For as much as I like driving games, it might surprise some of you to know that I personally don’t actually know how to drive. Cars are expensive, gas prices are a joke, and don’t get me started on insurance; I live in a pretty public transit friendly area and just never felt the need to learn. Despite all that, in the virtual world I love the feeling of open road; swerving through traffic like an intricate dance, the controller vibration of legions of non-existent horses, and the smooth lines of cars that cost more than I could ever even hope to earn. So good thing for me Forza Horizon seems determined to deliver all that simulated racing goodness in a package that everyone can enjoy regardless of their automotive experience.
Rather than focus on the gameplay (it’s a racing game so it doesn’t demand explanation, beat the other drivers to finish line isn’t the most complicated of concepts) we’re going to start with the game’s most impressive facet, it’s adjustable difficulty. Classically Forza has always been a racing series that skewed towards the simulation side of the genre. An emphasis on cars acting as realistically as possible along with an almost fetishistic attention to detail in terms of design made these games for only the hardest of the hardcore. While those tenets are still in place they have created a system that allows fans of more arcade style racing games to enjoy it just as much as the gearhead demographic.
Rather than just have difficulty modes you have an unprecedented granularity of options available to you; AI difficulty, steering and braking assists, and even a time rewinding feature are all on hand to enabled and adjusted to your liking. For fans of arcade style racing like me, turn up the assists while also upping the AI difficultly and ditching the rewind feature. If you’re a simulation guy who wants the cars to feel right but not have to worry about the actual game part, just turn off all the assists and lower the AI difficulty. No matter what kind of racing fan you are, Forza Horizon can be adjusted to accommodate you. You can even change these settings at any time so if you start to feel too comfortable you can up the challenge at your own discretion, they even reward you for it by applying a bonus to the credits you earn racing for every setting you have put above the easiest notch.
That flexibility in skill level is only one way they’re making room for the more casual racing fan though, they’ve also added a ton of stuff for you to do outside of the pure racing and car tuning. You see Forza Horizon takes place in the open world of Colorado and the devs have seen fit to turn the state into a playground of driving mayhem. Billboards are placed all over that you can crash into for a discount when upgrading your cars, secret derelict classic roadsters are hidden in barns which you can find and have restored, and of course you can just drive the many roads of the state while screwing with traffic and beating sponsorship challenges for pulling of tricks like drifting and slingshotting. Of course that’s not to say the actual races are boring, with the variety available you’ll find at least some you’ll really enjoy. There are street races which earn you tons of cash and have traffic getting in your way, standard festival events which are blocked from public traffic and often have unique rules in terms of what cars can enter, and you can even just pick up races while driving around as any festival participant you see in the open world can be challenged to a then and there race off. Put simply there is just tons of stuff to do in this game and much of it allows you to just cruise around and enjoy the beautiful world and fantastic physics Turn 10 have created here.
I mentioned festival participants earlier and that’s story stuff as this game actually does have a story though it’s not exactly the world’s most stirring epic. The premise is that every year Colorado holds the Horizon festival, a bacchanal of music and racing that seems to cater specifically to the douchebag set. Lots of incredibly bored and wealthy people driving very expensive cars against each other until you show up in an old Corrado and bring the god damn heat. You’re the unknown challenger and after winning entry into the festival thanks to a radio contest, you have to go on and win your way up the brackets by out racing a bunch of raging dickish stereotypes. I may sound down on the story but actually I’m just glad it’s there, it provides just enough structure to provide real motivation to check out everything and honestly it’s just dumb enough to be enjoyable with the characters being the right of annoying and endearing. There’s even a couple characters I genuinely like; for example the old fatherly mechanic Dak is breath of fresh air to warm you up from all the douche chill you’ll be getting from your opponents. There’s also the friendly lady who runs the festival, who is a constant voice of support in your ear though while they try to play her off as a love interest the overwhelmingly insistent praise from her makes her come off kind of motherly.
Though really, who gives a shit about showing up a bunch of rich fools when you have the beauty of Colorado to explore. The world they’ve put forth here is just stunning to look at; long drags of clouds float through the sky, leaves drift through the air as you blow down country roads, and your headlights illuminate the desolate serenity of the rocky mesas. It’s a world that if you divorced it from literally everything else in the game, I would still want to explore it. The game simply looks great and the choice of Colorado as a location was just right as it gives you a wide variety of environments; you’ve got deserts, mountains, farmland, towns, and an absolute fuck ton of trees. The only thing it’s lacking is some weather mechanics, I would have liked driving through rain or snow but it’s no huge loss and for all I know it could be included in the large amount of DLC they have planned. Regardless of that minor fault driving through all the game offers with lovingly detailed classic cars is an experience I found compelling all on its own, even when I was just driving from one race to the next.
The only part of the presentation I’m not crazy about is the music. Fitting with the whole music festival theme there are three radio stations you can listen to that will commentate on all the events of the festivals however the genres of actual music available are a little limited. They have dubstep/house, indie, and “rock” stations though their rock station is little too soft for my tastes, more recent faux-rock than anything else. That said it fits with the style the game is going for and while it’s not to my tastes it’s certainly not unbearable, for as much as I felt their rock was kind of wussy I did listen to it through out the entire game.
This is just a really good racing game and the sheer adaptability of it mixed with the immense amount of content is truly impressive. I got the experience I wanted out of it, a fun drive through the Colorado countryside in a classic Jag mixed with some great competitive racing but someone else can get whatever their specific wants are out of the game. You want the sim experience well then a wealth of options, both in terms of cars and car parts, are available to you. You want the Fast and the Furious competitive experience, then play with the emergent rivals system or jump online to fuck around with the all the modes they’ve put in. Hey maybe you’re a long time Forza fan and want to get into the community aspect beyond just the racing, well then play around with the returning decal system and spend hours creating needlessly intricate designs that you can sell to other crazy people using the same credits you earn for racing. It’s really an experience that truly does it’s best to please everybody and it doesn’t lose too much in the process; while the most hardcore and the most casual racing fans might not get absolutely everything they want out of it, everyone in between will have a damn good time. I can happily recommend this game to anyone’s whose ever enjoyed putting virtual rubber to imaginary road as I can guarantee you’ll find at least something to like about this game, that being the case Forza Horizon gets a 5 out of 5 stars.