There seems to be a fine line between the racing genre these days. On one side you have super realistic games with the finest details all the way down to the locks on the doors of the cars while racing in sport events. The other is extremely opposite with cars getting in ridiculous police chases, doing front flips for style points, and in a lot of cases even fire weapons. It’s kind of the same thing for car people. You have “car people” and then you have car people. The latter will obviously flock to the first type of game. They order special racing sport channels and can’t live without knowing every fine detail of every car. Then there’s people like me, “car people.” Honestly we just like to watch a lot of Top Gear and read the Autoblog. Forza Horizon combines the best of both worlds and that’s probably why I like it so much.
When Forza Motorsport 4 came out almost exactly one year ago, it redefined the expectations of hyper realistic racing games in basically every way. While it did kick ass and even contained Top Gear stuff, it was a little too…um, professional for me. Forza Horizon, made by new dev super group Playground Games with association of Forza 4‘s Turn 10 Studios, is the next entry in the Forza series, but isn’t a true sequel. The best way to describe it would probably be a spin-off. A damned good spin-off.
Forza Horizon takes place at a festival very similar to Download, Coachella, Lollapalooza, or whatever you kids are going to these days. The only difference is the Horizon festival is the biggest one in the world, drawing in tons of people to watch hundreds of races and music acts ranging from alternate rock to a good amount of dubstep and techno artists. You’re the noob who has come to light up the racing scene. The entire thing takes place all across Colorado, utilizing over 60 types of terrain for you to race on. That’s right, there’s freakin’ off road racing with Forza‘s realistic engine. Every single part of Forza‘s engine has been optimized to make sure it can handle racing on these new variants.
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is you spend a lot more time having fun and driving instead of cycling through a bunch of menus while violins play. You physically drive to do everything in this game. Whether you want to just drive the entire map, add layers of design to your cars, paint them, upgrade them, or just head to the next race, it’s all on you to get there. There is a fast travel in the game but where’s the fun in that? You even have a handy GPS that you can tell where to route you using Kinect, but between the radio stations (optionally) blaring dubstep and the engine noise, it can be difficult for the Kinect to hear you unless you really hate sound and turn the volume down substantially.
The races are good and plenty in this game. You have your typical circuit races, here to there, terrain challenges, racing for keeps and what have you. A built in talk radio station even tells you what in no way are the cops listening in because these aren’t borderline illegal street racing events are going on. There’s also highly difficult challenges that involve you doing crazy races to hype up the crowd. Usually you get a car out of it and they are fun but difficult. I raced a plane in one event. A plane. I won too, by the way. So there’s that.
Because of the uniqueness of the game, you’re going to be driving some pretty crazy street races but finally with super realism of every individual car in the game. Weight distribution is different and the like, so every car handles differently. There are class limitations for every single race, so you will need to build a car library or at the very least upgrade your car to be able to compete. Just be weary in your selection because braking might be new on a particular car to you. There are many trucks in the game for you to race but if you’re somebody who doesn’t like to brake properly, you’re going to crash and lose a lot. Because of the game’s realistic mechanics, you will need to do a good amount of trial and error. If you really want to bring a rear wheel drive monster onto dirt, go for it, but don’t expect to place very well.
While you drive recklessly through the highways of Colorado trying to avoid slamming head on into a Prius or two, you’ll gain extra points for things like near misses, drifting, etc. While it can be fun and add an arcade element, I found myself just focusing on getting across that finish line. It definitely helps for practicing though. You also have the ability to turn all the helpful additions on so you basically just accelerate to win. On the other hand, you can turn everything off from the racing guidelines to anti-lock brakes, and even use a clutch on top of manual transmission. Pretty fancy stuff, huh? I liked keeping it on the default settings so I got the best of both worlds while being able to effectively win and enjoy the game’s great looking environments.
The multiplayer is a good time, letting you play through many different variants of racing. This time around the car cap is eight players but I think it balances out nicely due to the unique terrain. You can do tricky races where classes are restricted or not at all restricted, chase games, normal racing and the like. You can also make your own events with as crazy restrictions (or none at all) as you want. The game also brings back rivals where you can race the ghost of your friends’ cars or strangers when they’re not online to try and beat their best times, ultimately delivering a virtual “suck it” when they turn their copy back on.
At the end of the day, you’re going to like this game no matter what kind of car person you are. If you’re really really into cars and know every detail and customization of PSI in Forza Motorsport 4, you’ll have a crazy time upgrading and testing out cars on different terrain. If you just kind of want to watch things go fast and slap a tiger on a Mini Cooper then you can do that too. With a sweet photo mode that lets you take a photo at any time you wish with all sorts of strange filters and angles (also letting you upload it to a website), you’ll be sure to have a good time showing off your car. Plus if you’re one of the hip kids that blares Arctic Monkeys or Skrillex while wanting to whoop some ass on highways, you’ll be in heaven. While the graphics aren’t as pretty or detailed as Forza Motorsport 4, I’ll be damned if it’s still not amazingly beautiful to look at, especially with Colorado as the backdrop. With this game having somewhat of a story and being directed a little more towards the culture and celebration of racing rather than just racing, Forza Horizon makes for a really solid experience and one of the best racing games to come out in the last few years.