Most of the time, Microsoft usually plays it deadly serious with its Forza series, presenting every single aspect of racing that you can find and applying it to near perfection as you race across the globe in a number of exotic vehicles.  But someone in the office was probably going, "Hey, guys, shouldn't we remember to have a little fun?"  I mean, I'm not saying the Forza Motorsport games aren't fun, because they are…but why so serious?

Turn 10 Studios, the long-time Forza developer, has teamed up with UK-based Playground Games, a team that includes a few members of the closed Bizarre Creations (the team behind Blur and Project Gotham Racing) to create a frivolous new racing experience with Forza Horizon.  It has all the racing aspects you'd expect from a Forza racing game, but by the same token, throws in a festive new atmosphere that makes it stand apart.  Imagine if Gran Turismo slammed head-on into the DiRT franchise.  It's something along those lines.

Microsoft recently released a playable demo for the upcoming game on Xbox Live Marketplace, and we've given it a fair enough run-through to give you an idea of what it's all about.  Granted, that shouldn't stop you from trying the demo out for yourself – especially since it's free.

The forefront of the game takes place in Colorado, at a fictional Horizon Festival.  Here, racers from all over the world gather to challenge the best of the best, while fans take in the atmosphere, enjoy carnival rides and concerts.  But really, the racing is the main attraction here, as you're a driver trying to earn his or her stripes on the open road.  216 of them, in fact.  Yep, Forza Horizon covers a lot of terrain.  For the demo, we only got to drive on a fraction of it, but oh, what fun we've had.

You're guided by a female chum over the radio, who tells you what events are happening on a map (where you can mark objectives and then high-tail it using a GPS system) and also what challenges open up for your specific car, should you show off enough on the open road.  The open world driving system is remarkable, really giving you the means to run around anywhere you wish on these roads (well, not in the demo, but in the final game) and even challenging your buddies online, should they be coasting around in their cruiser.

As for the events themselves, they usually consist of straight up objective racers, with markers to show where you're going next and a multi-colored line that you'll need to follow as you go along.  Green means that you should go full speed ahead, while red indicates that you should brake, lest you become part of the rail that lies just around the corner.  So most of the Forza ingredients are here, but, again, set in a fun new area where you can cut loose and burn rubber with your friends.

There are a couple of events that stand out.  One challenges you to race against a plane as they loop through the same gates as you, though you have an advantage of cornering better than them – even as they catch up on the straight runs.  This is a thrilling race, and during some points, the plane even flies right into the screen, which is a neat little visual effect.  (Shame the game isn't in 3D.)

There are also Rival races, where you can challenge your friends in the best times possible, as well as car vs. car events, where you can add to your garage.  The demo allows us to add a 2013 SRT Viper to our collection (even though it's bright yellow – you can change the color in the final game), as well as a classic Mustang, perfect for those open-road runs.

The visuals in Forza Horizon don't run as buttery smooth as the 60-frames per second Motorsport games, but they look fabulous, and the carnival-style setting for each race really brings out the color and details like few racers can.  The car models are fantastic as well, based on what we've seen so far.  And while they do take damage, they still remain a pretty sight.  The heads-up display is quite useful too, especially when you need to get back on track during a race, or just want to see what's next on a map.

Oh, and the online connectivity is great.  You can try it out in the demo, and look forward to more events and challenges in the final release.  Nothing beats hopping online and showing your Xbox Live buds a thing or two.

Forza Horizon definitely packs a great demo while it lasts, so check it out and get ready to hit the road with the full game October 23rd!