Forza Horizon Review (X360)

One of the Best Racers on Xbox 360

When you put together a development team made up of folks from Codemasters, Bizarre Creations, and other talented folks around the industry and ask them to make a racing game, good things are going to happen. This super team of racing genre experts' debut title is Forza Horizon, and it is without a doubt one of the best racers of this generation. It manages to still have that distinct Forza Motorsport feel, but in a new arcade-ish open world package. Which means it is still Forza, but fresh and new and awesome in its own way. Forza Horizon is the best open world racer on Xbox 360, and well worth playing for any race fan.

Game Details

  • Kinect Sensor Optional
  • Publisher: Microsoft Studios
  • Developer: Playground Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
  • Genre: Racing
  • Pros: Fantastic gameplay; great map that is actually fun to cruise; nice presentation; hidden stuff
  • Cons: Car list; not as big as Forza 4

Forza Horizon is an open road racing game set in a fictional area of Colorado. The map isn't especially large - you can drive from one side to the other in a few minutes - but it features a lot of different terrain including mountains, plains, desert, towns, and more. While it isn't as big as other open world racers (Test Drive Unlimited 2 or FUEL, for example), it has a much higher ratio of roads that are actually fun to drive on. Every inch of road - both asphalt and dirt - has been carefully placed and designed to make it as fun as possible to race on. Just cruising around and seeing what you can see is really genuinely fun here.

The reason why you're out racing in the Colorado boonies is because of the Horizon Festival - a racing enthusiast meetup crossed with a rock concert where all of the hip and cool 20-somethings hang out. You start out by having to race your way in, then you work your way through 7 tiers of races scattered all over the map until you ultimately reach the final round against the defending champion. There is a goofy story here, which basically boils down to other racers are all jerks, the defending champ is a huge tool, and the race organizer has a crush on your character, but the story never really gets in the way and is only really present during brief cutscenes between races.

In addition to the 70 festival-sanctioned races, there are also 30 street races, ten showcase events where you have to race an airplane or helicopter or something, seven 1-on-1 races against your main competition, and a host of collectibles including discount signs that earn you cheaper upgrade prices and classic cars hidden in a handful of barns around the map. To see and do it all takes under 25 hours or so, which is kind of a letdown after the hundreds (thousands? ... I'll beat all of those events someday) of hours worth of content in Forza 4. Twenty-five hours of content is still pretty good, particularly for a story-driven racing game, so we can't complain too much. The map is fun enough to drive around and explore and you can waste a lot of time doing secondary things like setting speeds at speed cameras or challenging A.I. opponents to impromptu races out on the roads, so there is a lot to do here. And there is always multiplayer where you can race and free roam with your friends, which is always fun.

One slight disappointment comes from the car list - which is pretty short (still 150+ cars in total, though) compared to Forza 4 and is missing some key rides. Admittedly, it is a more impressive list than most other arcade / open world racers, so it, again, isn't much of a complaint. Something worth mentioning is that the economy in the game is semi-broken because there isn't really anything you need to spend much money on. Most of the really desirable cars you'd want to spend money on and actually use are given to you as prizes, so unless you just really love a particular make and model there isn't much reason to actually buy new cars very often. You also earn major discounts on upgrades for your cars by destroying hidden signs scattered around the map, so even upgrading doesn't cost much. You'll finish the story with millions of dollars in cash and not much to spend it on. You can spend money to fast travel between hubs (and even here you earn discounts by doing PR stunts to lower your rate) but the game is so fun to cruise around that you probably won't fast travel all that often.

I didn't, at least.


