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Review: Forza Horizon

Xbox 360 racing does not get much better than that experienced in the Forza franchise of games.  Microsoft has managed to produce a series that hits a sweet spot of fun and simulation that satisfies a wide demographic of video game racing buffs.

A new developer, Playground Games has been introduced to take the reins -with guidance from Turn 10, the original Forza developer - of an open-world style racing game centred on a music festival in Colorado.

It is a reasonable premise to base a street racing game on.  The promotional blurb talks about the Horizon Festival as being a celebration of music, style and automotive culture, but the reality is that the Colorado desert around Red Rocks and surrounding towns makes an interesting place to try out some high powered street and off road racing.

The music festival manifests itself in the form of bands such as New Order, The Black Keys, Nero, Empire of the Sun, Artic Monkeys and LCD Soundsystem amongst many others across three in-game radio stations and at specific locations around the map.  The diversity of the music parallels the extent of choices that can be made in the racing.  

This is not like other Forza titles, there are 216 roads in the game to explore, some are winding mountainous highways, some are dirt roads flowing through farmyards and others are pedal-to-the-floor freeways where, seated in the right machinery, ludicrous straight line speeds can be achieved.

Rather than a series of circuit events, the structure of horizon is free-form.  Players can drive from one Festival Event to the next, competing to win points towards a new coloured wristband which in turn (in a true music festival way) opens up further events on the map.


Apart from Festival Events which usually include an injection of flavour and a smart-alec comment from a race rival prior to the start, there are Street Races for big cash prizes and Showcase Events to be had.  These Showcase events include races against competitors in hot air balloons or planes for example, and are great fun.

To unlock Showcase events one must boost his or her popularity, this can be done during racing, or spammed whilst cruising the Colorado countryside.  Drifting, near misses, property damage, speed and burnouts are amongst the driving techniques that will boost popularity of a driver.  And just like in real life, popularity can be bought with real money via the Xbox Marketplace.

Rival events also appear during the game, on completion of another event where the player can compete against a ghost car around the track just raced to beat its time.  Doing so wins more cash, or, in the case of other map based Rival events, winning the staked vehicle is a great way to expand the virtual garage.
Forza Horizon is a beauty to behold, it is hard to appreciate during a race, but the replay camera and generally cruising around will give amply opportunity to take in the autumnal vistas of Colarado at all hours of the day.  The cars themselves, whilst not showcased like they were in Forza 4, are still well presented with multiple light sources bouncing off gleaming panels that can be spray painted and decaled to your heart’s content in the design studio.

Fifty marques make their appearance in the game, with hundreds of cars to choose from, including bonus loyalty cars imported from Forza 4 save files.  The game features five difficulty levels, though these can also be customised as you wish.  Adding or removing driving assists will affect the bonus percentage of money achieved at each event, and the game makes this as easy as possible.  Rock up to an event in an ineligible car and the game will prompt you with garaged cars that can enter.  Beyond that the game will prompt you to auto upgrade or degrade your chosen vehicle as necessary for the chosen event.

It makes the game very accessible, while still providing the customisation, tinkering and driving options for those that prefer a challenge closer to the simulation end of the scale.   Surprisingly some of the best fun is to be had in the off-road events where rally skills will come to the fore, the game feels authentic in these sections where getting the nose pointed in the right direction at the optimal point of a corner greatly enhances exit speeds.


On the down side, crash damage is not a factor in the game (apart from photo shoot missions), all damage is cosmetic only, and auto-fixed – for no fee – between events.  Furthermore, the audio in some vehicles does not seem robust enough for the chosen car.
Unfortunately, at the time of review the game is not yet released, so multiplayer was not an option.  Whilst the usual Forza AI is great fun to play against - being generally less robotic than other racing games - the multiplayer options look interesting.  Rivals events can be set to challenge friends and playground games such as cat & mouse and tag along with more vanilla – yet still exciting – bumper-to-bumper racing can all be played out on the open Colorado map.

Forza Horizon is somewhat of a gamble, taking a well-respected franchise brand and attempting to expand the audience.  Moving the game to an open world, where exploration plays as big a part as the racing is bold.  Apart from the sometimes irksome need to drive to a new event, there is plenty to like about this iteration.  Aside from entering event after event, players can just cruise the map, taking on the AI drivers as they wish, searching the countryside for barns containing classic cars to restore and add to the garage, improving PB velocities past speed cameras or simply causing mayhem in and around the music festival.

It is well constructed, easily accessible fun that has much of what makes the Forza name successful (including in-car cockpit views of each vehicle – Need For Speed: Most Wanted, I’m looking at you)  Microsoft are planning on supporting this game to the hilt with lots of downloadable content available for months to come.  If you have an Xbox 360 and a hankering for fun it is hard not to recommend Forza Horizon.


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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.