Review by D87Cook
For Racing Fans, By Racing Fans
For years Turn 10 and Microsoft Games have been creating and distributing their internationally known Forza Motorsport series. Forza is THE name in racing simulation on the XBox systems and rival Sony's Gran Turismo series. Some would say they are even superior to GT, what with the car customization and DLC superiority. So when the Forza name was rumored to be coming to console in a free-roam racing format, I was very interested.
I have long loved Need for Speed Underground 2 and NFS Most Wanted (the original and good one). One of the greatest things about a driving game to me is being able to leave the friendly confines of your race track and take that BMW or Ferrari for a blast through town. I thoroughly enjoy racing titles and boast very impressive win records, so I'd like to believe I know a thing or two about what makes a racer great: accessibility, personality, environment and driving physics. Forza Horizon delivers across almost every front. For any true racing fan, this should be in your gaming library.
Playground Games, an upstart British company comprised of very few employees, was given the reigns to Forza's now legendary name. Some people may not agree with their take on the title, finding fault and reason to hate with the new systems. However, Playground Games set out to make a great racing title and they have done just that. Horizon was created for racing fans by racing fans and it really comes through in the presentation and overall quality of the game.
Sound - 9.5/10
Horizon has one big advantage over the Motorsport series of the same banner, and that's music. The soundtrack's comprised of some great racing tunes and it is fantastic. I will say it is slanted more towards a younger, "hipper" crowd than I am apart of, so if you hate Skrillex (he makes music that sounds like R2-D2 fornicating called dubstep) you're pretty much screwed from listening to the Horizon Bass Arena. Happily you can still listen to your Rock and Pulse stations, both of which boast empressive playlists. Everything is presented in a radio style format with crazy hosts and guests. It makes for a good experience and it doesn't get bothersome or annoying. But if you get tired of the music and talking, there is also the Radio Off option. Same goes for your onboard GPS, which can be turned on and off at your pleasure. You cannot, however, turn off the annoying festival organizer who will constantly tell you that she's "paid you a lot of money", "you should go buy a car", "you're a high-roller" and "I was in the Army but then I took an arrow to the knee". It's frustrating and highly annoying, but it's really the biggest blemish to the music.
Car tire noises and engine revs all sound similar to the Motorsport entries. This isn't a bad thing...as revamping near perfect engine noises doesn't make much sense to begin with. Your Zonda is going to sound like a rabid mosquito while your Challenger will still register on the Richter scale. All the bark is still present and you'll find issue only if you make it up.
Graphics - 8.75/10
Forza Horizon has something graphically I guarantee you didn't notice before someone told you. The framerate ticks over at a rather slow 30 fps. But while this may seem low, you won't notice. Better yet...Horizon doesn't lag graphically...something that is present in every free-roam racing title that came before it. It was a very smart decision in my opinion, making for a very fluid title that won't leave you turning into a wall when the game slows just before a turn. I don't know how many races I lost in Most Wanted (the good one) because of that, but I can tell you every time was frustrating and annoying.
The backgrounds look better than ever, but at the slight sacrifice of car detail. Overall I'd say it's an improvement over Motorsport 4 because all of the areas are gorgeous and well-created. Sure, your Viper's going to look like you turned your TV down to 40 on sharpness, but it's a very tiny price that you quickly forget you're paying.
Gameplay - 10/10
The main focus of Forza Horizon is the fictional Horizon festival held in a fictional Colorado town. In this gathering of racers you will find races. As you rank up you'll gain new wristbands and access to exciting and well-designed showcase events, all of which allow you to enter more difficult and demanding races. It will also give you access to a race against your most current rival where you can win the pink slip to their car!
Horizon was marketed as a free-roaming action racing title. It wasn't marketed as a sim or a detailed technical wonder. The biggest complaint I have found from people about Forza Horizon is that detailed tuning was removed, the car list shortened (which I'll get to later) and that the game is somewhat short if you go through all of the story races and showdowns as quickly as possible. Yes, fine tuning your ride's suspension and tire pressure is no longer an option, but Playground Games had all but said that this was the case weeks before launch. They never once said it was going to be more as in-depth.
Any free-roaming racer you play straight through will be short. That's not the point of a title like this. You don't play something like The Elder Scrolls and complain the main story only took 10 hours to complete. You buy the game knowing that the true magic is in the side-quests and world exploration. This is the case with Forza Horizon. The main story isn't very long, true, but you're meant to enjoy the driving experience. You're supposed to find discount signage and drift to gain popularity. You travel around to speed traps and try to set higher marks than the opposition. It's the entire point of the game, and if you have an issue with it you probably should have been looking to get something else all along. Playground Games was upfront and very clear about the methods to their madness.
Story - 5/10
Have you ever played a racing game with a great storyline? Forza Horizon's not going to change that. Past giving you the reasons you're in Colorado, Horizon will surround you with over-exaggerated personalities and badly scripted one-liners. The voice acting is nothing to be impressed by with the exception of the radio hosts, but otherwise it's not the worst you'll ever see. It still blows anything Need for Speed or Test Drive came up with out of the water.
Online Multiplayer - 8/10
Horizon features multiple modes for your gaming pleasure and it really sets this racer apart. Ranging from your more traditional races to playground options, Forza while connected to Live will always keep you entertained. But there are a few issues to address.
The lag can sometimes be unbearable, resulting in the all-too-familiar "flying and also self-burying cars" that you saw occasionally in FM4. If I didn't know any better I'd say it rears it's head a little more this time around. Also, removing traffic in online muliplayer and limiting the participants to 8 players seems almost ancient in comparison to what could be possible.
You will still run into the standard morons who plow into everyone at full-speed in hairpins and 12 year olds who cuss you simply because you're awesome (my problem), but that's your regulation XBox Live membership. Expecting anything different would be foolish.
Horizon's biggest fault...the DLC. Day 1 DLC reared it's ugly face once again, but it's worse this time around. Horizon is much worse value for money than Motorsport. The newest DLC package featuring off-road rallying has already been announced for release...which is a turn away to some fans. The cost of this DLC will be $20 by itself. I'll be buying all the downloadable content, which probably makes me a sucker, but I can tell you that I'm unhappy with the price and low value or the expected future downloads.
+ Great radio and music
+ Stunningly beautiful environments
+ Open World stays interesting
+ Gameplay still feels like Forza
+ Large Car Library in comparison to others in genre
+ Online Multiplayer
+ Lots of Side Races and Boss Challenges
+ Showcases Events are highly exciting
- Online Multiplayer glitchy and lagtastic
- Car library considerably reduced from other Forza entries
- If you dislike Skrillex or R2-D2's sex life you're in trouble
- Tuning maybe a little too streamlined
- Downloadable Content carried poor value
Playground Games set out to make a fun racing titles that all fans of the genre would enjoy. They marketed it to the right crowd and in the right ways, saying only what was true about the game. It was always understood that while the Forza name was attached, the difference between Motorsport and Horizon was going to be a big one. If you enjoy driving and just playing the game then Horizon is definitely for you. If you're looking for a more serious experience where you get to control every single aspect of your car's setup, then I would recommend waiting on next year's Forza Motorsport 5.
Considering the marketing, the packaging, the quality and the fun of the game overall, I must give Forza Horizon a 9.25 out of 10. While it may have a few issues that keep it from being flawless, you'll be having too much fun to care. With it's open world and comparibly large library of cars to other titles in the free-roam action racing genre, you'll keep playing long before you've gotten all of the achievements and prestiged in multiplayer. I know I have.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Forza Horizon (US, 10/23/12)
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