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Leaving The Race Track Behind For The Open World



When Forza Motorsport 4 made its debut almost one year ago, it was quickly hailed as one of the most complete console racing games ever to be coded. Stunning graphics, true to life sound engineering and meticulously judged physics modeling made Forza 4 the standard of the genre (Gran Turismo aficionados can feel free to debate this point in the comments section). So when developer Turn 10 Studios let it be known that, just one year later, it would be spinning off F4 into an open-world concept driver, gamers everywhere started the countdown.

The result, Forza Horizon, is a motive sandbox that blends the accuracy of F4's physics engine and detailed vehicle modeling with a completely new and beautiful racing universe set in a mythical fuzz-free Colorado.
Forza Horizon starts off with a continuation of the franchises tradition of dropping the player off right into the action. A short stint at the wheel of the 2013 SRT Viper cover car transitions neatly into meeting our hero, a strong-jawed digital dude who is set to be our incarnation for the adventures that follow. The car that he (we) start with is a Volkswagen Corrado VR6, which is step down from the Viper, but just the kind of indie, car-guy choice that leads us to believe the developers know their stuff. From here we beat feet to the Horizon Festival – a Lollapalooza-meets-Barret-Jackson affair that serves as the main story driver for the game.



Know that if you're buying shares in Horizon, you're buying them for the sake of cars and racing, not plot device.

It's also here, in the very first minutes of the game, that Forza Horizon misses a trick that could have seen it transcend the Need for Speed/Test Drive idiom and become more of the hybrid racing/role-playing game that its open-world concept teased. There's no early investment in the guy behind the wheel (ostensibly "you," don't forget): We don't get to build the character or select a skill set, we don't get to customize his look or his racing gear, heck, we don't even get to choose which car we'd like to start racing with. (That, by the way, is such a standard custom in current games that it feels really strange by omission here.)

You may think this isn't a big deal – this is a game about cars, not character-building, after all – but the lack of any sort of character creation simply made us care less about the story that drives the game's action forward. As it turns out, the story in question gets thinner as the hours played pile up, so know that if you're buying shares in Horizon, you're buying them for the sake of cars and racing, not plot device.



The saving grace for the lost element of story is the sheer quantity and easy availability of cars in the game.

Following on then, the saving grace for the lost element of story is the sheer quantity and easy availability of cars in the game. Forza Horizon doesn't let you stay a single-car owner for long, for instance, as the vehicles are handed out frequently, and the cash with which to buy new ones is not hard to come by, either.

There are effectively three main types of racing in Forza Horizon: wheel-to-wheel racing in either circuit-lapping (closed tracks) or point-to-point affairs (usually with civilian cars mixed in with the racers, like rocks in a stream), featured events that typically involve some sort of stunt race (e.g. car versus plane), and street racing that mostly happens within the flow of driving around the Horizons world. The feature events feel a bit like throwaway, or "mini game" content, and we could just as soon leave them as take them. But the beating heart of this new Forza lives in the other two.



The visuals run from merely well executed, to oftentimes breathtaking.

It is, of course, the physics model and vast selection of rides from Forza 4 that make Horizon such an interesting option to racing gamers. And in the main racing modes this promise is made good. The tracks themselves are often anything but standard raceways. Many of them transition from blacktop to dirt and back again like a rally stage. Some offer sections that run through warehouses, park plazas, and through sleepy downtown streets. And more than a handful offer major advantages to the driver that, rather than stay true to a legitimate racing line, is willing to freelance through dirt and grass, crash through street signs and billboards or straighten out a chicane by ignoring it altogether. This sort of barnstorming doesn't always work, mind you; drive over a grassy embankment too fast or pull too many Gs in a corner and the Forza physics will end the party quick. But game designers want players to explore, play and rule break much more in this new title than would have been acceptable in a more serious sim.

