If i’m completely honest I can’t tell you exactly what it is that makes me think so highly of Forza Horizon. Don’t get me wrong, I was expecting big things, especially based on what we’d played at the Eurogamer Expo and the demo that they released on Xbox Live a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn’t expecting it to consume my gaming time as it has and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a definite game of the year contender for me, especially in a year where we have actually had almost too much awesomeness for my mind to comprehend.
These First Impressions pieces are meant to be our opinion on the game after a few hours of playing it. I would safely say that I have invested north of 20 hours into it already and wouldn’t be surprised if that number was actually double that such is the draw of this game.
Ok, so there’s a lot to talk about but let’s start with an area of the game that no Forza game has had before. A story. The games premise is based around a “Rookie” played by yourself turning up at the Horizon Music & Racing Festival, located in Playground Games interpretation of Colorado and looking to compete in the racing events. You start off with a pretty crappy car and a dream and your aim is to ultimately take on Darius Flynt (3 time champion) and become champion yourself. So it’s no Pixar tale but it’s better than we’ve had before!
The way you get yourself into contention for that championship race is by racing at 6 or 7 different levels of competition each indicated by its relevant wristband colour. You have to gain a certain amount of points within each level of competition to open up the next wristband level and rinse and repeat. You start off racing level C and D cars which are fun but you won’t hit the ability to race the Supercars until later on but that’s the way it’s gotta be. There are 5 different difficulty levels and as is the way in the recent Forza games you can rewind after an incident and make numerous custom options of how you want to play the game. Every in-game setting that you make more difficult adds to the size of the % boost you get to your winnings at the end of the race which quickly add up to allow you to buy some nice cars.
The promise of nice cars to come certainly helps but you are free to drive round between the race locations in whatever car you fancy from your fleet of owned cars. It recognised that I had played previous Forza games so gifted me a number of cars at the start that certainly weren’t shy in horsepower. You can, again similar to previous Forza’s, accelerate the quality of cars owned by yourself by investing real money into the game in exchange for “tokens” which can be spent on cars and a treasure map. In this instance it’s not something that i’d do but that’s for another debate another time. The treasure map will show you the locations of all 100 discount signs and Barn Finds. The discount signs are driven through and for each one you find and hit, you get 1% off of car upgrades so they’re definitely worth finding early on. The Barn Finds are again, a nice touch. Basically you get sent a rough location where a rumoured Barn Find location is and it’s up to you to go and pinpoint it and locate the mothballed car.
The visuals for the game are absolutely breathtaking. Easily the best we have had for a racing game this generation and i’d definitely struggle to think of any other game that could seriously match them. The handling of the cars is as you would expect from a Forza game and thrives in the worlds lush environment. The audio is stunning and I believe that it’s the first Forza game to have a music soundtrack which is portrayed via the in-game radio through your choice of Horizon Bass, Pulse or Rock.
Part of the wonder of the game is the way that it doesn’t throw everything at you at once but at the same time makes you feel that everything is linked and meaningful. For example, driving from one race location to the next you’ll pick up XP for driving in certain ways. Near Misses, Drifting, E-Drifting are the tip of the iceberg. The more linked and impressive the move the more xp you gain until you bank it or drive into someone or thing and lose it. This contributes towards 2 things, Sponsor Challenges and your Popularity. Sponsor Challenges will earn you money if you hit certain milestones, such as 25 e-drifts and Popularity will earn you invites to the more interesting events called Showcases where you will get to race against Hot Air Balloons, Helicopters and Planes. I haven’t even discussed the Rivals mode, Street Races or the PR Stunts and believe me, they’re all well worth talking about.
I could easily gush on about this game for a lot longer but I think it’s time for me to stop typing. I’m going to sum it up however by taking it back to the start. I said there that I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that made me think so highly of the game. I really can’t and I think that the reason why is that no one part of this game should be lauded above all the others. It’s simply a great game that should be played by as many people as possible.