New Game+: The peaceful roads of Forza Horizon

October 17, 2014


There’s something calming about driving in video games. This is especially true of open-world driving games, many of which allow you to explore and learn more about the world you are (virtually) inhabiting. I do enjoy driving in Grand Theft Auto and the like, but it’s not the same. The original Forza Horizon and its recently released sequel are more my speed. It provides a similar feeling as sailing, but the sense of speed and (sometimes) laid back atmosphere the Forza Horizon games provide manage to scratch a different itch.

I originally hated the idea of open-world racing games. I found Test Drive Unlimited to be a sterile, exceedingly dull experience, with a world that never really felt alive. When I heard the next Burnout game, Paradise, would be going in a similar direction, I was appalled. Burnout works because of the structure and putting that into an open-world ruins it entirely. I even convinced myself, somehow, of just how bad it was when I initially played it. Thankfully, giving the game a second chance allowed me to come to my senses. Yeah, I was an idiot.

This brings us to Forza Horizon. It initially wasn’t even on my radar because the Forza series never appealed to me. It appealed to an audience of car enthusiasts, providing a similar feeling one might get from Sony’s Gran Turismo series. There was a time and place for it in my life, at least briefly, but it didn’t last. I was eventually convinced to give Horizon a shot, mostly due to it having a structure not unlike Burnout Paradise, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.


If you break down the Horizon games by their core mechanics — the stuff that makes the cars feel really good to drive — you’ll find a lot to love about them from that perspective. It’s not as rigid as the mainline Forza games, but it still requires a decent amount of effort to do well and driving feels great. This alone is enough to make me love these games, as it essentially takes the core formula of the series and makes it way more accessible. I initially thought of the open world as an added bonus, yet it quickly became the main reason to play them.

The actual exploration in these games might win people over, but I don’t explore, at least not as much as collectible-hungry people might. At the same time, I never rely on the game’s fast-travel system, so I drive everywhere I can and never grow tired of it. It’s the kind of game I can zone out and play, but it doesn’t mean I put little to no effort into what I’m doing. I’m still focused, still aware of my surroundings; I just eventually stop seeing myself driving anywhere specific and just drive. Over time, it becomes less about the destination and more about the journey.

I know many might not get the appeal, specifically those that still staunchly oppose titles like these that aren’t menu-driven and focused on getting you from event to event with little to no downtime. And yet, like with the best superhero games, I feel a racing game can truly shine when given an environment to explore. Not for the sake of exploring, for the sake of allowing the player to acclimate to the handling, the core mechanics and the world itself.


It’s almost like an endless virtual road trip; you’ll grow fond of specific routes and find yourself lost in the world in a way other open worlds don’t allow. Simply forcing you to drive everywhere by virtue of the style of game makes each trip across the map less of an objective and more of a small journey with new experiences and memories around every corner.

Not every drive to the next event will be fulfilling, but it does make the act of traveling more than just a means to an end. It gives it a purpose beyond earning points and winning championships. I feel at ease, focused entirely on this little world created specifically to be experienced as a small adventure rather than a series of menus to browse through before the game tells you to drive again.

This is what Forza Horizon and titles like it mean to me, and more importantly, why they have become the standard for the genre. You’ll always have your typical Forza and Gran Turismo games for those looking for deeper mechanics, but it’s hard not to feel like those are a relic of the past in a future begging to be explored.