Forza Horizon – Review

Platform | Release Date
360 | October 23, 2012
Developed by Playground Games
Published by Microsoft Studios

The Pitch:

Where cars belong! Celebrate speed, music, and style at the Horizon Festival. From the makers of the highest-rated racing franchise of this generation, Forza Horizon combines legendary Forza authenticity with the freedom of the open road.

I’ve always respected the main Forza series, but was never able to get into them. Even with attempts to make them more friendly to the general racing fan, simulation games just don’t do it for me. I prefer racers that feel like games even if they try to keep a realistic air to them. With Need for Speed: Most Wanted right around the corner, I assumed my racing desires would be sated after its release and never bothered giving Forza Horizon even a cursory glance. That was clearly a mistake.

Forza Horizon isn’t intended to be a simulation racer like its big brother. Instead, it fits snugly in a space close to Project Gotham Racing’s driving and detail, set in an open Colorado-based playground. You take part in the fictional Horizon car festival and try to become number one in a world packed with different things to do.

This festival seemed like it would be a dumb gimmick and could have easily gone way too far into bro-dude territory, but it’s actually one of the best things about Horizon’s aesthetic. Along with photorealistic cars and beautiful landscape, the festival replaces the sterile feel of sim racers and places you into world full of life and character. Concerts, amusement park rides, and fireworks when the sun goes down may just be window dressing for the races, but they’re tonally perfect. Every time I visit the central festival hub, I pan the camera around just to soak it all in.

Like with any festival, there’s the main stage alongside peripheral entertainment. The official events progress a lightweight story along, earning you ‘wristbands’ to enter harder and faster races. Side tasks will earn other things like extra money, cars, or even discounts on upgrades. While it’s mostly all just racing, with the variety of events and requirements to enter them, Horizon manages to never get boring. Just remember, if you want to buy expensive cars, you will need to do plenty of side activities to build up cash… or just spent real money on tokens and buy your way to a full garage.

The microtransactions in Forza Horizon are kind of gross. Playground Games have overlaid a free-to-play business model on this full priced retail game. With the exception of the $5 treasure map – which shows you all the collectable locations – everything can be earned with in-game currency. But placing real money options alongside fake money ones just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They’ve already planned a $49.99 season pass for Horizon, but still want to get a few extra bucks from people who just need to own a Ferrari when they start playing.

I guess the real money tokens could just be in line with the accessibility mission Horizon seems to have. If you’re not a gearhead, upgrading and downgrading cars has been made extremely easy and there are plenty of settings you can adjust if it’s just a bit too hard for you. Driving at higher difficulty levels or with assists turned off earns more money, but this won’t negatively affect your enjoyment. You can earn money with both single or multiplayer games, and it all goes into the same piggy bank. The co-op free roam has challenges to perform with friends, but I was a bit disappointed that it’s not all that interesting. Like with every other competitive multiplayer mode in existence, there’s persistent levels and experience. Instead of earning new perks though, you’ll be getting a slot machine spin at every level-up which can earn you even more money or cars.

Despite not being directly developed by Turn 10, Forza Horizon doesn’t feel at all like a “B-Team” game. They’ve managed to create one hell of a beautiful, open world racing game with tons to do and loads of cars. I’d be willing to bet that if you like racing games at all, you’ll love Forza Horizon.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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