Forza’s developer, Turn 10, is out of town, working on the next full entry in the racing franchise, and they’ve left the series unguarded. While they’re away, their new steward, Playground Games, came up with best way to pass the meantime: Throw a party. And with the ‘King of Simulator’s’ crown in hand, going big is the only way to go, taking most of Colorado hostage for the biggest festival invented.
Set in the fictitious Horizon driving festival, held across Colorado, Forza Horizon is sensory overload. A new sprawling city to explore, with a variety of terrains, the flashing lights and sounds scattered across the foreground and background as you dash by with the hissing, purring, and roaring explosions of your engine chasing ever behind. Music induces the youthful joy that has entranced the party scene that riddles Horizon, with its electronica sinking its clutches to keep your foot planted to the floor.
Theres plenty to do in Horizon. With the events that are scattered throughout the city containing the bulk of the experience, there’s are ‘showcase races’ that deserve a special spotlight. Placed against odd opponents such as bi-planes, helicopters, and other crazy challenges that invigorate when the experience begins to dull. There are also other sub-challenges like passing speed signs or challenging the other racer’s head on, that help increase your driver progress as the ‘most popular’ driver amongst the other competition.
Under the hood, you're still basically leveling up via an standard point based system, but this time your progress is presented with wristbands, because cheap plastic wristbands are hip, right? As you progress each wristband grade, the major players of Horizon, each one flashier than the next of course, begin to notice the rising young underdog, challenging you in each event you partake in. During most races, you’ll be given a select opponent, usually the top competitor, that you’ll be given bonus experience for defeating. Then once you’re on the verge of progressing the next rank they’ll challenge you to a duel. Its a funny touch thats effectively a boss battle, but its never used more than another excuse to give you different challenges, as there isn't much of a story linking these people together.
Driving heavily represents the new (side)developer, Playground Games, made up of developers from other top tier racing titles, such as the BurnOut and Project Gotham series', with rewards from their own series’ staples, like rewarding “kudos” for driving recklessly in interesting ways. Horizon shares much of the techniques that are involved in most arcade driving game, but it isn’t hard to notice the influence of interbreeding on the franchises. Forza Horizon is a well build forgery, as it’s hard to tell whats actually missing without taking a deep look, since for the most part, the omissions are negligible.
Horizon is much more lighthearted comparing to main Forza series. Driving is still largely the same, yet the damage's cause and effect is removed. Taking a lesser bearing on the mechanics of the car and the physics of driving, Playground Games relinquishing the negative possibilities of driving recklessly. Weighing less on realism to a T, Horizon is more about the act of driving instead of the ballet of mechanics and physics. It’s still possible to get under the hood and unleash the more technical aspects of Forza engines and get close to the realistic simulation, but it never quite reaches the depths of the core series.
Driving is still enormous fun, but lacks Forza’s distinct touch. In previous titles, if you misinterpreted a corner and slammed at full speed, your race was over (unless you used the series miracle device, the rewind button) as your car would be totaled, unable to physically compete regardless of your inputs. Horizon removes these functions, for better or worse depending on your opinion, making races mostly a well simulated real to life race acting like bumper cars. It destroys the immersion when you fatally crash, and continue on unfazed. I still smile when it occurs, but feel it still shouldn’t happen.
A welcome change, Playground Games lets you play around a fictional part of Colorado that's hosting the Horizon festival, free to roam, left to the variety of locales to drive at will. With the welcome change of dirt tracks and an included day/night cycle, Horizon spins Forza usual tropes on its head. Since Horizon lets you take cars on the open road, you get the best sense of driving these vehicles in real life, as you witness regular pedestrians fly out of view as you barrel past at plus hundred miles per hour.
The change I've been waiting for, Horizon lets you finally drive at night, giving the chance to experience the true intent of the game’s visual palette. Lights are allowed to whir past, leaving behind beautiful trails of colors in the dust of your drift. Unfortunately they don’t take the inclusion of night-driving very far; No event takes place at night. Its disappointing that what would have benefit from the most change, is left with little to no change at all.
Pulling back the focus off the car, people are now involved in the picture. There is a bit of uncanny valley aversions during the small amount of cutscene but people mostly looks great for primarily a racing game's engine. Of course the protagonist isn’t improved much, though, as he’s sparsely seen from the wrists up. Finally let out of the nameless driver’s fireproof suit, our driver has moved into the silent, white shirted, clean cut generic white dude attire. Its nice to see the guy’s face, since they forced the driver into the spotlight now, but it’s odd there isn't even the lightest bit character customization. A white-shirted fashion mute in a setting of flash and flamboyance throws off the overall image, taking focus away from the hero and onto the rivals that are too scattered to get a decent impression of anyone.
Forza Horizon is meant to be a stop gap, biding the fans time while creator, Turn 10, toils away on the inevitable Forza 5, and giving them an extra year to refine the series that's just starting staling over. Horizon’s departure from the sophisticated car societal nature of the series is a sour taste, as that’s what distinguished itself from the rest of the dime a dozen street racing echelon, but the youthful energy does keep me up and my foot down.
In many ways Horizon feels like the adolescent of the Forza series: It shows what the series can do with time and precision, yet still lacking the seriousness, elegance, and tone of its forefathers, wetting my palette enough, while still leaving me to wanting for Forza 5. If you're interested in arcade racers, but want to dabble into the simulator scene, or vice versa, Horizon is a great place to place to start, as it blends the worlds together. If you expecting Forza's next generation of top racing simulations, its probably best to wait until Turn 10 returns.