Forza Horizon breaks you, and your ride, free from the confines of track racing, setting you loose in the picturesque surroundings of the centennial state, Colorado.

Arriving in a beat up VW Corrado to compete in the fictitious Horizon festival, you and 249 other hopefuls must compete against each other in a series of challenges in order to win the wristbands required for entrance to the next race.

With a festival atmosphere in the air, everyone wants to be part of Horizon, and the sheer amount of fellow racers means that even getting to your start point can be an opportunity to gain some respect by beating other speedsters along the route.

The ‘popularity’ system in play here operates in a similar way to the old ‘kudos’ system in the Project Gotham Racing series, this time taking the form of fan adulation for your daring stunts or reckless powersliding.

Choosing your own order of entrance into various events, you can either approach them methodically and work your way to the finish line, or ignore them altogether and spend your time speeding freely through the luscious American panorama, from the spectacular peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the snaking Colorado River.

Events themselves take on quite a variety of forms – even early on in proceedings, chances are you will find yourself in the strange situation of racing against a plane in the ‘Mustang v Mustang’ challenge, and there’s more in this vein to be found.

As with every effective open world game, there’s a ton of collectibles. There’s discount signs to destroy to make your upgrades cheaper, and several hidden vintage cars dotted around the map for the discerning driver to detect. In a neat twist on real-life procedure, speed cameras dotted around the place will capture your MPH as you whizz by, giving you scores to beat in various locations around the map.

Speaking of locations, there are 10 outposts to discover, allowing you to fast travel to different points around the rather large map. However, myself and many other players simply ignore these in favour of putting in the hard miles, and that’s because above all, Forza is fun to play, and it never feels like a chore as you speed across the state to your next contest.

As ever, Forza sports extremely slick presentation. The opening sequence almost convinces you that you’re heading out to a genuine event, an effect compounded by the smart programming on the three in-game radio stations – the musical acts also appearing on fly posters on walls around the city in a thoughtful bit of mise-en-scène.

It feels like with this game Playground Games and Turn 10 have shed what was, for me, a rather sterile image projected by previous games, shrugged off the straitjacket and let the franchise run free. Not that I wasn’t a fan of previous Forza games, but I associated them with a very formal, tie-and-top-button-done-up kind of experience. Horizon by way of comparison rips off the office gear and puts the top down, relaxing you in the manner a festival is intended to.

The open-world scenario works exceptionally well, and combined with the familiar and ever-professional Forza presentation and handling, it makes for an attractive and addictive package.

By Sam Gill

Score: 4/5

Format: Xbox 360
Price: £49.99
Developer: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft