Friday, October 19, 2012

Forza Horizon Review

When I think of racing games for the Xbox 360 in recent years, there are only two real options. If you want an arcade racer you go and pick up Need for Speed Hot Pursuit by Criterion and simulation buffs will go straight to Forza Motorsport 4. While EA have successfully made a semi-successful jump to the simulation genre with the Shift series, no one has really attempted to merge the two genres together. If anyone should be put to the task, why not the newly formed Playground Games which is created from the best of racing developers past. These people have come from studios such as Codemasters, Bizarre and Criterion, and have been let free on the Forza engine to create the game Test Drive Unlimited 2 aimed to be. I wasn't sure if the Forza mechanics would work in an open world, but this truly is the complete package.


Forza Motorsport 4 was a technical marvel, the lighting effects and sheer beauty of the game made it possibly the best game I have ever seen. You could swear it is a next-gen title with not only the look of the car against the environment, but also the environment itself. As amazing as it was, the environments were limited to the amount of tracks in the game. This doesn't even close to the amount of detail needed for an open world game and I was interested to see how much they would squeeze in to Horizon. You could probably forgive Playground Games if the Horizon festival was made of areas that had a slight tendency to repeat themselves, or if the exquisite lighting and reflections from Forza 4 weren't incorporated into this game. The fact that the same high level of Forza 4 is in Horizon is amazing, adding even more features absolutely blows my mind away though.

Driving through the many different environments of Horizon is spectacular. You will go from the epicentre of the Horizon festival which is bustling with life to beautiful areas that all present something unique to the area. One direction may take you through large canyons, another area will have you winding your way through a lush forest area with leaves falling on the road as you zip past. All areas seem packed with life as normal cars are on the road, as well as fellow racers that, like you, ignore common road rules such as speed limits and staying in your lane.

Cars look absolutely stunning in the different environments. The fading light in the distance gleams off the hood of your brand new Dodge Viper as it zips in and out of the darkness provided by the cliff you are driving alongside. Not only has detail been expertly crafted in the foreground, but also the backdrop to the Horizon festival is spectacular. Driving back to the main hub at night will let you see the fireworks show going off as you approach the party. Yes, thats right, for the first time ever in Forza there is a day/night cycle. The amazing scenic view provided at night is more than just the light from your car. Everything about the graphics is top notch and after this there is no real excuse for other developers to have shortcomings in open world racing games. Test Drive might have made us accept drops in quality for quantity, but Forza proves the impossible.

The Horizon festival is not only about fast cars, but there is a strong musical vibe to the entire event. It is great to see that the developers have incorporated this aspect into the game as the bass pumping opening to the game really had me raring to get into the swing of things. The music isn't the centre of things though so I'll cover the cars first. All the amazing sounds from Forza Motorsport 4 are back to shake your living room as you fire up a beastly car. Each car sounds unique and so realistic its not funny. No game can come close in comparison to the authenticity provided by Forza's sound.

While hardcore fans won't like it, there is nothing better than the pumping soundtrack that accompanies you on your way through Colorado. Turn up your sound system and you will experience an exhilarating ride that is heightened by the sheer power of the music which is blaring over the top of your engine. There are three radio stations to suit your preference of rock, indie and bass. I personally kept my radio tuned into the Bass Arena at all times which would really get the adrenalin flowing. I'd recommend a mix of the three though since hours of the same station will have you hearing the same songs over and over again. The radio hosts are good though and mention things related to your situation in the festival, as well as mystery barn finds among other items.


Forza has been let loose on the streets for the first time, and what a way to begin. There isn't much of a story here except for you are a nobody coming into the Horizon Festival and you are quickly introduced to Darius Flynt who is the champion of Horizon. You obviously can't take him on right away and must work your way through the festival ranks, earning fans and gaining wristbands that let you enter higher tiered events.

There are a number of race modes available in the game. Festival races let you earn points towards earning a new wrist band and are structured the same way as a standard Forza game. You start out racing in lower classed cars but as you move up in the world you require more horsepower at your control to be competitive. The next class of races are Showcase events, which put a bit of variation in the event as you are actually racing against something like a plane or hot air balloon. Outposts in the Colorado area will offer up PR Stunts that require you to perform special tasks to complete the challenge. There are also illegal street races and 1v1 races against rivals that net you a high amount of credits and the pink slip of other racers.

All of this occurs in a world full of life and things to do. Some illegal street races are in designated spots but you can also just pop in behind another driver on the road and challenge them to an immediate point-to-point race. Barn finds are exclusive cars that you can hunt through the 215 roads of Colorado for. These are found as old run down vehicles that are refurbished for your driving pleasure. It is a great idea that doesn't go overboard on the collectibles side of driving.

There is no point being a good driver without fans and this is where freeroaming around really comes in handy. Everything you do in Forza Horizon earns you points. Whether it is drifting, drafting, wrecking signs, passing cars or even some special rewards for crazy acts, they all add up. You can create large combos to increase your multiplier and earn a large amount of points which will have you travel from the 250th most popular driver to no.1. This is what solely keeps me from fast-travelling everywhere after hours of play, even though I have enough credits to be able to afford it.

The content and fun in the game is enough to make a solid title by itself. But putting the Forza title in the name makes us expect the 'Forza DNA' that has been reinforced constantly. The aim of this game was to be able to seamlessly take what you have learnt on the track and use those same skills on the open road. For the most part this is absolutely correct. There is still the difficulty options to turn assists on or off as you please, the cars still handle with brilliant precision and you can upgrade your car to your hearts desire. On the highway you may forget that you are actually playing Horizon and not Forza 4. Look closer and you will notice some 'arcade' aspects to the game. Drifting will be used a lot more but of course this is a purely optional choice by the gamer. The biggest difference is the fact that damage is now purely cosmetic so you can drive as hard as you want. Some may hate this, but the reality is who wants to be limping around a free roaming game with a car that doesn't steer at all. Maybe festival races could have enabled real damage as an option, but this at least partly makes sense.


True simulation buffs won't like everything about Forza Horizon, but as far as I am concerned this is a damn good game. I love the fact that Playground Games have been able to incorporate the Forza experience and level of detail into a title of this scope. The driving is as fun as ever, the area of Colorado is beautiful and makes you want to drive around it. The Horizon Festival is an energetic backdrop to the racing and the music pumping throughout your journey gets the adrenalin pumping. Sure, there are areas where they have had to take an arcade approach but the positives of this game well and truly outweigh the negatives. This is the definitive example of how to do a free roaming game from here on out. No more repeating areas, no lack of quality, no poor handling of cars and desolate roads. Forza Horizon does it right and truly deserves to call itself a Forza game.

Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10