If you’re a fan of hardcore car simulation racing games, then you probably have no problem finding one anywhere. Games like Gran Turismo and previous Forza Motorsport titles are the definition of sim racing games, when it comes to giving the the player a real driving experience, real tracks, as well as actual car brands to race with. But if you happen to be a fan of the more arcade style racer, there’s games like Midnight Club, Ridge Racer or the Burnout series; where the focus is more about crazier tracks, insanely fast cars and just all around thrill of speed. Rarely do you see games taking the best of both worlds and blending them together. Along comes Forza Horizon, maintaining a lot of what previous Forza Motorsport titles were known for, but changing up the structure and atmosphere enough to where the result is simply impressive.
Set in a fictional Colorado, Forza Horizon puts you in the shoes of a nameless up and comer out to make a claim as the best driver throughout the festival known as Horizon, as well as overthrowing the reigning champion Darius Flynt. As you progress you earn colored wrist bands that serve as a sort of ranking system. Completing race tiers earns you a different colored wrist band each time, as well as the opportunity to race head to head against other rival fictional racers. Overcoming rivals has its own reward, such as earning their respect and the keys to their car. The “story” becomes forgettable the more time you spend, as you become immersed in the rest that Forza Horizon has to offer.
For a change of pace, you’re given the chance to participate in showcase events as your popularity increases, which is how your driver progresses. Much like the kudos system found in Project Gotham, you earn popularity points by doing crazy stunts such as drifting, near misses, or burnouts to name a few. Earn enough popularity and one of several showcase events pop up on your map. It’s here where the game gets really inventive, pitting you against an airplane, helicopter, or hot-air balloon, with the result being the reward of keeping the specific car you’re given for each event. It’s a shame that the events mostly involve you competing against aircrafts, though it never feels tedious and overplayed, keeping the experience full of thrills.
It wouldn’t be game without collectibles and side-events. Throughout the Horizon festival, you’ll encounter 100 hidden signs that net you discounts towards car upgrades. Smashing them with your car earns you 1% off for every sign, smash all 100 and every upgrades is free. In addition, every so often you’ll hear rumors about barns containing old abandoned cars within, which you then have fixed up and restored and added to your garage. The location of these barn finds are highlighted in general areas on your map, giving you incentive to explore each marked area for the hidden barn.
Progress enough and you’re given invitations to compete in illegal street racing. These only serve as a means to earn extra currency used for mostly purchasing cars and/or upgrades. There are also Horizon markers on your map that you can use for quick traveling for a small fee. Each marker contains challenges which you can complete to make quick traveling free of charge.
Should you be in the mood to just kick back and cruise throughout the festival, you also have that option. Aside from having some limitations, Forza Horizon is open-world, and the game does an outstanding job at giving you enough reasons to slow it down and admire the view.The game includes a day and night cycle, further enhancing the already breathe taking atmosphere. From watching the sun rise over the mountains to fireworks going off over a brightly lit Ferris wheel, you’re never short of inspirational moments to use for the games photo mode. Every photo taken is then uploaded online which you can then share with others.
To compliment the visuals, you have your choice of 3 radio stations complete with their own DJs giving updates on the festival’s current buzz. Each radio station is set to a specific genre and each having approximately 20 songs. Bass Arena features a mostly prominent list of dubstep artists, Pulse going for more traditional electronic sound, and Rocks provides you your fix for everything indie rock. All this only helps breathe even more life into the already believable Horizon festival, it all feels genuine and will have you wishing such a place existed outside of the game.
Even while playing the single player, the game does its best at reminding you about its online features. Speed traps are littered throughout Horizon, where players can challenge one another for the top speed in each area where ever a speed trap is present. Your record times for each race and event you do are also saved, which are then shared throughout the leaderboards. At the end of races you’re given the option to beat the shared time of either someone from your friends list or someone chosen randomly. The Storefront makes a return from previous Forza titles. It’s here where you can do everything from creating your own original designs to decorate your cars with, or put them up for grabs for a price to other members of the community.
Online allows up to eight players to get together and race. Players can then choose between several events or just free roam and complete co-op challenges. You can jump into modes such as Infection, where one player is chosen as the carrier of a disease and is tasked to spread it around by colliding with them, making the winner the only one unaffected by the plague. And if you happen to be a fan of monarchy, there’s King mode, where one player is picked as the king and smashing into him steals the crown, the player with the most time as king is declared the winner. For every race and event completed online you gain experience points that level you up, hit a level and you have a shot at winning a random car or a random amount of cash. It’s a simple mechanic that will keep you hooked and compelled to spend more time to see what the slot machine will reward you with next.
Right from the moment you reach the Horizon festival, you’re immediately pulled in by the vast amount of activities it has to offer. With an engaging experience of deep car simulation, brought on by realistic car brands and a life-like atmosphere, careful balance of arcade style gameplay, bolstered by an addictive multiplayer, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for hours on end. Whether you’re a car fanatic, speed freak, or more the Sunday driver type, Forza Horizon will cater to your every whim, as well as peak your curiosity enough to explore outside your preferred comfort zone.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game for the Xbox 360 provided by Microsoft.