Exploring this vast world, modeled on the roads and topography of Colorado, is mostly a fun bit of work, too. The visuals run from merely well executed, to oftentimes breathtaking, as Forza Horizon opens up out of a tunnel or around a cliff face into visions of snow-capped peaks or vistas dotted with wild rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Everything you see from the window of your car (with the notable exception of human bystanders, who all look very flat) is detailed and rich.



"Tuning" means adding or subtracting parts to your car, there is no recourse for the smaller adjustments that make car gaming geeks so happy.

As we alluded to earlier, the cars themselves are excellently rendered too with, for instance, accurate lighting for in-car point of view after the sun goes down. Everyone likes to see those gauges light up. The engine notes sound pretty great on most cars, too – the vaguely Millennial soundtrack is inoffensive, but you should still probably turn the car radio off as soon as you start playing.

With cars and racing so well sorted, it's sad that a few of the essential mechanics of gameplay feel really raw. Tuning/detuning specific cars for specific races often requires a trip back to the center of the game's universe, the Horizon Festival itself, rather than being able to do this on the fly at the race venue. This may sound simple enough, but consider that you're mostly driving for a few minutes at least to get from one place to the next (and many times interrupted by side missions, street races and the like) and you'll start to understand how this can interrupt the flow of the game. Even when you are at your home garage, "tuning" means adding or subtracting parts to your car, there is no recourse for setting spring rates, changing brake balance or any of those other small adjustments that make car gaming geeks so happy.



For every nuance that isn't quite right for the sim-racing enthusiast, there always seems to be two that will engage more casual racing gamers.

But for every nuance that isn't quite right for the sim-racing enthusiast, there always seem to be two that will engage more casual racing gamers, or fans of the arcade-racing genre. The online support for Forza Horizon seems to add a lot to the total experience, with straight head-to-head racing online meeting up with first-person shooter-style games (Infected and Cat and Mouse both ask you to chase or be chased around an enclosed map of roads). And just like with Forza 4, Xbox Live users should also expect a great wealth of new downloadable content (mostly new vehicles) to be made available on the regular. Continually refreshed content definitely helps to keep racing titles from growing stale, fast.

Forza Horizon, on the surface then, is not a game that will appeal to the same part of the brain that makes driving simulation gamers go bananas for the physical, tactile and aural accuracy of games like Forza 4 or Gran Turismo 5. In a world where crashing through a farmer's fence equates to the most successful racing line, how could it? Expect to see some negative reviews of Forza Horizons based solely on this.



Despite its noted flaws, the game as a total piece still works for us.

But we'd like to propose a counter argument, based on a week of playtime and our relative addiction to the game's hybrid sim/arcade experience. Despite its noted flaws, the game as a total piece still works for us. When we check off the things we love about the "serious" racing franchises – loads of cars to collect and drive, a huge variety of tracks to drive, many and varied forms of play ­– and then add in the very promising online experience of Forza Horizon, we end up with a really enjoyable gaming experience. There's just something in this intersection of believable car physics and outrageous situational driving that allows for a higher replayability factor than we've yet seen in an arcade racer. Forza Horizon is not intended to be Forza 5, by any stretch of the imagination, but for anyone looking for an imaginative and immersive racer, this is a great place to start.


