Forza Horizon. It came out in 2012, for the Xbox 360. That platform was 7 years old at the time, and 11 years old now.
I know that the internet hates untimely content, but Forza Horizon just got a new lease on life: it was re-released this week as part of the Xbox One backwards compatibility program. It’s currently free for Xbox Live Gold members as of this writing, as well.
It looks like a game that could have come out yesterday.
I loved this game on first release, but like every Forza game I’ve played…I didn’t finish it. Most players don’t finish every game they buy, but Horizon always sat in the back of my head, waiting for another time. Usually, it’s the sheer amount of content included in the Forza series that eventually pushes me away, but this game makes its content so easy to access and play through that I should have kept going.
Forza Horizon deftly combines the technically-astounding physics simulation of the Forza series with a perfect helping of arcade fun. Many games have tried to split the Arcade/Sim divide in racing before, but not this well. The full physics simulation is present here, with lots of tweakable options to make it more fun/easy to play with, along with accompanying bonus rewards. This game also has one thing that so many other racers lack:
Horizon takes place “In the world of Colorado.” What a hilarious thing! This is the US state of Colorado, rendered as a completely fictional and unrealistic game world. Miles of road and off-road terrain are perfectly captured here, tuned for maximum fun and racing excitement. Many of the race events evoke episodes of Top Gear, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a weird desert music festival…thing.
The rest of the Forza series has a strange clinical feel to it, common in modern sim racers. Even Forza Horizon 2 doesn’t feel as fun as the original. The European setting there seems much more laid back compared to “The World of Colorado.” The music is an eclectic collection of pounding rock and dance tracks, complete with GTA-style DJs.
And the graphics, people. The graphics. The image quality in this game is still insane. Cars are high-poly, with narry a jagged edge in sight. Foliage abounds, and transparencies and shadows are all full-resolution and still stand the test of time. The dynamic lighting provides the whole game with a slightly painterly aesthetic. And it never drops a frame.
This game was a technical marvel 4 years ago, and still holds up today. It’s almost good enough to pass itself off as a modern Forza game. It gets there in part through smart design optimizations. The World of Colorado(tm) is not the most geometrically complex place, favoring wide open vistas and sweeping mountain terrain over harder-to-render cities.
This whole game feels designed around making sim racing fun, something that most sim racers seem to ignore in favor of technical complexity. Codemasters tried a similar approach with Grid 2 that I sort of enjoyed…then pivoted back to realism in Grid Autosport. Shame.
I have high hopes for Forza Horizon 3. Horizon 2 was a bit of a let down. The first game still totally holds up, and if you have an Xbox One it’s worth playing, even if you have to buy a copy.