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Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: 'Forza Horizon' - 5 Things to Love and Hate

I've never been a fan of the Forza series. To me the game just doesn't feel quite... right. Vehicles feel heavy and unpredictable, and for a car enthusiast like myself that's unforgiveable.

When Forza Horizon was announced I viewed it as a fresh start for the series. In my eyes it was already a beautiful idea. Take the strengths of the series - car models and environments - and place them in an open world. The focus is then shifted from the simulated feel of your favorite vehicle to the overall feel of simply driving.

While Forza Horizon has achieved what they aimed to do, there are still a few issues that need to be resolved.

Love:

1) Soundtrack -

I put this at the top of the list because it demands to be noticed. The soundtrack to Forza Horizon couldn't be more beautiful. There are three radio stations to choose from, encompassing the best of EDM, Indie, and Rock.

You'll hear tracks from Avicii, The Naked and Famous, Nero, Foster the People, Noah and the Whale, and many, many more - just shy of 70 artists by my count.

2) Open World -

Simulation racers are great. They are some of my favorite games to play and I find myself going back to them year after year. The problem with them is that they sometimes focus too heavily on what's under the hood and less on what truly matters - the driving. This is where Forza Horizon truly shines. Find your favorite car, paint it to your liking, buy some upgrades if you'd like, and just drive. It's a very uncomplicated, stress-free experience.

By placing you in an open world and leaving you to your imagination, all the stress of the next circuit race is gone. It's you, the road, and that gorgeous piece of machinery driving off into the sunset.

3) Online Multiplayer -

Taking a page out of the Dirt series (thanks to Codemasters help in development), Forza Horizon offers a completely separate multiplayer experience. It's no longer set to specific parameters. You don't have to race from point A to point B, or circle a track five times. Don't get me wrong, the option is still there, but so are plenty of other modes. Everything from 'Infected', 'King of the Hill', 'Cat and Mouse', and even 'Free Roam' are readily available. If you truly want to experience Forza Horizon at its best, hop online with a group of friends in Free Roam and just drive. There are even some co-op challenges you can tackle.

4) Mode Variety -

Imagine fusing together Forza, Need for Speed, and Dirt. That's Forza Horizon. There are street races, circuits, point-to-point, dirt tracks, PR events, Barn Finds, online multiplayer, and plenty of other modes to test your skill at. If you don't feel like doing anything than you can even cruise around the 216 individual roads, searching for the randomly scattered discount signs (there are 100 of them).

5) Constant Rewards -

Nearly every movement you make rewards you in Forza Horizon. As you drive around the map you gain points for driving at high speeds, cruising by another vehicle too closely, drifting, drafting, getting air, and so on. As you accumulate points you gain popularity, which in turn unlocks new races and perks. Damn you Turn 10 for somehow making driving that much more fun.

Hate:

1) Inability to Tune Vehicle -

This is something that has been known since Horizon was announced but it still drives me insane. The simulation racer/car enthusiast inside of me demands to be unleashed. Unfortunately you can't tune your vehicle outside of simple upgrades. No gear ratio tuning, no independent suspension, no tire pressure. Being able to fully tune your car by simply purchasing all the best upgrades takes the fun out of it. Massive hinderance to the overall feel fo the game in my opinion.

2) Class Restrictions -

This one bothers me but apparently nobody else. When I purchased my 2011 Subaru WRX I immediately upgraded it to an A-class beast. Feeling like an overly testerone-pumped dudebro I hopped into the driver's seat and set off to my first race.

Little did I know that my car was now too powerful to be allowed entry. My options were to a) downgrade at the race and pay 14k credits, b) drive back to the garage and re-install my stock parts, or c) use the garbage C-class hatch that I had sitting around.

Forza Horizon isn't the only racer that won't allow the use of one vehicle regardless of class (Gran Turismo 5 is the worst) and it really grinds my gears. Let me use the vehicle I want to use. If the point of the game is to focus on driving your favorite car around the countryside I shouldn't be forced to drive a car I never chose.

3) Ease of Difficulty -

Forza Horizon is the tale of two cities. If you play it with a complete wheel setup (say Fanatec with complete clutch) then it's very realistic. There's a ton of feedback in the wheel and driving around the countryside is honestly exhausting. If you play it with a controller on the other hand, it's the easiest game in the world.

Even with the difficulty all the way up and assists off it's still not challenging to win a race.

It would have been great to have the game with a controller be as difficult as with a wheel setup. When the game warns me that my car isn't fast enough to win a race, and I win anyway, then something is wrong.

4) Unable to Change Vehicle On-the-Fly -

You can change your vehicle if you go back to the garage or if you go to a Waypoint. Outside of that you can't. All this does is make it that much more difficult to drive your favorite cars at any given time. This becomes incredibly difficult when playing online with your buddies.

A simple mechanic that should not have been overlooked.

5) Addiction Level -

I'm addicted to Forza Horizon. It's official. The few gripes I have with the game are just that - gripes. They aren't game breaking by any means. They are simply annoying. Forza Horizon is one of the best racing games I have ever played and is worthy of the praise. To be honest, I believe Horizon is reason enough to own an Xbox 360.

Yeah - I just said that.
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