Forza Horizon review
Microsoft’s Forza series is no longer consider by racing game enthusiasts to be Gran Turismo’s poor relation, but instead stands out as one of the most accomplished examples of the genre. But while Sony has been quite reserved when it comes to pumping out sequels, Microsoft – along with internal development team Turn 10 – has almost reverted to a yearly update schedule since the high octane franchise was established in 2005.
This quick succession of titles hasn’t harmed Forza’s commercial and critical fortunes, but Forza Horizon – developed by another studio and adopting a different style of play – is unquestionably the riskiest release yet. Can it possibly reach the same glorious heights as the main series, or does it end up spinning out on the first corner like an over-enthusiastic rookie? That’s what we’re about to find out.
Simply put, Forza Horizon takes the circuit-based racing realism of its parent series and lets it loose on the wild expanse of the American frontier. It’s an open-road speedfest in the same mould as Test Drive Unlimited and Burnout Paradise, but benefits from one of the most advanced driving engines ever created. Fledgling UK developer PlayGround Games may not be a familiar name, but it’s comprised of staffers from studios such as Criterion, Codemasters and the now-defunct Bizarre Creations – the company responsible for the beloved Project Gotham Racing franchise – so the pedigree is obvious.
Freed from the endlessly looping circuits of the main Forza series and unleashed upon dreamy vistas straight out of a picture postcard, Horizon is never short of visually impressive scenery. The world in which you race follows a day and night cycle and is like a condensed version of America, with dusty deserts blending effortlessly into rocky mountain ranges and packed cityscapes.
Set around the Horizon Festival – a fictional event created with input from UK DJ Rob da Bank, who also contributes the game’s soundtrack – the single player experience is surprisingly captivating, and actually manages to surpass previous Forza titles in terms of entertainment and hours of your life gone before you notice. Challenges include simple races with rivals to driving a certain car to a particular destination, and there’s never a shortage of things to do. Multiplayer is also well realised, with contests taking part anywhere on the sprawling game map.
Although the open nature of Forza Horizon is indeed refreshing, there’s a good chance that it will alienate fans of the franchise who are after focused racing with as little filler as possible in-between. It’s also a shame that the game world wasn’t a little bigger – rival titles boast more miles to drive through, although arguably they don’t look as drop-dead gorgeous as Horizon does. The game’s attempt to incorporate off-road racing may also force hardcore Forza fans away; while it’s enjoyable and entertaining, it’s a long way from being a proper ‘rally’ simulation.
The lack of realistic crash damage is also bound to annoy some, as is the absence of the ability to manually tune and improve your car, beyond installing basic upgrades. These elements are most likely gestures by the developer to casual players, as is the overbearing ‘yoof’ presentation, which features in-your-face ‘trendy’ branding and obnoxiously immature dialogue with the various rival racers you encounter.
The bottom line
Forza Horizon isn’t entirely perfect by any means, but when you consider just how revolutionary it is when compared to the core Forza lineage, you can forgive some rough edges. All the important ingredients are there – a solid driving engine, amazing visuals, loads of exotic cars and miles and miles of gorgeous tarmac to drive them on. On the basis of this effort, PlayGround Games has become the racing studio to watch, and the Forza series has been given a new lease of life.
5 out of 5