Published on October 23rd, 2012 | by Adam Vjestica0
Forza Horizon Review
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developers: Playground Games/ Turn 10
Turning Up New Ground
When Forza Horizon screeched into view back at E3, a thick smoke of skepticism squealed out from beneath the tyres of Turn 10’s unlikely spin-off. Delegated to an unknown UK developer – forced to tinker and toy with an already established and excellent product – it seemed that Forza Horizon’s likely destination was pre-programmed for disappointment.
But it turns out that the team responsible for tweaking the performance of Turn 10’s prize-winning racer were more than just a group of grease monkeys, bound together by a passion for petrol. In fact, what hid behind the banner of an unheard studio, was actually a dazzling array of diamond standard developers.
Playground Games was established by an all-star ensemble of exceptional world class talent, made up of former employees of Codemasters, Criterion, Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studios to name but a few. And boy does it show. This talented team of proven personnel has managed to inject Turn 10’s arguably frigid franchise with a much needed dose of fun and excitement, creating an open-world experience that car enthusiasts have been waiting for and a viable alternative to the marvelous Forza Motorsport series.
Let’s Take It For A Spin
Forza Horizon deviates from the previous formula of closed circuits and rigid progression, unleashing the fantastic racing mechanics and stupendously beautiful cars that underpin the traditional Forza experience on the picturesque, sandbox setting of Colorado.
The representation of Colorado’s distinct environments in Forza Horizon is a spectacular sight to behold. The varied landscape and locales provide a dream factory of different surfaces and unique surroundings to cruise and compete on. Winding mountain roads, slippery dirt tracks, forested highways, compact towns and furiously fast straights offer an interchanging challenge, far superior to the predictable designs of a man-made circuit. Sometimes you just have to pull up by the side of the road, pan the camera around and soak up the views.
Although there’s plenty of beautiful fauna and flora to admire by the roadside and into the distance, Forza Horizon’s take on Colorado is disturbingly quiet. Yes, there are other cars present on the roads, but with not one pedestrian in sight, even in the residential areas, it can feel like a ghost town at times. It’s a minor niggle but a noticeable one nonetheless.
Riding On The Rave
The fictitious ‘Horizon Festival’ acts as the game’s story; a hip mecca for automobile and music lovers to congregate. You begin the game speed-balling your way to the festival’s hub in a bid to gain a wristband: the typically festive form of identification that represents your overall ranking in the game and grants you entry into the festival’s racing activities.
You take on the role of a no-named, good-looking lad with a 5 o’clock shadow who must work his way up from obscurity to become the champion of Horizon and prove he’s the raddest racer alive and get all the girls – essentially. The story’s a bit naff for anyone over the age of 21, with rival racers and their cliche personalities holding the thread of a story together. The overall presentation is stupidly enthusiastic and stereotypically American (a surprise considering Playground Games are UK-based). But all in all, it beats listening to the crusty announcer of Forza 4 and watching a loading screen.
Battle Of The Bands
With each coloured wrist band you obtain, more events are unlocked for you to participate in. Events are dotted around the sizeable map and you’ll have to drive to each location if you want to sign up. There’s a simple GPS system to guide you to your destination, providing audible directions at crucial turns; a nice addition to the traditional coloured waypoint on the minimap.
Though the idea of having to drive to every event may seem like an unnecessary chore, the beauty of Forza Horizon is in the journey. Driving to an event is a fulfilling ride of satisfying, believable physics (Horizon uses an adaptation of the engine that powered Forza 4) and stunning vistas, as every mile is surrounded by remarkable views, ever-changing roads and gorgeous incidental details. Geysers belch water into the air, birds scatter out of nearby trees, golden leaves kick up under the wind and the rays of the sun convincingly reflect off every surface. Add in a day-and-night cycle (a first for the Forza series) and you have a game that upstages even the sexiest of super cars.
