As it goes with racing games, I was usually firmly planted on the side of arcade style racing games rather than the hardcore sims. I preferred launching spiked blue shells at the person in first place rather than trying to perfectly customize my car with the right gear ratios. But that isn’t to say that I haven’t had any sort of interest in the more simulation style of racing. I’ve always appreciated games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport from a distance, but the main reason why I’ve been hesitant to get invested in them is because they seem so devoid of any kind of personality. The first color that comes to mind when I think of Gran Turismo is gray. Games like Gran Turismo are more intent on presenting an auto show than presenting a game that’s fun to play. There seemed to be a serious lack of personality, color, and life.
Forza Horizon, on the other hand, offers a vibrant world full of personality and character. Much of that comes through the Horizon Festival, which takes place in beautiful, scenic Colorado. Racers from all around the globe converge to take part in the Horizon Festival, and the game gives some particular racers names and personalities. These characters aren’t vital to the game in any way, shape, or form, but it was just nice to have some voice acting and character sprinkled in there. And they’re never going to come close the level of Razor Callahan in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but I don’t think anybody ever will.
It also helps that the open world in which Forza Horizon takes place looks absolutely gorgeous. Everything looks stunning, whether it be a beautiful sunset over the road or a smashed up car after it collided with a wall at a blistering speed. There’s also plenty of color imbued in the menus and the environment so it doesn’t feel like you’re navigating around in a hospital. Forza Horizon is less about showcasing pristine automobiles at a convention, and more about driving down a dusty road out in the open, hitting stop signs along the way.
There are a myriad of things that help streamline the gameplay for those unfamiliar with tuning cars and class types. If at any time your car is underpowered for the race you’re about to partake in, the game will give you the option of automatically tuning it for you so it’s fit to race in that class. The rewind option, of which you can use infinitely, is immensely helpful. Races usually boil down to one pivotal turn, and if you miss that one specific turn, you may be unable to race your way back to contention. Having a rewind feature handy at all times was great whenever I sped into a turn way too fast.
It’s important to note that if you really want to get in there and tune your car to your specific desires, then all of that is there too. Forza Horizon didn’t dumb down the racing simulation that Forza fans have come to know and love. They merely simplified certain avenues to make that process smoother for people who want to spend more time drifting around the streets of Colorado rather than tinkering in the garage.
As a person who has little to no experience in realistic driving games, I had a fantastic time with Forza Horizon. The driving feels great, the environments look gorgeous, and the game has just enough goofy personality to keep the mood lighthearted and silly. The sense of speed and impact is great as well. Some of my favorite moments during the races would be when I’m going full speed at a turn in an attempt to hit the guy in front of me, spinning him out of control while at the same time losing enough speed and momentum where I can correct my turn, and then gleefully accelerate towards the finish line. And if those kinds of shenanigans didn’t work, then I would rewind and try to approach the turn at a more sane level. These are the kinds of things that made Forza Horizon memorable for me. For anyone who has a cursory interest in racing sims, but were daunted by the intimidating nature of them, Forza Horizon should be worthy of your attention.