Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Microsoft and Turn 10’s Forza franchise has always done a pretty great job of being accessible for new players, despite being heralded as a “simulation” style racer. The past two entries, 3 and 4, were certainly shining examples of how you can craft a racing sim that’ll appeal to a lot more than just the hardcore racing enthusiast, while at the same time not alienating those same passionate fans.
Forza Horizon still manages to capture that essence, despite heading towards a more arcade style experience. It also marks the first game in the series not wholly developed by Turn 10, introducing the series to new developer Playground Games. The developers behind this particular studio are not quite newcomers to the racing genre, with a team comprised of former employees of Criterion, Bizarre Creations, Codemasters, and a slew of other well-known development houses.
And their expertise in this genre really shines through with Forza Horizon. Besides being incredibly accessible and inviting to new racing fans, it looks and performs extremely well on the Xbox 360’s aging architecture. There is a loss when it comes to 30 frames per seconds that the framerate is locked at, but you’ll find yourself hardly noticing the drop amongst all the outstanding vistas and vehicles that make up the Horizon festival and it’s proceedings amongst the backdrop of Colorado.
The core of the game is centered on the campaign mode, which puts you in the shoes of an unnamed racer that wins his invite to the Horizon festival at the start of the game. The festival spreads events across a big section of Colorado, offering up a lot of roads, miles, and scenery to take in. Events are structured in a variety of ways, with most offering up points that’ll build towards a goal, which will in turn unlock new events once that goal is reached. Each event offers up slightly different rules, dictating what type of vehicle can race, how tuned up they can be, and so on. Each race offers up 7 other competitors, which remains the same number in play when going online.
Outside of the legit festival events, you can also participate in some not quite legal street racing events, which will dole out cash instead of experience points. The neat thing about these races is that the pedestrian traffic remains on the road, offering up an entirely different dynamic than that found in the regular races. Besides the street racing, you can also participate in a number of events that’ll unlock as you gain points for various tricks and daredevil stunts, which you can perform at any point during races or when driving from one event to the next on the open world map. These events work more like time trials, pitting you against aerial vehicles like airplanes and hot air balloon, challenging you to get to the finish line before they do.
Outside of the single player content, there’s a hefty amount of online multiplayer fun to check out. Forza Horizon offers up not only your standard racing events, but also a number of options for searching and hosting events, allowing you to dictate whether custom cars, components and so on can be used. There’s also some oddball events that feel more akin to something found in the DiRT series of racers, like Infection which has you tagging opponents in an open style layout, attempting to either tag as many players as possible, or remain the last one standing. Online play seems to work pretty well over all, though I did have a hell of a time getting a full match going with folks prior to release. What I did play was pretty much lag-free, and when people were online it never seemed to have much trouble finding people to play with. Online is laid out by playlists as opposed to just individual modes, which helps narrow down the field when searching for people as well, and seems like a smart move to make.
Besides all the racing, Forza Horizon retains a number of things from previous games that fans have come to love, including decal creation and the ability to import decals and art from Forza 4 into this game. There’s some limited trade options as well, and the ability to make car clubs with friends in order to create your own stable of racers to compete and play with if you want. There’s also a hefty number of tuning options, but you’ll find that particular thing has been dialed back a bit and simplified. You can either opt to auto-tune your vehicles up to the best possible number in each class, or you can go in and buy the parts to outfit the cars with yourself, but you can’t further tune or slide options around past that point, which might seem a little limited to your traditional Forza fan.
But outside of a little loss in customization, Forza Horizon feels like a much needed shot in the arm for the franchise. Not that Forza 4 was a bad game by any means, but it felt more like a really refined version of 3, and as such didn’t quite blow me away as much as the leap from 2 to 3. Forza Horizon manages to feel like something completely different, while retaining enough of Forza’s core identity to make it fit really well into this established franchise. I’d highly suggest checking it out whether you’re a Forza fan or just a racing fan in general; I doubt you’ll be disappointed.