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(Pocket-lint) - Forza Horizon takes the Forza franchise in a new direction, moving away from the very similar Forza Motorsport 3 and 4 of the past years, into an open world. You're no longer tied to familiar tracks: the world now becomes your oyster.

For some, Forza Horizon might be too much of a departure from the driving game they know and love. You'll have less time to learn the subtleties of a particular circuit and you'll spend more time changing cars and, yes, you'll spend more time playing with aspects of the game are aren't straight competitive racing.

But is this a Forza sell-out, or is this a better manifestation of what Forza has always been about?

Our quick take

There are so many elements at play which make Forza Horizon so different from the most recent Forza outings. This isn't a replacement for Forza Motorsport by any means: it's an addition. Forza Horizon delivers on one of the fundamentals that Turn 10, the game's developer, has always pushed: it's a game for car lovers.

Play Horizon for fun, for variety, for the awesome soundtrack. But keep FM4 for that serious track racing. These are very different games, with very different characters. That doesn't make Forza Horizon a bad game. It's likely to appeal to gamers who previously saw Forza as too serious; those who've played other open world driving games will now find something that speaks to them here.

At the same time, we're sure that some who love the simulation and authenticity of Forza Motorsport 4 will find Horizon too much like an arcade game: they might not get the satisfaction they're looking for from precision driving. As lovers of FM4 we can understand that. And that's why we'll keep playing both.

Forza Horizon

Forza Horizon

4.0 stars
  • Graphics
  • Variety
  • Festival is fun
  • Soundtrack
  • Lots of beautiful cars
  • Seems slightly sluggish in the early stages
  • The festival becomes slightly redundant
  • No real damage system in races

Brave new world

The most substantial change that Forza Horizon brings with it is an open world. You have a huge map to explore, opening up events as you progress through the game. It's based on Colorado, designed to give you a variety of terrains, from deserts to towns of various sizes, to forests, mountains and everything in between.

It's a substantial departure from Motorsport where the aim was to recreate race circuits with precision. In the world of Forza Horizon you won't be looking to hit the rumble strips on those corners, you'll be trying to avoid hitting street furniture and picket fences.

The Forza Horizon world feels big because you'll have to drive from race to race, giving you free roaming time, something you never had before. Sure, in Motorsport you could opt to drive around a track, but it was always driving in a bubble. In Horizon, things are happening around you: there's traffic, dawn and dusk, different routes to take.

Pocket-lint forza horizon image 7

Then you have the Horizon Festival itself. The Horizon Festival sits in the middle of the expanding game world and, like any real world Festival, is a hubbub of activity. There are stages, bands, fireworks, lights and masses of people. It's like driving into a wall of noise and the first experience of the Horizon Festival brings with it a wave of excitement. This is helped by the soundtrack, which includes plenty of licensed current tracks, which also play through the (changeable) radio in your car.

The Festival was brought to life by Rob Da Bank, of Radio One and Bestival fame, who worked with the game developers to bring authenticity to this virtual event. The effect is palpable: the Horizon Festival is somewhere we want to be, leaving us wishing that someone would host this party in the desert.

So the festival brings some sort of life to Forza Horizon, but it is also a central gamplay mechanic. Within the core of Horizon, you'll find your key areas: Race Central, Autoshow, Dak's Garage, Paintshop, Marketplace and Car Club.

These key areas would normally languish in the menus, but here they exist as venues at the festival. It isn't a new idea, as plenty of driving games have autoshops along various routes. The idea here is that the Festival has a gameplay purpose and this is pushed through various mechanisms that will see you returning for a particular reason, such as to collect a wristband and move up a level.

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Navigating around the map is easy, thanks to the GPS system. This will let you pinpoint where you are heading and you'll then get in-game route directions. To make things easier to set, you can use Kinect to speak these instructions using on-screen prompts. With Kinect you can easily select the next race without having to return to the map itself, which is really handy.

Get on the road, and off it

The world of Forza Horizon brings with it a range of terrain, as we mentioned. This is the first Forza game that gives you offroad racing and in many races you'll have rally-style mixed surface racing. When we first tried offroad racing in Horizon we couldn't tell much of a difference from the rather slow D-class road racing, but as the game continues, you get more of an appreciation for the offroad courses.

Many are short lap-based routes which are rather frantic, but there are some beautiful mountain races that will see you gunning along dirt tracks for quite a way. We have to admit we rather like it and coming from the asphalt of Forza Motorsport 4, it's something we weren't expecting to enjoy so much.