Forza Horizon Review
Systems: XBOX 360
Forza Horizon’s heart beats a blood made from two things: the love for the open road and the burning desire to scream down a residential street at 150 MPH without fear of losing your license.
Forza Horizon sets a new bar for Arcade Racing. It melts together the immense realism you know and love from Forza seamlessly with the edge-of-your-seat thrills of Need for Speed and Midnight Club. It’s so unique that calling this gem a spinoff almost feels like an insult to the game itself. Forza Horizon excels where so many others have failed. It’s the open-world racing game you’ve always dreamed of.
From start to finish, Forza Horizon’s story feels like it’s about you. After being shown an adrenaline-inducing live action intro, you get your first look at the beautiful Colorado Playground Games has created through the teasing eyes of a Dodge Viper. Next you’re introduced to your character who hears on the radio that the first fifty people who make it to the gates of the Horizon Festival get a spot in the competition. Naturally you jump into your car and race for your place in the festival so you can take home the grand prize and become the champion.
Every time you start up the single-player you’re placed in the center of the map at the Horizon Festival’s hub. From this area you can access the Car Club, Race Central, the Autoshow, the Paint Shop, and Dak’s Garage. You can fast travel to the hub for free, but by driving around the map you’ll find Horizon Outposts, which are essentially a hub away from home that you can fast travel to, for a price. You can change your ride and purchase new ones which is extremely helpful if you’re close to an incomplete race because you won’t have to drive all the way back out to it if you decide you want to go paint your car or buy a new one.
The game follows a similar structure to Criterion Games’ remake of Need for Speed Most Wanted where you’re gaining experience so that you can race a boss for their car. What makes Forza Horizon different is that the story gives you a sense of connection to the game that Need for Speed doesn’t provide. It keeps the things from becoming stale because by continuously racing the bosses and hearing little snippets about their personalities on the games’ three radio stations, you feel like you’re getting to know them as people, something rarely felt in most racing games.
The Horizon Festival is a college kid’s fantasy. Pumping electronic music fills the airwaves, hot girls are everywhere, and at the festival’s hub there is always an almost too realistic Dubstep concert blasting sweet bass into your eardrums. The story is good, albeit a little cliché, and everything adds up to provide a great sense of realism to your character and his motives. You can really see why everyone in Colorado seems to be dying to get as close to they can to the festival. Oddly, though as the game goes on the awesome cut-scenes that progress the story show up less and less frequently. This is a real shame because you won’t be able to get enough of the near perfect character models and facial animation at the beginning of the game.
The magic of Forza Horizon is that it melts the ultra-realism of Forza and the amazing arcade action of Need for Speed seamlessly. Before the start of each race you can edit driving assists and statistics of each part, just like in past Forza games. Additionally, you’re rewarded for using less assists; this feels like a direct shout out to Forza veterans that are sticking with the series. If you’re coming into this game from the Arcade side of racing you can select a difficulty and the game will balance for you. The fact that there have been four Forza games before Horizon gave the developers a solid system from the start and it really shows. Cars have real weight to them, and at times you’ll feel yourself slipping into a trance where you’ll actually feel like you’re part of the game.
Playground Games is made up of developers who worked on many other racing games, specifically Codemasters’ Dirt series, and it shows. The rewind feature made famous by the aforementioned is present and this is where one of the games few flaws comes to light. The feature is unlimited so you can essentially erase any blunder you make at any time. This takes out some of the edge and potentially guarantees a win… if you pick the right car. This is where the other main issue with Horizon lies. Despite the fact that this is a full retail game, there are micro-transactions that you can use to buy cars and skip the teleporting fee. They aren’t shoved in your face though so they’re easy to ignore.
Each racer in the Horizon Festival has a rank, which is shown by a colored wristband. By completing events associated with each wristband, you’ll accumulate experience and eventually level up to the next color. Every time you level up you’ll face the leader of each color group for their car. One thing I noticed is that the bosses race much like their personalities. Basically if you start to get a feeling that a boss races dirty, they probably will. Each race has a short intro where Dak will be inspecting the cars, marketing girls will be taking pictures with fans, and the boss racer will be standing in the spotlight.
The story will take you well over fifteen hours to complete. Multiplayer is packaged with the game, but in complete honesty it feels unnecessary. The game includes standard race matchmaking with many different options for each race. In addition to the standard races, there are other modes like cat-and-mouse and king of the hill. It’s a standard affair that you probably won’t find yourself straying towards too much. Luckily it doesn’t feel forced and one you select Single Player at the main menu the Multiplayer will be out of sight and out of mind. I’m not trying to say the Multiplayer isn’t fun, Horizon just gives off a personal vibe that, like I said, makes the game feel like it wasn’t made for Multiplayer.
To say that Forza Horizon is one of the most beautiful games of this generation is an extreme understatement. The Colorado map of Horizon is perpetually stuck in the transition between summer and fall. One second you’ll be driving down a straight highway in the desert and the next you’ll be taking a cruise down a winding dirt road with orange, yellow, and red leaves floating across the screen. The attention to detail is simply incredible.
Car models are up to snuff with Forza’s established pedigree and with the advanced, but easy to use screen shot effects and tools you’ll find yourself taking photo-realistic pictures in no time. There is virtually no pop in or rendering issues. Load times are quick and the frame rate is solid throughout the entire game, with literally zero slowdown, even when you’re going 250 MPH in a Lamborghini Aventador coming up on the amazing lightshow that is Race Central. How this game runs so wonderfully on an Xbox 360 is beyond me. It’s downright astounding.
The beauty of Forza Horizon is something that needs to be seen by the player. Even the people standing in the sidelines watching you race are meticulously detailed, and with the right effects they can be mistaken as real in screen shots. You’ll instantly see why the developers boldly place “All in-game footage” in every trailer for the game. The detail level goes so far as to emulate the effect of peripheral vision by distorting the corner of the screen when your opponent is gaining on you.
The sound department is yet another place where the ball was smashed out of the park. Literally every car has its own unique engine noise and the fidelity is incredible. I played with a heavy bass surround sound speaker system and it was awesome to not only be able to hear cars behind me, but to hear them shift down to overtake me.
The soundtrack consists of three in game radio stations that work much like they would in Grand Theft Auto. Each station has a DJ that will chime in with unique dialogue between songs and unlike Criterion Game’s Burnout Paradise it almost never feels cheesy or forced. The soundtrack itself is great and it includes tracks from bands like The Black Keys, Foster the People, and Nero. Annoyingly, though races default to a select few songs and there isn’t any way to skip them; you can only move from one station to another. This was probably done on purpose in order to make the game feel more real, but you should have been given more control over the music you’re hearing.
For any racing game fan this game is a no brainer. Forza fans who were originally disappointed at the announcement should definitely give it an honest shot. The level of quality is exactly where it needs to be and you most likely won’t be bothered with many patches since everything is so well put together straight out of the box. The game looks, plays, and sounds great and for every tiny blemish there are a million great things about Forza Horizon that make the flaws seem irrelevant. If you’re dying for a great racing game this Holiday, or just a great game in general, do yourself a favor and pick up Forza Horizon.
Written by Guest Reviewer: randomhero1270