Forza Horizon marks a huge left turn for the Forza franchise. The game has left the world of straight racing simulation for an open world. It is definitely not Forza Motorsport 5, instead serving as a franchise-invigorating spin-off.
Developer Turn 10 Studios, which has worked on all four of the previous Forza games, created Horizon in association with Playground Games. The young development studio was established in 2009 by former employees of well-known companies including Codemasters, Bizarre Creations, Criterion Games, Ubisoft Reflections, Slightly Mad Studios and Black Rock Studio.
The combined talent is evident as the team has successfully transitioned the amazing feel of Forza into a more arcade style. However, the game does feature an uninspiring story. Everything from the setting and characters to the soundtrack and presentation reek of trying too hard to be cool.
Despite its obvious flaws, Forza Horizon delivers a rich gaming experience that will introduce new gamers to the franchise while pleasing the hardcore audience.
The game centers around a fictional event called Horizon that takes place in Colorado. It is a major music event that thousands of people flock to like Coachella but with racing. Gamers assume the role of a generic main character who is new to the scene at Horizon and must work his way through the ranks. In doing so, he collects new vehicles, earns sponsorships and battles rivals.
Forza Horizon serves as yet another example that racing games and stories do not go together. The plot is forced as players will not feel any emotional attachment to the main character. He is just the faceless man behind the wheel. Main rivals are stereotypical and lack any depth. They are an obvious attempt to portray hipsters, but cliché their way to douchebags. Cutscenes are often long and mostly unnecessary. Videos of people rocking out to live music add nothing to the plot, even if people in cars are frequently cut in.
The goal of Horizon is to become the best and most popular driver. It is interesting to see two factors at work as winning is not everything. Drivers can score popular points with the fictitious fans at any time by performing maneuvers such as drifts or knocking down signs on the road. They also must win races in order to net new wristbands that unlock more difficult events.
A wristband system might seem like a ploy but it actually works. Each new wristband means more difficult opponents, higher stakes races and better vehicles. Earning more money is important as gamers earn Cr, which is the in-game currency used to buy new cars and upgrades.
The game’s map is scattered with various race types. There is nothing like a nice old-fashioned race around the streets. However, race locations sometimes force gamers to drive off roads. There are also cool spotlight and PR events, such as one that pits drivers in a race against an airplane. Street races are unsanctioned opportunities to earn a big payday. They are riskier though as civilian vehicles roam the streets.
With the Turn 10 team from Forza joining the minds at Playground Games, there was no doubt that Horizon was in good hands. The tight controls of the Forza franchise are back. However, fans of the franchise will notice smoother handling, especially in low traction off-road races. Players will not have to look at the manual to memorize the controls. They are easy to use and self-explanatory. Horizon also features assists that help players more than the usual Forza game. All of this makes the arcade style racing game more accessible to casual racing gamers.
Despite this, hardcore racing fans should not leave this game on the shelf. Players who find the A.I. assists too much can easily adjust the settings to get the same controls found in previous installments of the franchise. The racing wheel and pedal set can be left stored away for this game as the regular controller gives gamers a great feel for the vehicle.
Graphics and Sound
From rocky desert cliffs to open highways, the fictional Colorado environment is gorgeous. The best part about the setting is the variety. No race looks the same as any other. Crowded events near Horizon’s main hub or small cities feature realistic buildings and people. Crowd and vehicle sounds are authentically brilliant. Races through windy mountain roads have a different, equally pleasing color palette. A full day-night cycle adds to the realism and beauty of the game.
Of course, vehicles look painstakingly accurate. Every detail down to the glare from the sun is included. Interiors are also aesthetically pleasing and authentic. The game’s customization options also offer a chance to add some personality to cars.
The soundtrack features music from Skrillex, Phoenix and Two Door Cinema Club amongst others. Three radio channels are included to satisfy different musical tastes. However, most of the songs are repetitive or just not good. It is another example of the game trying to hard to be cool. Gamers are recommended to use their own music saved on the Xbox 360 hard drive.
Overall, Forza Horizon is a brilliant effort that pleases classic racing sim fans while also introducing new gamers to the franchise. A corny story and lame attempt to appeal to the youth are saved by a variety of racing styles and tight controls. It is everything an open-world racing game should be. There is room for improvement, but Forza Horizon is a solid spin-off that could lead the franchise in a new direction.