Forza Horizon races off the grid this week. VG247’s Dave Cook has been taking it for a spin to see if it lives up to the core series.
My weekend was supposed to be full of productivity and exercise. Instead it was filled with Forza Horizon.
I’m not a big race simulation fan, not because I dislike the genre, but because I’m a) no good at it and b) not that much of a petrol-head. Forza Horizon is about as fringe as I go, and while it isn’t a full-on arcade racer, it still gives simulation fans enough authenticity to enjoy.
But there I was, absolutely glued to my screen while tooling about in my shiny new Subaru Impreza, winning fat stacks and rising up through the ranks of Horizon’s elite. It’s a game that constantly doles out rewards and challenges, giving you little incentive to put it down.
The game is set in the great state of Colorado, and focuses on the Horizon Festival. It’s an event that sees the world’s greatest street racers descending on the region to carve up the streets and freeways in a range of ludicrously expensive cars.
“It’s like Glastonbury or Download Festival but without the pissing rain and hideous mark-up. That’s the point of Forza Horizon – everything is glamorous, everyone is beautiful.”
Developer Playground Games has certainly nailed the festival vibe, from the pounding dance tracks blitzing from your car’s stereo, to the festival itself, located in the dead centre of the map. As you drive towards it, you start seeing rolling hills full of tents, music stages, car shows, carnival rides and more.
It’s like Glastonbury or Download Festival but without the pissing rain and hideous mark-up. That’s the point of Forza Horizon – everything is glamorous, everyone is beautiful and the cars are pure eye candy for the Top Gear generation.
Although before I dive into the game’s features I have to express something that troubled me throughout my extensive time with the game. Who would endorse such a dangerous state-wide event? Where are the cops? There are none, is the short answer, because this isn’t Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
Perhaps this is a positive, given Forza Horizon’s focus on unfettered speed and the freedom of the open road. Evading the fuzz would have been one distraction too many I say, and it’s probably for the best that the devs have steered away from that angle.
Progression is mainly based around winning events, but there are many ways to further your Horizon career. Winning said events will earn you points that count towards new festival wristbands. Each new wristband unlocks extra tiers of events across the sprawling map.
”With visuals that positively make the Xbox 360 sing, and the gameplay to match, Forza Horizon is a triumph for UK developer Playground Games. It could be the start of a brilliant new franchise.”
It’s a massive sandbox, littered with distractions at every turn. Aside from races you can take part in PR stunts – such as racing against a plane or hot air balloon for show – smashing road signs to get store discounts, and clocking up the fastest times at speed cameras, among others.
No stretch of road feels barren, and the backdrop on the horizon as you race offers beautiful vistas and terrain that are just perfect for the game’s photo mode. Populating open worlds with plenty to see and do for the duration isn’t easy, but this is one good-looking play space indeed.
The stars of the show are – as always – the cars and there are so many manufacturers in there. You’ll need a varied garage however, as certain events only allow specific types of car to enter. From manufacturer events that only allow classic Ford models, to regional showcases, such as Japanese sports car events.
I don’t know my Bugattis from my Beemers, so thankfully you can buy a new car to enter restricted events on the spot, rather than forcing you to travel back to the festival hub and buy one there. The game is full of these little shortcuts that make playing as slick and as easy as possible.
Handling is ace, and will sit comfortably with life-long Forza fans and newcomers alike. The proof is in the range of modifiers than can be activated. Need help braking? Then turn on an assist, or up the difficulty to play completely without assistance. The choice is yours.
One gripe I can see coming from car-nuts a mile off is Horizon’s scaled back car tuning. You can’t tweak and modify every little component under the hood – which for the uninitiated like me is fine – but this may cause hardcore racing fans to balk a little.
Another reason I simply couldn’t put Forza Horizon down is Rivals Mode. Whenever you complete an event, you are shown the person on your friends list that outperformed you. You can then choose to make that person a rival and replay the event to try and beat them.
Manage it, and you’re given a cash reward, and the option of sending them a gloating message. Every facet of the game has this feature to some extent – even the speed camera challenges show your nearest friend’s clocked speed. Competition is healthy and it’s certainly welcome in Forza Horizon.
“Just don’t go expecting to slide cars made of Vaseline and butter wheels around S-bends at 200mph and you’ll be fine.”
As the game isn’t out yet, I’m yet to try multiplayer proper, but maybe that’s a topic for another article altogether. I’m also a little wary about getting utterly destroyed by the competition, so that will be interesting.
With visuals that positively make the Xbox 360 sing, and the gameplay to match, Forza Horizon is a triumph for UK developer Playground Games. It could be the start of a brilliant new franchise, but I’m worried that they will add cops in subsequent instalments. It honestly doesn’t need them.
If there’s one complaint and it is an admittedly petty and insignificant one, is that the pro racers you have to defeat along the way all sound like alumni of some jock American high school, full of embarrassing levels of sass and trash-talk.
I feel it waters down the purity of the hobby somewhat, but hey, that’s just me. If you like hardcore racing games, you’ll still love Forza Horizon, and if you’re casual or arcade fan, there is more than enough leniency here for you to participate too.
Just don’t go expecting to slide cars made of Vaseline and butter wheels around S-bends at 200mph and you’ll be fine.