Anyone who looks at Forza Horizon expecting all of the accurate replicas of circuits that the Forza franchise has been known for ever since the first game released back on the original Xbox in 2005, will I’m afraid be disappointed, As Forza Horizon takes a slight sideways step from the gameplay we’ve come to expect from Turn 10 studios flagship racer, and instead becomes a rather more open world affair.

Forza Horizon replaces circuits like Laguna Seca and the New York City circuit with the open world of Colorado, bookended by the Rockies on one side of the map and a desert on the other – Now I’ve not been to Colorado so I don’t know whether this is a true to life replica or just an interpretation thereof – but whatever the case, it is a big map, with lots to see and do. Along the many roads you’ll find sprawling highways and freeways, little towns and dirt roads, it really is a beautiful landscape. In fact, the prettiness is one of the first things that will strike you about the game. Just driving around in free roam is an absolute pleasure and there’s so many vistas in the world that you could very easily lose a day or two just aimlessly driving around the streets. Of course, having a full day and night cycle also helps keep things looking nice – coming over the top of a hill at 100MPH in your pristine looking Aston Martin DB5 (feeling a little like James Bond it has to be said) just as the sun is rising or setting looks amazing and you will likely find yourself frequently driving around and throwing your car around a corner at a high rate of speed just to try and see some of these beautiful moments. In fact you’ll probably find yourself just stopping your car and pulling over onto the side of the road so you can take in some of the wonderful views the game offers.

The cars, as you would expect in any Forza game, handle like their real life counterparts – I’ve not driven a Ferrari Enzo but my dad has on an experience day once – when he had a quick go on Forza Horizon he told me that the in game Enzo handled pretty closely to what he experienced when he drove one around Brands Hatch and I have no reason to disbelieve my dad, after all, he’s my dad. And all of the other cars, even the cheaper ones like Volkswagen Golfs and the humble Mini all handle like their real life counterparts. Although the amount of cars you can own has been slightly downgraded from previous Forza games, there are still a lot to choose from and manufacturers include the likes of supercar makers Ferrari, Lambourghini, Aston Martin and Bugatti to more humble manufacturers like Volkswagen, Audi and BMW. All of the cars look and sound the part and only serve to add to the beauty of the game.

Forza Horizon

But what about the races? Whoa, hold your horsepower! Forza Horizon has a story – Yes that’s right, a story!!! Forza Horizon basically revolves around the Horizon event – an event which is seemingly held annually – which attracts hundreds of petrol heads all hoping to top the time sheets through lots of races around the endless streets of Colorado winning wristbands along the way in hopes to become the champion. Whilst playing through the rather forgettable story you’ll meet a lot of other racers who are all supposedly hip 20 something racers with a penchant for trash talking before the race, but frankly, they end up just being annoying with their forced “dude-bro” style of speaking. But as annoying as the story and the characters within the story are, none of it really gets in the way of the racing. In fact, the story is just nonsense and merely serves as a way to somehow join the races together.

Now we get to the races! (Hurrah!) The races themselves will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played any of the previous 4 Forza games, as you start off racing in the slower, cheaper cars such as old American muscle cars (which are my personal favourite) like the Dodge Charger or a 1971 Plymouth eventually rising up to drive expensive supercars like a Ferrari FXX or a Bugatti Veyron. The race difficulty is also what you would expect from Forza – nice and smooth – and lets you build up and hone your skills at an achievable rate. Turn 10 and Playground games have added in some new types of events this time around, though with mixed surface and point to point races. Getting to grips (sorry, no pun intended) with flitting between tarmac roads and gravel tracks can take a little getting used to at first, but it does provide a varied challenge and does a good job of keeping things fresh.

As well as races, there is much fun to be had just driving around the streets of Colorado. Scattered throughout the land you’ll find discount signs for you to drive through and smash, each one you smash gives you a 1% discount on all performance upgrades for your cars so it’s well worth seeking them all out. As well as discount signs though, there are also speed cameras around the streets which flash as you drive through their zones, as you do this your speed pops up on the bottom of the screen and then also tells you your speed compared to your friends speed through the same camera or zone, so that sense of competition between you and your friends is never far away and come become quite intense as you try desperately to beat your friends top speed! It’s quite clear that Turn 10 and Playground games have taken some inspiration from games like Burnout Paradise and Need For Speed as when you’re driving around, you’ll get points for near misses, knocking over road signs, drifting and doing all manner of otherwise dangerous things that really shouldn’t be attempted in real life.

Forza Horizon

You will need to use these skills you learn on the open road in the races too as the AI drivers are smart. Although they do occasionally still suffer with brain fade and overshoot the odd corner here and there, it’s much less frequent than you might be used to seeing in previous games.

If of course you want your cars to look nice you can pay a visit to the garage and apply your very own custom decals to your cars, and sell them in your storefront for a nice tidy profit. Veteran customisers will feel right at home with this feature as it’s identical to that seen in Forza 3 and 4, but still very good, and if you’ve got the patience for it, you can create wonderful pictures on your car. Unfortunately, this is something I am not very good at! The most I can do is put numbers on the side of my car! (I clearly need more practise, or a good teacher!)

Forza Horizon is a game I wanted to hate. After seeing the announcement trailers at E3 back in June I thought that the arcadey-ness of the game would signal the end for the franchise and I couldn’t help thinking it had lost it’s way a little bit (in fact I’m pretty sure I said something similar to that on our E3 Podcast).

However, the game is a fantastic spin off title and sits somewhere between Burnout Paradise, Need For Speed and Test Drive Unlimited but with much better driving mechanics and is a thoroughly enjoyable game and one which I’m pleasantly surprised to say, I love! This is a game which belongs in any race fans game collection.

Forza Horizon Box Art
Review Score : [starreview tpl=16] Title : Forza Horizon
Format : Xbox 360
Developer : Turn 10/Playground Games
Publisher : Microsoft
Release Date : October 26th 2012

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

Microsoft provided with (a promo code for) a review copy.