- Kinect Sensor Optional
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Developer: Playground Games
- ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
- Genre: Racing
- Pros: Fantastic gameplay; great map that is actually fun to cruise; nice presentation; hidden stuff
- Cons: Car list; not as big as Forza 4
Forza Horizon is an open road racing game set in a fictional area of Colorado. The map isn't especially large - you can drive from one side to the other in a few minutes - but it features a lot of different terrain including mountains, plains, desert, towns, and more. While it isn't as big as other open world racers (Test Drive Unlimited 2 or FUEL, for example), it has a much higher ratio of roads that are actually fun to drive on. Every inch of road - both asphalt and dirt - has been carefully placed and designed to make it as fun as possible to race on. Just cruising around and seeing what you can see is really genuinely fun here.
The reason why you're out racing in the Colorado boonies is because of the Horizon Festival - a racing enthusiast meetup crossed with a rock concert where all of the hip and cool 20-somethings hang out. You start out by having to race your way in, then you work your way through 7 tiers of races scattered all over the map until you ultimately reach the final round against the defending champion. There is a goofy story here, which basically boils down to other racers are all jerks, the defending champ is a huge tool, and the race organizer has a crush on your character, but the story never really gets in the way and is only really present during brief cutscenes between races.
In addition to the 70 festival-sanctioned races, there are also 30 street races, ten showcase events where you have to race an airplane or helicopter or something, seven 1-on-1 races against your main competition, and a host of collectibles including discount signs that earn you cheaper upgrade prices and classic cars hidden in a handful of barns around the map. To see and do it all takes under 25 hours or so, which is kind of a letdown after the hundreds (thousands? ... I'll beat all of those events someday) of hours worth of content in Forza 4. Twenty-five hours of content is still pretty good, particularly for a story-driven racing game, so we can't complain too much. The map is fun enough to drive around and explore and you can waste a lot of time doing secondary things like setting speeds at speed cameras or challenging A.I. opponents to impromptu races out on the roads, so there is a lot to do here. And there is always multiplayer where you can race and free roam with your friends, which is always fun.
One slight disappointment comes from the car list - which is pretty short (still 150+ cars in total, though) compared to Forza 4 and is missing some key rides. Admittedly, it is a more impressive list than most other arcade / open world racers, so it, again, isn't much of a complaint. Something worth mentioning is that the economy in the game is semi-broken because there isn't really anything you need to spend much money on. Most of the really desirable cars you'd want to spend money on and actually use are given to you as prizes, so unless you just really love a particular make and model there isn't much reason to actually buy new cars very often. You also earn major discounts on upgrades for your cars by destroying hidden signs scattered around the map, so even upgrading doesn't cost much. You'll finish the story with millions of dollars in cash and not much to spend it on. You can spend money to fast travel between hubs (and even here you earn discounts by doing PR stunts to lower your rate) but the game is so fun to cruise around that you probably won't fast travel all that often. I didn't, at least.
The Project Gotham Racing comparison above also extends to a points system that ranks how popular you are in Forza Horizon. Instead of "Kudos" for doing powerslides, drafting, destroying objects, or maintaining high speeds, however, you level up your popularity which opens up new showcase events in the story. It is a system that ultimately works behind the scenes because you actually level up really quickly since pretty much everything you do earns you points, so it is something you don't really ever have to think about too much. Expect to jump at least 1-2 ranks in every event, just because points are so easy to earn.
As we mentioned above, there are hidden objects all over the map and you earn achievements for driving on all of the roads, finding all the speed traps, finding all of the discount signs, etc. A great thing about Forza Horizon, however, is that pretty much everything will kind of come to you over the course of the game. You'll drive on pretty much every road just by playing all of the races. You'll discover all of the signs just by doing races. There isn't really a grind here to round up all of the collectibles because they should all be found naturally as you race and explore and have fun. That is awesome.
Perhaps the best thing of all about Forza Horizon is that not only is it fun and playable at high speeds (which shouldn't be a surprise, but after the NFS Shift games and Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends which are unplayable over 150MPH or so, I thought it deserved a mention) but racing at high speeds is actually really, really thrilling. From the cockpit view (which is the best way to play), hitting high speeds shakes your view and delivers a really fantastic sense of speed. Mistakes are magnified and things you could get away with in slower cars are suddenly much more of a risk at 180+. You always feel solidly in control, but you're right there on the edge where things can hit the fan any second. Going fast in Forza Horizon is one of the best feelings I've ever felt in a racing game.
Graphics & Sound
The sound is very good all around. Cars sound like they should, but perhaps a little quieter than the throaty roars we loved in F4. The game features three radio stations full of licensed music as well as DJs whose banter between songs changes as you play through the career.
You can also use Kinect for voice commands in Forza Horizon, which can be pretty handy since you can just say "GPS" out loud and then set a breadcrumb trail to the nearest races and events so you don't have to jump in and out of the map too much.