Forza Horizon marks the franchise's first foray into an open-world setting. It's hinged on a fictional racing festival in Colorado, where anyone can show up with their ride and chase the kind of immortality known only to Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. Playground Games, a new outfit composed of former Bizarre Creations and Codemasters folks, is developing the game under supervision of longtime Forza custodian Turn 10 Studios.

Turn 10's Dan Greenawalt equates Forza Horizon to Coachella or Bonnaroo, a grassroots festival celebrating the culture and style of its particular scene. The Horizon festival provides the vehicle (sorry!) for gameplay, a smattering of different race types and challenges wrapped in a diverse campaign. Despite its new structure, Forza Horizon feels familiar right from the get-go. The varying terrain affects performance, but cars handle just as they do in other Forza games. Forza Horizon straddles the line between simulation and arcade racing really well.

In many ways, Forza Horizon feels like a traditional Forza game without the heavy emphasis on traditional motorsport – laps on concrete courses designed to test your mettle. Instead, it opts to challenge you with more organic locales in the sticks of Colorado, such as mountain passes and gravel roads.

I sampled a few events, most of which were racing game staples, with the odd exception – including a race against a Mustang plane ... in a Ford Mustang. Forza Horizon's events take a cue from Forza Motorsport 4 too, in that each of Horizon's challenges serves up the same functionality as Forza 4's Rivals mode. When someone on your friends list beats your time or does better in a particular event, the game will let you know.

With the solid Forza mechanics as a foundation, and a large map with different terrains and shortcuts to explore, Forza Horizon scratches an itch I've had since I said goodbye to Paradise City.

I was only able to make a small dent in the campaign, and I couldn't explore the entire chunk of Colorado that serves as Forza Horizon's playground in my hour with the game. Still, my brief session suggested a compromise between simulation driving and arcade-style events, one that both hardcore racing fans and Sunday drivers should appreciate.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.