Racing games by their very nature can divide gamers. There are those who love the genre and there are those who don't. That's simple enough to understand. What is more complex is the divide between the casual arcade racer and those who enjoy the technical, simulation side of racing.
Forza Motorsport has traditionally targeted the technical aspect of racing. A huge amount of effort brought Forza as close to driving the real thing as is possible on a console. The cars, the tracks, the handling and the endless amount of tinkering have brought it to a near perfect racing simulation.
The concept around arcade racing is very different. Gamers don't want the detail of tweaking the car to its perfect racing setup. They want to go fast and have fun. That's where Forza Horizon comes in. You get all the cool aspects of a racing simulation but packaged with speed and fun in mind. It's a bold step but it works. In fact it works bloody brilliantly.
All of the core parts of Forza are present - the handling, the physics engine, the beautiful graphics, the great upgrade system and the range of licenced cars. Although the car catalogue is somewhat smaller than before all the favourites seem to be present. The main difference is that Horizon doesn't take place on circuits. Now we have an open world Forza game.
This open world centres on the US state of Colorado, a collection of open road routes that needs to be seen to be believed. Colorado is known for its breath-taking scenery and this has been captured very well within the game. You'll be racing past incredible mountain formations, dipping down into majestic valleys and navigating through some of the best road formation found in a video game.
Horizon does a great job of providing some sort of boundary within the game while at the same time allowing for a sense of complete openness. The world is fairly compact and the road network is used very intelligently to create independent routes while using some of the same stretches of road.
This may seem restrictive but it's a great hybrid of a huge circuit layout incorporating a number of sub-tracks. This allows you to get familiar with the road network over time, providing better times and scores but never reducing it to a collection of boring circular tracks.
Horizon's strength lies in the marriage of beautiful scenery and core racing gameplay that you just don't see in any other game. Even the original Forza series can't compete with this. Horizon is just unique.
However, Horizon isn't just about how the game looks. This game is an absolute joy to drive. The steering has been tweaked from that of Forza and this really works in the street environment. And although the crash physics have been toned down a little, it really only adds to the enjoyment of the game.
There are off-road sections to the game and the cars really stand up to the different in handling and race strategy. A small criticism would be that the cars are unnaturally good off-road considering that most of them are built for road use only but this hardly matters in a game such as this.
The real joy of Horizon remains back on the tarmac. The trill of reaching high speeds on the winding network of roads in the pursuit of the leading car is something to behold. You get a great sense of power while driving through the slower traffic and this bring a whole new experience to the Forza series.
The concept of the game centres on the Horizon festival. You arrive as a newbie racer come to take on all challenges through the different tiers of competition. The festival is a mixture of point to point races, illicit street races, skill challenges and showcase events. You can even try for the speed-trap record or challenge other racers to ad-hoc head-to-head races within the open world.
Although Horizon mostly matches its Forza 4 parent for features it does fall far behind when it comes to multiplayer. Although there are a number of multiplayer modes that work well, like the free roam mode, it was always going to be hard to capture the competitive circuit concept with an open world equivalent. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination; it's just that it has a lot to live up to.
Horizon is built on all the great parts of Forza but packages them up in a completely new and refreshing way. The game is now much more accessible to the arcade racer but retains the core principles of its simulation past.