Review: Forza Horizon
What do you get when you mix a bunch of rich kids, a vast array of vehicles for them to drive, and a huge city to use as their playground? That's right! You get Forza Horizon.... or you know, Pretoria.
- Worth The Time?It won't consume your life, but it's great on the side.
- Things LovedThe cars and the world are absolutely stunning. Horizon really comes alive at night. There is a lot to do. There's some cool showcase events. It's a great arcade Forza offering that still offers some simulation options.
- Things HatedSometimes it gets a bit bland thanks to having to manually drive to races instead of fast travelling. The themes of the game might not be for everyone. Kinect functionality is broken.
- RecommendationIf you're a fan of the Forza series, then this might be a refreshing change in scenery for you or slightly too arcade-y. If Most Wanted wasn't for you, perhaps this might be the game that shakes that racing itch.
- Name: Forza Horizon
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online competitive, co-operative
- Platforms: Xbox 360
- Developer: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
- Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
- Price: R 500
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
How many of you have watched the first The Fast & The Furious movie? You know, before it was the action blockbuster franchise it is now. When it was just about drag races in tuned cars. Do you remember Race Wars, the racing event out in the desert where people took their cars to race, and Jessie totally blew it with his dad’s Jetta?
When you play Forza Horizon for the first time, it will have exactly that feel of Race Wars. Because effectively, that is what Forza Horizon actually is; it’s a festival, except here the location is a fictional Horizon, Colorado, and instead of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, the stars of the show are spoiled rich kids with nothing better to do.
The entire game has this feel of ‘preppy’ college student, from your character to the other racers to the game’s soundtrack. This might detract a few of you and it certainly took me a while to get used to it — I kept expecting excessive mentions of swag, and at least one guy in a Tapout t-shirt drinking a can of Monster energy drink — but eventually you warm to the ‘feel’ of it all and it becomes a part of the setting, where you attempt to stand out and distinguish yourself from the crowd. And you do that, of course, by winning races.
There are a lot of races in Forza Horizon. A lot. Seriously, this game will take you a while. Races in the game are broken into various categories and ranks, with a whole host of restrictions per event. For example, there are Street Race events which are entirely separate and restrict you only by class rating, and can be found in car lots. Then there are Showcase events which give you a car and task you with out-racing various other objects such as a hot-air balloon, a helicopter or even a bi-plane. Yes, you race those in the game. There are also PR Stunts which task you with either achieving a certain speed at a nearby speed camera, taking a picture of a car at a nearby landmark, or achieving a set total of points (we’ll get to this) within a time and distance limit.
Most races have a rival time attached, where after completing the race you are then asked if you would like to beat a rival’s score. This could be one of your friends on your friends list, or another user if you had the best time of everyone on your friends list. This is entirely optional but does earn you some extra cash and obvious bragging rights.
Finally, we have the regular Festival events which are your run-of-the-mill events, which have more varied restrictions such as only Ferraris or only cars from the eighties, and so on. As you progress through the game and complete Festival events, you earn points which accrue like experience towards different-coloured wristbands. Unlocking these wristbands then allows you access to more advanced races, as you work towards your next wristband. Upon earning the final wristband, you get the chance to take on the top-tier races as well as have a shot at Horizon’s number one racer, Darius Flynt.
Working together with wristbands is the Popularity system employed by the game, which awards you points for actions in the game. This includes, but is not limited to, speed, drift, e-drift, drafting, burnout and even cool tricks such as thread-the-needle which is when you drive between two cars without touching either. As your points accrue, you become more and more popular, starting out at 250 and working your way to number one. The Popularity system works well for rewarding careful driving, even in an arcade racer, as driving into a wall or too aggressively causes you to lose all the points you’ve just earned. Thankfully this system is very forgiving as after a few seconds of earning points, it is saved to your Popularity, and the change in your rank displayed to you in real time.
When you’re tired of the singleplayer experience, you’re welcome to take it online, either in regular free-roam where you can team up with a bunch of racers and complete various, really difficult, challenges, or in a lobby where you can partake in regular races. These include your standard race modes as well as a few interesting additions such as one where you must tag players as an infected player, or survive the longest as anyone else. There are quite a few modes to try out and while they’re varied enough to keep you wanting more, chances are if you will favour multiplayer, it’s going to be for the free roam possibilities and those ridiculous challenges tasked to players. Of course, all of this is entirely up to you and you may stick to just singleplayer and leaderboards if you so desire.
Visually, while this is no Frostbite 2.0 racing title (cough) it’s no slouch either. The world of Horizon is absolutely gorgeous to behold, whether it’s the busy and colourful Race Central area which forms the game’s ‘capital’ or the outer areas including a damn, a canyon and various other town-like areas. When the game’s day-night cycle kicks in and the sun goes down, everything starts to look even more breathtaking with the lighting effects of the world itself and the cars zipping all over the place. Oh, did I not mention that? There are other racers patrolling the world at all times. Kind of like in Underground 2, except here it could be online as well, if you so desire. Meaning actual humans in those cars, driving past you. This together with the in-game radio system which is basically the game’s soundtrack spread across three genres together with some awesome DJ voice-acting, makes for a feeling that really doesn’t have another gaming comparison.
The cars are as beautiful and authentic-sounding as ever thanks to the use of the Forza 4 engine to digitally recreate an impressively large stock of cars, although I have frowned heavily way too many times at the lack of Porsche in this game, but that’s nothing new from the Forza series. Together with the regular array of supercars, you get some cool tuner favourites as well as older classics and even a few stranger inclusions such as a Range Rover, seriously who would race that? Do you pray for global warming? Cars in the game may be modified with both visual upgrades including bumpers, rims and paint jobs, and performance upgrades that cover your usual Forza fare. I did however struggle to find the performance tuning feature in the game, so I’m not sure whether you get the same level of control over your performance as previous Forza titles.
Further, and I found this to be a really cool addition personally, at random points in the game you are tasked with finding a barn which holds a very special, very unique classic vehicle in a run-down state, which is then repaired for you by the game’s mechanic, Dak. If you so desire, you may also gift cars to other players, or receive them as gifts from others. On that note, I would like to thank Marko for gifting me his entire garage of vehicles.
It must be stressed that Forza Horizon is first and foremost an arcade offering. While it does offer some simulation racing in turning off all the assists and turning on damage and simulation steering, it’s still meant to be played as an arcade title. To that extent, PlayGround Games have done a really good job of making this title worthy of its Forza name. However it is not a true sequel to Forza 4 Motorsport, but rather a spinoff. The proper sequel should be the next Turn 10-developed offering with the Forza moniker but this one, Horizon, was just a really solid foray into the arcade world of racers. And rightly so, given the experience that PlayGround carries, with racers.
In a year where Need For Speed: Most Wanted released and was so well-received, it seems a shame that Turn 10 (or Microsoft, perhaps) decided to use 2012 as the year they dipped their feet into the warm arcade waters, as it was very clearly overshadowed by the Criterion-developed, Frostbite 2.0-powered, Electronic Arts offering. And that’s kind of sad because I know at least one person who actually prefers this game, and I can see why. As a racing title, Forza Horizon is a wonderful addition that does little wrong. It might get tedious for you, having to drive to all of your races instead of always being able to fast-travel, but that’s really the only proper criticism that I can throw at this game.
Okay there is one other issue I have with it, but I don’t particularly blame the game for this. Kinect functionality… is not a thing. The game sure boasts the ‘Better With Kinect’ functionality but after rigorous internet searches and attempts, I could not get it working, even once. It simply does not function as it should, or at all even. Thankfully this does not detract at all from the game itself as it was always an unnecessary addition anyway.