Forza Horizon Review (Xbox 360)
Breaking off from the traditional formula Turn 10 Studios mastered, Forza Horizon takes you to a music festival in Colorado with open roads and an open world. With developers from Bizarre Creations, Codemasters, and other acclaimed racing developers, PlayGround Games is out to show people they are the next top-notch studio. They look to make the spin-off game just as successful as past iterations in the franchise.
Taking place during a music festival in Colorado, your main goal is to progress through each wristband, until you reach gold. Winning events is what dictates your next wristband and when you advance in the Festival. You also have a popularity ranking which starts at 250. To climb the ranks and reach No. 1, you will have to complete sponsor challenges for doing various tasks such as near misses, hitting road signs, sideswiping certain objects, passing other cars, and more.
Each challenge has ten levels, with you earning extra credits every time you finish one. Completing these sponsor challenges for Oakley, Addidas, Rockstar, or the other sponsors featured in the game, will net you way more credits and help you get more popular in the process.
There is a little story setup at the beginning, but it really takes a backseat to the racing. Your driver is the rookie, as the game loves to reiterate. He bears a striking resemblance to Robin Thicke, which I guess makes sense due to the setting being a music festival.
Darius Flynt, who has won the last three Horizon Festival's, is the main "antagonist." That word is in quotes because you hear very little out of Flynt. There are also cutscenes that show you out of your car. Graphically, they look great, but they don't really provide anything substantial -- to the story or the gameplay. They could have done without them and the game would have been fine.
There is a main hub in the middle of the map, and trust me, it's a big map. You can fast travel free of charge there anytime. That's where you can easily access your garage, auto shop, your car club, and the race central where you will go to get your new wristband.
After earning enough points from races you then acquire a new wristband. With each you one you obtain, new events will be unlocked for you to compete. These wristbands also progress the story and help you get that much closer to winning the Festival championship. Seventy total festival events are included in the main game. The events are on dirt, gravel and pavement tracks (sometimes mixed in one race) usually gated off, which seems odd since an open world is featured. There are checkpoint races and driver showdowns that give you more freedom. For those, staying on the suggested track is generally the best option, but there are occasions when taking a dirt road will help you.
To some, 70 events might not seem like a lot, but it will take you anywhere between 10-12 hours to fully earn every wristband and complete the Horizon Festival. Add even more hours if you plan on discovering everything the open world has to offer and if you plan on finishing every racing event (you don't have to compete in them all to finish the main game).
I am kind of disappointed that the only race types featured in the single-player are circuit events (lap-based), point-to-point and checkpoint races. None of them are downright boring to play, but after spending hours with the game, I expect a little more. Showcase events allow you to keep the car if you finish in first, but they are usually just a point-to-point race. Driver Showdown events (checkpoint races most of the time) will have you go against one of the A.I. drivers. If you win, you keep their car and eliminate them from the festival. They try to add some variety by having you compete against an airplane, a helicopter, and even a hot air balloon, but it's just not enough. It's a shame that the rally events were not included with the core game, but instead will be released as DLC in December. That would have added more diversity to the mix.
Even with only a few event types, the overall atmosphere surrounding the Horizon Festival is electric at times. Playground Games really captured the essence of what a music festival should feel like; with a killer soundtrack and a colorful and exquisite Colorado backdrop, you can't really ask for a better atmosphere for a racing game.
The cars handle very much like how they did in Forza Motorsport 4. In fact, on the back of the box it even touts about the game having "legendary Forza physics." With this now being an arcade racing game instead of a simulation one, it does take some time getting reacquainted with how each car handles. After a few races and free roaming, the handling starts to feel more comfortable. Driving almost 200MPH around a dam in one of the many car manufacturers (Ford, Lamborghini, Lotus, and many, many more) is exhilarating in free roam and even more so with the stunning backdrops presented to you.
The credit systems works similar to the Kudos system in the Project Gotham Racing franchise; which makes sense seeing as how past Bizarre Creations developers worked on both the PGR series and Forza Horizon. These credits are spent on fast traveling on the map, purchasing cars, and designs in the storefront. Earning credits is no hard feat and you should never have an issue with running out.
If you hit a wall with a combo going, the majority of the time you will lose it. There are times, though, that it's inconsistent -- sometimes the combo will keep going, sometimes it will not. It's a minor flaw it helps you more than it hurts you. When you do actually hit that aforementioned wall, expect some damage to occur to your car. You can turn said damage off, but there really is no need to seeing as how that is all purely cosmetic in this game.
Racing line and rewind system both make a return. The racing line is part of the GPS when you are free roaming and it's still available to use in races if you prefer. Rewinds also work in the open world and there are no consequence for using them. Limiting how many rewinds you get during a race would be preferred -- but again, if you don't like them -- you can disable them. Driver assists can also be tweaked to your liking. If you want automatic or manual shifting, you can decide, if you want to change the difficulty of the A.I. drivers you can. So the flexibility of the assists and A.I. setting remain intact.
Speaking of the A.I. -- they provide a fair challenge, even on the medium difficulty. They, of course, give you real competition on higher ones. Rubberbanding is indeed here, but won't be noticeable to the casual audience. They do a good job of not having the rubberbanding A.I. too annoying like other arcade racing games *cough* Split/Second *cough.* There are times when they will mess up and hit a wall or give you a good 'ole fashioned love tap, and there are times where they keep you on the edge of your seat because they are right there with you at the end of a race. The A.I. was always top-notch in the Forza Motorsport games, and it's no exception this time around.
A day/night cycle is featured in the game, and although it's nice they included it, racing at night can be difficult at times depending on the track. The country roads are the worst at this due to no street lights being anywhere nearby. Turning up the brightness helps with this problem, though.
