An authentic 'fast car' feel
Polyphony have a lot of catching up to do. The makers of Gran Turismo 5 now have a very serious contender to deal with in 2013; Forza Horizon. Microsoft have basically picked the finest bunch of the UK's finest driving developers, packed them in under one roof and let them loose on their money.
Forza Horizon is a total diversion from its predecessors.
In its head it's still a driving sim, with real-world cars and realistic handling powered by the same graphics and physics engines that were used in the mighty Forza 4.
In its heart, however, it's a descendent of Need for Speed, Test Drive Unlimited and Burnout, where strict courses and structured championships give way to individual events, festival atmosphere and the freedom of the open road.
With all this pulling in different directions it could have been awful. Instead, it's anything but.
The moment you take your two- wheel drive Koenigsegg onto a dirt track you'll realise Playground's version of Forza's handling model is more forgiving than Forza 4.
It lets you get away with murder off the track and turns you into an unstoppable battering ram on the open road, where civilian traffic can be barged aside, with only a modest drop in speed being the trade-off. But it's still undeniably an authentic Forza game wrapped up in an arcade racer's cuddly exterior.
Horizon doesn't match the sheer scale of Test Drive Unlimited 2 or the clever gimmicks of Need for Speed, but it captures the absolute freedom of a fast car on an open road better than any other openworld racer and better than Forza 4's closed tracks ever could.
From customising your ride, trading vehicles and designs with other users, to scavenging the map for hidden cars, Horizon is crammed with content.
With so much choice comes the danger that players will need to hop around events, tiresomely seeking out a difficulty sweet-spot on the map, but by switching on or off options such as ABS or the guiding luminous green of the racing line you can customise the challenge, as well as the percentage of available reward you receive.
For the developers – Playground – first time behind the wheel, they have done a terrific job.
Rather than pander, they have catered to the masses and provided a gameplay experience that will surely please the entire spectrum of racing fans.
A definite recommendation that finally puts Xbox ahead of Playstation in the racing sim department.