Cars are sexy. Festivals are cool. A car racing festival must then be cool AND sexy, right? Such cynical logic has been the downfall of many creative efforts smashing two disparate elements together but in the case of Forza Horizon, it actually works. New developer Playground Studios – an assemblage of some of the finest petrolhead coders gaming has seen – steps away from the more realistic simulation efforts of the core Forza series for something comparable to Burnout Paradise, a freewheeling drive through open roads, with some killer tunes blaring from the stereo.
A loose narrative paints you as a newcomer to the Horizon motor festival, out to become the top racer in town. This is mostly window dressing, though the structure is well used to introduce key rivals for you to beat to progress. Races themselves are presented in a variety of formats – traditional circuit, street races, off-road challenges and more, all triggered while speeding around the streets and mountain roads of Colorado. When you’re not actively engaged in an event, there’s still plenty to keep your attention, be it hunting down secrets dotted around the city, busting speed limit targets or tinkering with your growing fleet of cars in the garage. Quite brilliantly, your performance in any area is immediately ranked against your Xbox Live friends, giving you the opportunity to challenge their best times in ad hoc grudge matches.
Visually, the game falls just short of stunning – beautiful locations, a rather lovely day/night cycle and authentic in-car dashboards. However, unlike Forza prime, Horizon’s cars don’t look quite as realistic, caught in some sort of automotive uncanny valley. More importantly, handling for all vehicles is spot on, lower tier 2WD cars noticeably lacking the power and precision of their more powerful counterparts, while customisations make distinct differences to individual set-ups.
The fusion of speed, freedom and music gives Forza Horizon a laid back feel befitting its festival trappings, even when you’re just tearing up the streets. It’s a very different experience than Forza purists may expect but, in its differences, it becomes a lot more enjoyable for a broader audience.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen