Tag Archive: Playground Games


When Forza Horizon first launched four years ago as a spin-off of Forza, many of us were pleasantly surprised by how it was able to tone down the seriousness of the main series while still making an extremely competent racing game. As time has gone on and we’ve fallen into an annual cycle of Forza followed by Forza Horizon, what once was a spin-off has now turned into a series all its own—one that now rivals its parent in every way. And, with the release of Forza Horizon 3, it may even surpass the mainline series in key areas.

For those who might be unaware, the Forza Horizon games are set up around a traveling fictional festival called Horizon that’s like a cross between Woodstock and Top Gear, and this year’s game is headed to a land down under. Whereas the original saw you rise up the ranks to dominate the event, and the second one had you as king of Horizon from the start, Forza Horizon 3 basically just makes you the festival’s God this go around.

From what radio stations can be heard at the festival’s hubs throughout Australia, to what part of Australia Horizon will expand to next, all the decisions are yours. You can even customize your license plate and what your assistant will call you via a list of names. Yes, I admit I enjoyed the fact that my assistant actually called me Ray and all my cars’ license plates said “Carsillo” on the back—it’s a little thing, but that added hint of personalization was a nice touch. Unfortunately, it also made the fact that you can then only choose from a dozen or so generic, hipster-looking avatars to represent your “face” just as disappointing as the license plate customization was fun.

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These are only minor details, however. The heart of Forza has always been the cars, and Horizon 3 does not disappoint. Over 350 cars are available at the game’s launch—the most in Forza Horizon history—and, as always, plenty of car packs will be coming in the future. The game also maintains the series’ high standard of stunning car models that contrast terrifically against the picturesque backdrops inspired by an amalgamation of Australia’s coasts, forests, and deserts. The big additions this time around aside from the usual list of new supercars are dune buggies. Since a quarter of Horizon 3’s mashed-up rendition of Australia is the Outback, dune buggies are great for crossing the desert terrain at high speeds and pulling off crazy stunts to fill up your score meter.

At first, the buggies took some time to get used to, because they handle completely differently from any other car in Forza’s long lineage. By the time I was done with the game, though, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough races inside these off-road masters, bobbing up and down through the countryside, and was actually disappointed when I was placed back in a luxury car or sporty speedster depending on what race I was doing.

Speaking of racing, it remains at the core of what you’ll be doing in Horizon 3. There are 63 tracks set up across the game for you to unlock and play through, with more unlocked by expanding and growing the festival. This is done by earning fans, which you can do through winnings races, completing one-off special objectives in 30 brand-new bucket list courses, winning showcase events against unusual race opponents like speed boats and fighter jets, and completing “PR stunts” like daredevil jumps and burning rubber through drift and speed zones.

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Each individual race location not only has the standard single race, but later you can also unlock three-to-five race championships with new themes for each course. For example, a single exhibition race in the Outback might have you racing off-road trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor, but the same course’s championship might be themed around rally legends like the Suburu Impreza, giving each track more replayability as you race different vehicles.

If that wasn’t enough, Forza Horizon 3 also introduces the new Blueprint feature to both racecourses and bucket list events, which allows you to set your own stipulations that you can then share with the Forza community. You could create a perfect storm of racing nothing but high-end supercars like the Lamborghini Centenario along the curving coastline, or punish people by sticking those same sports cars on an off-road track in the rainforest and see if they can’t maintain their traction. The same goes for the bucket list Blueprints, but like most other games where you can create your own courses, you have to be able to beat your own challenges before uploading for others to play. In theory, you could have an endless stream of fresh content coming into Forza Horizon 3 long after this initial launch window.

Another major addition to Forza Horizon 3 comes in the form of its online multiplayer. You’ve always been able to take on friends head-to-head, but Horizon 3 adds it so that you can now experience the construction of a Horizon festival from the ground-up together. Campaign co-op, which is also available in cross-platform play, allows you to join a friend’s game or vice versa in order to help each other complete objectives or find hidden bonuses like landmarks or barn finds to fill out your worlds. Any progress made in each other’s games carries over to your single-player game as well, so there’s no need to do something twice if you don’t want to.

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The emphasis on co-op doesn’t end there, however. Even if your friend isn’t online, the new Convoy feature means their Drivatar can ride with you and help you, too. By winning street races against specifically marked Drivatars, you can add up to three Drivatars to your Convoy. And if you want to replace someone in your lineup, simply street race another person and fire one of the old drivers. Having and riding with a full Convoy means not only a better chance for you to find hidden secrets and earn more credits, but your friends will be earning credits even while offline.

Of course, more online-driven endeavors has meant more server strain that normal in the Forza community. Even a week after launching, there are still occasional connection issues in regards to things like leaderboards, some of the Blueprints, and finding strangers online to race with or against. Groove Music—Microsoft’s digital music streaming service that has been added to the game to allow players a chance to finally have custom music playing while driving—works only about half the time, too. I’m driving a million dollar car, and the damn radio is broken.

These online hiccups aside, Forza Horizon 3 is a racing lover’s dream. The insane stunts and off-the-wall challenges remain hugely entertaining, and being able to incorporate your friends more into that has only added a new wrinkle of replayability to the game. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more complete racing experience than this one, and in many ways has possibly eclipsed the mainline Forza series in terms of fun and enjoyability.

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Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: Playground Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.27.16
9.5
Forza Horizon 3 pulls out all the stops to provide one of most fluid and enjoyable racing experiences out there. A must have for casual car fans and hardcore gearheads alike, Forza Horizon 3 may even surpass the mainline series in terms of fun with this effort.
The Good Gorgeous looking, excellent handling, and more content than ever before in one package.
The Bad Occasional issues with connecting to people and features online.
The Ugly Constantly forgetting that Australians drive on the other side of the road and getting into lots of head-on collisions because of it.
Forza Horizon 3 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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Kicking the tires

The ideas of open-world exploration and story aren’t usually synonymous with racing titles. A spin-off game from Microsoft’s popular Forza franchise, Forza Horizon, bucked the trend, though, and delivered a fun, fresh take on the genre back in 2012. It was welcomed back then as a breath of fresh air, so it’s no surprise that high hopes surrounded the follow-up, Forza Horizon 2.

Primary developer Playground Games committed themselves to making sure Horizon 2 was bigger and better in almost every possible way. Moving from the Rocky Mountain roads of Colorado, the Horizon music and racing festival has now set up shop on the Italy-France border, creating a fictional space that’s not only far larger than the first game but also more diverse. Whether it’s the beach resort town of Nice, France or the fields and old-world charm of Castelletto, Italy, each of the game’s six regions feel unique and exude an authentic Western European vibe.

Also, as we’ve come to expect from every Forza, the cars look absolutely spectacular. The game’s cover car, the Lamborghini Huracán, the 1960s Chevy Corvette Stingray, or even something like the Volkswagen Rabbit—along with more than 200 others—have been crafted to look exactly like their real-world counterparts, and they all shine brilliantly on the Xbox One.

Each car also handles much like you’d expect they would in the real world, but a new addition to Horizon 2 pushes that handling to the limit. Along with the returning day-night cycle, a new weather system makes its debut here. Rain not only changes how your car drifts and takes turns in races and out in the open world, but roads remain slick well after the rain has stopped, providing not only a major new hazard for racers to contend with but also a little welcome variety.

Speaking of variety, each region features wide-open spaces that just scream for you to take your car off-roading and cut corners between winding roads. While you could do that sometimes in the first game, far fewer boundaries will impede you here as fields of roses, wheat, lavender, and dry brush dot the landscape. It became a guilty pleasure to carve crop circles into each respective field, racking up my wreckage multiplier, and then hightailing it back onto the road, looking in my rearview at the carnage I’d wrought. These off-roading segments are also the theme of many races and provide a true sense of freedom, since no barriers hem you in or tell you how to reach the next checkpoint (yes, there’s a suggested path, but you’re often better off ignoring it).

