I have always had a deep respect for the Forza franchise. Coming into a genre owned by Sony’s Gran Turismo and carving out a substantial spot for itself, was no small feat. That being said, simulation racers have never been my area of expertise. So when I discovered that Horizon was a whole new approach to the formula, I was definitely intrigued. What Playground Games has done here is nothing short of amazing. They kept the customization and realism of the Forza series and combined it with an open world mentality, all while sprinkling in a total festival atmosphere. Combining the best of several games culminates in one heck of a driving experience.
Forza Horizon is definitely a new direction for the name. Instead of focusing on simulation events, Horizon opens up the world to the player in a festival-type environment. You begin the game vying for one of several spots in a qualifying race. Once you succeed you are given free-reign to venture around and take part in events that raise your rank. You earn different colored wristbands for each level, thus opening up new races and events. There is no straightforward path to take, and each event increases the difficulty just enough to keep things interesting.
The world of Horizon is pretty big, but not without its shortcomings. The game is gorgeous, especially at night. The draw distance is impressive, as you can literally see for miles. Watching the fireworks blast from the main hub while cruising for races is jaw dropping, and likely the reason they put in the photo mode. However, since this is a secluded area, a lot of the tracks feel very similar in style. Lots of browns and dark tones make up the bulk of your driving time. Outside of that though, everything looks fabulous. Car models are spot-on, and the damage modeling is great. This is one slick looking game.
Carrying over systems from the Forza franchise was a given. Horizon brings a lot of what made the series popular, while still maintaining its own identity. For example, the car customization is here and in full force. You can create and share designs online, as well as purchase and sell them. I cannot wait to see what spurs up once the community gets its hands on the game. The difficulty and assist system is also in place. You can tailor your experience at any time by setting the game difficulty, AI difficulty as well as a ton of assists from brake assist to even steering assist. The game never punishes you for making it easier, but it does reward you by upping your earnings by 10% for every assist you turn off.
Forza Horizon also features a popularity meter that slowly progresses as you earn style points. These are fairly similar to something you would find in a Burnout game. Things like near misses and drifting account for these points. As you keep a combo string going, you will also earn a multiplier that will increase your total. Each level is kept track of at the top of the screen, and events open up at certain milestones. It is yet another carrot that keeps the player constantly performing functions found within the game; and it works.
I really like the laid back feel of Horizon. You can simply drive around the gorgeous landscape, take in a few events and then head back to tweak your car’s settings. Run into a race your car is overpowered for? The game lets you make adjustments right there. Streamlining was obviously a major focus when designing the game. Everything is at your fingertips outside of a dedicated fast travel mechanic. There are outposts scattered around the map. Once you locate them you can travel to them at any time, granted you have the cash. The one exception is the race hub; you can go back there from anywhere on the map, for free.
Handling feels like a nice mix between Forza and say, a Project Gotham racing game, with more focus on drifting and e-braking. The feel of the cars is still unique to each one. A Viper, for example, will slide all over the place. You also have off-road vehicles, like trucks, that play completely differently, and work better for certain events. I also love how your collection is handled. When you hit an event, you can choose your car from those that are available. If you have too many, you can search for the one you want. It makes switching between vehicles that much easier. Again streamlining is the theme for Horizon.
Accomplishing everything Horizon offers is definitely an endeavor. There are tons of events, side races for cash, speed traps and zones to hit and the quintessential collectible, discount signs. Hitting these gives you discounts on certain items. You also have a challenge list that keeps track of things like drifting and slingshot passes. Each level gives you even more discounts on certain items. All of this happens in the background, and before you know it, you have accumulated tons of discounts. I wish it were more prominent, as it would have made chasing them, that much more intriguing. You can also earn tokens that can be used to buy cars or even a treasure map for the world. This shows you the locations of all items, including discount signs.
Online is robust to say the least. You can jump right into free roam mode and just drive around the gorgeous landscapes with friends. Within free roam you can also participate in co-op challenges such as driving a specific number of miles. Traditional racing is of course included, as well as a host of games such as Cat and Mouse and Virus (a form of tag). Rivalries are also a big part of online. Beating events automatically sets the closest player next to you and makes it a rival. The online integration is jam-packed and fully integrated. It is definitely a highlight of the game.
Forza Horizon was definitely a great surprise. Not only does it carry the Forza name, it carries the quality, just in a different form. Fans of games like Dirt and Burnout Paradise definitely should check out Horizon. It carries a bevy of content as well as being really fun to play. The pacing is near perfect and will have you coming back for a long time to come. Racing games are usually a love or hate affair for gamers, especially those done in the arcade style, but Horizon manages to please on almost every level. Microsoft has a definite winner on their hands with the latest iteration of the Forza brand.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.