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  • 35 Comments
      VIPER94
      • 2 Years Ago
      I played the demo as well...what I don't like most are the sounds and some of the little stuff that are left out that all together make up the big picture. The Cars sound too generic and computerized, you don't get the rev limited and pops and burbles from muscle cars or the fast snappy shifts from the high end exotics. And as far as the little stuff, if its an open world racing game. I want more freedom to completely unnecessary things on my car such as turning off and on the lights, maybe the horn or starting/turning off your car. Really none of those things are necessary for a car game but they're fun to have around. Oh and one more thing, I'm pretty sure and SRT Viper can do a burnout. In this game, if you mash the gas and the brake in 1st gear (even without traction control) you just get revving. C'mon Turn 10. But its still a fun game. I enjoyed it. Still wish it had better sound quality on the cars though.
      Lachmund
      • 2 Years Ago
      all i can say is https://vimeo.com/42303458
      Adam
      • 2 Years Ago
      I love all racing games since I've been a fetus. I played Gt on Sony while I was growing up. Now I have both Gt 5 and forza. I love racing but I really love drifting. I don't understand Sony, they sponsor and have their name all over every Japanese drift car. For some stupid reason they don't bother putting a competitive online drift races in the game. Pretty sad considering that it took 10 years for Gt 5 to get made. I pretty much shelved my Gt5 early and been playing forza 3 and then 4. I still play forza 4 every other day, I love it. I wouldn't say that I'm completely finished with Gt. Hopefully when Gt 6 comes out in 2022 on ps5 maybe, just maybe the figure out how to do it.
      TrippulG3
      • 2 Years Ago
      Played the demo, wasn't terribly impressed. I think one of the things that turned me off was that, for a new IP, a lot of it just felt recycled (particularly the menus and some of the songlist, which was ripped straight from DiRT 2). . There's some fun stuff here, but it doesn't feel like a game that's worth my $60. I'll wait for a price drop in a few months and see if I still have any interest.
        RTHKI
        • 2 Years Ago
        @TrippulG3
        Thing is Forza has been using dnb, among other genres, since FM3 at least, idk about FM2. Just seems more club versions now.
        Pj Taintz
        • 2 Years Ago
        @TrippulG3
        exactly...because when I play a new game the first thing i think about is that the menues suck..... Screw the game if the menues are recycled, i mean god forbid they save time and money on menus to make the game better with that time and money.....
      Bobby_Sards
      • 2 Years Ago
      Gran Turismo is better
        A_Guy
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Bobby_Sards
        nice try, Sony. No really, this game is not competing with GT. For that, look up Forza 4.
        KelperFoxWolf
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Bobby_Sards
        Even though GT does not compete with this (the rival to this game is TDU and TDU2), Gran Turismo 5 is indeed the better sim when compared to Forza Motorsport 4, the reason? Its physics engine.
          NICE FOCKING CAR
          • 2 Years Ago
          @KelperFoxWolf
          Hate to burst your bubble, but neither of those games are sims. Want a sim? Try RFactor, iRacing, or anything from SimBin. Want a "real" sim controller? Head over to CXC.
      KelperFoxWolf
      • 2 Years Ago
      Gran Turismo has been the reference when it comes to simulation. Change that, it sounds like product placement ass-licking. The graphics and the modes is something I can agree, but anyone who knows how to play a sim racer will digress perfectly when it comes to physics and AI. Going into this game, I just hope Turn10 continues with this. They are better at doing an arcadish game rather than a simulator, because they suck at that in the technical part, leaving the visuals as the only thing to praise.
        QCRamAir
        • 2 Years Ago
        @KelperFoxWolf
        You couldn't be futher from the truth. Instead of sounding like you have an unbiased opinion after having experience with both games, you come off as completely full of sh*t and make it painfully obvious that you're just another typical GT fanboy who's never spent a second playing any Forza game. Go back under your bridge.
          KelperFoxWolf
          • 2 Years Ago
          @QCRamAir
          I played all four installments, boy, so shut up. The very first two Forza Motorsport games were something to consider as almost realistic. From 3 onwards, it was just making things easier for the n00bs. It can't be further from respectable, or even realistic now; GT on the other hand, has easy to beat AI, but has never, EVER, given up on the sole factor that makes it unbeatable: physics engine.
          Lachmund
          • 2 Years Ago
          @QCRamAir