Almost everything the gameplay offers just feels right. From the A.I. to those physics everyone has come to know and love feel off at first, but easily start feeling natural about an hour in. Adding that to an arcade racing and free roam game seem like the perfect formula and Playground games proves that is the case with Forza Horizon.
Forza Horizon is the first game in the series to feature an open world. With that comes 216 total roads for you to drive on. Roads are gray, but as you drive on them they will fill up white to let you know the ones you have been on. When driving to a new event or fast travelling to the central hub, you have to wait for the loading to end. Luckily, even when the game is not installed, the load times are incredibly fast.
Traffic is obviously introduced with the introduction of the open world. You will see the occasional car or two, but there is never a huge load of traffic on any one road. I understand that, but at the same time, I don't. In an open-world game you expect to see more drivers, you know, out on the open road.
When driving around in free roam, you'll notice other drivers from the Festival. If you tap them on their bumper you can then challenge them to a race. That is not required at all, but it does give you more credits if you manage to win. You can also use Kinect for your GPS. Instead of pulling up the map and scrolling to an area, you can simply say "GPS" and the location you want to go to. It's not something that saves a ton of time, and honestly, it really is completely useless unless you just love using your voice to control a specific aspect of a video game.
Throughout the enormous map of Colorado are 100 discount signs that offer discounts on car parts. For each one you find, those parts will cost 1 percent less. So if you can find all 100, you can upgrade cars for no charge. There are also barns that hide rare cars, from a BMW to a Bugatti. Outposts will let you fast travel if you ever get tired of driving everywhere and they also feature PR stunts -- challenges that will require you to reach a certain speed, hit a certain amount of points in a combo, or take a picture of your car in front of beautiful scenery. All of these optional items are something an open-world game needs. Not only that, but there are also 30 street races that don't help you progress towards the Horizon Festival championship, but they do help you collect more credits. The completionists will enjoy the roads, signs, outposts, and barns in the game. If that is not your thing, you can just simply complete the Festival events without even worrying about them.
Online free roam features co-op challenges with you and up to seven friends. Very similar to challenges featured in Burnout: Paradise, you'll earn credits for everyone reaching a certain speed in a speed zone, reaching a set number of near misses, and so on. Getting a group together to try and knock out those free roam challenges is just as fun as it was a few years ago with Paradise.
Modes featured online are Infected, Cat and Mouse, King, Circuit, and Point-to-Point. The three former modes are all party modes while the other two are races and tracks featured in the single player. You can easily jump into those modes via the custom search or you can join specific lobbies. Social Racing is the default difficulty and assists, Veteran racing allows you to pick the settings, Pure Skill has the game pick the car and upgrades for you, Playground is a lobby with nothing but the party modes previously mentioned. Online performed well. I had no issues with lag or disconnections from races, and the free roam and party modes are insanely fun and addicting to play.
You do rank up online. Experience points, like in most online games, is what determines when that happens. You'll earn XP based on how you finish in a race, how many people are in the lobby, and by doing those same skill moves from the single player. Every time you level up you will either win a new car for use in multiplayer and single player or extra credits. It adds some extra incentive to keep playing online if you want that nice new car.
Fans of designing vinyl groups and paint schemes will be happy to know that the storefront is back. So if you enjoy making nifty designs, whether that be an Operation Sports logo or a Microsoft logo, you can do that here. No worries if you designed something in Forza 4, as you can easily import all of that into Forza Horizon.
Asynchronous gameplay is also presented to you if online, head-to-head multiplayer is not your cup of tea. Upon completing each event, you are asked if you want to try and beat your rivals time. That rival can be a person on your friends list or a random person who has completed a race on that track. The problem with this is that you don't ever feel like racing that same track a second time. They also offer so few credits that it's usually not worth the time to even try at defeating your rival and their time.
Forza Horizon is one of the best arcade racing games to release in some time. The out of car sequences and story are both odd and lackluster, but the core gameplay provides hours of glee. Adding a little spice to the race events would have been nice, but they are still enjoyable to play. After four games based around simulation racing, it's delightful to see Microsoft let the franchise try something new and different. Whether you're a fan of past iterations, or this is your first foray into the series, Forza Horizon provides some of the most pleasant experiences you can ask for from a racing game.
Learning Curve: Less of a learning curve when compared to past games in the series. But if you're just starting to get into racing games, it may take a few races to get used to the controls. It's nothing that is extremely difficult to master as it's aimed towards a more casual audience.
Control Scheme: Like most racing games, the RT is your gas, LT is your brake. No huge difference between this and other Forza games. If you're having trouble with the controls, it does a good job of explaining them to you when you first start the game.
Visuals: Even though they used some assets (mainly cars) from Forza 4, PlayGround games did a superb job with the overall look of the game. Colors are vibrant and just pop on the screen. The lens flare can get annoying at times, but it usually doesn't bother you for too long. The forest and mountain backdrops are absolutely gorgeous. It's definitely one of the better looking racing games out there.
Audio: As with past Forza games, each car sounds amazing and like its real-life counterpart. Add that to one of the best soundtracks to be in a racing game in recent memory and you get some fantastic sounds. Artists such as The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex, Neon Trees, and more lend their music to the game. The voice acting is hit-and-miss, but that can be forgiven due to all the other impressive audio surrounding it.
Customization: With each car you can still customize vinyl groups (make your own design), the color, and you can either upgrade the car parts yourself or have the game auto upgrade. The auto upgrade is great for people who know little-to-nothing about the guts of a car.
Value: Over 70 festival events, 30 street races, and many side objectives to discover and unlock, Forza Horizon is well worth the price of admission. We do wish there were more places and items to discover with the open-world, but what's here will keep people entertained and busy for hours upon hours.
Score: 8.5 (Great)