Developer: Playground Studios, Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
Rooted in an alternate reality where festivals exist perpetually and no one minds property damage, Forza Horizon is an exciting game with a unique racing-based open-world feel.
In Forza you play a nameless and speechless protagonist who wins admission to the Horizon Festival, an event set in Colorado that revolves around racing. Your goal is to gain ranking in the popularity standings through a large variety of stunt combinations, while obtaining wristbands through racing for entry into increasingly advanced events. You are led through these events and races by the manager of the festival, who is kind enough to give you a Bluetooth headset through which she can stalk you for the rest of the game.
Forza Horizon is unique in that it is the first pure racing game to include an open world. Whereas most racing games limit you to a track and most open world car games usually involve shooting or a ridiculous premise, Horizon allows players to experience the capabilities of their automobiles to the fullest. This is especially enjoyable given the range of cars that players can use and the attention to detail that is given to each one. There are no police to worry about; speed traps have even been modified to record your fastest speed rather than give you a ticket. As far as the actual driving goes, the simulation is as realistic as it can be. The cars are lifelike enough that they can be hard to distinguish from cars in real life. The scenery, which is based on actual areas in Colorado, is very well textured, and the day/night cycle allows for intricate lighting effects across the entire design. The variable terrain also sets a stage that potentiates the in-depth physics that Playground Games developed.
There are a wide variety of races, from off-road, to street races, to races against helicopters and biplanes. The difficulty is very customizable, allowing for the game to be enjoyed by a wide variety of players. The standard difficulty is just difficult enough to be challenging without being frustrating, and can be bumped down in parts (opponent difficulty, assisted driving, etc.). This customization is good and necessary as “easy” difficulty practically drives the car for you while “hard,” “expert,” and “pro” should only be attempted by major league gamers or supercomputers.
There are some inconsistencies with reality. For example, you may slam a Lamborghini into a sedan at 160 mph and the worst consequence may be a broken windshield. Also, higher tiered cars make 60 mph feel like 25, and can take sharp turns at those high speeds according to the same principle, making the game somewhat unrealistic as faster cars are unlocked. Neither of these are necessarily cons, however, as realistic damage would flatten most players’ cars every few minutes, and more realistic turning mechanics could make some races near impossible.
The one major problem from which Forza Horizon suffers is player-character/NPC interactions. This being the first Forza game that even has interaction, the dialogue from the “star opponents” and the event manager are awkward at best and creepy at worst. This is by no means a dire problem, but it does detract from the otherwise realistic atmosphere of the game.
I was also impressed by the music that can be accessed by your car radio. While there are only 3 channels, each of them display very different musical styles, so that the player can expect to hear anything from old 80’s beats to modern Skrillex remixes. As all the songs have fast beats, they generally make races more exciting, although music can be turned off if the player feels that makes it easier to concentrate on the road.
The last item to note is multiplayer functionality. Horizon includes areas where users can generate skins for download by other players for in-game profit, car clubs where groups of players can share cars, and “rival challenges” where players can attempt to beat other players’ ghost times. There has also been a large amount of DLC promised in the future, so that if players eventually get bored of racing around in beautiful, super-fast cars then they can have their needs satiated in the future.
Overall, Forza Horizon is an excellent game and a must-play for any racing game enthusiast. Even general car enthusiasts who have never played racing games before will likely find this game exhilarating as they can finally take control of million dollar vehicles and not feel bad when they run them into things.