Forza Horizon Review (Xbox360)

I was cynical about Forza Horizon's release. Racing games that build themselves around music festivals, hoodies, and absurd storylines haven't sat well with me this generation. For a series like Forza, I wasn't sure how a spin-off would suit the hardcore series we've come to love over the years. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

The hugely talented team at Playground Games has been assembled to take advantage of a market that is open to something a little special right now. Forza Horizon's big brother continues to perform excellently, leading the way for circuit racers across the last five years. Only Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and GRID have produced an experience worth savouring since Project Gotham 2 launched with the Xbox 360. We've had many attempts at festival racers, but none have quite escaped the pitfalls of trying to embed a title within popular culture.

Horizon produces scenery unlike anything we've seen in Forza before

Forza Horizon presents a 'Best Of' for racing games this generation. The bulky presentation of Codemasters' games, electric soundtrack of any Need for Speed title, and open roads of Test Drive Unlimited. Mix these with a slightly-tweaked variation of Forza's handling and you have yourself a polished racer.

The Horizon festival suffers from the cheesiness of other games. Unknown racer wins unlikely spot to compete, creates instant rivals and must fight to the top. Upon arriving into the planes of Colorado, he is greeted by an attractive lady who just might be a love interest. Cue seductive camera shots as she leans through the window to give him an earpiece to continue communication.

Competition begins quickly. You'll get accustomed to the map of Colorado within a few hours. It doesn't compete with the likes of Test Drive and FUEL on terms of scale, but it does if you consider quality. Canyons condemn vehicles to miniature stature, mountains rule the skyline, and towns settle in obscurity. The game propels a sense of holiday upon the player: you're here to win, if you don't, it's back to that 9-5.

Fireworks and fanfare welcome you to the festival

Forza hasn't been the most forgiving of lovers over the years. While most of the franchises nuances remain, small tweaks have been made to ensure you traverse the land comfortably. Collisions don't alter your car's effectiveness too readily, and crashes aren't likely to kill your speed. A slight bounce affords you time to make a mistake and move on. Assists can be removed if you prefer a more realistic experience. Playground has balanced the game perfectly, ensuring newcomers and veterans will feel challenged in a fair manner. The developer has even provided a rewind feature if all goes wrong—a somewhat cheeky nod at the racing genre as a whole.

Plenty of races are going to keep you busy. The most common are circuit based events, many of which incorporate steep climbs and twisting terrain that is a world away from the neat tarmac the series is used to. Point-to-point races offer a slight variation. You can give your car a real thrashing on these circuits, as sweeping corners beg to be powered into for the overtake. PR stunts will have you showing off the finer points of driving. Perhaps you'll need to take a picture of your car in a gorgeous location or sprint past a speed camera at a ridiculous pace. Showcase events take plaudits, and pit you against vehicles that wouldn't do so well on the track (I don't want to ruin this for you).

Other challenges include rival battles against Horizon competitors. This could be an A.I challenger you spot on the road or a player from your friend list. While the latter won't physically appear on the open map, their ghost car can be raced against on a set circuit. Such races are unbelievably tense. Bragging rights are well and truly up for grabs as you fight to make up tenths of a second to improve your time. The addictive online modes of Forza 4 return (including Cat and Mouse! Yay!), with up to eight players battling it out in the multiplayer arena.

Only true men drive in pink

Trinkets of Forza-isms remain throughout the game. Customisation is still in tact, with vinyl and the like making an appearance. Once again, I shall be making a Powerpuff Girl car. Tuning hasn't been included but you can purchase basic upgrades—just one indication of the slight change in direction. Playground's decision to omit such a feature is actually quite refreshing. Experienced players might bemoan the lack of tuning options, but this doesn't detract from the product's appeal. For once you don't need to worry about what's under the bonnet and can focus on the glorious world around you. Of course, it makes a difference actually having such an environment to enjoy.

My cynicism has been crushed. Forza Horizon does everything a modern racer needs to. It mixes excellent handling, beautiful scenery, and freedom together for a truly majestic title. Perhaps the biggest triumph is the exquisite balance Playground has managed to find between casual and hardcore racing. Dare I say it, Forza Horizon is arguably the most attractive and all-encompassing racer of the generation.

Top Gaming Moment: Showcase events are pretty spectacular.



By JonahFalcon (SI Elite) on Oct 23, 2012