There is nary a racing series that exudes car culture and unbridled love for all things auto as much as Forza. This love for real world and digital racing is what sets Forza ahead of the pack, so I was curious when Forza Horizon was revealed and almost looked like an arcade racer.
While some racing series have flirted with doing a complete shift in styles, Horizon certainly isn't following suit where driving is concerned. It's a new tone for sure, but with the same handling and physics as Forza 4, Horzion's laid-back approach is actually pretty exciting.
Forza Horizon has no fancy partnership with Top Gear. The tone is decidedly more relaxed than past entries in the series, with a summer music festival at the heart of it all. Developers Playground and Turn 10 have really ran with the summer music theme too. Horizon offers three radio stations to choose from, playing rock, indie, and electronic (so expect plenty of the wub wub). It's not a huge variety, but what is here is tuned well for the new feel -- all curated by British DJ Rob da Bank.
It's probably this surface change that's fooled folks into thinking that Horizon is an arcade racer. It may let its hair down, but the physics are taken straight from Forza 4, making the moment-to-moment driving feel as true to the series as any fan could hope. The only thing different in the racing is in the events you enter.
The biggest switch is Horizon's open world. Based on the roads of Colorado, the locales range from flat plains to farmlands, from rivers and lakes. Being that this is an open world, expect a good amount of distractions. We only got to see a few of the side activities, the first being hidden barnyards in which you'll find busted old cars that you can restore in your garage. Another involved speeding through traffic cameras, with style points being awarded every time you hit a new top speed.
If you want to partake in Horizon's more structured offerings, there is a good amount of events to partake in. You have your traditional staples such as circuit races and point-to-point types, and street races with start and finish lines but no directed route to take. But even the most traditional of races are given a bit of a facelift. Rather than the standard goal of shaving tenths of a second of your best time and placing first, Horizon challenges players to drive stylishly. Placing first in races is still important, but in order to win fans and rise in the ranks as the nobody you are cast as, you need to drift, draft, and otherwise make your driving look as sexy as possible.
Unique to Horizon, though, are more insane race types, such as the "Mustang vs. Mustang" race we played. The goal here was to drive though a series of checkpoints while using a classic Ford Mustang, the twist being that your opponent is a World War II-era P-51 Mustang fighter plane. The idea is definitely arcade-like, and the event itself speaks to the unique atmosphere that Horzion is going for, but to reiterate, the moment-to-moment driving is still very much Forza. Sharp turns require lowers speeds, and slamming into someone while going 100+ mph is as bad an idea as ever.
Horizon will also be bringing a lot of the online modes from series with it, and all the car skin designs you lovingly slaved over can be imported into this game. What's most important to take away from all this is that we are not loosing the Forza we know and love. It's just wearing a different coat of paint.