Forza Horizon screenshot
Forza Horizon screenshot

The effortless quality of the Forza Motorsport series has never found itself wanting for much, but if there's one ding on an otherwise pristine bodywork it's a lack of personality. The clinical professionalism of the early games gave way to an unpleasantly smug Jeremy Clarkson in the otherwise marvellous fourth game: despite the obvious brilliance of the stuff under the hood, Turn 10 has always struggled to imbue its work with a true identity.

A similar argument could be levelled at Forza Horizon, Playground Games' début attempt to transpose the beautiful physics and vehicular voyeurism of Microsoft's premier driving series into an open-world arcade burn. At least the smugness has gone, replaced with a slightly dated jaunt to Colorado's fictional Horizon festival, complete with cringe-worthy cutscenes, banging tunes and wittering radio DJs. Thankfully, though, Playground has also brought across Forza Motorsport's one truly important characteristic: class.

Forza Horizon is a driving game that shoehorns the tried and tested Turn 10 physics model into a compact section of open American roads, and what a game it is. Within seconds of booting up the game you're dropped onto the streets, hurtling towards the bright lights and thumping bass of the festival site, as a choon blasts out of the radio and the DJs chunter excitedly about this apparently life-changing event. As you speed down the highway, you're joined by sportscars and supercars, all roaring in the same direction. It quickly turns into an impromptu race as you desperately try and keep up, and the effect is staggering. Yes, you want to beat the other cars, but more than anything, you want to be there. You want to get to this amazing place and experience this phenomenon.

So, yes, the cutscenes are a little off, but Forza horizon nails the festival atmosphere spectacularly. You genuinely feel like you're part of something, and your rookie driver is simply a cog in this wax-polished machine, soaking in the gear shifts and the good times. Once you're out of the paddock in your car of choice - and Playground has done marvellous work cramming almost any vehicle a Forza-head could think of into its line-up - then you're free to drive wherever you want.

Most likely you'll elect to plough through the event structure, which borrows liberally from the likes of Burnout Paradise, Need For Speed, Test Drive and others without even feeling second-hand. There are standard races, illegal street challenges, PR stunts that let you test ludicrous, unobtainable cars, special events (think Top Gear), and everything in between. Other competitors will also be seen speeding through the streets in open play, and you can battle them in point-to-point races by simply driving up their backside and issuing a challenge.

The blend of emergent and structured gameplay is fantastic. For every circuited race there's another speed challenge along a twisting, treacherous mountain road. For every aimless drive into the wilderness there's a secret to uncover, or a new shortcut to dig up. Success in any area adds to your overall popularity, while competing in sanctioned events lets you get hold of new fluorescent wristbands, and entry into a higher level of lucrative races.
You don't just have to win events to gain fans, either. Playground has incorporated a slick skill system into its driving model, which rewards the familiar (near misses, drifts) and tacks it onto a tidy combo counter. You're positively encouraged to occasionally sack off the whole festival and go for a leisurely cruise into the Rockies.

Forza Horizon screenshot

And that's where the true joy in Forza Horizon's thumping heart comes piercing through. After a few hours of levelling up, bouncing from race to race and earning cash, I had enough money to buy a low-level Lamborghini. So naturally, I did just that. Instead of pootling along to another race event, though, I just started driving - 5.1 headphones, in-car view, Porter Robinson's Language on the radio. Bliss. Truly a seminal moment in video game vehiclism for me. I learned this new car on the road, I felt its subtleties, how it liked to slide through turns, how it roared through an apex. An hour of driving felt like ten minutes. Nothing achieved, really, in traditional gaming terms. But this was more than that. This, as stupid and preposterous as it sounds, was not gaming for the grind. It was gaming for the soul.

These kinds of magical moments are a huge part of why I still feel so passionately about the power and potential of video games, but outside of Criterion's portfolio I've never had that feeling from any other driving game. These things don't happen by accident, of course: the combination of Playground's superbly designed simulacrum of Colorado and Turn 10's majestic physics is an irresistible allure. Even with assists on, and handling that now leans subtly more towards the 'arcade' model than traditional Forza, there is a weight and feedback to the driving that simply doesn't exist in other games. Not even close.

Whether you're clutching a pad or sat at a wheel, too, Forza Horizon never misses a beat. The handling is so good, in fact, that it's quite distracting to just bounce off civilian cars when you plough into them at 150mph. Probably a wise design choice and a good way to differentiate the game from Criterion's work, but still a hammer to the face of your suspension of disbelief when everything else is so gloriously immersive.

If there's any other blemish on this otherwise sublime piece of work, then it's Forza Horizon's slightly flimsy multiplayer. Here you're offered car clubs, online races and grindable XP, but it all feels a little bit thin when compared to the freeform experimental stuff going on in Burnout Paradise and the upcoming Need For Speed: Most Wanted.

In truth, most of the true multiplayer will probably take place asynchronously, as Forza Horizon frequently chucks friends' times, speeds and challenges your way as another neat distraction from the upwards progression. That's another borrowed idea, of course, but Playground Games does it seamlessly, and truth be told it would actually be far more erroneous if this feature wasn't there in 2012. On top of this, too, there is the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, where players can trade their customised cars for credits and populate each other's Colorado with beautifully designed autophilia.

Still, I find it easy to ignore Forza Horizon's traditional multiplayer when the single-player is so captivating and enriching. Driving games are unique, because they are probably the only genre that backloads its prime content, meaning Forza Horizon only gets better as you progress. Once you've earned enough credits to get behind the wheel of the truly beautiful motors, the experience only becomes more euphoric.

