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Forza Horizon [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

A brilliant blend between high-stakes, full-throttle racing and meditative country drive in your dream car, Forza Horizon takes a well-loved, established franchise and dares to do something a little different. Fans of the franchise may miss the game’s simulation edge, but for a game that offers so much variety strung together, quite nicely, with a core concept that holds throughout, it’s hard to stay angry at the decision to change for more than a couple minutes into the game.

The Pros: 

+Intelligent use of the world, environment, menus and audio to create a unified theme throughout.

+Combines the best of both worlds: full-throttle super-speed racing, and a relaxing Sunday drive through the country.

+Slightly more relaxed atmosphere/controls than the previous games, lowering the barrier of entry for new/casual players.

The Cons: 

-Some of the “challenges” push the boundaries of casual into straightforward boredom, i.e. the photo challenges (where you just need to get your car to a visually stimulating point without wrecking the car, without any form of time challenge). Rating : 

Forza has spent the last seven years working its way into my heart. Originally a franchise I passed off as Microsoft’s attempt to be Gran Turismo. It’s grown over the years in leaps and bounds, the most recent iteration, Forza 4, becoming one of my favorite racing games of all time. When Horizon was announced, so shortly after the launch of four, I found myself wondering if it was a bit too soon for a sequel. But as the game’s development progressed, and we got a clearer concept of the game, and the reason for the subtitle rather than the five, it became crystal clear why Turn 10 and Microsoft Studios could throw out another Forza franchise title an, almost exact, year after its previous release: This was to be something completely different.

If you’re not familiar with Forza, here’s a super truncated history lesson: The game series has always been a ‘sim’ franchise. It followed the established format of ultra-realistic motorsports action, and jumped you around the world from track to track. You earn your way up the ranks, unlocking new vehicles and tracks along the way, with the goal of becoming the ultimate all-around race-hero. Rally, circuit, La Mans, F1, supercars, nothing was out of reach. But it all fell into the very formulaic routine of drive a race, win a race, whisk of to another.

Forza Horizon mixes it up by giving the series a slightly more arcade-y edge. The simulation aspect has, for the most part, gone away and the game, on the whole, is a little more user-friendly to the uninitiated of gear-head wannabes. To loyalists of the series, this might have seemed like a bit of a slap in the face; turning a well-established simulation racing franchise into the video game equivalent of a Sunday drive, both in concept and design. But if you can let go of the chains of the past, accept what Turn 10 and Microsoft Studios is trying to do here, the game becomes a bit of a breath of fresh air (if I may turn a heavily clichéd phrase).

“Why?” you may have to ask. Well, I’m happy to explain. I’ve often imagined that there are two kinds of car enthusiasts. There are those that want to push their vehicles to the limits, drive as fast as possible and feel like they’re riding the razor’s edge at all times, and then there’s those that want the experience of just crusin’ in the dream car.

Forza Horizon blends both worlds, and provides a game-play experience somewhere in the middle. While the game may not be as realistic as the previous iterations of the franchise, it is still a lot of fun to play. Instead of just magically leaping from track to track, you’ll find yourself driving out into the country side and seeking out new challenges. In the right car, it’s not too far removed from a session of meditation. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to just jump straight into the next race, the game does eventually unlock ‘fast travel’ options to scoot you around the map in no-time-flat, but there’s something deeply satisfying about popping into the driver’s seat of an old-school Aston Martin DB5 and just cruising across the country-side while the sun sets in the distance to mellow out a little between the heated race circuits.

The game’s story is a bit of an innovation as well. Mostly in that there is one… but more than that, the concept the game introduces to the game, that of a major race festival (think Race Wars from Fast and Furious), is something that the team has thoughtfully interjected into every last aspect of the game.

The radio stations, of which there are four distinct types available, play throughout. Loading screens, menus, while you’re in the garage or in the middle of the race, the tunes continue to play at a constant; interjected only by the announcer/DJ of whatever station you’ve settled on as your home. More interesting, in my opinion, is how that also evolves into getting information about the world you’re in. The DJ of the radio station will point out hot-spots on the maps, new challenges as they crop up, and even special side missions, like the “Barn Finds” which will net you new cars.

The bottom line, for me, is that Turn 10 and Microsoft Studios have derived the magic formula for video game development/franchise evolution. Rather than pulling a “Call of Duty” and just pumping out a slightly changed iteration of the same game over, and over, and over again… they’ve pushed out an entirely original ‘companion piece’ to the franchise. Forza Horizon might not be the simulation racing experience we’ve grown to expect from the Forza franchise, but it absolutely a fantastic game and a whole lot of fun to play through (or just cruise around in at the end of a long and/or particularly stressful day in your dream car).

A review copy was provided for this game by the publisher.

Forza Horizon
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Turn 10 Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: October 26th, 2012
Price: $59.99 ($79.99 Collector's)