Forza Horizon shifts the acclaimed simulation racer into an open-world setting, where players can showcase cars and undergo races against the backdrop of a festival that sees racers compete to be the best.
The world of Forza Horizon is based on Colorado, and while it's a state known for its vast, dusty plains, the team at British studio Playground Games has managed to encapsulate a surprising amount of diversity for players to explore.
As well as the familiar red rock formations and scorching deserts in the southern area bordering Utah, there's also forests, farmlands, urban expanses, mountains, springs and, of course, a festival hub pulsing with activity.
Working farms, flying crop dusters, huddles of crowds, dynamic weather systems and a day/night cycle further enhance the atmosphere and provides some jaw-dropping vistas. Coupled with Forza's trademark stunning visuals, Forza Horizon's take on Colorado is a pleasure to behold.
Beating the traffic and going off-road
The more diverse landscape paves the way for driving experiences new to Forza. Alongside the addition of dirt tracks - which require a more considered touch when driving, as well as a new set of tires - there's also street racing, where you'll be weaving in and out of traffic as you're going toe-to-toe with other racers.
While it lacks the thrill of Burnout or Need for Speed - drivers aren't aggressive enough to nudge you into oncoming cars, nor is there the spectacle of high-speed crashes - it does effectively introduce a new and dynamic series of obstacles to traditional races.
The open-world environment also means you'll have to keep an eye on the map as well as the track. While your GPS and the dynamic racing line will provide you with the best route to your destination, the map will also highlight shortcuts that can bypass entire sections of track.
You're also welcome to cut corners at a multitude of points, smashing through fences or risk racing through a ditch in an attempt to leapfrog your competitors. And as you become familiar with roads of Colorado, you'll be able to use these shortcuts more effectively in future, more challenging races.
Bringing simulation handling to an arcade genre
Jumping into Forza Horizon for the first time is a slightly unusual experience; with the expectations of more generous, arcade-style controls from the open-world racing genre, Forza's decision to stick with real-world handling means you'll initially overshoot corners and misjudge braking. It takes a few races to get accustomed, but it soon feels natural with the open-world set-up.
While players are invited to drive in any direction and explore, the game's opening - which reveals a more character-driven story than previous Forza games - guides you to various events to diversity your car roster and better prepare you for later events. Coloured wristbands open up more challenging races, which are unlocked by increasing your popularity from winning races and stylish driving.
It's not just vanilla races or timed sprints in the campaign, either; certain events see you gain the support of festival-goers by taking on other vehicles in lighthearted races.
One such example is a race against an aeroplane, seeing you sprint from point-to-point as it spirals high above the lengthy track, providing a neat spin on the usual time trial setup.
Secrets, collectables and online spoils
Outside of competitions, there's all the ingredients of an fleshed out open-world game. Multiple radio stations curated by Bestival organiser Rob da Bank keep you company on the road, with its DJs dropping clues to the various secrets hidden around Colorado, such as barns housing derelict classic cars that are begging to be spruced up and let loose again.
Elsewhere there are collectable-style objectives - there's one hundred advertising boards to find and destroy - and speed cameras to flash, measuring your top speed against others in a leaderboard.
You can bump into fellow festival-goers to start an impromptu race and liven up your journey to your destination. And, if you do manage to get lost, then you can feed the GPS with voice commands via Kinect to point you in the right direction again.
There's also the matter of multiplayer; each unlocked event is playable in Rivals mode, while fan-favourite online events like Virus Tag and Cat and Mouse are given a new lease of life as they spill out of closed circuit races and into a playful open environment, taking over warehouses, ski resorts and golf courses.
In a bid to keep it as evergreen as Forza 4, expect to download new Rivals challenges, monthly car parks and expansions, the first of which is coming shortly after release in December.
Forza Horizon takes its simulation heritage into an open-world setting with plenty of confidence. Whether it'll deliver something superior to a game dedicated to either approach is unclear just yet, but the opening few hours proves that the combination is a winning one.
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Forza Horizon will be released exclusively for Xbox 360 on October 23 worldwide.