What do you get if you take a highly skilled team of racing veterans from some of the UK’s best known driving developers, and hand them the keys to the game engine that brought us Forza Motorsport 4
, the ultra-realistic track racing sim?
The answer is of course, Forza Horizon
, and the highly skilled group of racing veterans are Playground Games, an independent studio put together with staff from companies such as Bizarre Creations, Black Rock Studios, Slightly Mad Studios, Criterion Games, Rockstar North, and Ubisoft Reflections, amongst others. Playground has taken the action away from the race track to create and open-world spin-off of the most authentic racing game of this generation.
Welcome to Horizon
The Horizon Festival is an annual celebration of cars and music set in the beautifully created surroundings of Colorado. Whilst the game world might be a scaled down version of the real US state, you’re treated to a variety of environments that see mountain ranges turn into rolling plains and urban towns seamlessly within the space of a few miles.
There is also a short 24-hour day/night cycle that adds another depth of realism to the game. As night falls, you’ll see your cars instruments light up, headlights turn on, and as you drive around the game’s varied road surfaces, you’ll see lasers from the festival’s main stage light up the night sky.
It’s hard to fault the game world and it really is a pleasure to just cruise around in your favourite car and take in all the sites that are on offer. Smaller touches like patches of leaves that become disturbed as you race past and the dust clouds that you kick up when going down small secret tracks add to the authenticity.
The game’s menus have a distinctly Codemasters feel to them, with bright pinks and blues all placed at a slightly “hip” angle. It’s a far distance from the crisp menus of previous Forza
titles, but it’s easy to navigate and use.
The in-game music deserves a mention. Whilst it offers a nice variety of songs across three mock radio stations, it will quickly become repetitive. The number of songs available compared to how much driving you will need to do to finish the game is sadly lacking, and whilst it’s one of the game’s low points, it does prove how good the overall experience is if the soundtrack is one of the main low points.Can you become the champion?
The game does come with a story of sorts, but don’t worry, after the initial cut scenes and introduction to the concept, the story takes a back seat to the driving. It’s a very similar concept to what we’ve seen in previous Forza
games, except seasons are this time replaced by coloured wristbands. Win enough races in each wristband colour and you will unlock a new coloured band that will unlock new race events until ultimately you work your way up to the final gold wristband and become the champion of the Horizon Festival.
The race events all take places on the world’s roads and offer a nice mix of point-to-point races and circuit races across a variety of road surfaces such as asphalt, gravel and narrow dirt tracks on closed off tracks. It’s something we’ve not seen before in the Forza
franchise that helps every race feel fresh and new.
As you advance through the wristbands, you’ll be introduced to new activities and events that all help make the gameplay on offer so varied. There are discounts signs around the world that when smashed reduce the cost of upgrades. In total there are 100 to search for, with each one giving a 1% deduction.
Similar to the Kudos awards in Project Gotham Racing 4
which rewarded you for pulling off drifts, drafts, and high speed skills, there is a popularity system in Horizon
. You begin at 250th and must work your way up to number 1 by completing certain skill moves. The key is to try and string as many different moves together as possible without crashing your car.
As you progress through the popularity rankings, you will unlock new sponsorship events that will see you tasked with racing planes, helicopters and hot air balloons in a particular car. Yes they are slightly stupid, but Horizon
’s gameplay is all about variety, which for many will be a welcome break from the monotony of the previous games in the franchise.
As you cruise around the world, you will also encounter other racers that will be noticeable by the name above their car. Pulling up behind one of these cars will give you the option to challenge them to a race through the busy traffic.
Finally there are illegal street races that take place in certain areas on the map. These will be introduced to you are you progress through the game and offer a high cash reward in a winner takes all race down busy roads.
If you don’t fancy the thought of driving across the world to get to each new event location, Horizon outpost are placed around the map and act as a fast travel point. You will have to discover each one before it can be used in exchange for some cash.
At each outpost, you can change your car and take part in PR Stunts which when completed reduce the cost of that particular outpost’s fast travel. For each outpost there are three tasks to complete, a speed challenge that requires you to pass a certain speed camera at a specified speed, a photo challenge where you must drive to a point on the map without excess damage to your car to take a photo, and lastly a skill challenge that will most likely be the most difficult task in the game for many gamers.
Lastly we have the rival challenges that will keep you coming back for more. After every race in the game you will be shown a Rival time to try and beat. For many this will be friends who have played the game, but it will also pick from other gamers if none of your friends have played the game. Forza DNA
The driving in the game is distinctly Forza
, and whilst some of the mechanics have been tweaked and mechanical damage has been removed completely to allow for a more forgiving drive, fans of Forza Motorsport 4
will immediately feel at home behind the wheel.
For newcomers to the Forza
franchise, there are a large number of difficulty settings that allow you to customise the driving and your opponents skill to your personal preference, but it’s not until you turn on the simulation steering and turn off some assists that handling becomes a real joy.
Each car is wonderfully recreated across all of the various views available, and with the additional environments and day/night time cycle, cars look even more impressive than they have in previous games.
One important thing that will be missed by the more hardcore Forza
fans out there is the removal of the crazily in-depth tuning options. You can still upgrade cars, but the option to tune your engine to almost breaking point has been totally removed.Multiplayer Fun
Online multiplayer gives you a wealth of options to choose from. There are the standard 8 player races that will see you pick cars from a particular class, skill races where each driver will be put in the same car in a race which should see the best driver come out on top
If you don’t fancy the standard game modes, you can create your own games, where you can pick the class, type of race, location, number of players and a host of other options.
Perhaps the most addictive and fun part of the multiplayer is the Playground Games playlist which will see you take part in modes such as Cat and Mouse, Infected and King. Whilst these game modes might not be anything unique, the joy you get when trying to drive across a bumpy golf course in some of the world’s most expensive cars is something that will keep you coming back for more.
Multiplayer free roam is also available and offers some co-op challenges that require you to drive from point A to B in specific car makes, at a specified time of day with a number of other players, or travel past speed cameras at a minimum speed.ConclusionForza Horizon
is an excellent racer that will please both new comers and Forza
fans alike. The changes and additions that Playground Games have made to Turn 10's already winning formula help create a more varied, less sterile game that will keep gamers coming back for more.
The open-world setting is beautifully created and whilst it’s relatively small, the varied enviroments, road surfaces and race types keep the action fresh and enjoyable, but the removal of tuning, and easier mechanics might anger the hardest of hardcore franchise fans.
Whilst the game certainly borrows ideas from many other racing games, the way it combines them all together - with arguably the best game engine available, makes this the definitive open-world racer of this generation.