Turn 10 and Playground Games have really outdone themselves with their concerted effort on Forza Horizon which released on October 23rd in NA regions and October 26th in PAL regions.
Hours upon hours of my days and nights have melted away as I’ve been immersing myself in the Horizon Festival and I am thoroughly impressed with good reasons.
Everything you’ll encounter in the environments of Horizon looks to have had a painstaking amount of detail work put into it. Realistic-looking mountain scenery in both the fore and background (I used to live in the Rockies so this is a welcome sight to me), flat, dry deserts, and rocky outcroppings contribute to the feeling of being in Colorado.
The crowds surge and move as they cheer for racers and almost seems to be a living mass if you can sit still long enough to watch. I noticed this while I was pulling into the Festival Hub and slid to a stop just short of the guard rail and a fan in the crowd leaned down as if they were inspecting the car.
Objects and pieces in the environment have a great amount of attention on them as well. Houses and buildings in the populated areas that you’ll race through have every sort of detail that you’d expect, trees are incredibly close to the real thing, and even the inflatable tube men move as though they were recorded, not programmed.
The cars are just as beautiful as they are in real life (some even more-so) with light and movement effects giving the feel of how much time must have been spent on each one. The engine from Forza 4 has seen an upgrade and this is definitely reflected in the look of the vehicles you’ll be behind the wheel of and against.
The storyline of Forza Horizon is fairly standard so far as racing games go, which isn’t a bad thing because there’s only so many directions the plot can go in a game that is primarily about racing. The player starts as an unknown/nobody of a challenger aiming to rise through the ranks and become the best.
As you enter the game, a short intro is followed by quickly being tossed behind the wheel of an already speeding Viper engaged in a 1-on-1 race. I found this startling for a moment but a welcome change as the control tutorials of games tend to be very slow and dry. After soundly thrashing that opponent, it is revealed who you will really be playing as: a normal and generic looking guy with the odd name of [Insert your Gamertag here]. The face isn’t important as you don’t see it very often and isn’t the focus of the game at all. What is important is that you’re about to be thrust suddenly into a race for the last ten available free-entry tickets to the Horizon Festival with a 1995 Volkswagen Corrado which feels severely hobbled compared to what you just had control of. I’m not sure if its possible to get in higher or lower than the very last free ticket because that’s where I placed.
From there on in, the game is all about winning various race types to improve not only your overall standings in the festival but popularity with the crowd, cash flow, car selection, and availability of different events until you become the champion above the entire field of racers.
Choices that were made for car selection are great but it feels like there is less of a selection for purchase and as prizes. There is still a great variety but there does seem to be gaps that were made in favor of forthcoming DLC car packs. That being said, there were bonuses for pre-ordering that expand the player’s garage right from the get-go as well as the availability of the odd free item available through the Marketplace. It seems to me as well that some manufacturers with great racing history are underrepresented while others whose main income source is making consumer vehicles have too many. I’ll never understand the need to include and race such low-end cars that can’t top 60 mph but, unlike other installments, Forza Horizon makes even these fun to drive. I thoroughly approve of the exclusion of the F-Class vehicles (at least I haven’t seen any).
On the road, competitors seem to have lost their near-invincibility in terms of being spun/rammed off the road but there are still instances where I have to suspend my disbelief in order to wrap my mind around. For instance, when I t-bone a small 80s Toyota car that is nearly at a standstill with a Ford truck that is twice the weight and moving at 100+mph, I’d expect it to move more than a few inches and not to stop me dead on the road. Conversely, that same small car shouldn’t have the power to use the p.i.t. maneuver so easily on the same truck.
Otherwise smooth controls make the different drivetrain types (FWD, RWD, and AWD) feel more like they do in real life but taking certain vehicles and upgrading them to their maximum potential can make them much easier to put into a dead spin and lose control, placement in the race, and vehicle function (since playing with damage on is the most fun). An example of this is with the Lotus 2-Eleven. At the base, it is a great little race car with excellent on-road handling; after slapping all upgrades onto it, half throttle from a standstill will have you doing donuts and earning popularity points for the burnout which is not so helpful at the start of a race. A few times while driving my newly overpowered car, our Editor Marykate heard me shout, “Jesus, take the wheel,” because something small had put me spinning or airborne and I couldn’t recover from it. That being said, it’s overall much easier to recover from sway and e-brake drifts in more than just AWD drive vehicles.
