festival is a grand event for car lovers and skilled racers everywhere, set across a massive stretch of roads and expansive of fields and plains somewhere in the middle of countryside Colorado, USA. 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.
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 right based on their size and power, and the level of aesthetic and under-the-hood detail imbued upon them is just as impressive as in Forza 4. Whether you're driving the initial Mitsubishi Lancer or expensive Lamborghini, the handling is relative and accurate, and with 65 different terrain surface types, players to test the physics to a whole new level.
Drifting around corners and speeding across the interstate while the sun sets is nothing but high-octane fun, and with driving assists off, it's even more unpredictable and challenging to make that perfectly timed turn and resist the urge to use the rewind function to rectify your amateur drift. There were times, however, where I found myself able to rely a lot more on aggressive maneuvers (ramming A.I. fools out of my way) to secure first place than sheer precision and skill (I'm a terrible virtual driver). Some may find the fact that you can literally bounce off walls with as little as a bumper clipped off and still manage to win the race way too unrealistic, but whether that detracts from the fun depends on how you approach Horizon.
The open-road experience is what Horizon is all about.
Customisation is as extensive and detailed as ever before, with plenty of car upgrades, aesthetic vinyl designs and paintjobs to play around with. Forza Horizon does have less cars to unlock than Forza 4, with around 125 cars to unlock, though more are to be made available via DLC down the track. I can't say taking out cars to sell as DLC later was a great choice, but for the most part I was okay with what cars were available so far (I'm an easily pleased Jaguar fan).
The aim of Forza Horizon is to rise the ranks and becoming the champion of the Horizon festival. This is accomplished through obtaining "Wristbands" from sponsored Horizon events set all across the Colorado valley. These events range from simple Point-A to Point-B races to racing against several fighter planes in a classic Ford Mustang. 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.
While there is a story behind the goal to reach the top and a few memorable cutscenes 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.
"...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."
Along with the traditional races set in the festival grounds, a center HUB area where the main races, upgrades, paint jobs and garage are located, Horizon’s events are diverse and most often involve driving fast and aggressively. Some races will encourage destroying property, 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 challenged beforehand.
Also 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, and 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 aspect of Horizon also has plenty to offer. The familiar "Rivals" mode returns 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 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 are extremely fun, social diversions to the main event and traditional lap-based races, and they also help you rank up online and get rewarded with awesome new cars and cash.
Visually, the game is stunning. The virtual representation of the beauty of Colorado would do the real state proud, as the landscape is vibrant and detailed to a level only surpassed by Forza 4 itself. Textures, colors and surfaces are crisp and detailed, the draw distance is impressively extensive, and the day/night system works great. As the sun sets behind the mountains, the car's dashboard illuminate and the headlights emerge automatically, a nice touch as you drive and race across the beautiful countryside.
Headlights pop out and emerge as the sun sets.
The sound effects of the cars are equally impressive. Engines rev and purr as they should, and the sheer power behind them as you accelerate is pleasing to the ear. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the game's soundtrack, which consists of three radio stations mixed with rock, indie and dub-step/techno. While there are some festival discussion and radio talkshows mixed in, the repetitiveness of the tracks included made me switch the radio off within the first few hours and instead listen to the ambient sound, or my own playlist of music.
While Horizon is great for the most part, it does have some disappointments. The lack of cars compared to previous iterations will put off many, and those who are used to the realistic simulation that Forza Motorsport provided might find the lack of tuning and mechanical damage off-putting and unrealistic. The cliche, trash-talking NPC rivals are also cringe-worthy but ignorable for the most part.
But there's no middle-ground for the likes of the micro-transactions encouraged in-game, where you buy tokens with real-world money to speed up the unlocking of hidden items and map-points. Buying tokens to unlock everything takes away from the whole point of Horizon's experience: exploration and discovery. However, these issues were minor and didn't detract significantly from the expertly crafted, visually impressive and enjoyable driving experience Playground Games have provided.
The Final Verdict
Forza Horizon is a worthy spin-off and entry that steers the Forza franchise into the right direction. Open-road racing has never been so fun and visually pleasing, and the game crafts a balanced experience enjoyable for racing veterans, car enthusiasts and casual racing gamers everywhere.
By Nathan Misa