Review

Forza Horizon

Drive Mind

Forza Horizon lets you race everyone, everywhere—but it’s not just for obsessives.

By Drew Toal • October 23, 2012

Sleeping Dogs, the Hong Kong gangster game released earlier this year, awoke something dark within me. An urge, not to kill and maim my way to the top of a ruthless criminal syndicate or stuff my face with pork buns, but instead to jump in a car and jam the pedal to the floor. In that game, you can buy or carjack a wide variety of vehicles, racing them around Hong Kong through hairpin turns at breakneck speeds. For a guy whose first car was a dilapidated 1981 Buick Regal with a top speed of about 75, blowing through crowded intersections and red lights at a leisurely 110 miles per hour can be a thrill.

Enter Forza Horizon. Like Sleeping Dogs, this latest release in the Forza Motorsport series puts you in an open-world environment—the scenic highways and byways of a fictional town in Colorado. As an entrant in the Horizon festival—in which Burning Man meets The Fast And The Furious—you soon find yourself racing everybody, at every opportunity. It’s like that scene in Days Of Thunder, where Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns have that super sad wheelchair race at the hospital.

The whole stereotypically ridiculous culture of cars and racing seems to be on display here, with all its terrible music, gaudy cars, and ridiculous characters. You’re a newcomer to the Horizon scene, looking to make a mark and unseat reigning three-time champion Darius Flynt.

Forza Horizon

You begin the game with a serviceable mid-’90s Volkswagen. Nothing too fancy, but your mechanic seems impressed that it won’t crumple into something the size of a Red Bull can upon impact. Still, if that’s the best he can say about it, you’d better get a new whip, pronto. In a community of slick racers and fearless daredevils, driving a “safe” car might as well be a personalized license plate reading “WU55.”

Fortunately, there is no end of races and contests to enter. Finishing these earns you money for upgrades and new cars. (Sometimes, the prize for winning is your opponent’s car.) Of course, there are certain barriers to entry, at least until you show how you handle yourself behind the wheel. On the official circuit, you acquire different wristbands as you progress, allowing you access to more prestigious races. And you have to play fair. Early on, I made the mistake of souping up my ’70 Ford Mustang too much, disqualifying it from many races unless it was downgraded to a legal class. Old Yeller isn’t exactly “street legal.”

The races take place all over a rather large map, which also contains hidden barns with classic cars that can be restored, signs to smash for upgrade discounts, and other goodies. In addition to the money and points, you also gain popularity with the Horizon community directly proportional to the rubber-burning asshole-ness of your driving. The handling of different cars can be different in the extreme. The aforementioned Mustang dominated on straightaways, but it was all but useless on courses with tight, sudden turns. Handling is important, too, as many of the races take place amid civilian traffic, which makes for challenging, moving obstacles.

Forza Horizon

I don’t want to understate how hard the racing in Forza Horizon can be. After the first couple of easy contests, the training wheels come off, and it’s not easy to make up ground once you’ve hit a tree or spun out (frequent occurrences in my experience). The driving surface has a huge impact on handling, too. Still, as a non-car person, this is exactly the kind of racing game I’m interested in playing. Despite the inherent silliness of the rims, racing stripes, and tinted windows, the game itself rewards exploration and experimentation. If one race is too hard, you can go compete somewhere else. Sometimes it’s fun to just drive around, challenging random passersby to impromptu cash races. Or just do donuts in a field.

The difficulty settings are adjustable (races finished on more challenging settings earn you more credits), as is the driving experience. You can switch between five different views, and you can choose between automatic transmission and manual (with or without clutch). There is absolutely no reason to use the Kinect, for which the game offers some forgettable GPS voice features. Forza Horizon is about as appealing a driving game as I can imagine, short of the Death Race 2000 adaptation I’ve witnessed in my dreams.

