Giant Bomb Review


Forza Horizon Review

  • X360

Plenty of racing games have tried to split the difference between simulation and "arcade" racing in the past, but there aren't many that do it as well as Forza Horizon.

The Challenger: it's a nice car, but can you make it dance across Horizon's numerous twists and turns?

I've never understood people who don't drive. Big city folk, mostly, all reliant on their "public transportation" or their "bicycles" instead of getting behind the wheel of a machine that may very well kill them someday. That tender grasp, toeing the line between our world in the next, is the deep, dark core behind our fascination with the automobile. Video games represent society's relationship with cars in a variety of ways, from kart racers for the kids all the way up to intense simulations that all but require you to build a cockpit facsimile in the middle of your home. Any racing video game--especially one on a console--is going to split the difference between those two extremes, but games that really try to appeal to the "arcade" audience as well as the simulation crowd usually end up producing a watered-down mess that pleases no one. Forza Horizon threads the needle and pulls it off surprisingly well.

Horizon is an open-world, thrills-first twist on the Forza franchise that starts with the great physics and performance that the Forza Motorsport series is already known for and adds the sorts of things you'd expect to find in an open-world racer. There are tiers of events that unlock in chunks as you finish out the previous tier, sets of "unsanctioned" street races that aren't really any different from the main events, but they earn you cash instead of progression points, races against the game's cast of characters (which pop up as you move from one tier of main events to the next), and one-off showcase events that get you cars by asking you to race against airplanes, helicopters, and hot-air balloons. Ultimately, the showcase events are heavy on the "show" aspect of things, because they feel more like time trials with aircraft flying overhead the entire time.

The showcase events pop up as your driver becomes more popular, which is one of the other types of progression built into the game. You earn popularity points for fancy driving, and it feels like an offshoot of the Project Gotham kudos system. You'll get points for burnouts, drifting, near misses, and other acts of genuine skill, but you'll also get points for trading paint with other racers or busting up street signs and other on-track obstacles. The notion of earning points for driving that lacks finesse is perhaps the most un-Forza-like part of the entire game, but don't mistake this for a Burnout game. There's nothing to be gained by slamming into opposing cars, though smash-ups don't feel like they're as catastrophic as they can be in Forza Motorsport, mostly because all of the car damage is merely cosmetic.

The photo mode returns, giving you control over focus, filters, and more.

When you're not racing, there's a large open world to explore, and the game gives you a few reasons to do some cruising. First, there are 100 signs hidden in the environment that each give you a 1 percent discount on car upgrades when smashed. Find them all and your upgrades are free. Also, nine "barn finds" pop up over the course of play. These are old cars that have been hidden around the world in barns that exist off the beaten path. When one activates, an area of your map lights up to give you the general location of a barn, so you'll have to explore that area in order to figure out how to find the exact spot. You'll drive past plenty of these collectibles over the natural course of the game, as well as various speed cameras and zones that measure how fast you're moving through specific spots and record it to an online leaderboard.

So there's a good variety of things to do around the world, but if you'd rather fast travel, you can warp back to the central hub or to any of the fast travel points you've uncovered. Warping to those points costs money at first, though there are a few simple tasks you can complete at each hub that eventually reduce that cost to zero. If you're the impatient type that hates exploring and driving from one objective to the next, you'll find this fast travel system to be lacking. But the game's driving model is interesting enough to make the journey worthwhile, so just calm down, OK?

Online, the game allows up to eight players to get in and race. You can get right down to it with a series of preset events or you can free roam in the world, which allows players to get into co-op challenges. These challenges require all connected players to perform specific tasks. Some are passive, like driving lots and lots of miles across all sessions. Others are active, like one that requires all players to pass through a speed trap while driving above a certain speed. Oh, the catch there is that all the drivers need to pass the speed trap within a few seconds of each other, so you'll have to talk it out over your headsets and get in a proper line of cars to nail it properly. The list of co-op challenge isn't huge, and it never gets quite as inventive as Burnout Paradise's similar system did, but it gives you something to shoot for when in free roam, which is great. You can also get into playground games like Infection, which gives one of the players a horrible disease that spreads to other cars after a collision, so the last car standing wins. King makes one player the king, and the other players try to smash into the king to steal the crown. A timer ticks up while you've on the throne. It's simple but effective stuff that gives you more to shoot for than just racing.

You'll still upgrade your cars--either automatically or by picking out specific parts--but there's no tuning aspect to Forza Horizon, so you won't be directly adjusting things like ride height. You won't be trading cars or tuning setups in an auction house, but the vinyl editor from the previous games makes it over intact. You can even import your vinyl groups from Forza Motorsport 4, which is great news for me since I created this extremely basic and dumb (but accurate!) bottom-row Space Invader two or three games ago, and it's been haunting my player storefront ever since. Players can sell or give away their vinyl groups via a simplified version of the store setup from previous Forza games.

