A new Horizon
If you're not all that into the tuning scene, but you like a comfortable mix between arcade style race options and Forza handling, then right out of the gate, this game is for you. If you're a Forza purist like a good friend of mine you might not be sold on it. Playground Games under the careful supervision of Turn 10 have managed to straddle the line between the Need for Speed series of old, Test Drive Unlimited and Forza Motorsport and they've done it successfully enough with this game that it provides a solid entry point into an open world racer with pristine car handling and lots of fun.
Forza Horizon is set around the concept of the huge Horizon festival which takes place through miles and miles of open road, closed tracks and nail-biting point to point races, with some street racing and showcase events thrown in for good measure. The single player casts you as an unknown racer rising up through the ranks of the Forza Elite starting out at 250th in the game, you compete in events to gain cash and defeat the reigning champions of each band.
When you're driving though you rack up popularity by being cool behind the wheel, near misses, dodging traffic and awesome driving will net you a healthy stack of points which replaces the Forza 4 driving level. Earn enough points and you'll change rank dropping you closer and closer to that elusive #1 spot.
The open world map is linked by Race Central which offers the usual Forza style marketplace, auto-showroom, car clubs, paint shops and more. Then you go out on the open road and hit speed traps, speed camera zones, race other NPC drivers in one on one challenges and just have tons of fun. You can drive for miles to get to the next highlighted race, find hidden cars in barns, or just explore to knock over discount signs - get all 100 and you'll never have to pay for an upgrade again.
There are fast travel stations dotted around the map and these cost 10,000 to use, however, the good news is that they have 3 challenges that you can complete to lower the cost, get all 3 and you'll get a 100% discount and travel for free. However with miles of gorgeous open road and lots of points to earn, you really just want to put your foot to the floor and DRIVE!
Gameplay is typical of Forza 4 and retains that same car handling smoothness the series is known for. There are lots of assists to toggle on and off to account for any kind of driving skill and the game is great for newbies and vets alike. The game also has a day/night cycle which changes the way you approach the driving experience, plus tearing around mountain corners at night at over 100mph is pretty amazing.
As previously mentioned the game has several types of races for all classes of cars, from the point to point races of the open road, a mix of offroad and tarmac racing, street races where anything goes and special showcase events which see a Ford Mustang vs. a Mustang airplane for example. These earn you special cars and a ton of cash. There are also circuit races and a few other things to discover.
Taking a leaf from NFS there's also a version of Autolog that tracks your progress at speed cameras etc and allows you to challenge your friend's times/scores. It also gives you Rival recommendations and if you're into the competitive side of the game, this is perfect for bragging rights or settling grudges.
That is the gameplay in a nutshell, you can still design and sell cars of course if you're looking to make quick cash that way - there's always a market for a great car paint job and we've seen some truly amazing ones on Forza over the years.
Horizon is a good looking game, it has that Forza Motorsport graphical polish, solid replay cameras and a mix of in-car, third person, bonnet and stripped down cameras depending on how you like to race. Regardless though, the frame-rate zips along without a hiccup or a tiny bit of popin/out. The level of detail on the environments and the cars is top notch and we can't really say much more than that. Day and night are implemented really well with sunsets and sunrises looking truly gorgeous.
There is a lot going on here on the dashboard and interior of the various cars and Forza Horizon is no slouch when it comes to animating the various characters in the game's racing glory story. We have no issues with the animation at all and its nice to see this kind of detail back in a racing game, we haven't had this much joy since NFS on the 3DO.
Forza Motorsport has always been known for its solid grip on racing physics and handling, so this game is no exception there either.
Depending on your difficulty setting the AI will either be a pushover mostly or result to a catalogue of dirty tricks and tactics. As far as we can see as well, there doesn't seem to be any rubber-band AI going on at all - top marks here then.
Forza has always excelled at bringing the screech of tyres, the roar of the V8 and the hiss of a turbocharger to racing games. Forza Horizon is no different and the sound effects in the game really immerse you in the experience.
There are some good tracks here on the radio stations, we're not sure if we have a favourite but when you hear tunes like Blue Monday you know you're on a good station!
You get a mix of voice actors playing the roles of the game's champions and organisers, radio DJ's. They do a good job but the true fun is in the racing.
The dialogue is well written enough and some of it repeats on the various stations now and then, it isn't a bad thing though.
The fun of the game extends to online play too, your mileage here is going to vary too since we've had some pretty smooth and some downright laggy games across the various servers. There are custom player servers though, so you get what you connect to.
You can setup a server of your own, invite friends, allow randoms and play numerous gametypes all with an amazing array of customisation options. If you want a free roam challenge mode, go for it, there's no traffic and you have to basically work with your buddies to complete challenges on the miles and miles of open world road.
You can also choose from structured race types like point to point and circuits, as well as special gametypes like King and Infected.
There's a lot to explore and its best to just get out there and immerse yourself in the fun.
With a pretty solid car list and more packs of DLC rolling in each month, Horizon is a firm entry point to the Forza series and could provide a good bridge between 4 and of course 5 when it comes out. If you want something different than Forza's core experience, you can't go far wrong with Horizon.