Building on the stellar Forza brand, Playground Games has brought to the table one of the most varied and robust racing games available.
- A staggering amount of stuff to do
- Multiplayer that features cat and mouse and infected modes
- It looks gorgeous, sounds gorgeous and plays gorgeously
- An inevitable dearth of content you'll have to buy later
- Nighttime driving can be challenging at 200 mph
- If you don't like Skrillex, you're sorta screwed
Forza Horizon Review:
I don’t want to be Master Chief. I don’t want to be Shepard, the Vault Dweller, or John Marston. Sure they’re awesome and undeniably badass, but their existences are stressful, difficult and ultimately miserable. On the other hand, I do want to go to the Horizon Festival around which Forza Horizon revolves. Horizon is one of the few video game experiences I’ve ever had in which I wanted to physically be in the game.
The game takes place during a fictional festival in a fictional portion of Colorado. In this festival, 250 race car drivers gather to tear up the pavement while adoring fans look on. Races take place anywhere and everywhere, and they’re all set against the background of gorgeous Colorado vistas. The cherry on top is the soundtrack, which features some of the best driving songs imaginable. Forza Horizon is an experience—one that anyone who enjoys driving must have.
The ultimate driving experience
The title screen for the game is simply a man leaning against a Dodge Viper parked on a cliff overlooking a sunset. I smiled at the placard and found it relaxing. Little did I know, the actual game was similarly Zen. Instead of starting—like so many racing games do—with a tutorial and a few tune-up races, Horizon simply plops you right down on a road in the middle of the map and suggests you drive to the main hub of the festival to get started. I did not follow this suggestion.
Instead, I turned up the radio (Avicii, as it turned out) and simply drove around the game for a few hours. I marveled at the views, entered a number of impromptu races, and earned some coin. Yup, that’s right; I earned currency outside of a race. Just by drifting, passing, and setting awesome speed records, I saved up enough to buy myself a Ferrari—before even starting the main game. This is what’s so great about Horizon: there is absolutely no pressure to do anything but drive around. You aren’t grinding away to earn money for a car, because simply driving around for a few hours will earn you enough coin to buy all but the most expensive rides. There aren’t even cops to avoid.
None of this would be worthwhile, however, if the driving wasn’t so delightful. The driving is smooth and delivers the type of perfection people expect of a brand as storied as Forza. The rewind button actually feels more natural in this game as you’re trying to earn style points or set speed records. But beyond that is just how natural the game feels. I could intuitively feel every turn, every car, and every transmission. The customization menu is as deep as you want it to be, and I could customize my car to drive exactly how I wanted it to drive. To win certain races, I found myself adjusting the minutest details of my car so I could be competitive.
An endless horizon
This brings me to the actual meat of the game. You take the role of a rookie race car driver who is ranked dead last (250/250) in popularity at the festival. Through a number of races and events, you work your way up to the top, becoming the most renowned and respected racer at the festival. This quickly became one of my favorite features in the game, because it adds the RPG element of constant achievement; however, instead of leveling up, you’re climbing up a leaderboard. And this isn’t the only leaderboard in the game.
The map is riddled with speed tests that take either your speed as you pass them or an average between two markers. I found this occupying a stupid amount of my time as I bitterly fought with someone on my friends list to retain the top speed on a certain stretch of road. Don’t forget, this whole time I was racking up points, buying new rides and improving my current car. The sheer amount of things to do in the game is astounding.
Forget the speed traps. Forget the random spontaneous races with other racers. Forget the PR stunts that allow you to drive sweet cars and take amazing photos in scenic spots. Forget the quirky set races like the one with eight Mini Coopers racing through a city or another wherein you race a hot air balloon. After all that, you’re still left with an incredibly robust storyline, in which your racer is working his way up through the ranks and gaining different colored wristbands in his fight for the top.
Zombies. Because, duh.
If you grow tired of the single player game (though I don’t know how you could) venturing over to multiplayer offers just as wonderful of an experience. There are, of course, vanilla races you can enter, but the other offerings are much better. These, as well with the rest of the multiplayer game modes all feature a dice roll at the end that allows you the opportunity to win a new car or some cash. Breaking away from traditional tenants of racing sims, Horizon also features free roam, so you can drive around aimlessly with friends. Further, there is a cat and mouse game in which teams of cats each try to get their mouse across the finish line first by interfering with the other team’s mouse. And what game would be complete without zombies?
No, there aren’t hordes of undead roaming the Colorado countryside (not to say I would mind that), but instead a classic infection gameplay style that simply encourages infected players to crash into other non-infected players. At times I felt like I was playing Twisted Metal—it was really a surprise to see in a Forza game and something I’m looking forward to more of. Though Playground Games has adopted Turn 10 Studios’s tradition of releasing a buttload of DLC after release, and for this game, I might actually consider buying it.
Like driving? Buy Horizon
I’m the type of guy who actually goes for Sunday drives. Weird, I know, but it’s true. As such, Forza Horizon felt like it was developed just for me. It may not be the perfect title for the F1 fans looking for a classic racing simulator, but for anyone who has ever turned their head as a Lamborghini whips past them on the interstate; this game needs to be played. A deep and full-bodied single-player compliments the unique multiplayer; all rounding off to form a stunningly thorough game that demands your time.