Face off: battle of the racing giants

Xbox 360 | By James Titcomb

HORIZON IS the fifth title under the Forza name – a series of elite racing simulators Microsoft set up in 2005 to give the Xbox a rival to the PlayStation’s Gran Turismo. Until now, Forza has seen huge success, both critically and commercially, so it would be foolish to make too many changes, right?

Well, Microsoft disagrees. Keen players will notice that Horizon is the first Forza not to feature “Motorsport” in the game’s title, a point that illustrates the direction it takes.

Horizon is less a driving simulator, more of an arcade game, taking cues from those racing machines you used to play at the bowling alley while waiting for a lane to open. Forza veterans will recognise that the physics engine, extensive vehicle catalogue, and near-infinite car tweaking remain from older versions, but much else has been thrown out and rebuilt.

For a start, the contests are not run on polished race tracks, but on makeshift street circuits around Colorado. And rather than selecting levels from a menu screen, you roam around an open plan map, free to join races, compete in spontaneous duels with fellow drivers, and admire the (magnificently rendered) scenery.

Beyond winning races, you are encouraged to pull off stunts to boost your crucial popularity rating, and along with the pounding dance music that accompanies the game, this aspect in particular reinforces the idea that Horizon is more mainstream than previous Forzas.

That said, don’t be fooled into thinking Horizon is anything less than a seriously intense challenge. Remove the training wheels – racing line guidance, steering assistance - and it is as tough as any previous version.

At its heart, Forza Horizon is still an adrenaline-fuelled speed fest and it maintains the series’ position as the best racing experience the Xbox 360 has to offer.

Xbox 360, PS3, PC | By David Talkar

NEED FOR Speed Most Wanted is the 19th title in the series and, for high-speed racing aficionados, it doesn’t disappoint.

It also features enough glossy visuals and gameplay variety to keep even the most ardent racing sceptic entertained. The name of the game – aside from racking up “experience” points to unlock increasingly powerful cars – is cruising around the mythical city of Fairhaven, outrunning the rozzers and driving some pimping cars. It is this free-roaming element that’s most satisfying part of Most Wanted: being able to drive around the city without actually competing in every race gives the whole thing a GTA IV vibe – you almost forget there’s not a single AK47 in sight.

It is also a great way for car freaks to get their fix, with the game’s bread and butter involving perfecting the frankly insane drifting techniques, racing down the freeway at 180mph and breaking your high-speed record by being clocked on a speed camera. And, really, how can you not love a game that encourages you to smash through an advertising billboard at 150mph with a SWAT team on your tail?