Forza Horizon Review
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360
Since its inception, Forza Motorsport has been a game focused on the cars, keeping the experience limited to a selection of some of the most prestigious racetracks around the world. Forza Horizon leaves the track and heads to the open world of Colorado, shifting the focus from the car to the driver with a story-based campaign. While this changes the dynamic from what we’ve come to expect from a Forza game, it is most certainly a welcome addition to the series.
Forza Horizon takes place in the heart of Colorado where you are an entrant in the Horizon festival weekend, taking part in a series of races to become the next champion of the event. These races will vary from your standard circle track type races to cross-country road races and rallies. As the new driver on the scene, you’ll start from the ground up, working your way to earn points to enter the next level of heats which are represented by different colored wristbands (yellow for beginners, green for intermediate, blue for advanced, etc.)
Developed by Playground Games instead of Turn 10 Studios, Forza Horizon features an open world model that stretches for hundreds of miles of open road, allowing gamers to explore and take in some of the most beautiful vistas that you’ll find in a racing game. Horizon feels a lot like Midnight Club: Los Angeles in that it encourages you to venture out into this world by offering you a myriad of opportunities to earn some extra creds, find collectible vehicles, earn discounts, and of course, unlock achievements. It also carries some of the street-racer attitude found in the Need for Speed series with the character development and rivalries that you’ll find in the single-player story. Where Forza Motorsport works to be a racing simulator, Forza Horizon goes further down the arcade racing route where players are rewarded with popularity points and credits for doing stunts out on the road such as drifting, performing 180s, burnouts, and smashing road signs, with additional points granted for winning events, and going head-to-head against rival racers.
Popularity points increase your popularity ranking amongst fans of the event, which in turn unlocks special events that the organizers invite you to partake outside of the normal racing circuit. These events vary widely from oddball race events such as Mustang vs. Mustang (where you’ll race a P-51 Mustang airplane in a 1970 Boss 429 Mustang), to an all Mini Cooper race event (which amusingly looks like a grouping of clown cars rolling through the Carson City streets). Moreover, additional street racing events are unlocked and accessible outside of the Horizon arena. These races are usually higher paying than many of the events and heats, and are a good source of credits to save up for the more exotic vehicles that can be bought in the game.
Other races include Star Showdowns, which pit you against the antagonist for the given bracket you’re racing in – almost like a mini-boss of the game. If you win, you receive the car that your opponent was driving for the race. While many of them are cool, I found myself selling them off to further tune my own cars that I preferred. Rival races are available at the end of each event you partake in, pitting you against another member of the community and having you work to best their time. It’s a very cool feature, although there isn’t much motivation to go for these, as often the credit payout just isn’t worth spending the time to compete unless you’re interested in boosting your global stats for that track. You can also challenge drivers on the open road for a little extra cash as well, but once again you’d make more money in the street racing circuit that runs in Carson City. Aside from the Horizon events and the street racing events, unfortunately there isn’t much motivation to take part in all of the extra races that are available to you unless you really just enjoy the racing and don’t care about the progression.
Collectible vehicles are found around Colorado as Barn Finds; when an announcement is made on the radio of a Barn Find rumour, an area will be highlighted on your map indicating where the vehicle can be found. Once you have an area to search, you’ll need to drive around the marked area to locate the barn. When the vehicle is found, the mechanic that runs the local garage will restore it to brand new condition for you. These vehicles include some of the rarest cars to be found in real life and are also some of the best performing in the game. While they’re fun to drive around, you won’t really be using them often in the single player campaign until the later races, as some feature of these exotics exclude them from many of the earlier events. Other collectibles include 100 discount signs scattered throughout the Forza-Colorado map. Smashing one of these signs gives you a 1% discount at Dak’s Garage and stacks the discount with each one you careen into, so destroying all 100 will effectively give you your upgrades for free.
Vehicles can be purchased with credits earned in the game, or by purchasing tokens from the Xbox Live Marketplace. A single token runs for 80 Microsoft Points, and can be sold in packs of 5 (400MSP), 10 (800 MSP), 20 (1600MSP), 50 (4000MSP), and 75 (6000 MSP). While it might be an enticing deal to some, when you start shopping the Auto Show for vehicles you’ll find that many of the more desirable cars can cost 5 tokens or more. This can mean that adding to your car collection can get expensive rather quickly unless you’re willing to dig in and grind the races to earn the credits to use instead of the tokens. Unfortunately, these tokens are also used to purchase perks in the game that cannot be acquired with credits such as a Popularity Spike booster that doubles the amount of popularity points earned with stunts, as well as a treasure map that shows you the locations of all of the discount signs and Barn Finds when they become available.
