Forza Horizon’s open world is fast, furious and fantastic

FH-BoxartColarado is a beautiful place travelling at 300kmph.   The varied locales, from sweeping highways to winding cliffside roads, are all breathtaking vistas that make for  a picturesque backdrop to Forza Horizon’s open-world racing action.  The cars are equally as pretty as they glisten in the light of the sun during the day and the street lights at night. That will be the first thing you notice about Forza Horizon because it is an absolute stunner of a game.

Of course that’s all a fringe benefit really when everything outside of your focal point over the hood of any one of the world’s fastest cars is a blur.  You’re more likely to be focusing on the musical sounds of your engine revving and your tyres screaming as you cruise past opponents or brake heavily and push the nose of your car into the apex of a tight turn respectively.  Feeling your tyres creep toward the edges of their traction limit as you ease on the accelerator coming out of the corner is equally as visceral as the controller rumbles and the rear of your car kicks out and your car slides into the straight leaving a trail of smoke, and hopefully your competitors, behind.  It’s moments like this that make Horizon a truly exhilirating and rewarding experience.

The driving felt so good that it was easy to put it into the back of my mind and focus on the finer details as to how it felt in my hand.  And that’s a great thing because Horizon is packed full to the brim with good racing times.  The game’s premise is that a racing festival, the Horizon Festival, is taking place across Colarado.  It’s a cool premise that lends itself well to the open-world nature of the game. Race events are dotted around the map, mostly made up of circuit and point to points affairs.  It does deviate at times however with some events requiring you to race hot air balloons, helicopters and planes around a circuit, which are much fairer than they sounds on paper.  These are an absolute blast, but in reality they feel like nothing more than cleverly disguised time-trial events.  Luckily they’re few and far between so they never really wear out their welcome and rather make for an interesting detour from the more standard racing staples.  There are also stunt and photography based challenges that upon completion earn you the ability to fast travel between ten outposts. They’re not brilliant but the payoff is worth it and you’ll find yourself growing to love them over the course of the game as you come to better understand the intricacies of the game’s driving model. At the very least you’ll find the ability to fast travel worth the time and effort.  There are a few touches that give you a reason to drive yourself across the map; speed traps and average speed cameras are scattered across the open-world and track your personal bests and compare them to people on your friends list, and you can challenge random drivers throughout the world to point to point races by pulling up behind them. These instances are not terribly compelling or essential but they are quick and dirty fun and sometimes serve to break up the more structured elements of the game.

Forza Horizon is a big game and you’ll need to dedicate a significant proportion of time if you want to see everything Horizon Racing Festival has to offer. And that’s great because when the rubber hits the road, the racing is for the most part excellent. Underpinned by an accessible but deep driving model, you’ll find yourself moving from race to race absolutely oblivious to the passage of time in the real world.  The progression of the game encourages long play sessions as you earn points in order to level up  in pursuit of earning wristbands and climbing your way up the popularity ladder opening new, often faster, events in the process.  It is a simple premise that keeps you going through the game and moving up from the slower hatchback racers to the ultimate in supercar rides, a progression that is more than worth the time you invest on the track.   It’s not all roses though, and in many cases multi-lap races will often come down to mounting a final lap comeback against opponent drivers that seem to lose a few seconds of time over previous laps.   It’s not a deal breaker but it does at times like it’s all a little scripted.  Admittedly though it make for some rather tense and exciting finishes as you draft behind the leader to overtake them on the final corner or on the final straight, so all is not loss regardless of what is behind the quirk.

Forza Horizon perfectly straddles the sim-racing style of its namesake and a more arcade style racing in the similar style of Codemasters’ Grid games.  In doing so it makes it one of the most accessible racers of the generation.  The game is by no means perfect but as a game that attempts to combine the best of both schools or racing thought, Horizon passes with flying colours.  Combine that with that enormous amount of content on offer and you’ve got a game that could well sit in your Xbox 360 for months on end.  Put this bad boy in in the evening and expect to see the sun rise above the horizon the next day.  It’s just that good.