Forza Horizon Review
Forza Horizon is the fifth game in the Forza Motorsport series, and the first Forza side-game. Forza Horizon is a game full of firsts; it’s the first open-road Forza, and the first Forza not to developed exclusively by Microsoft’s in-house studio Turn 10. Instead, it’s a collaboration between Turn 10 and upstart UK developer Playground Games. If Horizon is anything to go by, it looks like this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two dev teams.
Unlike the straight up on-track racing of the regular Forza Motorsport games, Horizon takes players to the picturesque backwoods (and fictional) town of Carson, Colorado for the 2012 Horizon Festival, a massive automotive festival featuring some of the best (and some of the douchiest) racers from around the world. You assume the role of a young, nameless, and mute racer who squeaks his way into the festival by winning the racing equivalent of an open casting call. From there, it’s an uphill climb as you compete in various Horizon events to build a name for yourself (despite not actually having a name) and work your way up the ladder to challenge the reigning champ of the Horizon circuit, racing superstar (and part-time George RR Martin character) Darius Flynt.
What I Liked
There is a near-endless number of things to do in Forza Horizon and a gigantic playground to do them in. Fully exploring the hub map of Horizon will literally take you hours. Of course, the core features of the game are the straight up races, but Horizon mixes things up with its various race modes. In addition to the brand new off-road events, Forza Horizon features Showcase races, which often see you competing against unusual competitors like biplanes or hot air balloons, and Street Races, underground-but-high-paying events that pit you against hapless civilian traffic as well as other racers. You can also hunt for all sorts of collectables, like Barn Cars, and complete mini-missions at various Outposts on the hub map.
It feels like you really are just one small part of a truly gigantic auto festival out there in rural Colorado between your fellow racers, the persistent traffic, the ongoing storyline, the dynamic environment engine, and the myriad of side missions and features to be done. The sheer amount of things to do in Forza Horizon beyond just racing is sure to have you coming back to it again and again. It’s the epitome of the term “replayability,” and it’s gearing up for even more with the upcoming Forza Horizon Rally DLC due out in late December.
The Forza Control Scheme
Forza’s simple and intuitive control layout returns in Horizon, meaning that if you’ve had any experience with previous Forzas then you should be able to slip into Horizon like a racing glove. It also means that if this is your first Forza, then you’ll be able to pick it up and go very easily. While the controls are universal, each car handles quite differently from one another, especially when you factor in different upgrades. Just as in racing in real life that means it’s all about feeling out your vehicle and getting to know it as well as you can before you push it to the limit. Again, if you’re a Forza vet, you’re in luck as Horizon’s returning roster handles just like they do in at least Forza 4, such as my own signature 2005 Ford GT (daddy loves you, baby!).
Horizon is also Kinect-compatible… if you’re into that sort of thing.
Beautiful graphics in compliment to beautiful gameplay have been the Forza franchise’s thing for a while now, and Horizon is no exception. In fact, it’s probably the best-looking racing game I’ve seen so far. The cars look amazing and the landscape of the hub map is breathtaking at times. Everything is nicely detailed, but what really sells it is the lighting system. Thanks to the persistent day and night cycle on the world map, the game really pops around the dawn and dusk hours in-game. I don’t know if Colorado is like this in real life, but Horizon almost makes me want to find out… almost.
Attention to Detail
There are so many wonderful little things in Forza Horizon that it’s almost hard to fully appreciate all them. The world of the Horizon Festival feels very lived-in and alive with its own energy independent of whatever you might be out there doing at the moment. Usually in Forza games, some of the best tracks to race on are the fictional ones Turn 10 crafted themselves, and here there’s an entire fictional county full of wonderfully crafted track to bomb around it. There’s an unfathomable lot of little surprises around every corner, especially for longtime Forza fans, such as a cameo appearance by the most hated AI in the Forza franchise, Italian a-hole M. Rossi and his rosso corsa Ferrari.
Turn 10 rewards customer loyalty, quite handsomely I might add. It’s always been one of the things I’ve admired about them as a developer, they never patronize their fans, and they honour their patronage. If you have save data on your 360 from previous Forza titles, then you’ll unlock a pack of gift cars completely for free. Also, as was mentioned in the 5 October 2012 Games You Have to Play, Part 2 article from two weeks ago, downloading and beating the Forza Horizon demo also unlocks the exclusive Forza Horizon “Gone Gold” Edition 2013 SRT Dodge Viper GTS right off the bat.
What I Didn’t Like
Lack of Simulation Damage
Forza Horizon is more arcade-y than the rest of the series. As such, the harsh realism of Forza Motorsport 4 has been ramped down in favour of pure racing fun. I understand why the more technical elements of the franchise have been excised from Horizon (namely realistic part damage and tuning setups), but I’m still sad to see them go. They could have at least been included as optional features like they are in the regular Forzas if anyone wanted them.
Somewhat Buggy Multiplayer
Oh ‘Forza Physics,’ will you never cease to fail in online environments? For some reason, the usually stellar Forza single player physics don’t translate well into multiplayer. And in Horizon’s multiplayer they become something of a cosmic catastrophe when it’s you against seven fellow human beings all vying for first place. Cars spontaneously go flying into the hinterland, or teleport in front of you leading to a race-ruining rear-end collision, or cause horrific crashes that take out half the field because some dipstick in Kansas is playing the game on a 56k dial-up modem and the game resolves the connection disparity by dividing by zero or something. Multiplayer in Forza Horizon (or Forza in general, really) is often a recipe for disaster where anything that can go wrong often will. It’s not horrible, but if nothing else, it’s a sight just to behold when it goes off the rails.
On Par With: Forza Motorsport 4
The Forza formula translates very nicely into the open road format. It stands up as both a good side-by-side compliment to Forza Motorsport 4 and a good launch pad to get ready for the inevitable Forza Motorsport 5. While Forza 4 is the more cerebral racer, Forza Horizon is packed to the gills with pure racing fun and makes up for its lack of technicality with freedom and atmosphere. It’s actually hard to make a decision between the two of them, but at this point I’m leaning towards Horizon on account of its newness.
Forza Horizon is one of the most detailed and expansive racing games I’ve ever played, and is probably the best racing game of this generation to date. In my books, Forza Motorsport unseated Gran Turismo as the king of racing sims a long time ago (around Forza 3, for those of you keeping score at home) and Forza Horizon both continues its long-standing tradition of quality, and blazes a completely new trail into unexplored territory for the series. It’s a stand out title, both on its own and part of as part of its series, and if this is the shape of things to come for the Forza franchise then it’s definitely got me looking forward to future Horizon-style games. If you’re a racing fan of any stripe, you owe it to yourself to take Forza Horizon for a spin.
Forza Horizon was reviewed with a copy provided by Microsoft.