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The open road meets dubstep-laced stereotypes in Forza Horizon (review)

Hellooo, reader … it’s Eddy M. blasting the bylines! Put your pupils to the prose because we’re going full review! We got the lowdown on Forza Horizon, the latest from Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games, burnin’ through your Xbox 360 on Oct. 23….

Check it out right here, right now on GamesBeat!

Forza Horizon tries too hard sometimes, just like the fake DJs on its fake radio stations. The open-world racing game can’t help but feel like a slick, focus-group tested, tired-slang slinging, marketing-drenched effort. But thankfully, unlike the shallow stereotypes that pollute its airwaves, challenge you on its winding roads, and dance in its insipid namesake festival, Horizon has a heart.

And that heart makes it addictive, enjoyable, and just plain good.

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE

Forza hits the open road
As the first open-world game in the Forza Motorsport franchise, Horizon is a rookie on the rise. The solo storyline sets you up as the new guy trying to make his name in the speed-celebrating, car-meets-concert Horizon festival. All your free wheeling takes place within a fictional Colorado setting that provides a compelling pavement playground for you to rip up with a respectable list of exotic and not-so-exotic autos.

The title’s terrain is sectioned off into distinct areas like canyon-laden Red Rock, small-town Carson, and picturesque Gladstone. Roads lead to the centralized Horizon-festival hub where you can buy new cars, customize your ride, and progress through the single-player campaign.

And all those looping paths and straightaways add up to a controller-abusing array of combinations, which will keep you plenty busy.

Even better, you still get to play with Forza’s refined physics model, real-world car selection, and renowned attention to detail. So while Horizon might be a completely new release, it has a familiar feel that will please fans of the series.

Choose how you race
Horizon’s sandbox environment features multiple race types. Whether you want to go for a traditional circuit run, head-to-head rival clash, or high-stakes street showdown, you’ll find an option to meet your mood.

Forza Horizon 2

And if you happen to be feeling extra adventurous, Showcase events let you take on the types of challenges that you would see on a wacky British car show like Top Gear … such as trying to beat a freaking P-51 Mustang fighter plane across the finish line. Yeah, seriously.

Drive skillfully and get kudos
Xbox racing enthusiasts probably remember the Project Gotham motoring series and its score-happy kudos mechanic. Horizon continues the tradition of encouraging hotdog-like driving to earn points with its skill system. Each drift, draft, and daredevil-like maneuver nets points (especially when combined), and points lead to popularity boosts. The higher your popularity, the more Showcase events you get to drive in.

The system rewards flamboyant, borderline-reckless tactics, and that’s the point. You’ll find yourself unnecessarily sideswiping shallow corners and intentionally trading paint with civilian drivers because it benefits you directly … and because it feels so satisfying.

Collectibles are actually worthwhile
With so many miles of asphalt to master, you’re bound to find a secret or two. In Forza Horizon’s case, those hidden spots are called barn finds. As you play through single player, you receive tips on potential locations. Unlike other releases where you unlock generic concept art or a frivolous top hat for your character, you’re actually rewarded with useful items — in this case, rare cars that go to your garage.

While some of the vehicles are more pretty than powerful, others are actually race ready. I love my buttery baby-blue Bugatti EB110 that I found in the middle of the woods. And to think, someone left that ’90s gem under a dusty tarp in a rickety barn for so many years….

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE

Horizon® brings the Attitude™
The aforementioned Horizon festival is a pretty big deal in this digital playground. After all, the title is called Forza Horizon. Unfortunately, the event itself is the type of branded blandness you’d see bullet-pointed on an energy-drink company’s conference-room whiteboard. Pyrotechnics? Check. Beautiful people? Uh huh. Kind-of-mainstream-yet-still-sort-of-edgy bands? You bet. Big logos? Of course.

Lots of forced swagger, sorry, swag? Hell yeah.

Forza Horizon 3

This interpretation of what’s cool is really bothersome. It permeates the entire game. To me, the idea of pushing supercars to their limits on untapped blacktop has a pure soul. It’s not something that needs MTV-fication.

Everything associated with the festival has an overly slick, almost gimmicky patina that takes away from the overall experience. Your race rivals follow played-out archetypes like the sexy off-roader chick, the Brooklyn hipster, the young Internet billionaire, the TV star, and the fast-and-furious undisputed champion.

Like I said earlier, the title wants to be stylish so badly … almost too badly.

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