“It is a great quality product, but I can’t buy into a game that forces me to be something I’m not.”
Set in a pseudo section of Colorado countryside, Forza is an open world racer that allows you to tank around the beautiful and I mean really gorgeous landscape looking for your next events. The cars have that Forza look, shiny and sleek, they have that weight and presence that Forza cars have. Furthermore the cars handle like Forza cars and there are the standard mix of assists that can be removed for the dedicated or foolhardy, after completing the opening section you find yourself in the middle of the Horizon race meet thingy. There are cutscenes of car ‘enthusiasts’ doing their thing, people bopping to the latest radical dance tunes, fireworks and pretended promo girls hanging around to please the teens. It all looks great, especially when the game’s day/night cycle kicks in, but it is hard to link this narrative centric setup with Forza the brand.The game gradually unlocks as you level up your driver, this is staged by progressively earning wristbands to allow access to the higher ranks of the competition. These rewards are added to mainly by winning or at least taking part in races and building your reputation. While the map is extensive the action is controlled from a central hub, where the Horizon Meet is staged and here you get access to new events, a vinyl group paint shop, your garage and mechanic etc. All well and good, but it can get tiresome driving between them, incidentally there is a collect quest out in the field to smash one hundred discount signs – each enabling a 1% discount on purchases, which will save some winnings once you start shopping.The game offers plenty of depth and for the completionist mile upon mile of road to cruise around, race events crop up with regularity and DLC will be adding new ones pretty soon, the upcoming Rally Pack as a case in point. There are also other entertainments in the wild other than the races, such as some secret vehicles to locate and the opportunity to scream past speed cameras as fast as you can. This can cause an immediate handbrake turn as the game takes a social butterfly bent and points out whether or not your friends have laid down a faster time through that camera. It is a diversion, just like hunting out the discount signs. However the time between events can become a little lost as you find yourself driving blindly around without a goal, not because it is especially fun, you just do it.In single player the game confuses me, it reeks of quality, but it assumes too much of its owner. Forcing me to progress via this narrative, thinking I want to be impressing people with my phat driving skills and listening to techno beats while doing so. When I want to play a Forza game I want to pick my car, pick a race and get on with it. I may be terrible, I may never get a clean lap and spin out at hard corners, but the game lets me get on with the thing I am there for. Horizon, while being a fair effort at extending the experience has gone too far the other way and opened up this can of worms. It misses this key point about its user, that I really do not have any passion or interest in being a popular trend setting petrolhead. The thing that strikes me about this title is that there must have been enough of this game around before the Forza attachment, perhaps a standalone version under a different banner would have been an interesting or more likely alternative.There are also some nods to the more visceral arcade games of the genre, as driving actions attract scores and they pop up on the screen to point out challenges that have been met or measure how far your last drift was. Inane stuff, but certainly aiming lower for the Call of Duty generation. These stats rack up into levels of sponsorship, but only really reinforce the fact this game is trying to attract new players with more instant and accessible gratification.
One thing I do like again is the presence of some gentle Kinect implementation, using the kit as a voice activated GPS can save you the trouble of negotiating waypoints on the map, just call out to the GPS for the next event and presto! Your route is revealed.
Where the game fails to impress is that there are few consequences for your actions, losing it on a corner and barreling into a tree at 220 kph might just scratch the front bumper. Another wheel spinning start and you are back on your merry way, it’s a little grating when the world and the cars are built so well, you would hope that flipping a car onto its roof might be some cause for concern.
Multiplayer is a standalone section that offers a mixed bag of race modes that are offering a little more than any standard race meets, including a tag variant where crashing the leader makes you the pointing scoring leader until you are crashed into. An interesting diversion, but not online Forza by any shout. When the concept of Horizon was first announced, people assume that ‘open world’ and ‘online multiplayer’ will be one and the same, it may have been a direct decision by the developers, but when other franchises have and will offer better social connectivity it becomes an ‘almost ran’.
While there are areas of Horizon that do not cater for everybody, it does have at its core a solid build of racing mechanics and a varied environment to try them out in, the wealth of vehicles is excellent and the customisation options are plenty, if limited when compared to true Forza. The open world may be pretty, but it soon loses its impact as a method to get from one event to another. The one overriding thought that sits with me everytime I fire it up and start playing, is that I really owe it to the series to go back and spend more time with Forza4.