Rocky Mountain ride: Forza Horizon understands why we love Colorado

Categories: Games

I haven't played enough of the first three Forza Motorsport games to tell you if their car-worshipping DNA is well-represented in Forza Horizon, their stepchild. But I can tell you that not only is Horizon a truly stellar game in its own right, it understands why we love Colorado.

See also:
- 10 video games set in Colorado
- Xbox's Forza Horizon makes Colorado the racetrack

- Indie Game: The Movie explores the underground art form of brand-free video games

In a departure from the other Forza games, with this one you don't control a disembodied helmet; you're a full-fledged human being, complete with five-o'-clock shadow, a love interest and a wizened mechanic to help you on your way. I was worried that cheesy personalities, the glittery Horizon music festival and, yes, the dubstep would up the game's Bro-quotient to unbearable levels.

Fortunately, the festival trappings really do elevate the racing and lend ambiance to the environment. In Horizon's Colorado, you're racing to gain better wristbands (it's a festival, after all) and take on Horizon's best contenders in a battle for popularity. The meat and potatoes of Horizon is driving around and completing races to earn points towards your next wristband, but someone's always trying to pull you into a high-stakes, illegal street race, or enter you into a Showcase event where you'll run against a plane or something crazy like that.

One of Horizon's showcase events. All the photos in this article were taken using Horizon's in-game camera feature.
The map is relatively small, but Playground Games has made sure to pack it with a metric ton of racing opportunities. Just after launch, there are plenty of time-trial events against fellow racers on Xbox Live, and reams of mini "PR Stunt" challenges. Drive behind a fellow Horizon contestant and you can challenge that driver to a one-on-one duel, or tune in to the radio to get word of a "barn find" car that you can reclaim and fix up. (Note: Westword does not endorse the practice of breaking into people's barns and taking the cars inside.)

By the time you get your second wristband, the difficulty ramps up enough to give you trouble staying ahead of the pack. My "crash into it and hope for the best" racing style didn't always serve me well with Horizon's more scientific formula, but there is most likely some annoying rubber-banding going on here to make up for the arcade-y pace.

In a nice touch, even Colorado trail signs are faithfully recreated. Until I smash into them, that is.
Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios, the developer, did their homework on our state, and it captures its essence like no other game. I'm still disappointed that there aren't many recreations of real-life places, dashing my hopes of buzzing the Westword offices in my 430 Scuderia, but the mountainous area where the game mostly takes place is uncannily well done. Clear Springs is modeled on Glenwood Springs and Gladstone is modeled on Redstone, but the developers have taken plenty of liberties with the areas.

The pink skies at sunset, the hazy early morning light, the blinding brightness of daylight on snow -- all of these look just like what you see out of your window. At night, the fireworks and glowing lights of the festival beckon you across the plains. Even if Horizon was a failure as a racing game, roaming its Colorado would be reason enough to take it for a ride.

Turn 10 creative director Dan Greenawalt says these coke ovens are an exact replica of a scene in Redstone (called Gladstone in the game).

Keep reading to download a Colorado-ified Camaro and find out how you can join us on the racetrack.

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