Turn 10 have done something different with Forza Horizon. Taking on an advisory role and moving away from the steady fastidious simulation nature of the Forza racing series, they’ve given UK based Playground Games the chance to take Forza in a different direction. Folks we’re headed to Colorado for some open-world racing.
The game is based around a festival; one populated by fast cars, gangster males and scantily clad ladies – so typical stereotyping cheese is going on here, one that is far removed from the clinical precision of the Forza series of racers. Horizon shouldn’t be thought of as a Forza game however. Although it shares a moniker, there’s not a great amount that relates the two games other than that. It feels more like a Need For Speed game, mixed in with some Test Drive Unlimited.
Progression through the game comes from two main areas: the wristband race series and the popularity rating. The first of these pits the gamer in a number of eight car races, both circuit based and point-to-point. Depending on the level of difficulty set, the AI can be caught fairly quickly or be seriously aggressive. Regardless of the quality of the AI, the races always feel exciting with the open road nature of the game adding to that sensation of speed. For each race won, cash and points are awarded, and once these trip over in to the next wrist band level, more race areas are opened up, after you’ve visited the festival hub for the upgrade. When a race series is complete, the current champ will want a one-on-one challenge, and while there is no need to complete these to progress, if won, it will reward you with the beaten car.
The popularity rating, starting at two hundred and fifty, unlocks special races in the game. Points for increasing this are earned for driving around, performing slides, drafting opponents, colliding with smashable scenery and nearly hitting oncoming traffic. These levels soon rise, giving the opportunity to partake in some unique events, such as racing planes, balloons, helicopters and the magnificent Mini Cooper S showcase, which almost feels like the chase scene in the Italian Job. Win these specials and keep the car.
The open road nature of the game means there is a need to travel across the map to reach the locations of the various races. It is possible to fast travel across the map, although this will cost you game currency to do so, but it is not exactly a chore to drive there yourself. The scenery of the Colorado back-drop makes for some fantastic vistas, which work majestically with the offered photo mode, especially as the game changes from day to night, making exploring the different routes a joy. Likewise, audiophiles will be very pleased with the engine roars and exhaust notes the sundry of marques make; it's just audibly orgasmic.
Different cars will be needed for the numerous events, ranging from D to R class (there are no E or F based cars to drive here) – but motors can be tuned relatively cheaply compared to new purchases, especially if you manage to smash enough of the “upgrade” banners to pieces; one of a number of side-quests available, along with speed cameras and various sponsored challenges for extra cash prizes.
What makes a negative impact on the experience is this background nagging to spend real money on tokens and other DLC. The roster of cars, whilst impressive, is limited compared to that in Forza 4, although you can buy the season pass for a hefty 4000 MSP (or another £34) which includes six car packs of six cars, filling the selection out a bit and saving 15% on the individual purchases. However, the contents of these packs hasn’t been announced yet, so it’s pot luck on whether that deal is right for you.
There are still enough cars in the game to make purchasing extra DLC unnecessary (from Nissan GT-Rs and Ford Focus STs to Ferraris and Lamborghinis), although earning money can be a grind, and useful cars aren’t gifted quite as often as in its brethren. This brings things back to tokens; every time a new car is purchased, you have the option of buying them with real money, i.e., token purchases. Introduced in Forza 4, (and present in recent NFS games), you can cheat your way to the expensive motors without having to fully play the game. Given that many of cars cost millions in-game, there’s this overriding feeling that it seems like it’s purposely pushing you to spend just a little bit more money on the game (equally true inviting you to double your experience earnings with further tokens for a couple of hours boost).
The season pass also includes the rallying expansion due in mid-December (available separately for 1600 MSP). Currently, handling in the game although based on the Forza 4 physics engine, isn’t what could be called simulation. Thankfully it’s far superior to the open world racing of TDU2, in that it works very well for the style of game it’s aiming to be, and that would be an arcade racer with a touch of physics. Driving on the dirt in rear wheel drive Ferraris isn’t the handful of death via fence poles you might expect. It’s little different from the feel of the tarmac, perhaps requiring just a touch more opposite lock to control the car’s path around corners. With the rally DLC the feedback through the controller may well be more pronounced, as it is there’s little vibration present here, which for long distance cruising is probably just as well.
DLC nagging aside, Forza Horizon is a solid arcade racer, if not the hardcore open world sim some were hoping for. There are plenty of challenging and enjoyable game hours here to be had, not just across the single-player mode, but in terms of leaderboard chasing and online racing, so long as the lobbies remain populated. It is great fun exploring what Colorado has to offer and a worthy driving game to sport the Forza name.