Racing video games are usually divided into two categories: serious simulation racers like Sony's "Gran Turismo" series and over-the-top arcade-style titles like Namco's "Ridge Racer Unbounded." But Microsoft's latest "Forza" game for Xbox 360, "Forza Horizon," pulls together both genres, combining the feel of simulation games from the previous "Forza 4" with a fictional racing event that feels more like an arcade experience. It goes on sale tomorrow (Oct. 23) for $60.
The game takes place at the imaginary Horizon Festival in Colorado, where the best drivers from across the globe gather to prove their stuff. And as a rookie making your way up in the ranks, you've got a lot to prove. The festival features a number of events to partake in, including eight player-circuit racers, one-on-one competitions against cocky rivals, and "Playground" challenges, where you can engage in racing mini-games either against computer opponents or your friends over Xbox Live.
Rewards come aplenty in "Horizon," as you earn new cars for your collection once you reach certain points or beat racers. Everything from a sleek Ferrari A-40 to a muscle-bound Mustang is thrown in. As in serious sim games, like the previous "Forza" versions, you can tweak your cars any way you like, while also modifying assist systems that can help with braking and steering (ideal for newcomers), so you can drive however you please.
However the way that it's set up, "Horizon" is more about fun. Even if you aren't competing directly against your friends in racing events, you can still throw down challenges with your best race times, re-simulated with "ghost" cars on the track, as well as speed checkpoints that are set throughout the city, so you can dare your buddies to out-perform you. New events open up around every turn, and if one thing isn't your speed (literally), then you'll certainly find something else to your liking.
"Forza Horizon" looks magnificent. Colorado is well represented at every turn. Whether you're racing along high mountain passes or through the back woods to a secret location, the detail is amazing. Likewise, the cars look tremendously life-like, right down to the glimmer of sunlight on the hood. And with numerous camera angles, you can go from a behind-the-wheel perspective to a higher-up view easily.
"Forza Horizon" also features three distinct radio stations with their own styles of music (our personal favorite is the alternate rock), and though they don’t stray far from Top 40 fare, they're a fun listen. It's just a shame that more work didn't go into the storyline, as the voice actors drone on through typical "I can race better than you" dialogue.
That's a minor complaint, though. "Forza Horizon" is a great evolution of Microsoft's long-time racing series, and all the developers had to do was not take things too seriously.
RATING: 3.5 / 4
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