The Average Gamer

More Hands-On with Forza Horizon

The distinction between ‘simulation’ and ‘arcade’ racers is one that is argued among gamers. Forza has always found itself firmly in the ‘sim’ camp, with drivers taking the fastest cars on the planet to some of the world’s most famous tracks in an attempt to shave another few tenths of a second off of their best lap times.

But do you know what Turn 10’s creative director Dan Greenwalt thinks of this differentiation? “It’s bullshit”. For Dan, Forza is about “turning car lovers into gamers and gamers into car lovers”, and he believes the differentiation between sim and arcade is an excuse for poor design.

Quite apt, as the Forza series has developed over the years to cater not only to everyone’s preferences, but also their ability. With extensive customisation options, players can have as much control as Lewis Hamilton or as little as Pastor Maldonado.

For the first time, the race is on the open road, with Playground Games taking the reins for Forza Horizon. Turn 10 has put the game in good hands; the Playground employee list includes developers from Bizarre Creations (of Project Gotham Racing fame), Codemasters and Black Rock.

Forza Horizon maintains all the beauty and attention to detail that you know and love about the series. The camera sweeps across the bumpers of hundreds fantastic looking cars in a way that is reminiscent of Marks and Spencer’s ‘food porn’ commercials, as dozens of festival attendees clamour to take snaps of your gorgeous ride.

Sitting down with the first hour or so of the game, the first mission is to qualify for the festival. By being one of the first 10 drivers to get to the main area of the Forza festival itself, you will get your festival wristband. This area will later act as your hub to change cars, perform upgrades and so on. From then on, it’s all about reputation. By exploring Colorado and winning races, you’ll quickly become one of the more notable drivers at the festival. Levelling up earns new rides and races, and regular cut-scenes between your voiceless avatar and a love interest event organiser give you the low-down of what’s what in the world of Forza Horizon.

It won’t be long before your garage is filled with a wide variety of four-wheeled delights, and they don’t all have to be 200 miles-per-hour behemoths to have a good time. There are now off-road races, where four-wheel-drive cars are the preferred option. Sliding around corners and bumping opponents off the road is something new for the franchise, and is a welcome addition. The variety of races is something unseen in Forza. The developers taking inspiration from the likes of Top Gear – pitting your Ford Mustang against an aeroplane in a checkpoint race being a case-in-point.

The music of Forza Horizon is great, if limited in variety. You have three stations, one playing the latest bass/dubstep offerings, another for house and rave music, and one dedicated to modern and classic rock. Although these genres are good for getting you in the mood to drive fast, it would have been nice to have another genre or two thrown in. The DJ acts as your guide through Colorado, informing you when a rare car has popped up, hinting for you to go get it, and even playing a track in your honour after you smash your baby to bits.

The influence of EA’s autolog is notable in Forza Horizon, which is brimming with social connectivity. After every race, a score of a faster friend will pop up and give you the opportunity to try the race again and beat their time. There’s also the option to form rivalries with friends whose times are particularly close to yours. I often found myself skipping these options without reading them though, as the proposition of replaying a race to beat a ghost time when I have a world to explore didn’t seem very inviting.

So this leaves Forza Horizon in a rather unique position. I found myself zipping across roads, cutting corners and sliding around corners, but this isn’t how I usually play Forza. Despite my lap times constantly being fed to me as soon as I complete races, along with the times of my nearest and dearest, I don’t have much motivation to go back and improve on them or beat my friends, mainly because I don’t know how. It’s hard to interpret how you can improve your lap times barring a glaring error or crash. In classic Forza, you know immediately when you’ve lost a tenth of a second by missing the apex of a turn; not so much with Forza Horizon.

Turn off all driving assists and take the time to learn the roads of Colorado, sure. Can it become an arcade racer filled with over-the-top crashes and frantic races? Of course, but it’s not entirely one or the other.

This isn’t to say the game’s not fun. After completing a few races in Forza Horizon, I realised that I had been playing for over an hour. The time had flown by and I was having a great time. Driving still feels great, the events are nice and varied, and the world looks stunning.

There are two big questions that Forza Horizon faces when it launches; the first is how hardcore Forza fans will take to this new experience? And the other is the big elephant in the room: can Forza stand up to EA’s much-hyped Need For Speed: Most Wanted?

Read more about Forza Horizon here on The Average Gamer.

Forza Horizon will published by Microsoft and released on 26th October for Xbox 360.