Approximately 150 cars are available out of the box, although VIPs gain access to additional cars as well as the upcoming DLC Car Packs. However, it’s still a far cry from the over 500 cars available in Forza Motorsport 4. Furthermore, while there are upgrade paths available to make your cars faster, one key feature of the Forza series is missing: the ability to fine tune your vehicle’s suspension, engine, and transmission. This is a feature that many tech-heads enjoyed – being able to configure their car exactly the way they wanted – and will be sad to see it removed from the experience.
Steering and controls for Forza Horizon are tight and responsive in most cases; although there are occasional glitches noted when the driving assist is enabled, especially when using it for the GPS. One weird issue that happens more often than not is when you attempt to head down a different road than the GPS indicates. Instead of letting you change roads and recalculating your route or just letting you drive off the path (as most GPS units do), the game instead attempts to turn your vehicle around, literally fighting the direction that you’re heading in. I actually attempted this a few times and achieved the same results, and found myself fighting with the game for a good two hundred feet or so before it relented and just let me drive where I wanted to. Another, more occasional issue, is that the car will sometimes just decide that it wants to change directions without reason. At first, I thought the physics were detecting something on the road that would make the car veer off in a different direction. However, after rewinding and driving over the same spot, the vehicle behaved normally. The above cases don’t always occur – for the most part the game plays wonderfully, but these are issues that make you raise an eyebrow when they do happen.
The world of Forza Horizon is a beautifully crafted one, with some of the best vistas that I’ve seen in a long time for a game. The lighting effects do a wonderful job as beams of light protrude through trees, houses, and signs at sunrise, while the night lights of the Horizon party can be seen from miles away on the night time cruise. The dynamic day/night system plays wonderfully into the driving experience, especially when taking a cruise through the back hills to complete your exploration stats. As the sun goes down, the hues in the sky change from yellow to orange, and finally black. When the moon comes out, you’ll be able to see the horizon lit up by its light. Of course, if you don’t feel like driving back and forth between events, you’re able to map travel between Horizon Waypoints (locations on your map where you can stop and change cars, or take place in PR Stunts). However, it will cost you some credits to do this, unless you accomplish all of the PR Stunts for a given waypoint.
The vehicle models are absolutely gorgeous as well, with every car immaculately detailed. Much like FM4, the vehicle customization for paint and decals is there, allowing you to use the vehicles in your garage as your canvas of expression. Once you’ve created your work of art, you can share the setup with other people using the community sharing functions, or even take pictures to upload to the Forza Motorsport website to download and send to your friends. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the character models. While at times they look good, there are other moments where the facial expressions make them look creepy and almost robotic in their emotions. Fortunately, you won’t see this too often as cutscenes are pretty far between.
On the other hand, the soundtrack is phenomenal! Three stations are available for you to flip between that feature your modern rock, electronica, and dubstep, which further enhances the party experience. Each radio station has its own DJs, all of which do fantastic jobs of giving each station that real radio feel, including interviews with some of your rival racers.
Multiplayer is also available in the game, which allows you to create custom games or find games already going on in the various playlists. Online play feels mostly the same as in-game play; depending on how the host configured their instance, many functions including the driver-assisted braking and controls can be enabled. However, most of the online community events are not this way. The online modes give everyone an opportunity to jump into the online experience good and early with the ability to rent cars of the particular class that is being raced. So if you don’t own a car of, let’s say an R1 class race, you can always rent a Ferrari 599X instead of having to leave and find a lower class event.
Winning or placing high in the online events earns you credits that you can use in the single player mode, as well as experience points that apply to your online profile. Whenever you level up, random prizes of cash or vehicles are given to you as a reward, making it a worthy payment for the time you put in. The higher level you are and the higher you place in a game helps to determine what kind of prize you’ll be getting, and the payout can be substantial – I’ve managed to pull over 450,000 credits from a single level up!
Forza Horizon is also one of the first games to feature support for the Microsoft Smart Glass. While it’s a basic function, your phone, tablet, or Windows 8 device can double as an in-game GPS for Horizon, as it displays a map of the Colorado area and allows you to select Waypoints which are then loaded into the car’s GPS in-game. While you’re heading down the open road in Forza Horizon, the Smart Glass map will track your position in real-time. Though it’s a pretty simple usage of the Smart Glass capabilities, it’s still pretty cool to check out.
There are a lot of things that Playground Games does to bring something fresh to the Forza franchise, but a lot of the execution in this new direction lacks the polish that Turn 10 has accomplished with the Forza Motorsport series. It’s not to say that the game isn’t fun to play, just that they could have done a lot more to make the side races more enticing to jump into. Add in the few nags with the GPS, random steering issues, lack of tuning, and character animations, and the game feels like it could have used a little more time in the oven before serving.
If you like a simplified racing experience, then Forza Horizon is definitely a game worth picking up. Those who enjoy fine tuning their vehicles to squeeze every last ounce of speed out of it as possible will be disappointed in this installation, but luckily for us, Forza Motorsport 4’s community is still going strong.
Forza Horizon receives a 3.75/5.0.
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