Review: Forza Horizon (Xbox 360)

A departure from the usual ‘Forza’ fare, Forza Horizon has adopted the ‘open world’ formula of the competitors like the Need for Speed series, and is much more fun for doing so.

While not as extensive as the world in something like Test Drive Unlimited, the environment in Horizon is nevertheless beautifully recreated and full of a captivating variety of places to visit and things to do.

Dressed up in an unfortunate ‘Festival’ conceit which is clearly aimed at the hard-of-thinking, unimaginative generation who regard the description ‘hoon’ as a compliment, Horizon saves itself by providing a fantastic variety of vehicles to choose from, all graded in the traditional Forza fashion from the ‘D’ class vintage style up to the ‘R’-class racing machines, and then lets you loose in the virtual recreation of the state of Colorado to play with them.

Not everything is a straight-out race, with activities like the ‘PR Stunts’ and the awesome ‘Barn Finds’ to mix up the action.

Modelling of the vehicle physics, long held as some of the best in the business, is all present and correct. Players can watch the front of their ride dip as they brake hard into corners and experience the sometimes hairy sensation of the subsequent fall off in traction as they accelerate away, and there’s accurate loading as you enter corners or create that crazy pendulum effect when you overcompensate on your steering.

Weirdly, though, there’s a counteracting incredulity associated with the AI performance that has nothing to do with realistic behaviour, with most races following the same, tired construct of the front two or three racing away with superhuman speed, sticking like super glue to the racing line while overcoming normal physics, then oddly slowing for you to catch up and making the racing tight again.

The same ‘elasticity’ applies to the cars behind you and, while we’re certain this makes for more hotly-contested races, it’s still a little too transparent and, sometimes, downright ridiculous, to claim that Forza in any sense provides ‘realistic’ racing.

When you’re looking for a new ride, the usual confusion and drudgery of trawling through the extensive showroom is entirely removed by the brilliant inclusion of a ‘show all affordable vehicles’ option, triggered by pressing ‘Y’. At a glance, you can now see only the cars you can afford, and since the better way to play Horizon is to work your way up through the classes, ensuring you have appropriate cars for each tier of racing, this makes life a lot easier all round.

Presentation in Forza Horizon is slick – if you squint a little you’d be convinced it was a Codemasters production from which developer Turn 10 has clearly taken a good degree of ‘inspiration’, but if you can ignore the dreadful focus-group dictated ‘Festival’ nonsense it’s also a hugely fun, seriously compelling racing game that strikes the perfect balance between offering directed racing events and driving freedom.

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