Forza Horizon Meets All My Expectations, but It Also Disappointed Me

There was a lot of nervousness among Forza fans following the announcement of Forza Horizon. E3 didn’t do much to quell those fears, either. Sure, the game played wonderfully, but this was something different. This was an open world, with a somewhat arcade-like appearance. Would the Forza we all know and love be compromised?

Well actually, no. It’s not. Instead, Horizon is an excellent racer. However, it also has several shortcomings.

This is still the same Forza we all know and love.

Things might look different, but there’s no mistaking it: this is still a Forza title. I can still take my shitty Volkswagen, upgrade it, and make it compete with the big boys. Sure, there’s a small, tiny bit of “arcade edge” to the game, but it’s nothing more than what we’d see with a Project Gotham Racing title. Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games have done a fine job of both embracing the Forza experience and breathing some energy into it. They’ve traded in their tracks and tuning setups (which admittedly are not in the game) for a touch of personality, the open road, and off-road tracks. While my experience was different, I never felt like I was playing a different game. There was no mistaking it: this is a Forza title, true and true.

There’s a hell of a lot to do in the open world of Horizon.

It’d be one thing if we were given a gigantic open world and just told to drive from race to race. Sure, it’d be nice to burn some rubber on the highways and drift across the dirt, but it’d get pretty old pretty fast. Instead, we’re given plenty to see and do. Between collecting shop discounts, setting speeds in speed traps, challenging rival drivers, discovering classic cars in old barns, and flat-out discovering each and every road, I found myself reminiscing about finding viewpoints in Assassin’s Creed. “Just one more,” I’d often tell myself. “I just wanna find one more. I know I have races waiting for me, but there’s this pink dot on my map and I need to go crash through it, damn it!”

The overworld is incredibly easy to explore.

My biggest problem with Burnout Paradise was that its open road was somewhat difficult to explore. Ironically, I found navigation in Forza Horizon to be much easier, despite the fact that I was playing on a much smaller TV. See, the game’s mini-map makes it incredibly clear where you need to be heading, and it’s accompanied by a vocal GPS that will politely inform you of an upcoming turn with a charming British accent. But there’s a bigger factor at play: Races are either quarantined off on a separate track, or when they do take place on the street, they’re filled with giant markers so there’s never any confusion as to where you need to be heading.

But not all is well with the Horizon experience. Several times, I was either groaning from the fact that I’m actually playing an untitled and mute character, one who has no reason for ever appearing on screen, or disappointed with several things.

For a game that advertises its personality, it needs more of it.

Forza Horizon takes place at the Horizon festival. Yes, the central hub for shops, upgrades, and such things takes place at a festival. Yes, there are drivers throughout the roads of Colorado that are here only for the festival. Yet sometimes I forgot there was a party going on. Whether it was on the multiplayer lobbies (which seem more like a graveyard than anything else), the fact that the soundtrack seems to enjoy torturing me with a select number of songs on repeat during my playthroughs, or the fact that Horizon rivaled the traditional Forza businesslike gaming experience. I was having fun playing, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like I was at a party that was canceled and no one figured to tell me.

The NPC rivals serve no real purpose.

On paper, this is an excellent idea: rivals in your campaign races. Beat them, earn more credits, earn more fame, and get an extra challenge in the process. There’s just one problem: Playground Games didn’t seem to get the memo on the last part. I’m sorry, but when you bill up a driver as the best in the race and I can’t tell him apart from the other AI drivers as they finish in 6th out of 8th… I just don’t see the point. You can’t do this. You can’t say “She’s aggressive, watch out!” as she politely passes people in her giant Ford truck. This is a gigantic missed opportunity.

I wish the world had more diversity.

You’ll often see gorgeous countryside views of Colorado as you drive. By often, I mean this is virtually all you see, save for a few exceptions. It’s pretty cool driving past a dam or through a small town, but I’ll be honest: I was hoping to zip through downtown Denver. The contrast of the skyline and mountains would have made for some incredible visuals, accompanying the already gorgeous scenery in the game. This is just another missed opportunity, one that would have done a good job of mixing things up, too.

As for my final thoughts on the game? Those can be summed up in one sentence:

Forza Horizon doesn’t compromise anything the franchise is known for as it trades in the tracks for the open roads, setting the framework for what could be a solid racing title despite several disappointments.