In "Forza Horizon" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99), British studio Playground Games takes U.S. developer Turn 10's exemplary car-geek series off the racetrack and onto the open road. Instead of offering a tour of classic tracks like Le Mans, the new "Forza" moves the action to the fictional Horizon Festival in Colorado.
I found this game's presentation of "car culture" grating, with idiotic characters who seem more interested in partying than driving. But you can ignore all that once you punch the accelerator, and with hundreds of challenges there's no shortage of action.
Most events are point-to-point races or multiple-lap races on closed circuits, but there are also unsanctioned street races and "showcase" events against airplanes or balloons. Online, you have plenty of straightforward eight-driver events as well as wackier games like "Infected," where you're trying to pass a "virus" from car to car.
In between races, you score points with dangerous driving, such as drifting, zipping past speed cameras or passing other cars a little too closely. Still, "Horizon" stays mostly true to its roots as a simulator rather than an arcade racer - you can't equip nitro boosters or rocket launchers. And whether you're driving a Ferrari or a Ford Focus, the cars look as gorgeous as ever. Three stars.