I’ve never been very big into racing games. Generally I buy one per console generation and simply play it into the ground. I thought I had found my racing game for this generation several years ago in Rockstar’s Midnight Club Los Angeles, but there was something about the latest Forza game that intrigued me and despite my best efforts I picked up a copy. What I got was one of the best and most rewarding gaming experiences, let alone racing experiences, that I’ve seen. Let me be clear; I was wrong, I had not found my racing game. This is my racing game for this generation. Hell, this is THE racing game for this generation.
Forza Horizon is at its core a Forza game where every car handles differently, but it’s wrapped in a delicious layer of Project Gotham Racing with a UI that’s as slick as any Codemasters game. Like other games in the Forza franchise, Horizon has a realistic physics engine with a slew of upgrades and tweaks that you can make to every one of the game’s large library of cars. It’s not quite as in-depth as other games in franchise but there’s still plenty to fiddle with. What’s more exciting (for me anyway) is that you don’t have to tweak any of it. Horizon features as streamlined Auto Upgrade mechanic in which you can upgrade your vehicle to its peak potential within each class. Want your Mustang to be the best B Class Mustang it can be without any fuss? Well, in Forza Horizon you can do that with literally just the press of a button.
The premise of Horizon is that you are a rookie driver (read: generic white dude) looking to cut your teeth at the fictitious annual Horizon festival in Colorado. The game takes place in the open world surrounding the aforementioned festival where you can drive anywhere there is road…and even on a few golf courses. One of the nicest things about Horizon is that the world is not empty. Roads are littered with signs to drive through, other drivers to race and speed zones to get high scores in, not to mention old beat-up cars to find, clubs to conquer, planes and hot air balloon races and Outpost challenges to complete. All those items, more specifically, how they interact together is where the beauty of Forza Horizon lies.
Every single little thing you do in Horizon advances you towards the finish line, even losing a race. Horizon employs a scoring system that is nigh identical to the Kudos system found in Project Gotham Racing. The points you earn allow you to move up in the festival’s popularity ranking. But you don’t merely get points for driving stylishly. Yes the game rewards you when you drift, burnout and draft. Yes the game rewards you when you crash through cardboard signs and fences, when you pass another racer without a scratch… or with a scratch. But Horizon also rewards for driving on a road you’ve never been on before and for every action I listed in the paragraph above. But best of all, the game never penalizes you or takes these points away. Even when you restart a race, all the “Kudos” you earned are still yours, still counting towards your overall popularity ranking. And that’s the genius of it. Forza Horizon takes the mundane task of driving to a race and makes it tangibly rewarding. It also takes a traditionally intimidating franchise and makes it the most encouraging racing game out there.
Driving from one race to another is a actually an enjoyable experience and not simply because of the game’s Kudos system. The game is also a treat to see and hear. Every single thing about this game is rendered beautifully… except for maybe the character models in cutscenes. But if you’re here for the story, you’re here for the wrong reason. From the lighting effects to the distant mountain ranges to the game’s sense of speed, the visuals in Forza Horizon add a great deal to the enjoyment found in merely driving around the festival grounds and even more to the racing. The sound is also fantastic. Every car roars, growls and screams exactly the way you’d expect. This game deserves to be played with the volumes up. The only downside is the game’s radio stations. There are only three and each feature DJ’s that are easily just as annoying as real-life DJs. Thankfully you can listen to your own music.
If I have any gripes with Horizon, they’re found in the AI and the multiplayer. Now, the multiplayer is not bad. It has its fair share of modes, from standard races to cat and mouse to a free roam and the driving is just as good as the single player’s. Honestly, my only issue with it are the loading screens you have to wade through. I simply found myself not want to wanting to have to sit through a loading screen to get out of the single player and into the multiplayer and then another while waiting for the match to load. It would have been nice to see the multiplayer integrated directly into the game’s campaign. But we have to have something to look forward to in Horizon 2, right? As far as the AI goes, the game’s not particularly difficult, but I actually never found this to be an issue because I’m not very good at racing games. I tend to never let go of the gas. But just a word of warning, if you’re looking for a challenging full-fledged simulation racer, you will not find it here.
Forza Horizon is not simply a great racing game; it’s a great game in general. From the handling to the visuals and sound, from the tweaking to the reward system, Horizon has everything it needs to be an enjoyable time. It may lack the challenge and depth that fans of the core Forza series know and love but if you’ve admired the Forza Motorsport games from a distance (like me) then do yourself a favor and play this amazing game.