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Forza Horizon realizes epic scope

Dec 7, 2012

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Forza  HorizonHere's a statement you can stuff under your hood, in your glove box, or wherever else tickles your fancy: the Forza series is the best racing series on consoles today, and the latest title coming off the assembly line, Forza Horizon, further cements its simulation domination.

Forza has long been known as a "true" simulation game, offering hardcore auto enthusiasts the chance to trick out virtual vehicles in just about any way imaginable. That said, the series has slowly been opening its doors to gamers who don't care about upgrading engines, suspensions, or brakes. It's now a legitimate option for those who just want to stomp the pedal on the right and go.

With Forza Horizon, long-time Forza developer Turn 10 Studios has essentially handed over the keys to Playground Games. Fret not though - the latter studio hasn't turned the series into a smoking wreck on the side of the road. Quite the contrary - this may very well be the best Forza game yet.

This newest title keeps all the tight physics and customization Forza veterans have come to love, but places it all in an open world set around the valleys and mountains of Colorado.

You'll still get plenty of chances to enter races against AI foes in the single player campaign, but when you're not taking on other drivers in lapped events, you'll be keeping plenty busy as you traverse the roads and dirt surfaces around Colorado.

And while we've seen plenty of open-world games with larger environments, there is literally always something to do in the Forza Horizon world to help bring you closer to the title of the top driver in the fictional world.

The campaign's story is tied together around the Horizon Festival, which is essentially an outdoor party that never ends. You're the new guy on the block, and you're attempting to make your mark on the racing circuit by earning coloured wristbands and gaining popularity.

You earn wristbands by accumulating points in races; the more wristbands you have, the more races become available. You can also rise in overall popularity rankings simply by pulling off moves in your vehicle. Your popularity ranking is constantly rising, whether you're in the middle of a high-level race or simply doing burnouts in an abandoned field.

Forza  Horizon And that's really the beauty of Forza Horizon - you are never, ever stuck driving for no reason. Even if you're flying down a long stretch of highway in the middle of the night (yes, the game has a dynamic day/night system for the first time in the series), with virtually no one around you, you'll still earn points for reaching a certain speed, or passing close to someone, or any other number of things.

Mixed in there is a risk-and-reward system, where you can build up combos worth a lot of points, but if you smash into another vehicle or a wall, the combo resets and you don't get to bank any points.

Beyond the races themselves, there are plenty of other events you can join. Everything from the intense - race one foe who wants revenge, with the winner taking a vehicle as the prize - to the outrageous, such as a race where you take on a Mustang jet with a Ford Mustang coupe.

Some events are sanctioned, and those earn you points that go toward wristbands, while other events are "off the grid," and usually get you extra cash or new rides.

There are also Sponsor Challenges, which you can also complete simply by doing stuff you're already doing. For instance, completing a certain number of e-brake challenges (drifting for 10 metres or more without stopping) will net you a nice cash bonus, though you're continually ranking up each challenge, so finishing one rank only means you can keep doing more.

Like in past Forza games, players can not only change the difficulty of their opponents, but they can also adjust several other assists. Brake lines, the rewind function, and traction control are just a few of the things that can be tweaked; the less assists you use, the more money you'll earn at the end of the race.

Simply put, anyone who claims the game is too easy need only jack up the opponent difficulty and turn off every assist to see just how tough it is to successfully complete even a single hairpin turn without ending up in an embarrassing skid while pointed in the wrong direction.

Forza  Horizon The Horizon Festival hub contains all the stuff you've grown to love in previous Forza games. You can create custom paint jobs, buy new cars, upgrade the ones you already own, join a car club, and more. Hardcore auto enthusiasts could spend hours doing all kinds of non-driving stuff.

The community engagement in Forza Horizon is an even bigger focus than it's been in the past. Besides the usual stuff - uploading paint jobs, sharing photos, etc - you'll be given the chance to take on both Xbox Live friends and other random drivers after everything you do.

Whether you finished a race just a few milliseconds behind a friend, or hit a speed trap a few kilometres an hour below a rival, the game gives you the chance to try to beat different players' records at the touch of a button.

And by the way, those speed traps are just what they sound like, but in the Forza Horizon world, there are no police vehicles, so you're actually encouraged to hit these at the highest speeds possible. Awesome.

Beyond the massive single player campaign, there is a multiplayer portion that includes all sorts of simplistic, albeit very fun, game modes. Everything from Infected (kind of like "tag" with vehicles) to Cat and Mouse (cats have to stop the mice from finishing the race) are enjoyable distractions when you long to play real humans.

Beyond the levelling-up system, each completed race will earn you a random prize, and it could be anything from straight up cash, to a rare vehicle. Best of all, everything is connected in the Forza Horizon world, so money, popularity, challenges, and everything else carries over from single player to multiplayer and vice versa.

The multiplayer does stumble slightly with co-op challenges, which encourages two or more players to complete challenges that can net them a lot of dough. Problem is, without a friend, many challenges feel almost pointless and the levels, barren. One challenge tasked as many players as possible to simply drive a preset amount of kilometres. While the prize was in the seven digits, I can't imagine spending that much time driving around in multiplayer for that long.

Forza  Horizon The complaints one can direct at Forza Horizon are insignificant at worst. It's frustrating having to sometimes upgrade a vehicle for a race, only to be forced to downgrade it (for a small fee) for another race. Why not offer the option to downgrade a vehicle temporarily, for just the one race?

The Horizon Festival organizer, meanwhile, can become slightly annoying as she constantly urges you to sign up for certain races. A lack of split screen is also a disappointment.

Still, these are microscopic problems in the grand scheme of things. Forza Horizon has it all - the fun, the addictive gameplay, the excellent physics, the attention to detail, and so much more.

While it may not be completely over-the-top like something from the Burnout series, Forza Horizon is still a game that could be considered accessible to more casual racing fans. It may take a little more easing in to than your average karting game, but once you've slid into the driver’s seat, expect to stay parked there for a long time.

 

Forza Horizon
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Studios / Turn 10 Studios
Developer: Playground Games
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Official Site: http://forzamotorsport.net

Rating: 9.5 / 10

 
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