This angle is NUTS, you guys!!!!

The only time Forza Horizon doesn't look fantastic is when you're standing still. A lot of the grass textures that you'll see at the edges of the road are pretty rough up close. But the not-so-secret secret there is that you probably won't stop moving very often. Virtual Colorado has terrific lighting and a day/night cycle that gives you a lot of different looks for each environment, from the sun peeking over the mountains to fireworks over the Horizon Festival's hub zone at night. It feels like a genuine, lived-in place that's lively in a way that makes Forza Motorsport feel stodgy and sterile by comparison. That feel is supported by a trio of radio stations with DJs that often comment on what's going on in the overall tournament in-between a variety of very "now" music selections that fit the game's tone quite well. Let's face it: this gaudy spectacle of a fireworks-laden race festival is just crying out for as much wobble bass as possible, and the Horizon Bass Arena station features just enough dubstep to either keep you excited or make you sick, depending on your stance.

If you have a Kinect hooked up, you'll have a reason to shout over all that Mord Fustang, Skrillex, and Wolfgang Gartner as you can use the voice recognition on the Kinect to point your GPS at the next event or other important locations. This is easily--and more precisely--completed on the game's map screen, but shouting "GPS! Next event!" and seeing the driving line come up and point you in the proper direction is still somewhat novel. If nothing else, this modest implementation actually makes Forza Horizon one of the few games that's telling the truth when its box claims it's "better with Kinect."

With around 120 or so events to choose from, Forza Horizon might sound somewhat slim when compared to Forza Motorsport 4, but it gains a lot more depth from its open world than it initially lets on. But most importantly, it manages to simultaneously feel like a Forza game while also letting in more of what makes racing games fun for all players, rather than staying strictly focused on those of us who want strict simulations of varying realism. It's got a cockpit view, but it also gives you points for smashing through street signs and performing totally sick J-turns. That might sound like a contradiction that would cripple a game, but Horizon manages to make all of these different elements fit together in a way that seems natural. And that's pretty impressive.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
124 Comments Refresh
Posted by rjayb89

I am ready for you, Forza.

Posted by bigsmoke77

wow, was not expecting a fiver, I want to get both horizons and most wanted but it just don't make sense to get two racers back to back.

Posted by Milkman

Well, this came out of nowhere.

Posted by Little_Socrates

It is weird that this game is good. Also, interested to hear Forza Horizon v. NFS: Most Wanted in the coming months...

Posted by DystopiaX

@bigsmoke77 said:

wow, was not expecting a fiver, I want to get both horizons and most wanted but it just don't make sense to get two racers back to back.

Same. Game has not been on my radar at all and I was expecting it to be average at best. Bad marketing job, great game I guess.

Posted by Vinny_Says

I knew this would be awesome the moment they announced it :)

Posted by sungahymn

Wasn't expecting such a high score.

Posted by Rapid

Wow midnight review, I wonder how this will stack up against the new most wanted. "race against airplanes, helicopters, and hot-air balloons" sounds like what burnout paradise wanted to do.

Posted by l4wd0g

Awesome review Jeff. I'm going told off buying it until your review the new Need for Speed review is up, but it sounds awesome

Posted by zombie2011

Im looking forward to this more than NFS:MW.

Posted by kerse

I didn't even know this was coming out until just now.

Edited by JCHenderson

This is great and glad to hear it feels like a Forza game. I will leave judgement though for the demo and the racing wheel set up.

Vinny Caravella This might be a perfect opportunity to get into that racing wheel market.

Posted by RandomInternetUser

That model of a Charger looks pretty fucking good.

Posted by Cramsy

The "lived in" line sold it for me. I don't like racing enough to stay in Motorsport for more than a few hours at a time for this very reason

Posted by Nettacki

Sleeper hit? Seems like it.

Posted by AnjinM

This is unexpected. Can't wait to hear you talking about it on the cast.

Posted by granderojo

Regretting selling my 360 now. :(

Posted by BaconGames

I feel like (having not watches the QL yet) this game could go one of two ways. It either feels like playing Burnout Paradise again except it drives like Forza or its a game about you, a beautiful car and "the road". I feel like the title and myself want it to be like the latter, evoking the scenes from Top Gear of the hosts just reveling in beautiful scenery and windy roads driving cars built to cruise over them with ease. Basically if Forza Horizon does not evoke that in me then I can't help but be disappointed. Then again these expectations are specific to me and I bet a ton of people will still really like it I'd it's basically Paradise with a bit of Gotham and drives like Forza. Either way, this just reminds me that I really wish Forza 4 came to PC so I could play it :(

Posted by Darth_Sibbs

I was on the fence for this, not now. Sounds fantastic

Posted by Mister_V

Wow was not expecting this after playing the demo. Might pick this up now.

