Review: Forza Horizon (XBOX 360)
Forza Horzion marks a huge turning point in not just the Forza series, but the video game racing genre as we know it.
Racing games have largely been about closed circuits, racing towards some pre-determined end – usually a trophy. Forza Horizon attempts to buck that trend by offering up a highly customisable, completely free open world.
Read on to find out why you need to buy this game.
Forza Horizon takes the series away from serious racing and plonks it down into a very large, open world format. Instantly, you will notice that the emphasis is on how much fun driving can be and indeed is, instead of getting tied up in the seriousness of racing.
The game is set in Colorado, USA. You’re attending the “Horizon” festival – a set of organised races to show off your cars amongst a sea of probably-legal people. Instantly, you’re thrown into the massive world which is has actually been modeled off the real Colorado.
This very fact means that the roads feel incredibly organic and unforced – intersections, turn-offs, hills and bends are all what you’d expect to find if you were really driving down these roads. They don’t feel “made up” by some guy in an office.
Adding to the authenticity is the in-game radio. There are three radio stations on offer to listen to with a total of 67 tracks. These tracks have been pulled together from real artists, such as LCD Soundsystem, Arctic Monkeys, Empire of the Sun and others. The music is top notch, energetic and sounds great – though a 5.1 re-master is probably a little too much to ask for.
The game allows the player to proceed at their own pace; there’s plenty to see and do outside of the races. If you want to cruise around, taking photos of the landscape, feel free! In fact, those photos are uploaded to a freely available server for you to share with your friends.
The Horizon Festival is your hub to user created content, DLC and the Car Club. Car Club allows you to join or create a club that you can use to share your cars with friends, race club members or even hold matches against rival clubs.
“Dak’s Garage” provides literally hours of customisation. Every car seems to have hundreds of options from thicker tires, to better steering control and more. For those who aren’t up to speed with customisation, the game offers automatic upgrades. These tend to work well, but you may want to be brave and get your hands dirty if you want to max out your vehicles’ stats.
The Paintshop is where a fantastic creation assistant that allows you to design decals and vinyls for your car. You can share these with the community, and download other players designs. This system alone is sure to be an instant hit with Forza fans.
If you want to get down and dirty in real racing, this game really shines. This is Forza at its best. The same physics engine that powers Forza Motorsport is powering Forza Horizon and it makes a world of difference. Each car – and there are tonnes of them – will handle differently. Some feel far better than others, but that’s kind of the point: Forza Horizon oozes choice; if you don’t like the car, win some races and buy a new one. If you can’t win races, drive around — you might find a hidden car to add to your collection.
Races themselves are open to a huge world of customisation. You’re playing for credits (in-game currency) and reputation points – the better known you are, the more races will be unlocked and the better cars you’ll have access to. The customisation is woven throughout these goals – turning on ABS braking will make the race easier, but you will earn less credits bonus. Likewise, turning up the difficulty will earn you even more points and give you a real challenge. Hardcore veterans need not be deterred by the game’s overly accessible coat of paint.
Races have various conditions – you might be racing through the countryside, chasing a hot air balloon in one race, speeding through city streets at midnight in a seedy street race the next. One of the coolest elements of how the races are structures is that they are scattered around the huge world map: you will have to drive to the actual location of the race. And rather than the game magically transporting you to a racetrack, the finish line (assuming it’s not a circuit race) will be the area you’re left at when the race ends, allowing you to drive from that point to the next race.
Races are also broken down into various versions that will not only test your skill, they’ll keep you coming back. You can, of course, replay a race at your will to beat the score, or go head-to-head with a “rival” that is randomly downloaded from the internet. This rival will usually have a better lap time than your best on the particular race, so beating it will generally result in a nice credit bonus.
Forza Horizon is rife with advertising. At first, this feels annoying until you realise there’s some method to the madness. Firstly, the advertising means that everything is incredibly genuine – a bonus for car lovers. Further, “sponsors” have their own set of goals for you to unlock. For instance, you will unlock a lot of reputation points and credits by following an advertisers’ “burnout” challenge, which has you performing the “ultimate burnout”.
Since the game is set in a real location, the amount of product placement rarely feels out of place. In fact, it would probably feel somewhat cheesy if the developers had tried to make up a bunch of fake logos and try to superimpose them into the Colorado countryside.
While the overall physics of the game are top-notch, you will miss the ability to completely total your car in the fashion that Need for Speed: Most Wanted attempts. Damage is good but limited, and getting some dings and smashes will not negatively impact your gameplay. This isn’t Burnout, the focus is on driving in a realistic setting rather than being over the top.
Multiplayer is silky smooth and retains all the action of single player. You’re able to compete in random matches or specifically created competitions. The leader board is baked into the single player mode, too, so what you do will directly affect your ranking on the global stage.
More than just race times are tracked, though – as you drive through the Colorado state, you will find Speed Traps that record the speed you’re driving at. These will be shared along with other statistics, such as distance travelled, roads explored and unlocks found. It’s this sense of community spirit that is sure to keep Forza Horizon alive for years.
Forza Horizon is a fantastic celebration of all things automobile. It comes loaded with a fun, party atmosphere that nails the feeling of those years that we all go thorough: being free, on the open road with a bunch of friends for the very first time.
Coming from someone who’s not a huge fan of racing titles, Forza Horizon isn’t a ‘spinoff’ from the Motorsports roots, it’s an improvement on the tried and true process. If you’re looking for a serious racing game but want total freedom and hours of actual fun, Forza Horizon has set the bar very high – you’ll be hard pressed to find a better buy.