Our proud buckets are generally just enough for the random runs, daily commutes and occasional field trips. Meanwhile expensive car notes, insurance and rising gas prices push open roads seen on TV and film further into fantasy. Thus it’s not surprising to see racing games thrive in spite of the everyday, banal driving experience. Forza Horizon (Xbox 360) is one of the newest takes on open road racing with a dash of attitude to give the game a distinct identity.
Summertime Colorado plays host for you: the prototypical, mute new kid at the Horizon Festival. The Festival’s a peculiar clash of youth and car culture where loud personalities and trust fund babies alike square off for top honors. The story’s essentially justification to ride around like a maniac in traffic between events. Anyway, clear objectives and general vibe of the event do well enough to make the world feel busy with a sense of progression.
Horizon‘s blend of sim and arcade sensibilities are top class. The popularity scoring system encourages you to combine various stunts as you race or free roam to rank up and unlock more showcases. Braking and cornering feel forgiving but you still sense you’re driving automobiles rather than some hot wheels turning on a dime or unresponsive goat wagons. General rules like RWD vehicles being no-gos on dirt or FWD cars suffering from understeer persist. Yet car “types” don’t have catch all characteristics. For instance, the Mustang Boss and Plymouth Cuda are similarly classed muscle cars from a bygone era. However, the Boss is a slower, smoother ride than the Cuda and it’s tendency to show the ass on every turn.
Furthermore, there’s no tuning but the upgrade system and vinyl creator/sharing are intact to make each ride perform their best with your own, or another designer’s, visual style. The 150-plus car roster yields a decent library of whips but it highlights more expensive sports cars and rare exotics yet lacks Porsches. The roster is kind of odd for a game all about come one-and-all car culture. However, since the game throws money and free cars at you from the start, it won’t be long until you have a well-stocked garage.
The selection of surfaces, challenges and locales add welcome variety to the Horizon Festival. Moreover, Horizon‘s visuals pop even though there’s a slight hint of brown throughout daylight. The cars have a very subtly cartoon appearance but the deserts, valleys, canyons and sunsets are top notch. First person view interiors and driving at night with genuine, limited vision add worthwhile graphical and gameplay-changing touches to the experience. You’ll also have to squint really hard to find jaggies anywhere which adds to the game’s overall technical achievement. Horizon wears many hats from rally cross-lite to reckless street racer and rocks them all well. Terrorizing city streets in a pack of Mini Coopers is as fun as slip-sliding in an Audi Quattro off-road or ripping up a highway in a LP 700-4 Aventador. Adjustable difficulty settings and assists cater to new and experienced racers as well.
Rivals Mode is far better implemented here than in its debut in Forza 4. You’ll get paired against your closest competition, oftentimes against your own friends, immediately after every race, speed camera and speed trap. The system promotes a steady, competitive spirit especially if you don’t race online much. You’re driven to climb the leaderboards as you get larger cash bonuses for beating your nearest competition. Allowing rewind in this mode is controversial since you can piece together your best lap. Nonetheless, it’s not like bad players will shoot to the top by spamming it anyway.
Horizon is a mostly smooth ride but it could use service on some fronts. Driving around for upgrade discounts, hidden cars, outposts, undiscovered roads and just for the thrill of it may hold you down. Leveling up can still be blitzed through since you don’t have to do every event per wristband. The engine sounds and rumble feedback are regrettably weak. Moreover, traffic collisions feel like cardboard boxes colliding at high speed rather than horrifying accidents. The hollow collisions can be seen as an oddity than a negative mark since you can get back up and running via rewinding or just dealing with the speed reduction.The latter barn finds have trouble triggering, too.
Moving on, Horizon hides its rubber-band effect well enough but you’ll know when the game throws you a bone while struggling or makes opposition speed up to capitalize on your mistakes. Multiplayer holds entertaining modes but scrimps in few, notable ways. You’ll need Xbox Live Gold to truly enjoy all Horizon has to offer as you can’t race split-screen. Also online play lacks traffic, replay options and you can’t spectate while you wait in a race lobby.
Also, perhaps you should follow this guide for custom soundtracks if EDM and Indie Rock/Pop aren’t your bag? Seriously, the game’s radio stations pull no punches in selling the whole youth-driven vibe of the Festival: fully equipped with a constant, annoying prompt to buy new cars. Santigold, The Black Keys, Willy Moon and Skrillex top the Horizon charts among other like-minded artists. Those names might make the game more enjoyable for some but, for everyone else, you’ve been warned.
Forza Horizon is easily one of the most enjoyable quasi-realistic racing games in years. Replay value, as mentioned, is up in the air. Nonetheless, the handling model feels great to the point were you’ll waste time driving around, getting a feel for your vehicle while taking in the beautiful sights. Open road racing games aren’t new but they’ve never controlled as well as Horizon: making the game feel fresh among competitors past and present. Horizon is well worth a pick up if you love racing games that aren’t balls to the wall unrealistic, play online regularly and can do without getting under the hood. There’s enough appeal here for car nuts and new jacks alike: especially if you don’t know a camshaft from a hub cap.