Race variety, ongoing challenges, and inter-player challenges go a long way towards making the value of Forza Horizon shine through. So far as variety goes, there are point-to-point sprints, street races (with higher cash rewards and chances at pink-slips), regular circuit races, and rival races for pink slips. Showcases completely stand on their own since you’ll find yourself pitted against either a field of identical cars which makes it so that driving talent is what will win, or in a specific vehicle against unconventional opponents like planes, hot air balloons, helicopters, etc. After every race, you’ll be shown the Gamertag and time of a player across LIVE who time ended up being just a little better than yours and you will be given the chance to race against that in order to collect additional bounty for topping them. You’ll also see times from your friends pop up as you cross through speed zones (places where you try to get a high overall speed through a specific area) and camera traps that clock your speed as you cross them. Currently, MXL’s Richard and I are trading best speeds back and forth in this way.
Challenges and increasing popularity will also serve to keep you busy as there is lots to do but these seem to just fly by as you get out on the road. Forza Horizon’s challenges, despite increasing level requirements, are easy to complete and shower you with more and more money as your skills increase. Everything required for Challenges will raise your popularity so this shoots up pretty quickly as well. As this goes up, you will be invited to perform races at Showcase events mentioned above.
With all the positives of the gameplay noted, there are some small things that detract from the experience.
First and foremost is that there is almost always a loading screen for everything. There are two on the way in to each race, sometimes three depending on what is going on. There are four loading screens in the process of entering the garage, selecting a car, upgrading it, and exiting to the world map. This on top of the garage menu being disordered compared to other games in the series makes for a tedious and time-consuming menu to menu experience. Improvement has been made on previous titles in that some of the loading screens are quite short but some seem entirely unnecessary.
Second is monetization which occurs through two main venues, product placement everywhere and constant reminders that the creators want you to spend your Microsoft Points on extras (some of which have been available since launch day). Starting with the brand logos and names everywhere, and I mean almost literally everywhere, there is the upside that some are destructible and are thus removed for the duration of the race that you’re in. Some are not quite so removable such as the names of races which have been sponsored, billboards which don’t feel invasive as they are where any experience driver would expect them to be on the side of any stretch of highway and the big Adidas logo on the shirt of the guy who lights road flares to start certain races. Don’t try to run him down, I made the attempt and he’s just as indestructible as any other concrete part of the world you’re racing in. Regarding the push to buy in-game content, after having found all of the discount signs, the game still prompts you to buy the treasure map which has only one purpose, to reveal all the discount signs. There are quite a few places where the player is urged to continue spending money constantly, such as the Marketplace section of the festival hub, to me it fells like a little much and is my biggest gripe with Horizon.
The music in Forza Horizon is cleverly picked. Some examples of the tunes you’ll hear on the three radio stations:
‘Horizon Bass Arena’ we have ‘Blind Faith (feat. Liam Bailey) – Chase & Status’, ‘He Power (feat.Dizzee Rascal) – DJ Fresh’, ‘Me & You and Reaching Out (Fred Falke Remix) – Nero’, ‘Blue Monday – New Order’, ‘Language – Porter Robinson’ and more.
‘Horizon Pulse’, ‘Let Me Go – Maverick Sabre’, ‘Paddling Out – Miike Snow’, ‘Disparate Youth -Santigold’, ‘Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls) – Foster The People’, ‘Walking on a Dream – Empire of the Sun’ and more.
‘Horizon Rocks’, ‘R U Mine – Arctic Monkeys’, ‘Away from Here and Had Enough – The Enemy’, ‘SheBangs The Drums – The Stone Roses’, ‘Hate To Say I Told You – The Hives’, ‘Farewell to the Fairground – White Lies’ and more.
You can find the entirely of the track lists here.
