Review: Forza Horizon

Racing fans listen up, there’s a new Forza title in town and it’s called Forza Horizon. The last game in the franchise Forza 4 was released in October 2011,...

Forza Horizon

Racing fans listen up, there’s a new Forza title in town and it’s called Forza Horizon. The last game in the franchise Forza 4 was released in October 2011, so fans of Microsoft’s most successful racing title are overdue for more. Fans of the series will get rewarded for their hard work in the past, providing there’s a saved game on the same console. Personally, this unlocked some great cars including the Lamborghini LP640.

Before we dive into the detailed review, let this be known, Forza Horizon is incredibly addictive and seriously hard to put down. When your copy arrives, get yourself in front of a big screen and cancel your plans for the weekend. With that out of the way, let’s get into the detail or what works and what doesn’t.

Graphics

It’s important to know that there is a reduced number of cars in Horizon compared to Forza 4 around 160 vs 600+. They are however beautifully modelled and look fantastic both inside and out. The environments are no slouch either with traffic including cars, busses and trucks. At times with things like waterfalls, ferris wheels, rock concerts and helicopters to check out, you’ll have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road.

Thankfully there are no police to watch out for while screaming down the highway at more than 300km/hr. While there’s definite improvements in the graphics in terms of lighting, the gorgeous sunsets and night-time driving, it is abundantly clear the developers are reaching the end of what they can achieve with this console.

Gameplay

Those sexy new car models are unfortunately not destructible. There’s cosmetic damage available, but that just means you get some scratch marks, smashed window and can brake a mirror off. I was very critical of GT5 when it shipped without damage and I fell the same frustrations here. 

The reality is, your driving (and driving of others) changes significantly when there’s no penalty for crashing into cars or fences. You should not be able to enter a turn, bounce off a barrier and come out in front, that’s so far from fair and reality it’s not funny.

After driving the Ford Focus ST in real life last week, handling is one of that cars strongest features. Unfortunately the car in the game understeers severely. Naturally I have driven all the cars in the game, but this example does seem to indicate the developers never drove that car to really understand it.

It is important to know that there is no local multiplayer mode in this game, you’ll need to race your friends over the internet instead of the couch cushion next to you. Sadly the demise of split screen seems to be a trend that’s here to stay.

Kinect Support

This game has probably the best use of Kinect so far. Gone is the head tracking that you tried, but never used, instead replaced by voice commands. Controlling the GPS of your car using your voice should only become a standard in driving games, but in real life.

The hands-free operation to get to change your route to the next race event or point of interest is a seriously awesome experience. Going back to a real GPS or GPS app now and typing in locations seems old and antiquated, voice control is the future.

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Reputation

Wether you’re cruising in free play or racing tracks, you will notice an almost constant point counter on your screen. The points add up to increase your reputation, which scores you invites to new events. The problem is points are so easy to come by, you’ll stop caring.

Drafting, drifting, driving at high speed, passing, getting air and causing damage to property all earn you points. Then there’s the meter at the top of the screen informing you of your latest reputation rank (I’m currently at 93 at time of writing, think it started at 500, so I’ve seen it 407 times). There’s also the sponsors challenges which encourage repeat tasks and performing combos also earn you more points.

Serious props for an attempt at gamification to encourage repeat visits to the steering wheel, but this seems to be one step too far. Oh and just in case you needed another way to score points, your actions in multiplayer also add to your stat-whore pleasure.

There’s a wrist band system that works really well and as someone who’s been to driving events before, this does reflect reality. Currently I’m at Purple which is the 2nd highest which has my map looking like it’s gone 12 rounds with a confetti canon. There are dozens of events, but some of the most fun to be had is the spontaneous events you can find just by driving behind other racers in free roam.

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Difficulty

While taking cues from it’s simulation heritage, the difficulty model for Forza Horizon has been altered significantly. The game often suffers from what we like to call the Mario Kart effect. This means that although you’ve spent the first 3 laps of a race at the rear of the field from trying to be Ken Block, you’ll still likely be able to catch up and win on the 4th lap.

Unlimited rewinds also mean that you don’t have any serious pressure and to be perfectly honest, using this method should mean you never loose a single player race.

Vehicles and upgrades go hand-in-hand, so naturally they are still on offer in Forza Horizon. The upgrade system is essentially the same as before, but the Auto-upgrade/downgrade when you attempt to enter an event is convenient and very welcome.

Let’s talk cash for a minute. In-game currency can be incredibly frustrating when you don’t have enough. Rest assured in Horizon, this was never an issue. First of all, switching off assists (you can easily do without) will net you up to 70% more per race. You can also get discounts off vehicle upgrades by crashing through special roadside signs.

Price & Availability

The demo of Forza Horizon is available now on Xbox 360. The full Forza Horizon release date is on 23rd October 2012. As for price JB Hi-Fi has it for just A$69, while EB Games has it for A$78. There are pre-order bonuses depending on where you get it from (see below).

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Overall

Developers Playground Games, have already announced the first DLC content for Forza Horizon isn’t far away. They’ll also be offering another season pass for regular DLC over the coming months.

So it’s time to get down to business, who should buy this game? If you’re a Forza fan, getting the latest game in the series is a no brainer, you’re buying it. If you’re a racing fan, but never bought Forza before, it’s now time to look at it, seriously, you won’t be sorry. The only people that should really avoid this game are those absolute driving purists, Forza Horizon does come off a bit as arcade-style at times. Not with the driving physics, but more the on-screen overlays.

Forza Horizon is more of what we already love about the long-running franchise, it’s also likely to be the last edition we get for the Xbox 360.

More information @ http://www.xbox.com/en-AU/Marketplace/Product/forza-horizon/

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This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.
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