Forza Horizon Review

October 15, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Release Date: October 23, 2012

Playing through Forza Horizon is an enchanting experience. Whatever your perceptions of the game are, I guarantee that nothing has prepared you for what this racer has to offer. Playground Games is a newly assembled dream team of talents that crafted some of the finest racing titles in recent memory, and their latest creation is a sensational spin-off to a legendary series. Several franchises have tried to tap into the open-world racing genre, but none have come even close to what Forza Horizon has accomplished. The bewitchingly beautiful graphics combined with Forza’s signature gameplay make for an experience no car lover should miss.
  • Extraordinary visuals
  • Perfect blend of Arcade and Simulation
  • Varied event types
  • The first “real” open-world racer
  • Music is hit and miss
  • Terrible radio talk
  • Overly simplistic tuning and upgrading
  • Embarrassingly cheesy pre-race banter
If you are concerned that the series has deviated from its core mechanics too much, you’re going to be surprised by how much original Forza DNA this offshoot carries. From the moment you hit the accelerator, you’ll know that this is a Forza game. From its flawlessly precise controls to the immaculate attention to detail, this is still the same racer fans of the series have grown to love, but it’s been let loose into the open world.

The races evolve around the fictitious Horizon Festival, set in Colorado, USA. As you get behind the wheel for the first time, you’ll immediately feel on familiar ground. The game handles just as elegantly as Forza 4 and the controls are adjustable to both newcomers and experts. Your first objective is simply to drive up to the festival as you tail the Horizon champ Darius Flynt. Upon arriving, you’re greeted to a partying crowd and a sea of exotic vehicles. Seeing people in a Forza game seems a bit odd at first, but the developers did a fantastic job of rendering the character models with great realism, especially the facial animations. After being introduced to your car mechanic and the ins and outs of the tournament, you’re off to your first race.

Structurally, Forza Horizon is reminiscent of Test Drive Unlimited, Midnight Club, and to a lesser extent Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. While it borrows bits and pieces from these racers, Forza Horizon takes each element to unparalleled heights. The car handling is similar to Forza 4, but feels somewhat looser, striking a perfect balance between arcade-like precision and simulation-style sensitivity. The developers calling it an “Action Racer” instead of an “Arcade” racer makes perfect sense once you hit the road.

Unlike its predecessor that emphasized technicality in driving, Forza Horizon rewards you for racing like a lunatic. Skill points that boost your popularity level are rewarded for every crazy stunt and drift, but this doesn’t mean that you can be careless during races. Horizon succeeds by enforcing both risky speeding and skillful maneuvering. Dodging incoming traffic and performing stunt jumps will raise your score, but if you’re not focusing on your rivals, you’ll have a hard time reaching the podium.

There’s tremendous diversity in race objectives. One minute you could be driving a Rally car across a dirt road, the next you could be chasing down hot air balloons. Events consist of circuit races, point-to-point challenges, and rival duels. Each race feels completely different depending on the location, and the exotic scenery ensures that you’re never bored. Races are challenging, but never unfair. Individual rivals have their own peculiar driving styles that make each duel a unique experience. Some choose style over speed, while others like to cut corners and push you off the road. Exploiting their weaknesses is not only fun, but also key to success.

As you progress, you earn different colored wristbands that represent the event difficulties as well as your overall status, and it won’t be long before the entire map is filled with new contests. As you make your way to each race, you can challenge different racers that you encounter on the road. This is a great way to earn extra cash for new cars and upgrades. Tuning and upgrading is still as simplistic as it was in Forza 4. Manual tuning is essentially unnecessary and you can upgrade to higher classes with a single click of a button.

There are a ton of vehicles to choose from and each ride handles differently. You can switch cars on the fly before entering races and the developers made sure that car/race requirements maintain balanced. Outside of events, you can explore the breathtaking vistas of Colorado. There are numerous collectibles scattered throughout the world, like discount signs for upgrades that you can knock over or hidden classic cars in abandoned barns. However, these classics are the same cars you’ve already collected in Forza 4, and it would have been nice if more unique concept vehicles were included. On the plus side, having a Forza 4 save file will grant you access to several extra rides in your garage for a nice beginner’s boost.

