Take the solid racing mechanics from the Forza Motorsport series and add an open-world based on the state of Colorado and you have the core of Forza Horizon. Can this traditional sim racer make a smooth transition to the open-world or will this one spin-out at the turn?
Up until this year, I hadn’t really experienced many racing games on the Xbox 360. In fact, the only racing game I have played on a Microsoft console was the original Project Gotham for Xbox. When I did have the chance to play Forza Horizon, I wasn’t all that excited. The game looked pretty nice and the physics seemed pretty realistic however, I was never really a fan of the very similar Gran Turismo series on PlayStation consoles so I wondered how this would differ. I was pleasantly surprised with just how well-made this game was.
I’ve been a fan of many racing games over the years from Super Mario Kart to Need for Speed: Most Wanted so trying Forza was natural progression for me. The first thing I noticed about Horizon was the great vibe I got from driving around for just a few minutes. The sunny skies and many different terrains and areas made for some great sights especially at night with fireworks lighting the skies and the lights of the Horizon loop in the distance. The Colorado setting for this game was a great choice and one that really made the open-world that much better. I didn’t really understand why the world itself was so restrictive. There are so many places in Horizon that you just can’t drive to or through which really takes away from the freedom that the game conveys.
Regardless of the annoyance of being closed-out of certain areas, the racing mechanics in Forza Horizon are definitely where this game shines. The game is built upon a modified version of the Forza Motorsport 4 engine and you’ll notice the similarities right away with the look and feel of the game as I did when I recently tried Forza 4.
Forza Horizon is based around the Horizon Festival trying to become the champion. In the Horizon Festival, you’ll encounter and increasing number of races as you make your way through a rainbow of different coloured wristbands each representing a tougher challenge with a rival driver to beat. Each wristband requires more points to complete and thus needing more races to be completed at each tier. The other big task you’ll be trying to complete is to get to the top of the popularity chart. This varies from doing burnouts to drifting to getting air among many more. Each of these categories have different challenges that gain you more credits to buy some new cars and upgrades with as well. For example, if you drift a bunch, you’ll notice a challenge complete notifier with a credit bonus which goes up depending on the level of challenge completed. It’s a great way to gain credits from doing basic driving.
Horizon offers a lot more than just those main tasks though. If you need more credits, you can complete a series of street races for a good deal of credits. They don’t contribute to your festival progress but, they’re a great way to get that extra car if you’re low on credits. There are also showcase events to be done pitting your vehicle against hot air balloons, airplanes, and helicopters. If you win, you keep the car which is pretty nice incentive most of the time. Horizon Outposts allow you to complete a series of challenges to be able to fast travel to any that outpost for a discount or free. There are three types of challenges at each outpost. Speed Challenges require you to hit a speed trap at a certain speed, Photo Challenges require you to snap a photo of your car in a specific spot, and Stunt Challenges require you to get a certain score by driving dangerously with drifts and other things like near misses. You can also challenge CPU drivers you see driving around and you’ll be able to see how hard the race will be beforehand depending on the car you’re driving.
While you’re driving around the map, you’l notice that barn finds will begin to show up on your map as you start to get further along in the game. Different rare cars that need to be restored will be found inside each barn. This was somewhat of a neglected feature in the game and one that could have been utilized a lot better. For one thing, the cars are fairly easy to find and they’re really not cars that you haven’t driven or seen before in other Forza games. It wasn’t a necessary implementation but, it’s an ok thing to to do on the side.
There are online modes and you will be asked after each race you complete if you want to race your rival for that race which is a familiar race against another player’s ghost. Playgrounds Games looks to match Forza 4’s Cat & Mouse and Virus Modes though. You’re sure to have a lot of fun with the different challenges you’ll face online, in the time that I played I definitely always felt like I had a chance thanks to the different classes. Even though online races only support 8 players, you’ll definitely want to beef up your garage before stepping foot online though.
As far as upgrades go, they remain from Forza 4. Visual customization is also very similar to Forza 4 and vinyl groups can even be imported from that game. Tuning has been taking out for this one though which will turn some die-hard racers off. Mechanical damage is also not present in this one which may have been done because of all the different obstacles that just weren’t present in the main series. A little problem I had with the otherwise very good and diverse soundtrack is the fact that it gets old really fast so custom soundtracks are almost a must. I’m really grasping at straws to find anything remotely bad about Forza Horizon though, it’s that good.
Forza Horizon really is the perfect companion to Forza Motorsport 4, so much so that I went out and bought Forza 4 after playing Forza Horizon. The detail that went into Horizon is incredible and I’ve logged many hours in Horizon’s Colorado. I don’t understand how a game can look, feel, and be as good as this one is without giving anything up but, it really doesn’t. This is one game that truly is worth the price tag and one that any car enthusiast would love. Whether you’re brand new to Forza or a veteran driver that doesn’t need any assists to blow past their opponents, this one is for you. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Playground Games but, for now I’ll be playing this one to completion.