A Road Less Traveled
Forza Horizon isn’t your normal Forza game, which is obvious because it doesn’t have a traditional numbered title. It’s a spinoff with a focus on an open world racing.
Sure, open world racing games aren’t anything new. In fact, it’s hard to pick a random title on the current day racing market without running into some game that sets you in a huge urban environment with incredibly negligent police officers. But Forza Horizon does things differently by making one of the first open world racing games that feels truly open.
You see, unlike other open world racing games, Forza Horizon doesn’t take place in a city. Rather, it takes place in the sprawling countryside of middle America. Turns are few and far between, only small towns litter the map, and you can drive for ages without ever really getting anywhere. The boundaries of the map are so far off that you may never actually reach them, making the whole game feel like some sort of extreme cross country road trip gone haywire. It’s huge, it’s expansive, and it’s awe-inspiring at times, as you see the sun set behind the far off mountains as a result of the game’s nifty day/night cycle. But, more importantly, it’s exactly what an open world racing game should be.
The story of Forza Horizon (yes I am talking about story in a racing game) is focused on the Horizon Festival. It’s essentially a sort of racing convention that invites racers from all over to compete against each other on the open road. In short, it’s an excuse to let you to speed like crazy on the highway without being pulled over by police. That being said, your rivals in this festival aren’t simply faceless, nameless, voiceless A.I.s in other cars. They are real people with real personalities—or, at the very least, stereotypes that try to pass as personalities. The story isn’t award-winning, but it is a nice touch. The good parts give a pleasant little framework for why you want to beat your opponents to the finish line, while the bad parts are so corny they are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Either way, the player gets to step back and just drive.
Events in Forza Horizon follow a sort of RPG progression. You’ll start out racing in and against crappy cars like station wagons and other mom-and-pop-style makes and models, but as you win races, earn points, and expand the cars in your garage, you’ll eventually find yourself in races against ace Lamborghini drivers and other S-class racers. Along the way, you’ll upgrade the cars in your garage to make them more competitive with the credits you win from races, though this system has been scaled back from Forza 4. The car selection is also noticeably more limited than it has been in previous Forza titles. You’ll actually spend far less time in the garage and far more time on the road in Horizon, not that that’s a bad thing.
Even though there are performance requirements locking you out of some of the more difficult races until you have a car that can compete, the game has a commitment to its open world feel. It strays away from linearity whenever it gets the chance. There is never a point where you don’t have a plethora of events to choose from at your current performance tier. The game makes sure that you carve your own way through the ranks, and you never feel pigeonholed into an event that you really don’t want to play.
The prevalence of the open world format in Forza Horizon adds variety that you wouldn’t see in Forza’s traditional bottled tracks and replicas of real-world courses. At times, you will be asked to go off road, plowing through the dirt and desert in order to beat your opponents. Unfortunately, the off-road driving mechanics aren’t nearly as refined as the asphalt driving mechanics, falling a few steps short of more dedicated off-road racing titles. However, the variety of road surfaces is a nice touch, and the emphasis on exploration keeps the game from getting old. Heck, you can even drive around looking for old wrecks just waiting to be restored to racing condition. This sort of exploration is something you’d expect out of an RPG or something like Shadow of the Colossus, not a racing game, but it feels at home here.
Of course, the big draw to open world gaming is the ability to just procrastinate on all your objectives and waste time exploring the world, and Forza Horizon lets you do that too. You can simply pull up behind any other car on the road and challenge them to a race, no matter what their make and model. You can try to beat the top speeds of the game’s leaderboards or challenge your friends by seeking out “speed trap” cameras stationed all over the open world. Or heck, you can just screw off and drive to your heart’s content without any objective whatsoever. Find an awesome jump and make it. Drive into oncoming traffic. Venture out into farmlands or back roads to find secrets stashed away out there. You’re rewarded in some small way for nearly everything you do in the game, so it never hurts to take some time to just futz around.
Aside from the basic free-roaming single-player, the game has a plethora of multiplayer modes to choose from. You will be spending most of your time in the game’s competitive multplayer, taking your cars online and racing them against the best the Internet has to offer. This is another great way to earn cash and cars, as you are given a reward from a slot machine interface every time you level up in this mode. The netcode is phenomenal and you can barely tell the difference between racing online and offline. The lobby system is also streamlined and easy to use, allowing you to find other players to race with in no time flat.
There’s also a “cooperative” multiplayer mode, but this is kind of a misnomer. Yes, you can cooperate with your friends to complete challenges—which, once again, dish out rewards—but that’s about all you can do. It feels a little barebones compared to the rest of what the game offers. In addition, the only way to enter either of these modes is by specifically exiting out of the single-player mode; you can’t drop in and out of your friends’ open worlds on the fly. It’s a needless separation that causes the open world to have a bit less of an impact in the long run. After all, one of the most enjoyable things to do in any game is to futz around in an open world with your friends.
I wouldn’t say Forza Horizon is as “hardcore” as Forza 4 or other racing titles that are currently on the market. However, I would say it’s probably more fun than Forza 4 and those other racing titles. Yes, the list of cars is smaller, the customizability is tuned down, and you don’t have access to any real-world racing circuits, but none of that matters. The sheer fun of driving through the open country trumps all of this. You can tune up or down the simulationist aspects of the game to your choosing, just like you could in previous Forza titles, and this can give the game a bit more of a “hardcore” feel if you are into that sort of thing. But even the story and environment of Forza Horizon are geared toward players who prefer a more laid back approach to the racing genre.
Forza Horizon is made of pure, unadulterated open world racing fun, and I can’t take off points for that.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
The car graphics are a bit toned down, with seemingly indestructible, almost model-like cars racing along the road. But the tracks and maps are so beautiful it makes up for it ten times over. 4.5 Control
You can tune the game to be as simulationist or arcadey as you like. Forza Horizon fits whatever type of racer you want it to be. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is about what you would expect from a racing game. High-energy tunes from bands that are in right now. It’s fun, but it’s not groundbreaking. The voice acting, especially for the DJ, is pretty good though. 4.8 Play Value
Any faults I can find with this game are just minor nitpicks. Everything else is pure racing fun. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best