Personally, I’m no fan of anything on the Horizon Pulse station so I find it unfortunate that it is placed between the two stations that I do listen to. There’s not as much music as I’d like to see in this big of a title which people are obviously going to be spending enough time on that the songs will repeat more often than even on a ‘top 40′ radio station. At about 30 hours into the game, I’ve reached the point of turning music off and listening to my own.
The sounds of the fans cheering, echoing tunnels, roaring planes and helicopters as they buzz your car, and the vehicles themselves are spot on. These are the sources of real audio immersion in the game once you notice how much variety and complexity there is to the layers of them.
The final point to the audio features in Forza Horizon are the voice acting portions. The radio station hosts are great and, at the risk of sounding ignorant, I could swear that the three voices of the stations could actually be real DJs. Other voices that are encountered belong to your constant guide through the game and your rivals as you battle your way up the ranks. As you progress, you’ll come across a confident and aggressive female driver (the source of the truck I mentioned above), a cocky street racer who turns out to be an organizer of the street races, and the racing version of Johnny Knoxville as examples from the first among your pool of rivals. Each has a distinct personality and the voice actors did great jobs of making sure that the player would be more than willing to stomp that person in competition. The downside of these rivals is that they make little quips before each race that you can do against them in their grade but there are not enough recorded lines for each to be unique. It wouldn’t have taken much to have a different line for them to say before each race so the effect of their smack talk is lost to repetition.
The race coordinator, your guide through the entirety of your rise to podium fame, suffers from the same downside. She is incredibly repetitive and gets to the point of obnoxious with the way she is constantly buzzing away in the player’s ear. If you choose to spend your time early in the game finding all 100 discount signs in order to have free upgrades for the rest of your time, be prepared to be reminded with unnecessary frequency that you need to pick up your next wristband, that nobody has seen you at an event in a while, and that there are all manner of things waiting for you. If you choose to upgrade a car that you like to free roam in as much as you can, get ready to be told every time you try to enter any race that you’re using an over-classed car and that the event officials will not allow you to enter said car into the race not once but twice per race (there are a ton of races so I was plenty annoyed with her). Also, you cannot skip through sections where you’re being spoken to so you HAVE to listen to every word of it.
While there are many instances of interesting and necessary portions spoken to you, the music doesn’t dim at all when information is being conveyed so, depending on the levels that you have the SFX and music set at, you can miss crucial instructions or directions (I can forgive this if Modestep is on the radio at the time).
With the varied activities you’ll have to get involved in to complete the achievement list and taking care of business by getting all the items done in all the corners of Colorado, you will already be busy but replaying the storyline itself with different choices and car lists could be fun in and of itself since the single player experience is overall excellent.
Multiplayer is fun and has enough variety to keep the community busy for quite a while. It’s already obvious out there though that there is a sharp mark between casual players and people who excel at them but there is much to do and a variety of games to be played there. My personal favorites so far have been Cat and Mouse and Infected. I always love racing with a little extra twist. There are also Tag, Circuit, Point-to-Point, Street, and group Free-Roam modes among the options if you’d like to vary more against friends and strangers on LIVE.
My personal advice to make the game easier (regardless of the difficulty level you play on) is to ignore the game’s voiced guide and go find the 100 discount signs as soon as possible. This will free up all your free money to flesh out the contents of your garage and experiment with different car types rather than worrying about what part to purchase.
Another way to make the game easier overall is to sway drift as often as possible (rocking your car into a drifting motion on a straight section of road instead of pulling real drifts around corners), draft then pass as often as possible when you are in races, and pull as many near-misses as you can in quick succession. With these three things in mind, you’ll find that your popularity is skyrocketing and that you’re getting cash rewards from sponsors that want you to pull these moves. So far, the biggest reward I’ve seen from completing these challenges so far is $50000 but I suspect that they get much higher as that was from a Level 7 Challenge completion.
When you’re racing, disregard how much of a lead you have or how far behind you are, just drive like you’re the leader with the pack hot on your tail and you’ll find yourself crossing that finish line with a considerable margin in no time. When you’re ahead, all it takes is one small mistake to become the last and when you’re last, all you need is to see your opportunity to move forward and take it.