Ever since its 2005 debut, the Forza Motorsport series has been a tour de force within the video game racing genre. In fact, it’s thought of as being one of the best, if not the absolute best, simulation franchises out there. For that reason, it’s no surprise that every time Turn 10 Studios adds on to its digital legacy with a new iteration of its popular automotive formula, millions of people get incredibly excited. Proof of this can be found on Internet forums, within the games’ regularly returning user base, and the series’ impressive sales numbers.
When the racing gurus at Turn 10 announced that they were working on an open world and arcade-inspired spin-off known as Forza Horizon, it came as a bit of a shock. After all, trying something new in today’s video game industry is tough, and some developers are afraid to stray off the beaten path because retail failure can be devastating. However, with all of that being said, the developers made a wise decision by venturing out of their comfort zone, because they’ve made one heck of a game. Actually, they’ve done more than that; they’ve created something impressive that will hopefully continue over time, because its presented experience is a memorable one, which is deserving of a sequel.
Like its predecessors, this unexpected experience tasks players with rising out of obscurity through mechanical means. At the beginning of the game, you’re just one of two hundred and fifty racers who are competing to become the champion of a competitive automotive festival known as the Horizon Festival. Rising through the ranks and winning it all means not only money, but potential fame, and that’s the goal of the presented campaign. Those who can race well could see themselves as a crowned champion, as well as the owner of some very beautiful cars. Of course, getting there is easier said than done – at least on harder difficulties.
In order to effectively win the entire event, one must complete tiered races in order to win new armbands. With each advancement to a new coloured band, the difficulty is upped, and a new rival is met. That way, things always stay quite fresh, especially since events get longer as time goes on. You’re not always racing the same people, which is nice, and there’s a decent amount of variety to choose from. If you like percentage-based point-to-point races, those are included. However, if lap-based events are more your cup of tea, then you can choose to participate in more of those than anything else.
Complementing the above-mentioned race types are special events that open up through progression. First off there are street races, which present a higher pot, more aggressive competition and traffic. Granted, traffic is to be expected when you consider that Forza Horizon‘s roads are populated with computer-driven vehicles, meaning that dodging while driving at high speeds is a necessity. However, festival events are sectioned off, so it’s only racers driving on those chosen roadways.
Next up are star challenges. There aren’t many of them, but they’re a bit more challenging than regular races. That’s because you’re racing one-on-one against one of the game’s premiere drivers. The best way to describe these would be to call them boss battles, because that’s essentially what they are. It’s the player against a tier boss, with that particular competitor’s pink slip on the line. As a result, competing in those star challenges is a great way to win special vehicles, which can then be used during certain races. Each event has its own requirements, so you’ll need to own an assortment of vehicles in order to succeed.
Finally, it’s important to talk about two related challenge types: PR stunts and showcase challenges. The first of those two list items has players trying to complete tasks in an attempt to help publicize the Horizon Festival. That includes setting speed records and things like that. Conversely, showcase challenges only arise when the user has made it to certain popularity levels, offering the chance to race against unexpected vehicles like planes and hot air balloons.
Since there are 250 racers battling it out for supremacy within what is a beautifully crafted rendition of Colorado, it only makes sense that the newbie would start at the bottom. Those who wish to make it to number one on the popularity chart will have a lot of controller-based driving ahead of them, because it will take hours upon hours to get to that point. The downside to this design is that not all players tend to go for full completion, meaning that a lot of the game’s users won’t spend countless hours trying to get to its top level. However, achievement hunters and series fanatics will.
The nice thing is that driving recklessly helps earn popularity points. If you nearly collide with another car while speeding down a country road, you’ll earn points for that act, with the same going for knocking down signs, doing insane burnouts and drifting. This mechanic helps to prove how much of a divergence Forza Horizon is from its numbered peers, which force players to drive in a realistic and relatively careful manner. That is, even though this game still employs a lot of the vehicular mechanics that its predecessors did. In fact, it still feels like a Forza game because of those controls and their included physics. Sure, the drifting and burnouts are now much more emphatic, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Getting back to the popularity points, it’s important to note that they’re not a part of the aforementioned armband progression system. You can take on the best of the best in order to win the victor’s trophy without being ranked number one in the eyes of the fans. Keeping both ranking designs separate sounds weird in theory, but it makes sense when you’re playing the game. The idea actually keeps things fresh because, once you’ve taken out the former king of the road, you’ll still have reason to keep playing the game’s single player content for many hours.
What keeps Forza Horizon grounded is its ability to mix old with new. All of the amazing customization options that fans of the series love are still here, and designs can be shared through a storefront system. Additionally, there are a ton of vehicles to buy, and a lot of upgrades to equip. Trying to earn enough money to pay for everything adds replay value by forcing players to go out and challenge other entrants on the open road; however, there’s a neat way to lessen the cost of each upgrade.
Hidden throughout the Colorado landscape, which features residential areas, wide open country roads, backwoods locations and even Red Rocks, are destructible signs featuring the game’s mechanic. There are one hundred in all, with each one representing a percentile. Whenever the player hits one, the cost of every upgrade going forward is reduced by one percent, providing a great reason to explore the digitized landscape. Plus, considering how money isn’t always in great supply, the inclusion of the discount signs helps out a lot. To be honest, I’ve become addicted to searching for them, resulting in great savings.
Now that we’ve discussed the countless hours of solo content that this incredibly impressive game provides, it’s time to move on to the multiplayer side of things. By connecting to Xbox LIVE, one will find quite a few game modes, including beginner races, veteran competitions and party options such as cat and mouse. Doing well against human opponents allows the user to level-up through experience points, giving him a chance to win automobiles. It’s a nice incentive, which enhances the experience’s replay value.
Rounding out this package is an online free roam mode, which lets friends drive around Colorado together. Surely, the option will become a favourite, due to how popular cooperative play is these days. Frankly, if this mode wasn’t included, quite a few people would be angry with Turn 10, and would demand its inclusion. Thankfully, the developers were wearing their thinking hats when they included online free roam, as well as car clubs. As a result, they will be able to avoid such comments.
When it comes to presentation, the Forza franchise is almost in a league of its own. Its numbered iterations are known for presenting incredible-looking representations of licensed vehicles, as well as spot-on recreations of different tracks. Forza Horizon is no different as it’s a treat to look at. Car fans will be happy to hear that all of the attention to detail that Forza Motorsport 4 included has been carried over to this release. All of the cars look and sound outstanding, and the developers’ version of Colorado is a sight to behold. Its diverse landscape allowed the team to create varied courses, including traditional paved street tracks plus dirt roadways. Mixed courses aren’t rare, though they’re not as breathtaking as some of the canyon runs. Then again, those are usually tough to beat in any racing game.
What it all boils down to is that Forza Horizon is an absolute must-buy. Although it’s certainly a divergence from the norm, I see that as being a good thing. As a result of Turn 10’s willingness to change up its approach to video game creation, we now have what I would say is the best Forza game I’ve ever played. That’s because, on top of all of the glitz, glam and polish, this title also has a lot of personality, which comes through its character chatter and its radio DJs, not to mention its arcade-inspired approach to racing. Don’t miss out on this one.
This review is based on an XBOX 360 copy of the game that we were provided with.
Forza Horizon is a fantastic game, and is arguably the series' best release thus far.