2012-10-23

Forza Horizon – Cool Cars Cruising Colorado

by Yo Snyder

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life in Colorado. It’s a pretty state,
but I really came to appreciate it more when I was old enough to drive.
Few things are quite as enjoyable as hitting-up the back roads of the
Rockies and just going for a cruise. Even to this day, me and the family
will head up to Colorado in the Fall and just drive around admiring the
golden vistas of aspen trees covering the mountains and valleys. What
does any of that have to do with a video game? Well, whenever I plug in Forza Horizon, it just feels
like those moments I enjoy when actually driving through Colorado,
except in the game I’m doing it much faster and in much cooler cars than
I ever could in real life. But, this is about a close as I’ll get to
cruising the mountain roads of Colorado in a Ferrari, and it feels just
like I always imagined it would.

Forza Horizon isn’t technically a Forza sequel; it’s kind of a
new version of Forza. I suppose spinoff is as good of a word as any to
describe it, as it is and yet isn’t exactly a Forza game. It is very
much a Froza game when it comes to the loving attention to detail and
the quality of the cars and the driving physics. It isn’t a Forza game
as it allows you so much freedom to drive and race the way you would
like, and it’s open world setting borrows quite a few elements from
other racing series (which isn’t a surprise as Playground Games is a
developer made up of a hodgepodge of people that have gathered together
from some of the best racing development houses around). Just know this,
if you love cars, if you love driving, and if you love driving cars in
gorgeous scenery, you absolutely need to play Forza Horizon.

First of all, this game is absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, I keep
wrecking my car because I’m spending so much time gawking at the
scenery. The cars, of course, look great, and while Forza 4 had a photo feature, I never much felt like using it, while in Forza Horizon
I’m constantly coming across spots where I think, “Ooooohhhh, this car
would like great with that scenery as the backdrop.” Secondly, the over
all feel of the game is absolutely great. It’s just a tiny bit more
forgiving than Forza 4, making it a bit easier to drift around
corners in style. However, you can set the game to be as realistic and
sim-like or as arcadey as you feel.  Finally, there’s a great diversity
of races and challenges to enjoy. You can do your typical circuit races
which feel the most like any other Forza game, but you also have
off-road events, point-to-point races, showcase events (where you may
race things like hot-air balloons or helicopters), and even stunt and
photo-op challenges. Plus, you can challenge rivals at any time while
cruising around. Or, if you feel like it, just drive. There’s lots of
road to explore and few things are as enjoyable as just cruising along a
winding, mountain road with golden aspen leaves falling while enjoying
the throaty growl of you ’79 Mustang Boss 429. Which reminds me, this
game also retains the incredible audio of Forza 4. All of the cars sound
fantastic and distinct, and it’s a thrill to hit a tunnel and have the
roar, whine or growl of that engine amplified.

There are a few wrinkles that I noticed which blemish the otherwise
pristine beauty of this game. For one, whenever you drive dirt roads,
your car doesn’t get dirty. I know, minor nit-pick annoyance, right?
Well, yeah, it is, but it sort of puts a dent in the otherwise totally
realistic feel of the game. Hey, Test Drive Unlimited 2 has cars
that get dirty off-road, as does the DiRT series, so I know it’s doable,
and it’s just one of those details that helps with the immersion. Then
there’s the online stuff. Again, it’s minor, but you have to back out of
the single player game to get online, which compared to the seamless
transition of something like Burnout Paradise or even perhaps in the upcoming Need for Speed Most Wanted,
is a pretty glaring inconvenience. When other racing series are so
effortlessly blurring the lines between online social play and single
player experiences, to have them so separate here feels very old-school.
And speaking of old-school, having all those rival characters who speak
in impossibly hip smack-talk every cut scene feels like something from a
bygone era. It’s not terribly intrusive, but somehow, just feels out of
place with the tone of the rest of the game which has a sort of
dedicated-to-having-serious-fun-for-car-lovers type of tone…if that
makes sense. Forza has always been a love letter to cars and drivers,
but these hip caricatures ruins that a bit.