Forza Horizon
Developers: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: T

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1,448 Responses to “Drive Mind”

  1. NarcolepticPanda says:

    Drew, if you like this game, you should definitely try out Burnout Paradise.  It takes away the silly culture, has a bigger open world with amazing hidden areas, isn’t gruelingly difficult, and, being a Burnout game, has lots of crashes. Unless you REALLY like having licensed cars and being able to upgrade them, it’s a great (haven’t played this, but almost surely better) game.

    • That’s what Need For Speed: Most Wanted is for. Same developer as the Burnout series, pretty obviously upgrading all the open world and multiplayer elements of Paradise, plus licensed cars. But yeah, Paradise is sort of an amazing racer and under $20 these days.

      • NarcolepticPanda says:

        For some reason, I’m a little apprehensive about Most Wanted. From gameplay footage, the world it is set in just seems rather…empty. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but it seems more like the faux open world in Hot Pursuit’s free drive. And the handling also seems floaty, which is to be expected from a NFS game, however, if the handling is as horrrendously floaty as Shift 2…not good. Hopefully it’ll be more like Hot Pursuit’s.

        I’m probably getting worked up over nothing though. Both Hot Pursuit and Paradise are great, so Most Wanted should be as well. The multiplayer looks much improved.

        • offalWaiter says:

          Most Wanted does have a sterile feel.  The cars are rendered well and the handling isn’t the worst (I never got past the third turn in shift2 before I took it out of the tray and banished it to the back of the book shelf.)..it just doesn’t feel like a world you want to cruise around for hours.  As much as people maligned NFS: The Run, I found the driving and scenery to be hours of entertainment even just pursuing the challenge series.

    • David Mihocik says:

      Are you kidding me? You haven’t played Forza H but Burnout is almost surely better?

      What a pantload!

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

         Way to zone in on a tangent.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the main thrust of the post was a useful recommendation of another game.  I really appreciate the opinions I get here and can weed out the hyperbole and non-sequitors for myself.  This isn’t some junior high board were the nerds pretend they get extra credit for pointing out minor logical fallacies, let alone acting like its worth raging over.  Go find somewhere else to play if the only thing you have to contribute is insults.

      • NarcolepticPanda says:

        I give that OPINION because:
        (1) Burnout Paradise, in my OPINION is the best racing of the generation
        and
        (2) And from coverage (reviews, gameplay videos, etc) this game, in my OPINION, seems to be worse then Burnout Paradise (less event variety, silly “dudebro” culture, less exciting races, no city).

        I will admit I shouldn’t have said “almost surely better”, I should have said “almost surely better for those with my tastes in racing video games”. I recommended Burnout Paradise to Drew “For Whom The Bell” Toal because many of the things he complained about in the review where he expressed his OPINION are better done in Burnout Paradise.

        Unless, and I will admit this may be a possibility, given your use of the term “pantload”, you were being sarcastic, in which case, cool.

  2. George_Liquor says:

    So, did they do away with Forza 4’s Kinect head-tracking feature?

  3. DogForbid says:

    I’m sure there will always be a place for hardcore simulations (the F1 series, in particular, is terrific), but this sort of driving game is more my style. I like the idea of rolling the windows down, blasting “Danger Zone”, and seeing what trouble I can get into on the open road. The only thing missing is the ability to get out of the car and take a leak off a cliff. That would be truly transcendent. 

    • BarbleBapkins says:

      If it were on the Wii, that would make for one of the most appropriate uses of waggle in any game.

  4. Jason Reich says:

    As long as we’re recommending other driving games, last year’s Driver San Francisco is the most fun I’ve ever had with a
    racer. The “shift” stuff is so incredibly ludicrous and at
    the same time such an awesome mechanic. It totally eliminates the frustration Drew mentions of having an early crash and being unable to make up ground. In Driver: SF you just teleport your consciousness into another car (not a joke). You’re never out of it – no more quitting and restarting every five seconds because the AI leaves you in the dust. Also the multiplayer is balls-out fun.

  5. His_Space_Holiness says:

    Darius Flynt.

    DARIUS FLYNT.

  6. Dunwatt says:

    WU55 is my favorite non-existent Wu-Tang album.