The Forza series prides itself for being the premier racing simulation game, showcasing not only immense amount of detail in both car and environment design, but the ability to make the game accessible to those who might just want to jump behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, but don't quite have the driving skills. So where does Forza Horizon stand? It seems like Turn 10 wanted to expand its fan base by making the game more street, and partnered up with Playground Games and tasked them with developing an open world experience. That's right, instead of burning rubber on official racetracks, you'll be cruising the open roads of Colorado and competing in a huge racing tournament, in hopes of taking down the number one racer.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, it's because the idea itself isn't all that original. We've seen this done before in games like Need for Speed Most Wanted, but where NFS made it an overly cinematic affair, complete with over the top douchebags, Forza Horizon lays off the cheesy lines, and instead focuses on pure adrenaline, rather than an intrusive backstory.
You have ultimately one goal in mind, become number one by beating the Horizon champion, Darius Flynt. You never really get a sense of who the guy is besides some random chatter about him on the radio, so ultimately beating him becomes a less satisfying affair than it should.
Getting to Darius isn't a short affair by any means. You'll have a plethora of Horizon Festival races to compete in that all take place across iconic Colorado locations, such as Gladstone, Kettle Hills and the Rockies. You progress in the form of colored wristbands. Completing a set amount of races will net you points toward the next wristband, which then further unlocks even more events. These include circuit races, checkpoint races, rival races, even races against planes and helicopters.
There are also various Street races you can take part in, which are much less official, and your opponents are much more cutthroat than usual, and the payout is much higher.
After every race, you're presented with a rival challenge which is another player's race time just milliseconds better than yours. You can opt to challenge his ghost and get some extra cash, but seeing as how Playground Games opted for the A button to be the “No Thanks” button, these are easily dismissible.
Of course the main attraction here are the cars. While Horizon might not have as many as Forza 4, the 200 cars are all mostly something you'd want to take out for a high speed drive. They're all still incredibly detailed and handle completely different from one another, which just shows that the developer has once again stayed true to their pedigree of realism. Aside from the cars, the environment is a show stopper as well. A lot of the time you'll get lost in the beauty of driving by the mountains, or a cliff overlooking a forest. It's almost unbelievable that the same attention to detail that each car has been getting, has also been put into the environment.
The Forza series has always prided itself in its simulation aspects, and this is where Horizon deviates a bit from that formula. Sure you can still turn off every single assist in the game, and turn your opponents to expert difficulty, which will undoubtedly be as close to simulation as you can get, the game does stray more to the Arcade territory this time around. That's certainly not a negative, as it works to the game's strengths, but those looking for the hardcore sim aspects from the past games, might be disappointed.
This is largely due to the fact that Horizon encourages and rewards you for driving like a maniac. Avoiding cars at the last second, crashing into signs, destroying picket fences, catching air and drifting at higher speeds all reward you with popularity points. Starting at rank 250, the more you string these risky moves together, the more points you earn and the higher your popularity rank will rise.
To further encourage you to drive dangerously, there are ongoing Sponsor Challenges which task you to drift, draft, sideswipe, get air, and get near misses (just to name a few) a certain amount of times. When completed, the Sponsor Challenge rises in rank and also awards you with a nice lump sum of credits.
Even outside of racing, there is tons to do on the open road. You can look for all 100 of Dak's Upgrade signs which earn you a percentage decrease at his garage for all car upgrades, find and drive on every single road in the game, complete all Sponsor Challenges, find all nine hidden barns which house classic and rare cars to be restored, set high scores in all the speed traps, find all Horizon Outposts which house separate PR challenges and allow you to fast travel each one of them, challenge other racers on the open road, and take scenic photos of your car. Needless to say you'd be hard pressed to find a dull moment in Horizon.
There is a suite of multiplayer options available for those that want to take the challenge online. However unlike Test Drive Unlimited, where you can simply take to the open road with hundreds of other players, the online modes are relegated to eight players max, even the Free Roam mode. While it does sound limiting, there are host of things to do whether you decide to partake in organized races like Circuits, Point to Point, Cat and Mouse or Infected, or just cruise around in Free Roam and take on some co-op challenges.
Catering to the fact that the Horizon Festival is not only a celebration of cars but music, the three in-game radio stations do a great job at making you want to break the speed limit. Horizon Pulse will pump out indie tracks like Walking on a Dream by Empire of the Sun and Spirit of the Night by Tesla Boy. Horizon Bass Arena is the dubstep/techno station, playing tracks like Levels by Avicii and Me & You by Nero. Lastly, the Horizon Rocks station will satisfy your need for guitar riffs with songs like Animal by Neon Trees and Hate To Say I Told You So by The Hives. It certainly caters to whatever mood, or music preference each player is into, however the unifying theme is that they're awesome to drive fast to.
The game also has built in Kinect functionality in the form of voice commands, which not only works great, but it further gives you a sense of truly driving a car. Just by saying "GPS" you can ask for the nearest race, and then specify what kind, or ask to point you to the next Festival race. As soon as the Kinect registers this, you'll be pointed in the right direction as indicated by the racing line, without ever needing to pause the game to open up the Map.
Forza Horizon might not be the hyper realistic simulation game that the Forza series is known for, but it still manages to celebrate the racing lifestyle unlike any other racing game I've played thus far. You're still getting amazing car physics, attention to detail, but now it's just set on an open road, that you'll undoubtedly want to keep driving on for a long time.