By Nicholas Simonovski
It’s always a risky decision when developers choose to take their well-established franchises down a new path. On the one hand, it’s an opportunity to re-invigorate the series and prevent it from becoming stale, but on the other, such a move can completely tarnish the reputation it has earned over the years. For Forza Motorsport, Turn 10’s decision to not only move away from track-based racing but to also hand over the reins to Playground Games can be labelled as nothing short of extreme – but it’s also one of their best decisions yet.
I remember feeling pretty pumped and excited when I finished watching the E3 trailer for this game a few months ago. I’m not sure whether it was the scenes of cars weaving in and out of traffic, the festival atmosphere or just that line-up of Japanese tuners at the race start, but it made me reminisce about Need For Speed: Underground 2 and that golden era of street racers from the last generation. In my opinion, there really hasn’t been a racing game since Most Wanted in 2005 that really offered the complete street racing experience. Yes, there have been many racing games that took place on the street, but they never quite felt the same. Forza Horizon looked like it was going to change that… and let me tell you, it has.
The first thing which has to be mentioned about Forza Horizon is the Horizon Festival itself. In an interview we had with Ralph Fulton, Design Director at Playground Games, he mentioned that the aim behind Forza Horizon was to deliver that universal passion we all had for cars in a different way to how the franchise had done so traditionally. I’m pleased to say that the game does just this, with the Horizon Festival creating an atmosphere and experience unlike anything we’ve really seen in a racing game for years – certainly not this generation anyway. I remember driving up to the main hub of the festival for the first time, seeing the crowds and the massive stages for the live music and getting this feeling like I was at the event myself. This sense of immersion continues to happen every time you pull up to a new race start, see other racers driving on the open-road and every time you see the hundreds of tents and thousands of people as you return to the Horizon hub. I really can’t state this enough, I haven’t played a racing game where the world feels so alive – where you actually feel like you’re involved in the festival yourself.
Another thing I admire about Forza Horizon is the inclusion of characters that you’ll meet and interact with throughout the game. Unlike most racers where you simply pick a car, pick a race and drive, Forza Horizon has gone to the effort to place a great deal of focus on the people of the Horizon Festival, not just the cars and environments. Not only will you see crowds at the start and finish lines of each event, but there are a host of characters that you’ll deal with outside the races, and this only continues that concept of making Forza Horizon feel ‘alive’. In a time where most developers seem to feel that racing titles don’t require a story (no matter how insignificant) or beyond just racing, it’s refreshing to see Playground Games break the mould. I can’t emphasise enough how happy I was when I watched the cutscenes at the beginning of the game as I was introduced to the various characters.
Continuing on, when it comes to the physics of this game, they can be summed up with essentially one word – perfect. Never before have I played a game which has been as enjoyable to race in as it has been to drive in – where most open-world games do well in either one aspect or the other, Forza Horizon excels in both. There are times in previous Forza titles where a sense of speed has been absent or where I’ve struggled to enjoy the physics, but Playground Games have done well to eliminate both these problems. While the cars don’t handle as ‘realistically’ as they have in other Forza titles, it doesn’t feel 'arcade' enough to make the franchise seem like its lost its way. Each vehicle drivers in the manner you’d expect it to, they feel planted and you don’t need to drive a Bugatti Veyron to feel like you’re going fast either (my personal recommendation – a Mazda RX7 tuned to A-class, which is just as fun speeding in a straight line as it is drifting around corners). For the open-world racer that Forza Horizon is, I couldn’t imagine a better physics model than the one in this game. It should be noted that crashing into traffic seems to have little effect on your speed and is quite forgiving/unrealistic, but in all honesty I’d much rather this than crashing to a halt and having a cinematic interrupt the flow of the race (think the crash sequences in Need For Speed Hot Pursuit or Midnight Club Los Angeles).
Of course, while playing through this game there have been some slight bugs and problems that I believe should be mentioned. For starters, on the odd occasion I’ve seen the cars of other drivers glitched on their roofs while in free-roam and there has been one barn-find which failed to register when I drove up to it (the latter fixed by returning to the Dashboard and relaunching the game). The radio often defaults to the rock station when you enter a race (regardless of what station you were listening to before the event) and changing stations them feels clunky and delayed. Lastly, the game fails to show you a complete list of suitable cars when you wish to purchase a new vehicle for an event, instead just providing you with three or four that Forza recommends. In all honesty though, none of these are really significant in the scheme of things and can be overlooked when the rest of the game is so polished.
I know I’ve been extremely positive in my review of this game, but let it serve as a testament to just how amazing and solid Forza Horizon actually is. The graphics and visuals of this game are the best I’ve ever seen in a racing title and the world of Colorado makes for the perfect open-world racer. Forza Horizon encompasses all the features I’d want from a street racer and has implemented them in exactly the way I could have wanted. This game takes everything that the Forza Motorsport franchise has perfected over the years and used them to create what is arguably one of the best street racing games I have ever played – without question the best racing game I’ve played since Most Wanted in 2005. I cannot emphasise this enough, Forza Horizon is truly an amazing racer and one that racing enthusiasts (and gamers) owe to themselves to check out if nothing else. It will be tough to come across a racing game as well-rounded as this.