Forza Horizon review
Wispy clouds hang over the Colorado mountaintops, jet streams of cool air shape them running down the rock face, long shadows hide them in sharp relief. The sun starts to rise above the horizon – igniting the sky into velvet oranges and crimson reds. The cracked tarmac starts to warm alongside the air temperature. Beads of condensation run down long, sweeping bonnets. Cold rubber tyres crunch gravel alongside the unending Colorado highway while the owners laugh about last night’s races. Someone yells to be quiet, a few baseball caps rise in anticipation – A DJ is announcing ten openings in the Horizon Festival – five miles down the road. Plastic cups are flung, screams of joy cause Jaybirds to screech and take up wing. Doors slam, buttons are pushed and a cacophony of V8’s, straight sixes and boxer engines pierce the air and echo though the valley as rubber is burnt into the tarmac and exhaust smoke trails behind a dozen cars, quickly disappearing out of sight.
From the opening chords of the laid back strumming guitar at the main menu, a sense of familiarity is bred, not familiarity with Forza – something else. Not quite Need for Speed, not quite Test Drive. More of an amalgamation of the two. If you wanted the real world feel of Test Drive for instance, but with the modern socialising aspect of the Need for Speed games and the outright competitiveness born of the Fast and The Furious generation, you may very well have found your home.
Forza Horizons capitalises on the franchise’s real world, incredibly accurate and customisable car physics and throttles it through an open world of snow-capped mountains, dusty back trails and smooth interstate highways of rural America. You will not find red and white apexes or stadiums filled with adoring fans, instead they will be lining the festival grounds and gathered on hillsides when you participate in showcased events. It increases the feeling that what you are doing is fully possible, should you own a tricked up GTI and the Horizon event was a reality.
Fancy racing a hot air balloon?
In your Horizon career you are tasked with moving up the rankings from 250th to numero uno, taking on the four time champ in the process. The story element is present in Horizon and while you progress through it there are often twists. But it’s the racing that counts and it truly does not disappoint. While it lacks the structure of the franchise, winning meaning progression, at Horizon style counts too. Pulling off risky manoeuvres during free roam and during races means that you can spike your popularity on the fly, simply by passing close to non racing vehicles, drifting and slingshotting opponents to name but a few. It adds to the more relaxed approach Turn 10 has taken with Horizon, and the sheer variety of racing that’s on offer will reduce the feeling of the standard racing career slog that bogs down other traditional simulators.
When we say varies we mean it, especially regarding the showcase events. Winning means you get the car loaned to you for the event and you will be racing against hot air balloons or planes to name just two. Drifting an Audi Quattro around dirt trails trying to beat seven hot air balloons before they land is a novel experience that just begs you to watch the replay and take some Forza photos. As you progress through the popularity milestones, the PR department give you wristbands to participate in newer, brasher events to pander to the public’s thirst for your driving skills.
That being said, the experience outside of the events is just as much fun as the races themselves. The stunning Colorado landscape is a sheer joy to explore, a lot of the time you will literally be driving to the horizon, exploring every nook and cranny the game offers.
There’s even the inclusion of illegal racing events. If you impress a rival during a legitimate race then he or she may challenge you to a pink slip race away from the festival. Drive there and you’ll find a whole new underground culture of racers that drive for keeps. It’s very difficult to accuse Playground Games of not covering every base for ultimate variety.
Indeed Playground Games are their own biggest critics announcing a Rally DLC pack for a December release. While this is uber exciting for Forza fans to be able to take on Rallying for the first time within the franchise, the cost of 1600MSP may be off putting for some. Including in the season pass it makes more sense, but then again the game and the Season Pass will set you back a cool £80 at launch. That’s not small change.
The biggest compliment of Horizon comes as a criticism to the excellent Forza 4. Being set in an open world and having to deal with oncoming traffic, shortcuts off road and no memorable track to practise, inevitably they illicit a sense of danger and excitement you just can’t get with a circuit racer. Coupled with some fun extra-curricular activities such as smashing discount signs to get money off parts at the local garage, finding rusty and forgotten automotive gems hidden in barns within the Colorado landscape, or the ability to challenge any of the free roaming racers by flashing your lights behind them, Forza Horizon has so much to offer even before you take it for a spin online.
Online provides even more longevity with races and Point to Point sprints present as well as cute mini games like Hide and Seek. The Forza world is here in all its community driven glory with the Car Clubs and Marketplace featuring heavily. The patched up, sun burnt polished tarmac has never looked better, and the day night cycle is a true highlight – an experience barrelling through the sweeping turns of Colorado at dusk is pure four wheeled wanderlust.
Forza Horizons is an ambitious departure for the usual pigeonholed franchise but it’s all the richer for it. It doesn’t compromise on the integrity of the series, more so it opens up the Forza world to a new audience without alienating its fan base. The excitement will continue when Playground Games announces the location of their next festival for Horizon’s sequel.