Forza Horizon: a different perspective

Horizon received a mediocre review from Polygon and while it does have faults, I am finding the game much more enjoyable than I initially thought I would. To preface this I am a big Forza 4 fan but what I like about the game is the thrill of driving not the competition of racing. I put great effort into tuning cars to not just lap faster but feel better. What I love about Horizon is that finally an open world racing game is out with great physics and driving feel.

Yeah, the dialogue and character animation is bad and story line is a little contrived but that’s not what I care about in a game. The races are fun and AI is good. Plenty of different ways to race and get credits that keeps the game exciting but that isn’t why I play racing games either. Lets just talk about the driving.

The good: feel of the open road

With assists turned off, Horizon really isn’t that different in handling from its predecessors. The key difference seems to me that the tire modeling. It always feels like the tire temp is spot on and good grip can be found pretty easily weather it is the first or the last lap. Some of my well tuned cars in Forza 4 feel a lot like the cars in Horizon because I spend most of my time on getting the tires perfect. It is frustrating I can’t get in and see tire temps and adjust PSI and camber but I assume part of the reason Horizon doesn’t have tuning is because something deeper is going on here. That said, dealing with tire temp and ware in an open world game probably results in other issues. Ware and damage is an acceptable concession to open world racing because the issue of maintenance and cost would dramatically change game mechanics in the more annoying direction and Horizon isn’t about that.

Track racing is so different from road racing. The biggest reason why I was so excited for this game was because I enjoy open road driving as it is less sterile and controlled as tracks. Bumps, dips, forks in the road, and the changing scenery are things that are just hard to find on most tracks. Track racing is about knowing every corner and the line to take and street racing is about the unexpected. It’s wonderful to cut through mountain roads, speed down the highway, and drift through city streets in one go. Who cares about the finish line, it’s about how you get there. Horizon rewards you with popularity for all the stunts you pull which doesn’t mean much, but it just goes to show that having fun driving around is a huge part of this game.

The bad: hey, where’s the cream filling?

Having played Forza 4 which is a two disc game I was a little surprised to open Forza Horizon and find one disc with what is supposedly a massive open world. The world is a comfortable size but it is definitely not big and the car selection is small compared with its predecessors. It feels like a fun filler game between Forza releases and is fantastic as such but at the same price as other AAA titles and so much extra content wrapped up in DLC what comes out of the box is a bit of a let down.

As a Forza 4 user I got ~5 cars gifted to me at the beginning of the game but because most cars are identical to Forza 4 and after having sunk so much into Forza 4 DLC it would have been really nice if they could figure out how to make cars on one game playable on another. Maybe not the easiest thing to do but it would have completely satisfied my lack of content issue and would make me much more willing to sink more money into DLC if I didn’t have to worry which game to sandbox my car into.

The ugly: tuned for track

It’s the little tuning details that drive me nuts about Horizon. Off-road driving is a major new feature of Horizon but the cars just can’t be tuned for dirt. You can hop in a truck but the tire upgrades go slicker, suspension upgrades go lower, and overall as a car gets upgraded it will usually perform worse on the dirt tracks. Maybe a tuning pannel isn’t necessary but an option for purchasing raised suspension and off-road tires would be amazing. From the description in the garage slicks add grip everywhere but that just isn’t and shouldn’t be right. I often fantasize about getting a 4WD Lamborghini, jacking up the suspension, and putting some off-road tires on it. Unfortunately, tuning street cars for dirt is just impossible making off-roading more difficult and tedious.

Even for street use, the key feature of many upgrades is adding the ability to fine tune how that component works. On a lot of components, particularly suspension, diff, and transmission upgrades, spending the credits on upgrades just isn’t worth it.

Finish line

Overall, Forza Horizon is the most fun I have had with a racing game. It takes all the physics from a sim and blends them beautifully with the mechanics of an arcade racer. It is not without fault but after getting past them it is just a joy to play.

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