          sorry, but forza isn't a sim game...
        RodRAEG
        • 2 Years Ago
        @KelperFoxWolf
        lol console noob thinks his console sim is the reference when it comes to simulation. What a joke.
      RWD
      • 2 Years Ago
      Played the demo... I reeeeealy want to like this game, but after years of Forza Motorsport, the physics just don't do it for me. It's far too soft and forgiving, when you smash head-on into a car, it just bashes it out of the way and barely slows you down. Drifting the car is far too easy to control, weird grip levels. It's a huge step towards arcade. I know, I know, if it was just like FM4, where a tiny touch could send you spinning and flipping off into oblivion, this style of gameplay might just be frustrating. But if every other player had to deal with the same realistic fragility, I dunno, I think the game would be better. At least make it an option! The game is beautiful, love the over-the-top sound, love the edgy "handheld" camera, LOVE the concept and style of play... If it had FM4's damage, physics and customization, holy cow, this could be one of the best games ever! But instead, it's just "cool", but not a great racing game. Bummer.
        AlphaGnome
        • 2 Years Ago
        @RWD
        You do know that you can adjust the difficulty? By default, the driving experience is set to make the game easy and fun for fans of arcade racers, but you can set the controls to simulation. Feels like Forza 4.
      Steve
      • 2 Years Ago
      Imagine how awesome these games would be if we weren't forced to play them on eight freakin' year-old hardware! Might as well be steam-powered. A new generation of consoles is painfully overdue.
        Lachmund
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Steve
        juts play project cars...it has none of those limitations!!!
        KelperFoxWolf
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Steve
        Typical PC-gamer bullshit. Fixed hardware is the best you can see, I don't care if it's 8-year old hardware, as long as it's perfectly optimized.
          HydraulicDragon
          • 2 Years Ago
          @KelperFoxWolf
          Wow. And you're the one giving GT5 praise. Consoles are pathetically underpowered and you can build a $500 PC that will absolutely blow it out of the water. I love my Xbox, but I have no allusions to it's hardware being anywhere near adequate. Anything less than 6-8 gigs of RAM in a gaming machine is unacceptable with current memory prices, dual core chips are cheap, a basic video card will mash an Xbox, and a 2 terabyte hard drive is <$100. You can attach any controller or number of monitors to a PC,ad download custom maps and mods for far more games. You have no idea what you are talking about.
        chris
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Steve
        I know! Which is why I'm praying GT6 gets released on the PS4 and Forza 5 gets released on the 720
      Charles Robichaud
      • 2 Years Ago
      i am a huge car nut, but i cannot see how promoting street race is going to be a good thing, ya we have all done a lil of it, but as you get older and family members need you around for help... why risk it, or someone else's life like in a head on collision. plz younger gen dont take it to the real streets, my mom/your mom is out there somewhere, get in a car club and create a parking lot time attack, or join the scca and take to a track!!! or take up R/C racing!!!
        Lothar
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Charles Robichaud
        Street racing in video games is like shooting someone in a video game, its not real and 99% of the people have the common sense to know not to do this in the real world.
          Lachmund
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Lothar
          exactly...it's better they do it on the playstation then in real life, right?!
        QCRamAir
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Charles Robichaud
        Dude... IT'S A VIDEO GAME! Are you telling us that you don't have the common sense and/or brain capacity to comprehend and differentiate fantasy from real life? Do you even play video games?
      Audi Love
      • 2 Years Ago
      Oh, and for some weird reason, people were expecting a Forza 5. :/ Sorry, but you're just going to have to be disappointed, this is a very well done spin off and it's not meant to be as serious as Motorsport, it's not even the same genre as Motorsport. Why can't people realize that?
      superchan7
      • 2 Years Ago
      The demo had a rather empty environment; hopefully there's more variety in the full game. The visuals are impressive considering the severe hardware handicap compared to the PS3 and modern PCs. I'm a sim fan (have GT1-5 and FM4), but there's just something about driving on open roads. Pretty sure I will give it a try.
      zizixx89
      • 2 Years Ago
      see now i know forza 5 has to have night racing or tag but im glad this game has tag cause thats all i play on forza
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