There’s more to do beyond just traditional racing at the Horizon festival, particularly since the game offers rewards for exploring the nooks and crannies of the map with the return of Barn Finds, 10 hidden gem cars scattered about the game world. Forza Horizon 2 also features six new showcase events, allowing you to race head-to-head against a train, several planes, hot-air balloons, and more. The most interesting addition, though, may be the new Bucket List—30 different challenges spread around the map that offer special objectives ranging from the simple, such as driving along the coast in a certain amount of time in a Ferrari, to the maddening, like driving a Bowler Wildcat through a forest back to the Horizon Festival main tent.

On paper, Forza Horizon 2 offers plenty more to keep you occupied compared to the first game, and there’s no denying that it plays wonderfully. The addition of Drivatar AI opponents even adds a little extra flair, with the knowledge that when one of my friend’s avatars tries to squeeze me into a sideboard on a track when we’re up against each other, that’s what they’d actually do if we were playing together. That said, playing the game on Medium difficulty and with only a couple of braking assists, I was still able to take first place in every race I was in and found the clock in Bucket List challenges to be far more of an opponent.

But there’s one thing missing this time around that left me horribly disappointed: the game’s heart. To begin with, the story mode is a shell of its former self. This iteration offers many more races (nearly 700 total across 168 championships, though you only need to clear about 65 races over 15 championships if you want to get right to the final race), but all the charm’s been sucked out.

Much like in the original Forza Horizon, your objective here is to become the champion of the festival. In the first game, however, you had to knock off other championship contenders who specialized in particular cars. They offered a rarity in racing games: nemeses with personality and panache. Here, they’ve been replaced by nothing more than the Horizon organizer telling you how many more races you have to win to qualify for the finale. It becomes just a mundane, soulless countdown of championships—punctuated by the same, dull repetitive commentary—that starts to feel more and more like a grind as you move from region to region, choosing which of each area’s respective 28 championships you wish to take part in.

The popularity aspect of single-player portion has also been removed. In the first Horizon, you had to perform tricks and win races to move up in the popularity standings of the festival. This was another way to prove if you were worthy of a championship run. Here, in order to help streamline the seamless transition to multiplayer, you have a pair of XP bars that can be filled in both single-player and online. As you gain levels from tricks, you receive skill points that can be spent on unique upgrades—of which there are only a couple dozen, and they aren’t nearly as satisfying to acquire as moving up the popularity leaderboard. As you gain levels from winning races, you get new wristbands, just like in the first game. In the original, though, these opened up new races; here, they do nothing except change the color of your XP bar—a sad attempt at carrying over aspects of the first game that have now lost all meaning.

I will say, at least, that the multiplayer transition is impressive. Mind you, it should be noted that I played with only a handful of others online, and it worked fine, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the servers when the game actually launches with, I’d imagine, many more people populating them. The idea, though, is that with a simple button press from the menu or map, you can start searching for online games. When you find enough people, it becomes an impromptu race to one of the game’s six regions if you select Road Trip, or you can simply Free Roam with your friends and challenge others on the fly.

If you do Road Trip, when everyone gets to the destination, you begin a series of four events to determine the winner and see who takes home the online championship. You can also play the returning Playground Games, a group of offbeat multiplayer challenges that are less about racing and more about surviving—like Infected, which declares that the last person to be hit by an “infected” car wins.

In many ways, it’s clear that Forza Horizon 2 is definitely bigger than the original. It’s a great racer in terms of gameplay and chock-full of content that could potentially keep you busy for months on end. But gutting the story—and taking away one of the key pillars that made the first Forza Horizon so special—to blur the line between single- and multiplayer left a sour taste in my mouth. If all you care about is getting behind the wheel and scenic European vistas, though, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better experience.

