I love Forza. Ever since clocking up 400 hours on Forza 2 I’ve been hooked, slowly honing my racing skills ready for new tracks and new opportunities. With Forza Horizon, Turn 10 have given control of their almighty racing simulator to a relative unknown and set them loose to make something new. And they did, brilliantly.
Forza 2 was a landmark for me. Gone was the stiff control I always felt in Gran Turismo, here was something that felt real, that felt like you were a hairsbreadth away from losing it on every corner. Each car was its own unique entity, with distinct characteristics. These weren’t just the same models with different skills and a different value for “grippiness” or “acceleration”, they were each a fun ride in their own right.
Forza 3 and 4 added a few new tracks each time and pushed the graphics ever onwards, but it was hard to not see them as just “the old game” + a few new additions. When you’ve gone round Mugello a hundred times it’s hard to add anything new. Turn 10 did try; the multi-class races were a unique challenge but ultimately completing season after season of race after race is more akin to grinding than racing.
And so Turn 10 turned the keys to their precious engine over to a newcomer, Playground Studios. And they in turn took everything about Forza and turned it on its head. This is not the clinical simulation you knew, it’s an arcade racer with real world cars. Need For Speed with a manual transmission. Perhaps the biggest difference is the change from a set of tracks to a single open-world map, featuring miles of roads of every type and description from tarmac to gravel and everything in between.
The environment deserves the most credit in Horizon. It is simply stunning, with miles of road effortlessly segueing from desert freeway to mountain pass. The day-night cycle provides another variable to contend with, with some races beginning in the evening twilight with sun shining over the horizon before plunging you into the darkness of night. All of this graphical beauty comes with a price though, the 60 gorgeous frames per second of games past have been halved. In their place are a range of various motion blurs and effects, serving to make the game look more like its arcade compatriots than previous Forzas. And you know what? It’s better. Yes, the human eye can notice the difference if you know what to look for, but when you’re racing and having fun, it’s a non-issue.
The races themselves are an excellent mix of circuits and point-to-point, with a few others thrown in. Tracks are composed of small recognisable sections, built up into unique tracks for each race. What might be a sweeping right hand bend coming off a freeway is turned into a tight corner when approached from the other direction. Points are awarded for drifts, avoiding cars etc and build up to unlock Showcase events which are awesome. Drift around a mountain pass in a Ford Mustang while a P-51 Mustang banks overhead. Slamon along a dirt track while a hot-air balloon drifts lazily overhead. These events are designed to show off the landscape and variety that Forza Horizon embodies, but most of all they’re fun.
Overall, Forza Horizon is the best thing to happen to the series. This isn’t a breath of fresh air, it’s a whole new series in a day and age of endless NFS clones and sequels. Definitely one to get.