Concessions are the heart of Forza Horizon, a Playground Games title that traverses the thin line between simulation and arcade racer while bringing the closed-environment, track-based racing franchise to an open-world setting for the first time.
An offshoot of the Forza Motorsport series, Horizon’s most contentious concession may be the framerate, which is cut from the series staple 60 frames per second (fps) to 30. It’s worth noting that, unless compared side by side with Forza Motorsport 4, it’s difficult to notice the loss of those 30 frames, but what did they trade off into? For starters, an open world based on Colorado that includes a full day-to-night cycle as well as more ‘living’ elements like random flocks of birds than the somewhat sterile environments found in Forza Motorsport ever offered.
That open world is also stocked to the brim with events, ranging from circuit races to point-to-point challenges, that unlock as your driver becomes more popular. There are even specialty races that pit your driving skills against odd vehicles like planes or hot air balloons. Those who find themselves bored of the planned events can just kick back and cruise the Colorado countryside, earning advancement using technical skills (doing burnouts or drifting around corners) or simple youthful enthusiasm (smashing signs or fences).
Horizon sports a far smaller roster than that found in its Motorsport-monikered… brother? cousin? Where Forza Motorsport 4 launched with around 500 cars, Horizon sports under 200 – though that number will expand with vehicles available as regularly scheduled downloadable content. While the game never felt short on driving options, car selection is an area where more is always better. There’s also a major expansion planned for December, which will include a focus on dirt-track rally racing.
There’s little to complain about with regards to Horizon’s visuals, which feature better antialiasing than past Motorsport titles and a lighting system that tends to yield more pleasing results – particularly in the game’s photo mode. Many of the game’s vistas are stunning, particularly the canyon areas at sunrise or sunset. The low point for the visuals comes with some of the trackside vegetation, which is low res and a bit ugly when inspected closely while stopped, but not something that really pops out when traveling at speed.
Despite all the concessions, Horizon maintains enough of the Motorsport line’s traditions to make longtime fans comfortable. There’s a wide variety of customization options, for example, including a paint booth that’s now stocked with matte as well as standard and metallic paints. Vehicle upgrades also make the jump, though there’s only auto-tuning and no manual tweaking of minor details like ride height or camber.
The multiplayer is the one area Playground Games didn’t really go above and beyond, with a host of traditional game modes like Infected or King, and some co-operative challenges for you and up to seven friends (multiplayer limits drop from 16 players in Forza Motorsport 4 to 8 players in Horizon) to take on. Car clubs also make the jump from Motorsport, giving friends the ability to easily group up ingame.
The balancing act between encouraging technical driving skills and powersliding recklessly through roadside signs couldn’t have been an easy one, but it pays off in a title that raises the bar for what we’ll expect from Forza Motorsport 5.
As an offshoot title developed by a newly created team, even one with a wealth of talent on it, Forza Horizon proves a surprisingly competent and entertaining racing game with wider appeal than its sim-focused sibling.
Screenshot courtesy 2600 from NEOGAF