Clearly, then, Forza needn't worry about its personality crisis any more, though Forza Horizon isn't a game that needs tedious cut-scenes to force a narrative; the road will do that on its own. Who needs a clumsy virtual love interest when you've got a Pagani Zonda in the garage?

Version Tested: Xbox 360

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User Comments

Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

I'll be happy to share the 2 preorder bonus cars I got through the Club, if I can. Then members should be able to use them in events if they wish.
Posted 14:11 on 28 October 2012
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

Just wanted to add information on something I wanted to know earlier but didn't find out until I bought the game: Not only does Horizon include what appears to be the full Paint/Design toolset from Forza 4, you can import all your old Forza 4 Decals (and presumably designs too, didn't check) directly into Horizon from within Horizon's Paint menus!

So if anyone wants a "Baby on Board" bumper sticker or an pool "8-Ball", they're now in my storefront for 1000 CR ;)
Posted 12:40 on 27 October 2012
dazzadavie's Avatar

dazzadavie

Right thats it, I renting this today!!!
Posted 08:15 on 27 October 2012
pblive's Avatar

pblive

Played for an hour or so tonight. Fantastic game, really gets you involved in the whole festival atmosphere. I love all the asynchronous challenges with friends. Just tried to beat a lap from Tom Orry but I need a faster car!
Posted 00:10 on 27 October 2012
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

No more staid racers tied only to predefined tracks for me. That much I can say with confidence.
Posted 16:50 on 26 October 2012
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

I was playing the demo again last night trying to beat some times my daughter set earlier when I wasn't looking (she loves it). That, glowing reviews, a bit more digging around and a few more YouTubes basically did it for me and I'll pick it up in the next few days.
Posted 16:06 on 26 October 2012
pblive's Avatar

pblive

Still waiting for my copy, should be here tomorrow. Can't wait, though. Really looking forward to it.
Posted 14:35 on 26 October 2012
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

On the whole, Horizon a very fun title - just the sort of 'racing' game I like. Minimal story, but sets the scene, dynamic racing, stunning visuals... but it is a 9/10 game.

If only they had included:
- More cars.
- Crazy customisation options (chrome paint, insane LED rims, and the like).
- Top Gear-based events.
- I like the three playlists resembling stages at the fesitval, and the music selection is rather well chosen, but the could/should be longer. That, and it would have been fantastic to unlock music videos/have videos of the bands featured playing a gig live and broadcast on the screens around the world in sync with the radio stations.

The last would probably be too intense to work in, but I would have liked something like that to be integrated and encourage further exploration. In all, a greater emphasis could have been placed on the whole festival idea, and the craziness which accompanies such a scene.
Posted 14:16 on 26 October 2012
MrHEWBO's Avatar

MrHEWBO

aaah, so many games i want, so little money
Posted 11:51 on 24 October 2012
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx@ squidman

Yeah I think it will drop in two-three months.

I remember Forza 3 went from 40 to 25 in two months and this is coming out at a bad time in my view.
Racing games tend to drop the quickest out of all the genre's from what I have seen, well maybe beat em up's a little more.
Posted 11:34 on 18 October 2012
squidman's Avatar

squidman@ enviro-bear

This was my fault. I've cocked these up about three times in the past two weeks, which is a sure sign that I'm getting old and losing my marbles.

FantasyMeister: There's not tuning but there is a basic upgrade system in place, so you can diddle with your cars a bit. Cars can be downgraded (for free) if they're too powerful for an event, but to jazz your cars up a bit you've got to drive back to the upgrade hub. You only bump into CPU players as far as I know. You can buy the tokens and stuff, and almost all of the confirmed DLC has been bog-standard car packs. I don't think the DLC is too obnoxious, though I never thought that about Forza 4 either. But I did buy the Porsche pack.

As for tight wallet advice, well, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you could buy both before Christmas for £19.99 each.
Posted 09:22 on 18 October 2012
Wido's Avatar

Wido

I'll be getting the standard edition. I like the rally dlc which is heading for Horizon, so I shall snatch up that season pass as well.
Posted 09:09 on 18 October 2012
pblive's Avatar

pblive

I loved the demo and the asynchronous multiplayer aspect is perfect for me. I'll be grabbing a copy as soon as I can, but I can't afford the Limited Edition this time around.
Posted 19:39 on 15 October 2012
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

Awesomesauce. It is a shame there are no Spykers in the main game, and the DLC plans are... well... pillaging tactics, but I think I shall indeed be picking this up Day One. Even tempted to go for the LE, given the VIP car pack on offer.
Posted 18:31 on 15 October 2012
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

Can you tune? Is the paint-job/decal system from Forza included? Can you upgrade cars out of their current class, e.g. upgrade a C-class car to an A-class and enter it into an A-class category? Is the open world like Test Drive Unlimited where you can bump into any player on the open road or is it a much more limited affair?

I've heard elsewhere that Forza's loathsome microtransactions have also crossed over to Horizon, how much content will a player miss out on if they decide not to spend more money than the £35.99-£39.99 they just spent buying the game?

Finally, it's always interesting that reviews usually start looking at history, but never seem to end looking to the future. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is just over 2 weeks away, any advice for tight wallets?
Posted 18:01 on 15 October 2012

Game Stats

Technical Specs
9
Out of 10
Forza Horizon
  • World-class handling and physics
  • Busy, bustling structure
  • Stunning to look at
  • Multiplayer a little thin
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 26/10/2012
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Racing
Rating: PEGI 3+
Site Rank: 120 5
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