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Forza Horizon Review

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On 11/02/2012 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola

Is simularcade racing a genre?

For all racing game fans.

Whenever you hand a franchise off to an outside development studio, you run the risk of it being handled poorly. This is a particular concern with Forza Horizon, as it marks the first time Turn 10 Studios has allowed another company to handle the property. Furthermore, Playground Games, the studio behind Forza Horizon, is completely unproven. Thankfully, this group of racing game vets has managed to create an experience that has universal appeal; its construction is one that brings both simulation and arcade racing fans to the table.

Upon entering my first race, I was immediately taken by this ingenious design decision. The racing engine is completely flexible, but urges players via bonus points to consistently up their game and shift to a more simulation-like racing style. In its base configuration you’ll be awarded no bonus credits upon completing the race, but you’re presented with a driving line that details the perfect pathway through the track, the exact places where you should apply the brake and gas, and a rewind feature to redo absolutely anything you mess up.

If you’re an expert racer, particularly with simulation games, you can easily migrate all of your settings to drop these crutches as well as things like automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes. The amount of customization in how your car drives and how it drastically modifies the experience is incredible. Not only is this flexibility extremely accommodating, but it also provides a very clear pathway of how to slowly improve your skills at the game. Turning off one feature at a time allows you to focus on incrementally adding skills without being overwhelmed.

What’s also quite nice is the open world design of the game. Instead of only having an opportunity to race in order to improve your skills, you can take any of your cars on the open road and explore the mountain town of Horizon, Colorado. Though you aren’t completing any races and unlocking new events to partake in, there’s plenty to do and see.

At the most basic level, while driving around you can earn fan points, which attracts new sponsors and bigger pay outs. If you enjoy driving at high speeds and threading the needle between civilian vehicles, there’s a sponsor out there who will pay you a ton of credits for doing it some set number of times without causing an accident. Challenges of this sort can be worked towards both in and out of races, which is a liberating freedom.

Beyond this, all of the tracks in the game can be driven in the open world, as they are merely different paths down the streets of Horizon. This gives you an edge because driving the streets will give you a degree of familiarity before you start competing. You can also explore nooks and crannies to find hidden cars and special signs that when broken give you a percent discount off items in the shop.

Quick travel stations are scattered about and when located offer up three unique challenges that are not only fun to partake in but will provide a discount (up to 100%) when completed. These events often allow you to drive extremely exotic cars with unbelievable acceleration, speed, and maneuverability. The stark contrast between these vehicles and yours are astounding, but the speed and power you feel when you get behind the wheel is exhilarating.

Events are the main focus of the game and are typically just lap races or races to the finish line down both paved and dirt roads. As a matter of fact, the diverse “tracks” that have been devised show off the past experience of Playground Games. With Dirt, Project Gotham Racing, and Burnout in their history, the influence is undeniable. Heck, even the announcer you’ll hear describing the events of the Horizon Festival is oddly reminiscent of Burnout 3.

Though the game is undeniably more arcade than it is simulation, Forza Horizon always reminds you of its duality. Simulation enthusiasts can customize their car build outs and upgrades, while those looking to hop straight back into the driver’s seat can choose from a few canned upgrade options. These little touches made the game much more approachable for me.

Perhaps what I appreciated even more was the greater degree of accuracy and skill I needed to compete. Games like Burnout encourage reckless driving and offer you extremely fast cars with amazing handling. While I enjoy these experiences quite a bit, Forza Horizon absolutely forces you to play at a higher level, using the brakes and E-brake properly. Too much or too little and you can kill your chance at placing in the race.

It’s easy to lose yourself in Forza Horizon because you simply never stop moving. Whether it’s in a race or traveling to the next one, there are a near unlimited number of opportunities thanks to the open world and some clever features. Even after you finish a race, the game prompts you with more racing opportunities by going toe to toe with the ghost of another Xbox Live player who has a slightly better time than you. You can even spark off impromptu races while your heading down the city streets if you tail an opponent tournament racer.

Almost every year a game comes along that I simply did not expect and it manages to blow my socks off. This year, Forza Horizon is that game. Its superb racing mechanics and unparalleled options make it one of the most enjoyable racers I’ve played in a long time. Whether you’re a fan of simulation or arcade racers, you owe it to yourself to grab this game this holiday season.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Travis Hawks Senior Editor

11/03/2012 at 08:40 AM

Some reviews complain of a terrible difficulty spike mid-game.  Did you run into this at all?

Nick DiMola Director

11/03/2012 at 09:55 AM

I felt that the game had more incremental difficulty spikes. However, each time it happens, the game informs you that the car you have is inadequate and prompts you to upgrade it or get a better one.

Furthermore, the game informs you about general areas where better cars are hidden in the environment and urges you to go get them. Generally speaking, once I was able to either retrieve a better vehicle or upgrade one of the ones I already had, the difficulty evened back out.

I'm not the greatest at racing games, but I tend to be pretty good. I was finding this one to be too easy at first and then the difficulty starting coming up to par after the first set of events. In some instances, even after the game urged me to upgrade my vehicle, I kept it the same and was still finding success in the races. I'm guessing the difficulty is going to vary from person to person depending on their experience with the genre.

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