Having built up a solid reputation as a high-end simulation driving franchise, Microsoft raised a few eyebrows when they announced Forza Horizon. Instead of focussing on the more refined ways of driving, as seen in previous installments, this game would be all about the wilder side of driving. To use one of the cliche words within the gaming industry think of this as Forza unleashed, because the shackles are almost certainly off.
Instead of going down the traditional simulation route of menus, leagues and tracks, Forza Horizon is all based around a fictional event called Horizon. This makes the game an open-world experience, with you being able to drive around "Colorado, USA" as much as you want, as long as you stay within the constrains of the mapped area.
The main objective is to win the festival, and stake your claim as the best driver around - a mantle currently held by Darius Flynt.
You start off as a relative nobody, only being able to enter Horizon because you got to the event faster than some other racers. Because of this, you're given a wrist band and after winning a few races, this wrist band gets upgraded. Win some more and it gets upgraded again and, well, you get the idea. With each tier of races comes a rival, but while the introduction cutscenes billed this as something that might become important, their role in the game is rather minimal. Aside from seeing what car they're driving at the start of a race they might as well be non-existent. The game tries to make Darius seem like the evil overlord, but it never really come to fruition in any way.
Story never seems to work that well when it's the main focus of driving games, but it can still play a strong part when it comes to motivation. With Forza Horizon, it doesn't even come remotely close to proving any motivation, but fortunately the gameplay more than makes up for this.
Since appearing on the market on the original Xbox, Forza has become renowned for its accurate driving simulation. Fans of the franchise will be glad to know that this aspect of Forza Horizon delivers, even if other elements of the experience aren't quite what they might expect.
While not exactly the same, driving the different cars around Horizon will give you a pretty thrilling experience as they will all handle in their own unique way. Because of the open world nature of the game, you'll also have to deal with obstacles that might not be too familiar in a track too, such as different surfaces and also some rather large jumps. Don't plan things correctly and you may well find yourself driving on two wheels, or even flipping the car over.As Forza fans will have come to recognise, cars are placed in different categories based on their performance in a few key areas such as speed, acceleration and handling. This means that while a car might not be as quick as another, if it has better handling it may be given a better performance rating.
As you progress through the different tiers of the Horizon event, this comes into play much more often, as specific cars start to become necessary. You may be asked to enter a Ferrari only event, where cars also must be A rank and there are only two options - both with very differing stats. Here's where personal preference comes into play and it's nice that you're given the choice.
There is a pretty decent range of events to choose from, with traditional lap-based trials, but also destination-based races too. There are even some more interesting rival races, where you might find yourself taking on something like a bi-plane or a hot air balloon. It keeps things interesting and due to the nature of the event, you won't ever really find yourself racing over the same bit of turf too often, unless of course you enter the same event again.
Outside of the events, there is also an RPG-like element to make sure that driving on its own still provides some kind of benefit-enjoyment. Almost everything you do is rated and you're given points for the magnitude of the action. For example, you'll get 100 points for doing a drift, but more for doing an awesome drift (quicker). These will all then chain together, to give you a potentially massive points haul, something which is then used to rank you in the world of Horizon. You'll start off as the 250th player in the world, and your objective is to get to the top.
The environment featured in the game is very expansive, and it's clear to see that Playground Games used the 50,000 or so location shots to good effect. The cars, as expected from the franchise, also look stunning, although given the nature of the environment it would have been nice to see this affect the cars in some way. Complements should also be given to whoever selected the soundtrack, with a very nice mixture of tracks to be found.
Forza Horizon offers a rather different take on the Forza franchise, but it rather well. Many other developers have attempted to create solid open world racing games and few have been able to achieve the heights that Playground Games have hit with Forza Horizon. It's not perfect and it's not traditional for the franchise, but fans of driving games will find plenty to enjoy.
|Forza transitions well to open world gameplay.|
|Good debut for Playground Games|
|RPG elements help to make things more interesting.|
|Rivals offer absolutely nothing.|
|Physics can be a little off sometimes.|
|Even with fast-travel, getting to some locations can be a pain.|