What happens when you take the physics and feel of a racing simulator and combine it with the open road? Forza Horizon happens. While it certainly doesn’t follow the path of its predecessors, it does a fine job at crafting its own experience, while still having the Forza quality.
Turn 10 has done some amazing work over the years, but Playground Games have furthered their masterpiece by taking it to the open road. Sure, Forza is a fantastic franchise, but after racing over the same tracks for many years, it has become tiresome. It’s not so with Forza Horizon.
Playground Games have created a title racing fans have been wanting for a long time. Test Drive exists, but it doesn’t have that Forza shine or quality that’s seen in Horizon. You have a beautiful open world, fantastic lighting, insanely detailed cars and the physics Forza fans have been experiencing for years. It simply doesn’t get better than this.
In Forza Horizon your goal is to become the champion of the Horizon Festival. To do so, you must race across the open roads of Colorado against various opponents and compete through a series of what the game calls “wristbands”. With each wristband comes a set of points. Each race awards points based off your finish position. Each wrist band requires more wins than the previous one in order to advance.
Sometimes you’ll do normal circuit races or point-to-point battles, but a few new races make its way into the franchise. Street racing is easily my favorite. There’s nothing like using dirty tricks as well as the oncoming traffic to take the podium finish. Mixed surface races are also interesting when you consider the physics for the game. While it does have a more arcade-like feel, you still have to be cautious. Although jumping a dirt ramp then drifting onto the street is pretty exhilarating.
The biggest addition is Showcase races. These are all about pleasing the fans. These aren’t your normal events either. One minute you could be going up against a biplane in a mixed surface point-to-point race, the next you could be up against a helicopter on the highway. The best part is, if you manage to win the race, you get to keep the car provided for the event. Showcase races really add a sense of variety and keep things fresh.
Horizon is always rewarding the player. It doesn’t matter if you’re racing, or just free-roaming the beautiful roads of Colorado. Horizon rewards you with points for each thing you do such as drifting, getting air, and even causing wreckage to the city. Each task comes with a set of challenges that, once completed, can earn you some serious cash.
You can also compete in cash only races. These races provide no points towards your next wristband, but instead reward a large pile of a cash. If you’re a car fanatic that plans on owning every mechanical beast in the game, pushing it to full potential, these races are for you.
The day and night cycle is a reward on its on. Forza has never been so gorgeous. Cockpit views are even more visually stunning to look at. The dashboard and dials light up in multiple colors, headlights beam into your windshield and the lights from the festival create some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see in an open world racing title. Unfortunately, night time seems to be over in a matter of minutes, where the daytime can feel like its lasting up to an hour. It’s really inconsistent.
When you’re not racing, the state of Colorado has other tasks to keep you busy. Scattered around the massive map are discount signs. Each one you crash through gives you 1% off upgrades at the shop. Horizon does a great job of not making these tedious. Instead of driving around countless hours looking for the ones you miss, the map automatically updates with a purple dot if you pass a discount sign without going through it. It’s then grayed out once completed.
There are also 10 hidden barns you must locate. These appear on your map with a light gray circle around the vicinity in which the barn is located. Once located, the broken down vehicle inside will be taken back for restoration, which will later be provided to you for free.
The most addicting additions are the Speed Traps and Speed Zones. Speed Traps are simple. Pass through the trap at the highest speed possible. Speed Zones start once you reach the first one, and end with your average speed once you pass through the second. Going back over and over trying to move up on the leaderboard has provided me with tons of entertainment. Each time I push myself forward saying, “Okay, one more time. I know I can go faster than that”.
Since Horizon is so massive, fast traveling is certainly an option. For a price. You’ll eventually come across Horizon Outposts that you can fast travel to for 10,000Cr. Thankfully, each outpost offers a selection of PR stunts. By completing these stunts you’ll be granted a discount on fast traveling. If you complete all of them, you can fast travel for free. Then again, the game is so beautiful, you’re better off driving around and enjoying the view.
If driving around isn’t your thing at the current time, all of the previous features for Forza return, with the exception of tuning, which is a disappointment. You can still spend hours painting your car, or browsing the storefront for awesome portraits of half naked girls. All of these things together on the open road have never felt better, especially since for the first time in Forza history, we have a full day and night cycle.
Fortunately, Horizon is a technical masterpiece; The world is massive, the environments are visually stunning, cars are incredibly detailed, the new lighting system is astonishing, and best of all, the frame rate never dips. Seriously, not once have I seen the frame rate in this game drop, even going 270mph at dawn with serious lighting effects, and tons of cars flying by each second. I’m not sure how Playground Games accomplished this, but it’s certainly impressive.
Multiplayer returns with eight-player online racing with returning modes like Cat & Mouse and Virus, but free roam is where it shines. It’s not just senseless driving either. The game comes equipped with a nice selection of co-op challenges. For example, head down the highway with four friends while maintaining a speed of 200+mph and finishing within 5 seconds of each other.
While free roam is great, the occasional lag can be a huge interference. I spent nearly an hour trying one challenge with a couple of friends, only to have it ended multiple times by serious lag that showed a crash that never happened, causing me to crash, and resulting in us failing the challenge. It’s not something that happens every couple of a minutes, but it does tend to happen at the worst times.
You can also unlock cars and other rewards by leveling up through the game’s progression system. Each time you gain a level, there is a chance you could earn a free vehicle. This gives players an incentive to keep playing, especially if you’re a car collector, because some vehicles will cost you an arm and a leg.
Playground Games has managed to create a Forza masterpiece of their own. While certainly not without faults, Horizon takes the Forza franchise to new grounds and exceeds in nearly every way. No other open-world racing game has provided such breathtaking visuals and cars, packed with tons of content and still keep in tact a perfect 30 frames-per-second.
While hardcore Forza fans may be disappointed with the lack of tuning and mechanical damage, the rest of what Forza is known for is still there and it’s better than ever. As a Forza fan, I couldn’t have hoped for a better spin-off. Playground Games have really outdone themselves in a creating a title that’s just as good, if not better in some aspects, as the originals. The open road hasn’t felt this good since… well, never.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Technical masterpiece
+ Breathtaking visuals and details. From the environments to the cars
+ Tons of content and re-playability
+ Day/Night cycle
+ A spinoff that’s just as good, if not better than the originals
- No tuning
- No mechanical damage
- Occasional horrific lag in multiplayer
- Night cycle is way too short compared to day cycle
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
Forza Horizon was developed by Playground Games and published by Microsoft Studios. It was released on October 23, 2012 at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.