Forza Horizon has garnered considerable praise for its fresh spin on the open world racing genre with its perfect balance between arcade accessibility and deep driving mechanics, but if there was one area that felt underdeveloped, it was off-roading. Considering this was Forza’s first foray off-road, it was disappointing to find Horizon’s garage was somewhat lacking in vehicles built to handle Colorado’s rough terrain, and the selection of races situated on dirt circuit tracks soon became repetitious thanks to their samey scenery. That’s where the Rally Expansion comes in.
Since several members of the Playground Games team had previously worked for Codemasters, Forza Horizon’s veneer was already etched with DiRT, and so it was perhaps inventible that this would come into full fruition with a dedicated time trial rally mode. Adding seven rallies, each comprising of four stages along with five rally-ready cars, the Rally DLC represents Forza Horizon’s first true expansion pack that delivers a new gameplay experience compared to the car DLC packs churned out every month.
Surprisingly, the Rally Expansion abandons Horizon’s unbridled freedom that made it so refreshing, instead opting for a traditional progression system that’s accessed via a separate menu tucked away from the main festival, where you earn points and unlock stages until you earn enough to enter the rally final. The Rally stages therefore aren’t integrated into the in-game map whatsoever, making the DLC feel somewhat disconnected from the core game.
Each stage comprises of a traditional point-to-point time trial rally course, which of course means you’re going to need a computerised co-driver to guide you on your high speed travels.
Unfortunately, the chap provided isn’t the most competent co-driver you could hope for. Usually, his commands are concise and issued in ample time, but they’re occasionally mistimed, causing you to veer off course into some nearby shrubbery. The fundamental problem, however, is that the co-driver’s directions are limited to just five simple commands: easy, mid, hard, square, and j-hairpin. An option to switch to more detailed pace notes, as you can with most rally games, should have been available, especially given the complexity of some of the courses.
Fortunately, Horizon’s well-balanced handling transfers remarkably well to a rally scenario. It’s still by no means a simulation – it’s far too forgiving compared to the real thing that demands acute concentration and lightning-quick reflexes to avoid certain death which WRC3 nailed. Nevertheless, it’s still frantically good fun to pull off a well-executed powerslide with full opposite lock. Think of it as a hybrid of SEGA Rally’s accessibility and DiRT’s finesse, where excess oversteer, careful gear management, fearless throttle control and late braking is the order of the day.
That’s not to say the Rally Expansion isn’t challenging – far from it. It’s all thanks to the terrific track design, which proves that Playground Games can still carve a captivating circuit away from Horizon’s open road.
The Rally Expansion condenses some of Colorado’s existing areas into distinctive, lengthy circuits that are beautiful to behold, from narrow woodland forests reminiscent of DiRT’s Finland stages and sand dunes to craggy canyon passes, and perilous to navigate, with awkwardly-placed rocks and ditches waiting to catch you off-guard. And that’s before you attempt to complete the handful of harrowing night time stages.
Indeed, reaching a podium position against the 50 competitors is a difficult feat, and it will take several repeated runs before you master the optimum racing line. It’s a shame you can’t race against competitors and indulge in some rallycross racing, as the course designs are far more challenging, intricate and varied than the dirt circuits in the Horizon Festival.
While the twenty available stages are brimming with variety, the same sadly can’t be said for the paltry selection of rally cars on offer. There was a real opportunity here to take advantage of Turn 10’s licenses and flesh out the car list with a plethora of legendary rally cars, but only five cars are included, only two of which are technically new to Forza Horizon. The majority are merely rally-ready variants of existing cars from the game: there’s the obligatory rally-spec Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer, along with a Cossie.
The inclusion of the Lancia 037 Stradale is an inspired choice given its rallying pedigree from the 1980’s WRC, which makes its debut in Forza Horizon along with a 1992 Toyota Celica – even if both have been borrowed from Forza Motorsport 4. Rally cars still need to be purchased with in-game credits, but you can at least use any points earned in the main Horizon festival – unsurprisingly, the legendary Lancia is the most costly car by a significant margin at over 200k.
Fortunately, and somewhat smartly, Turn 10 has provided a remedy for the glaring lack of new rally cars: you can make your own. Any car in the game can be upgraded to a rally specification, so you can create faithful replicas of classic rally cars by modifying some of Horizon’s existing road cars such as the Ford RS200, Lancia Delta and Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 – don’t forget to slap on a custom livery from the marketplace for added authenticity.
At 1600 MS points, the Rally Expansion isn’t exactly the cheapest add-on available, and the amount of content doesn’t quite justify the price of admission, particularly with the lack of new cars and repeated stages – especially when the discounted DiRT 3 can be bought for a fraction of the cost.
But whereas Horizon’s slower pace and tiresome trips between races sometimes left you feeling like you were on cruise control, the rally expansion adds some much-needed full throttle intensity and challenge to the core game.
It also makes you wonder: is this paving the way for rallying in Forza Motorsport 5? After all, rallying has been part of the Gran Turismo series since GT2, but it hasn’t really developed since its inception – GT5’s partnership with the WRC was woefully under-utilised, for example. Surely, then, it’s surely only a matter of time before Forza Motorsport gets its wheels dirty.