The gameplay is the core that binds Forza Horizon together, and it is really quite impressive. It straddles the line between sim and arcade similar to the Project Gotham Racing series, but it also has all of the assist options we've come to expect from Forza that allow you to tweak it a little more towards sim or arcade if you want. It has that distinct Forza sim feel, but is still forgiving and playable. That is why I said "arcade-ish" in the opening paragraph, because it isn't really a sim nor arcade, but leans slightly more towards arcade. The result is a game that lets you throw your car around a little more than you'd ever dream of doing in Forza 4. Power sliding around corners on dirt roads feels completely awesome here. It is fast and accessible and really fun to play for pretty much anyone, even if you don't necessarily love the main Forza series. If I had to compare it directly to something, I'd say it is similar to Gran Turismo 2 - kind of arcadey / sim-y where leaning on the opponent cars is a reasonable method of getting through corners since damage is way toned down in Horizon.

I'm not ashamed of it, I slammed the A.I. into the wall in the corners more often than not to get around them, just like the good ol' GT2 days on PSX.

The Project Gotham Racing comparison above also extends to a points system that ranks how popular you are in Forza Horizon. Instead of "Kudos" for doing powerslides, drafting, destroying objects, or maintaining high speeds, however, you level up your popularity which opens up new showcase events in the story. It is a system that ultimately works behind the scenes because you actually level up really quickly since pretty much everything you do earns you points, so it is something you don't really ever have to think about too much. Expect to jump at least 1-2 ranks in every event, just because points are so easy to earn.

As we mentioned above, there are hidden objects all over the map and you earn achievements for driving on all of the roads, finding all the speed traps, finding all of the discount signs, etc. A great thing about Forza Horizon, however, is that pretty much everything will kind of come to you over the course of the game. You'll drive on pretty much every road just by playing all of the races. You'll discover all of the signs just by doing races. There isn't really a grind here to round up all of the collectibles because they should all be found naturally as you race and explore and have fun. That is awesome.

Perhaps the best thing of all about Forza Horizon is that not only is it fun and playable at high speeds (which shouldn't be a surprise, but after the NFS Shift games and Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends which are unplayable over 150MPH or so, I thought it deserved a mention) but racing at high speeds is actually really, really thrilling. From the cockpit view (which is the best way to play), hitting high speeds shakes your view and delivers a really fantastic sense of speed. Mistakes are magnified and things you could get away with in slower cars are suddenly much more of a risk at 180+. You always feel solidly in control, but you're right there on the edge where things can hit the fan any second. Going fast in Forza Horizon is one of the best feelings I've ever felt in a racing game.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation in Forza Horizon is also really nice as well. The influence of the new team (as in not Turn 10) making the game is immediately apparent in the menus, which have a lot more personality like we saw in DiRT 3 or GRID rather than the rather than the fairly sterile menus of Forza 4. The visuals when you're out in the world are also very nice and we honestly can't decide which looks better between Horizon or F4. The environments are nicely varied and include everything from desert to plains to maintains as well as both evergreen and deciduous forests. There isn't any weather, but Horizon does have a day / night cycle with fantastic lighting for the different times of the day, great functional headlights, and even accurate gauges in the cockpit view that light up at night. The cars also look really nice and have the same visual customization options as Forza 4 did (and you can even import any custom decals you made in F4 into Horizon) and you can also, of course, use designs other people have made as well.

The sound is very good all around. Cars sound like they should, but perhaps a little quieter than the throaty roars we loved in F4. The game features three radio stations full of licensed music as well as DJs whose banter between songs changes as you play through the career.

You can also use Kinect for voice commands in Forza Horizon, which can be pretty handy since you can just say "GPS" out loud and then set a breadcrumb trail to the nearest races and events so you don't have to jump in and out of the map too much.

Bottom Line

All in all, Forza Horizon isn't so much a pleasant surprise (since it is made by a team other than Turn 10) as it is exactly what we expected from the pedigree of the team that actually did make it. Playground Games is made up of people that know what they are doing when it comes to racing games and their collective knowledge and experience has created one of the finest racing games on Xbox 360. It has a wide appeal that means both fans of the Forza sim games as well as fans of more arcadey racing experiences will be able to have a great time here. If you are a racing fan, Forza Horizon is highly recommended for a purchase.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.