Online play has always been a big focus in the Forza series and Horizon is no exception. Free Roam lets you start up a lobby and invite seven of your friends to explore the roads of Colorado. It’s the least competitive option but it’s a nice place to hang out and make up your own rules. Co-op Challenges are great for working together to accomplish skill-based objectives and Playground Games offers modes like Cat & Mouse and Tag (Virus), which became popular in Forza 4. I didn’t spend too much time in multiplayer since the lobbies were empty for the most part (as the game hasn’t been released yet) but my favorite addition is Rivals. Every time you beat an event in singleplayer, it automatically becomes a Rivals event. This lets you challenge your friends for the top time on leaderboards and you can earn extra cash and skill points.

Beyond the superbly tuned controls and plethora of racing events are some of the most impressive visuals in the genre. Just when you thought the Forza series couldn’t get any prettier, Horizon comes along and raises the bar for graphics once again. From the Red Rocks and Montano Plains to the Kettle Hills and Clear Springs, the diverse racing playground looks incredible around every turn.

Whether you’re racing though urban towns or mountain passes, each area provides a breathtaking backdrop that’s stunning by both day and night. Cars look just as mesmerizing. They have a slightly warmer and softer look to them compared to Forza 4 and the reflections and lighting are near photorealistic. What’s even more impressive is the super smooth frame rate. The game is flawlessly optimized with not a single performance hit during my entire playthrough. Forza Horizon is a true technological feat and there were times when I felt I was playing on a high-end computer.

Since this is a music festival, you can expect a wide range of tunes to accompany you on the road. From Rock and Pop to Bass and House, there’s a bit for everyone…but that’s also where the music falters. By trying to make everyone happy you have songs that are both catchy and unbearable. But the real downers are the radio talks. They are infuriatingly annoying and kept reminding me of the terrible NFS ProStreet. There are a few radio stations that you can cycle through, but I found myself reaching for the off button so that I could enjoy the incredible engine sounds.

I can’t praise Playground Games enough for putting so much love and care into Forza Horizon. Everything in this game is polished to perfection. The visuals are some of the best on Xbox 360, the gameplay is a unique mix of simulation and arcade racing, and there’s enough content to keep you busy until Forza 5 hits stores. Seasoned Forza fans worried that the franchise took a wrong turn can rest assured that this is an extraordinary racing game that ranks as one of the best in the genre.

Final Score “A Spectacular Racer” 9.5
Forza Horizon has mouth-watering visuals. The world is massive and every nook and cranny is rendered with immaculate detail and care. The cars look photorealistic and the frame rate is rock solid without a single dip in performance. This is without a doubt one of the best looking racing games available.
A flawless combination of Arcade and Simulation. The controls welcome veterans and newcomers alike and can be tweaked to any driving style. This is action racing at its finest.
So much to do and so much to see. Forza Horizon will keep you glued to the screen until Forza 5 is ready to ship. With so much diversity in racing events, it's impossible to get bored.
The vicious engine roars sound amazing, but the radio chatter is unbearable. The music is hit and miss, but there are catchy tunes for everyone's taste.

Review by Tin Salamunic

Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin. 

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  1. You say the frame rate is super smooth, but can you tell that it's been downgraded to 30fps from Forza 4's 60fps, or not? Thanks.

  2. You really cannot tell. The game is locked at 30 fps and never dips a tiny bit below. Technically speaking, 30fps is an excellent frame rate if a game is well optimized. IN this case, it's superbly optimized. :)

  3. WOW, looks sick! Can't wait!!!!!

  4. I want this NOWW!

  5. Looks incredible. How is the car damage on this one compared to Forza 4?

  6. It's similar to its predecessor. You can flip cars, scratch them, damage them, but it's not like Burnout or anything.

  7. Can't wait to play this game. Like the Graphics so much. Thanks for sharing.


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