Developer: Playground Games/Turn 10 Studios • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.30.14
7.5
Bigger doesn’t always equate to better. Forza Horizon 2 definitely delivers a gameplay experience a step above its predecessor, but gutting story mode leaves the single-player soulless and more akin to a grind.
The Good A larger, more beautifully detailed world to explore; seamless multiplayer integration.
The Bad The story is nearly nonexistent.
The Ugly Tons of new music tracks—and still nothing good on the radio.
Forza Horizon 2 is available on Xbox One and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

Peace, Love, Horizon

Forza has been one of the premier racing series for quite a while; the franchise has constantly provided top-tier physics, an impressive lineup of elite cars, and a variety of options to help personalize your driving experience. The setting of the game, however, has never really strayed from enclosed tracks and menus asking you where you wanted to race that day.

Enter Forza Horizon, the first open-world entry for the franchise. Horizon is set in a semi-fictional slice of Colorado where many real-world roads from the Centennial State cut together to form a twisting, turning spattering of insane driving roads along beautiful mountains, a rural expanse, and a suburban outcropping. So, what’s the reason all the in-game racers have gathered at this perfect storm of road racing? The (fictional) Horizon Festival, the Woodstock of car racing. And, naturally, you play as the young, up-and-coming nobody looking to make a name for himself and be crowned king of the festival.

Starting off in a crappy 1995 Volkswagen Corrado, you’ll race in beginner events in the hopes of earning credits to not only obtain better cars, but also to work your way up to stiffer competition until you’re finally ready to take on the champion in standard racing game fashion. Unlike previous entries in the series, Horizon offers many other ways to earn extra credits: illegal street races, promotional events where you take on unconventional vehicles like hot-air balloons or biplanes, and even racing for slips against the game’s seven bosses. In total, you’re looking at hours upon hours of racing outside of the 70 festival-sponsored races in single-player alone.

Along with the robust racing choices and the game’s main plot, there’s also the underlying quest to become popular. Yes, it does sound like something you may have had to do in high school, but in Horizon, this extra quest to do tricks or cause destruction in the environment to earn popularity points helps keep the long drive between some races entertaining as you look to move up from 250th amongst the racing fans to becoming the number one driver in their hearts. And performing enough of these tricks also adds to the in-game achievements where you can unlock more credits by performing specific stunts and maneuvers.

These new elements are all well and good, and when you jump into Forza Horizon to start, this new take feels original and exciting with the atmosphere of the festival, the radio DJ’s script, and the phenomenal soundtrack adding even more life to the scenes before you. But, as you get deeper into the game, if you’ve played any racing series besides Forza, you start to realize you’ve actually seen many of these tricks before.

Forza still does what it is known for very well in terms of physics, car choices, and customizing the driving experience. And the plot and quest for popularity are very enjoyable. But as an open-world game ,it still needs a bit of work, and the minor annoyances start to add up. The fact that the game doesn’t present a clear difference between what’s breakable in the environment and what isn’t particularly grinded my gears. I could smash up some fences but not others, and I’d be able to drive through some foliage only to be stopped suddenly by a single piece of lone shrubbery in the wilderness.

Another aspect of the open world that bothered me, especially later in the game, was how the area outside of the main festival felt like a ghost town. I loved how expansive and detailed the world was, but it barely felt like there was anyone else in it; much of the civilian traffic felt more like more random obstacles than actual people in the world. Many of the tracks also start to repeat themselves toward the end of the game, which was puzzling, considering how much unused open road there was. I also would have loved some character customization or at least some depth to the character you’re forced to play as. If I got called the “Mystery Driver” one more time, I was just gonna drive off a cliff!

All in all, Forza Horizon is a fine new take on this venerable racing series. It has a few quirks that come with the franchise’s first attempt at an open-world game, but at its heart, it’s still a solid Forza title. I can see Horizon being the start of a continuing bold new direction for the franchise, and with a bit more polish, I can even see it becoming the Forza standard. If you’re a Forza fan, this is definitely worth checking out.

SUMMARY: A different turn for the Forza folks maintains the high level of racing the series is known for, but their first open-world attempt falls flat in some ways.

  • THE GOOD: Same tight Forza physics and handling.
  • THE BAD: The open world feels empty and hollow.
  • THE UGLY: Starting the game off with a Volkswagen Corrado.

SCORE: 8.5

Forza Horizon is an Xbox 360 exclusive.