Posted by Knigge

So torn now between NFS and this now... guess I'll just get neither for the time being, and wait till I have a lull in my game schedule.

Posted by Pokalapoketl

How good is this game without Live, though?

Posted by joshthebear

Was not expecting that.

Posted by wrathofconn


Posted by Winternet

I was definitely not expecting a 5-star review for Forza. I am pleasantly surprised.

Posted by amardilo

I wasn't sure how this game was going to turn out but after reading the review I might give this game a go.

Posted by Sweep

Really glad this worked out. My understanding is that Playground soaked up a lot of the Bizarre guys when they got fucked over, so i'm unsurprised at parallels to Project Gotham. Top stuff.

Posted by whitespider

Syndicate 2.

Posted by mulder000

Holy early review, Batman!!

I have all the Forza games, but wasn't looking to get this one as I wasn't sure how the new setting would work. Thanks for costing me another $60!

Posted by KiddoMac

what's the framerate?

Posted by DukesT3

Dude I live in Houston and have to drive because our hippie bullcrap public transportation is crap. So we are big city folk who drive our cars to murder people. Just sayin. Stop with your west coast hippie bullcrap.

Edited by Devildoll

really ? 5 stars.
i guess i'll have to read this. 
i'll preface this by saying that i usually play forza games without assists, and usually place in the top 100's on any race leaderboard i give a crack at.
My own opinions from trying the demo is that the cars almost dont give any feedback to the 360 controller, handle kind of wierd and the 30 fps sucks balls. 
Free roam is always fun though. 
lets get reading....
edit: okay, seems like it might be a "fun" game, but not as realistic/accurate as the main series.

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

Nailed the "fascination with the automobile" bit. I really like that intro, very nice review!

Posted by Rasmoss

Given Jeff's love for Burnout Paradise this is high praise indeed. Can't wait.

Posted by DarkFury

I had a great time with the demo, I'm glad this worked out.

Posted by 12_Oz_Mouse

Wow didn't see that coming, maybe its just a case of a bad demo but I have tried to get into it and hated each time I played it. But this gives me hope for the full thing.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

Five stars?! I really wasn't expecting that! Not that I thought this would be bad, just mediocre. It's been a while since I bought a racing game, maybe I should look into this one.

Posted by masterfaculty

I'm still not 100% sure what this game is.

Posted by Jace

Well, I'm sold. Also, the QL starts with dubstep playing to a brodie-spinning 2013 GT-R. Win.

Posted by DharmaBum

Damn, another game I'll have to pick up soon.

Posted by isomeri

I now feel less bad for pre-ordering the 90 euro "Special Edition.

Posted by ObsideonDarman

Great Reviw Jeff. Can't wait to play this!

Posted by benspyda

I was pretty disappointed by Forza 4 because it really didn't do much more than Forza 3 did which certainly makes this more appealing however I feel like I already own enough racing games this gen that its hard to keep buying them when I can just go back to one of them.

Posted by Phatmac

I don't get people that love driving. Driving sucks man.

Posted by Phatmac
I don't get people that love driving. Driving sucks man.
In real life not in games.
Posted by Falconer

Hey can you say more about the story at all? Kinda surprised you didn't really mention it at all. I assume it was at least "okay" since it didn't take away from the score. Is it just an average/forgettable thing that serves for a player unlocking more cars/events?

Edited by Winsord

I'm alright with this game feeling somewhat "slim" compared to Forza 4. I'm 320 hours into Forza 4, and still only 70% done the event list.

Already have the LCE of this pre-ordered though, my one pre-order game of the year. The demo seems like it's mostly just good for getting a sense of the physics style, it just misses out on so much of what makes up the Forza experience. I love the attention to detail in these games though, like how changing your muffler will actually change how your car sounds. I guess for reference, I should just say that I put in about 160 hours into Test Drive Unlimited, and another 80-100 in Test Drive Unlimited 2, and those games had pretty big flaws. This style of racing game is pretty much tailored to my likes, and with people from Bizarre, Codemasters, the TDU team and Turn 10 working on it, it's got its bases covered for my favourite racing games' dev teams, too.

Posted by Bobby_The_Great

Wow, blindsided.

Posted by beepmachine

That came out of the blue. I'm interested in Most Wanted, but this is definitely on my radar now. Great review Jeff.

Posted by Snakepond

Goddammit I love Forza.