Forza Horizon bridges the gap between simulation and arcade in an immaculate and entertaining way.
For years, the Forza Motorsport series tried to dethrone Gran Turismo by offering a much more accessible simulation racing game that anyone remotely interested in cars could get into. Forza Horizon is a spin-off that’s heavily influenced by arcade games like Burnout or Need for Speed and while, at its core, this game still offers a traditional Forza experience, Horizon is the most accessible entry in the series to date and a racing title that pretty much anyone can enjoy right away. And what an accomplishment that is.
In Forza Horizon, you play as one of the dozens of competitors participating in Horizon, a festival that takes place in the Colorado area. As part of this festival, you sign up and participate in a series of racing events and when you finish in third place or above, you get closer to obtaining a colored wristband that grants you access to more events. If past Forza games seemed intimidating, you’ll be glad to know that Horizon has several difficulty levels that range from easy to expert. The difficulty is determined by the number of assists you turn on or off (it’s worth mentioning that you can adjust these assists whenever and however you want.) If you turn on most assists, the game will offer a more arcade-like experience, but don’t expect Forza to suddenly become Burnout. Nevertheless, this isn’t the only place where Horizon feels like a more arcade take on the Forza formula.
Forza Horizon is an open-world racing game, so between events, you’ll have to drive through a virtual rendition of Colorado. There are speed traps that record your top speed and send it to the global leaderboards, you can race against random NPCs and you also get points according to your performance which levels up your rank. To get points, you need to destroy signs, drive fast, perform tricks and avoid other cars closely. Colliding into other cars is never encouraged, but should you crash into traffic, it doesn’t have dramatic consequences. Although you can purchasethe possibility of fast-traveling with real money, driving from event to event is delightful and you’re always working towards a specific goal, even when you’re not in an actual race. So that’s what you do in between races, but what about the actual events? Well, there are lap, sprint, rival and street races, among others. In some of the most iconic events, you need to beat a plane or helicopter in a race and these are a blast.
One of my favorite parts about Forza Horizon is its eclectic soundtrack. There are three radio stations with dozens of songs. Each of these stations represent the rock, indie rock and electro-pop genres and some of the featured artists include Silversun Pickups, The Hives, Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix, Yuck and the list goes on and on. There’s something virtually poetic about driving towards the sunset at 150 miles per hour in a Ferrari while you listen to the Arctic Monkeys’ R U Mine and you destroy billboards or set a new speed record. Forza Horizon captures the essence of both simulation and arcade in a seamlessly elegant experience and it achieves that with a fantastic soundtrack, a gorgeous rendition of Colorado, cars that are a fun to drive and dozens of entertaining events.
There are a few shortcomings such as the pervasive product placement that heavily promote brands, muddy textures that pop up when you stop your car (though this is a minor complaint because you’ll rarely do that) and several micro-transactions. Regarding the latter, you can pay to see where the hidden cars are located or to fast-travel between locations.
It’s worth mentioning that Forza Horizon has a story, if you can even call it that. In the game, you play as a newly arrived twenty-something who wants to participate in the Horizon Festival (which is a combination of the Colorado setting and the Coachella music festival.) As part of the festival, you need to participate in a variety of events which include rival races, regular races, lap races and special races. When you’re not racing, you’re exploring the sprawling city in open-world fashion which means that you can race against random people, destroy discount signs, purchase cars, decals and so on.
About that last part, the game has a design storefront where you can purchase vinyls that change the look of your cars. This is user-generated content and not only can you design your own cars, but also you purchase other people’s creations which include cars from Fast and the Furious movies or iconic cars like General Lee, the Batmobile, the Mach 5 or anything players can think of.
Finally, there are some multiplayer modes. The main mode features a playlist where you vote on a specific class and race against other people using your own cars or a lent one. As part of the main modes you race a lot, but you can also participate in a variety of modes, such as King of the Hill or Infected where the rules are slightly different. Unfortunately, there’s no split screen or local multiplayer in Forza Horizon.
Forza Horizon succeeds in pretty much every department. The driving is elegant, flexible and fun and being able to adjust assists to adapt to your skill level is a terrific idea, the eclectic soundtrack adds to the experience, the multiplayer modes are entertaining (though I certainly miss the lack of local multiplayer) and the possibility of downloading other people’s creations, as well as crafting your own, makes the game unique. Like some of the cars featured in it, Forza Horizon us a fast, gorgeous and elegant and for that alone, no one remotely interest in racing games should miss it.