However, none of that really detracts from the simple joy of cruising
Colorado in a really cool car following the directions of your ever
helpful GPS. Which, by the way, is a handy thing to have, as Forza Horizon
is pretty massive, so it’s easy to get lost, especially among the many
twisty, turny hi-ways and by-ways. From getting you to various races to
helping you get to an area where you might find a rare car to just
picking some scenic spots to cruise around, your map and GPS are
invaluable tools in a world the size of Forza Horizon. It’s kinda
like how their useful in life as well. I mean, let’s be honest here, we
could all use a little direction in life, right? I know I could. That’s
the great thing about having a GPS, a God Positioning System. Isaiah
30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears
will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.'”
That’s a loving God trying to guide through the twists and turns of
life. He wants to help us get to our destination safely and intact, and
we can either follow those instructions or try to find our own path;
just like with a regular GPS where we can ignore the directions if we so
choose. The major difference is while most GPS systems don’t really
care, they are just there to get from point A to point B, God does care.
In fact he loves you, and he isn’t content with just getting you from
point A to point B, he wants to get you from the point where you’re at
to a point where you can enjoy eternal life free from sin. There’s only
one way to do that, and it doesn’t hurt to get some directions to find
the way.

Forza Horizon is game that has familiar elements from
games like Test Drive Unlimited 2 (huge open world), Burnout Paradise
(huge variety of events and hidden secrets, rewards for driving fast and
dangerous), DiRT (off-road rally races). Those are all excellent games,
and putting a Forza spin on them is a great idea. Still, this is
very distinctly a Forza game; you can’t really confuse it for anything
else. The loving attention to every detail when it comes to the cars and
how the handle. The loving attention to detail when it comes to the
types of roads and environments these cars are driving, making sure each
and everyone of them gets the most out of the cars and their
performances. The almost perfect sense of progression. It all feels
distinctly Forza, and yet like something entirely new as well. Forza Horizon
is a terrific experience that Forza fans and newcomers alike can
thoroughly enjoy. If there’s one major problem with the game, it’s that I
want even more mountains, plains, valleys and vistas to explore. Even
this huge world isn’t quite big enough to enjoy what Forza games have
always excelled in; giving gamers a chance to enjoy the pure pleasure of
driving the world’s greatest cars.

Score out of 7:

Graphics:
6 – Simply gorgeous. Colorful Colorado looks absolutely stunning, both
at day and at night (and especially at sunset). The cars, as expected,
look amazing as well. Little things like no dirt accumulation on dirt
roads and the fact that your spoiler almost always comes off on the
first big hit your car takes are a little distracting, but this game is a
real stunner when it comes to visuals.

Sound: 6 – Throaty growls
of beefy engines. High pitched whines of finely-tuned motors. This game
sounds absolutely wonderful. I’m one of those guys who just loves the
sound a big motor revving, so I really appreciate the sound design in
this game. Little things like a somewhat limited and not always great
playlist for the three radio stations and some fairly cheesy smack-talk
from characters are minor blemishes.

Controls: 7 – This thing
drives like a dream. If you’ve play a lot of Forza, you’ll be instantly
comfortable behind the wheel here. Controls are just slightly more
forgiving, but all of that can be adjusted however you like. Menus are
quick and easy to navigate, and the map system is easy to use to help
you get where you want. It even responds of voice command with Kinect,
which is nice.

Gameplay: 6 – Lots of different types of races to
enjoy, and some fun special events like photo shoots or races against
hot-air balloons keep things varied and fun. The different environments,
from little towns to mountain roads to desert vistas and straight aways
on the plains also keeps things varied and fun. Tuners might miss the
option to tweak with their car’s settings. Online modes like cat and
mouse, virus and tag make more sense here in Forza Horizon than they did in Forza 4.

Story: 4 – Pretty basic work your way up the ranks to become the top driver stuff. 

Content:
5 – There are some scantily clad girls on screen every now and then,
and of course some dangerous driving that’s not to be emulated, but
really, nothing to be concerned about for younger players.

Final: 6 – Forza Horizon
met and exceeded my expectations. If you ever wondered what a Forza
game on the open road would be like, just know that it’s as awesome as
you dreamed it would be. It plays like a Forza version of other great
racers, and that’s a really good thing for car lovers, race fans, and
gamers alike.