There’s also a clever secondary ranking system present in Forza Horizon rewarding you for a whole host of actions such as drifting, speeding, overtaking, near misses and smashing signs and billboards, whether you’re in an event or simply free-roaming. The more tricks and stunts you perform, the more popular you’ll become and sponsor’s will gift you cash bonuses if you meet certain criteria. It’s similar to Project Gotham Racing’s kudos system and a brilliant way of keeping you engaged, even when you’re just driving from point A to B.
The events vary from the standard affair of finishing first against a group of fellow racers after a number of laps or a race from point to point. There’s also showcase events, where you attempt to outrun a plane, helicopter or hot air balloon; rival races, a straight out fight with the prize of a car on offer; and street races, a race based purely for the love of cash. Again, due to the fact each of these events are sprawled across the game’s different environments, using the actual roads from the map, makes each race feel like a genuinely different proposition, despite the familiar formats.
Certain events will only be accessible if you own a particular car model, make, or if you have an eligible car of the same performance class in your garage, so you’ll have to delve into your bank account more frequently than in the past as you won’t be intermittently rewarded with new vehicles for ranking up.
And that’s where winning comes in. After every event you’ll earn cred (currency) to purchase upgrades and new cars. Fans of the Forza series will know what to expect when it comes to the risk and reward system of turning off assists and turning up the difficulty to earn a larger amount of cred after each race. You have to be wary, however, as the AI stay true to the series’ past form: they are extremely challenging if you’re not prepared. In the wrong car, and with too many assists off, you best be prepared to race your heart out. The difficulty does increase rather starkly as the game increases, so even on the easier settings, you’ll be kept on your toes; Forza Horizon is still true to its sim roots despite the more arcade-like premise.
Sadly, though probably a natural consequence of the reason above, Forza Horizon doesn’t feature any Burnout-esque crashes. If you speed head first into an oncoming car they’ll obviously be an impact that will slow you down, causing a bit of cosmetic damage, but you can forget about watching a cinematic explosion that captures the unholy union of metal upon metal. Whether this omission was down to the typical argument that prevents developers smashing up licensed cars, or if this was simply a conscious decision by developers is unclear, though it’s most likely down to the former. Either way, with the narrow roads and incredible feeling of speed Forza Horizon portrays, big cinematic crashes would probably impede on the overall flow of the game.
Once you have the financial clout at your disposal, there’s a plentiful amount of cars to choose from including classic convertibles, hot hatchbacks and stupidly fast Ferrari’s. You won’t find the same mind boggling amount seen in Forza 3 & 4, but there’s more than enough to keep collectors happy. The same can be said about the tuning options: there’s plenty to tweak and tinker with, but dedicated gear heads might yearn for further depth.
You can purchase tokens with your Microsoft points to buy cars, saving your precious cred should you wish, but there’s really no reason to do so (unless you’re impatience and enjoy throwing your money at that sort of thing).
As you explore Colorado the game features three radio stations packed with overly charismatic radio DJs (is there any other type?) who pump out an enjoyable mix of modern tunes aimed squarely at the hipsters of this generation and update you on events that have taken place in the game. Turn off the hubbub of the radio and a thick, throaty roar of a car’s engine provides far easier listening and is probably the preferred option if Dizzee Rascal offends the ears.
If you’ve had your fill of competitive racing, there’s plenty to do while driving around the scenic scenery. There’s billboards to find which, if smashed, give you a discount on parts; barns to discover that house classic cars to find; speed traps and speed cameras to log the fastest times, comparing you against others online; racers to challenge; outposts to discover (which let you fast track to that location, for a price) and over 200 stretches of tarmac, dirt and gravel to get grips with. There’s even a multiplayer component to satisfy any competitive urges you might have.
Tuned Close To Perfection
Summary: Forza Horizon exceeds all expectations of what a spin-off can achieve. The fantastic foundations laid down by Turn 10 provided Playground Games with the perfect platform to catapult the game into a bold new direction that in hindsight, seems patently obvious: a driving simulator unleashed in an open-world setting. Get behind the wheel, enjoy the view and take Forza Horizon for a spin.