Review Price £39.99
First Looks: Forza Horizon
Prepare for some confusion. The latest Forza isn’t Forza Motorsport V. Nor, despite what you might think, is it a purebred arcade racer in the vein of Need for Speed. Instead, Forza Horizon is what Ralph Fulton of developer Playground Games describes as a "broadening" of the Forza franchise. With an open-world structure, open road courses and a festival theme it might sound like Forza does Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but there’s a little more to it than that.
It all comes down to the physics. Beneath Horizon’s more action-oriented style, it still has Forza’s physics engine and handling, and if you want you’re free to turn off all the driving aids and play the game in a full simulation mode. Playground claims that the physics engine is processing all the interactions between wheels and surface at a speed of 360 times per second. Hands-on, you can feel it.
Turns and swerves that you might get away with in an arcade racer will find you veering off the track or threatning to spin. But if this makes Horizon a more challenging game, it also makes it a more satisfying one. It has Forza’s lovable gritty feel, with high-performance cars that feel bursting with power and rival racers who aren’t afraid to harass you on the track.
The game is based around a fictional "Horizon" driving and music festival that, after auditioning a huge range of locations, the team settled on placing in Colorado for its big vistas and dream-drive roads. The bit about views turns out to be important. Forza Horizon has a 20km draw distance, and there’s a mantra that, if you can see it, then you should be able to drive to it. This might entail going off-road, but then the game is equipped to handle it. Over 65 different road surfaces are simulated, from straight tarmac through to dusty farm tracks and rocky mountain trails, making this the first Forza to do off-road racing too.
The aim is to work your way through the festival rankings, not just by winning races but by notching up points and achievements, with specific actions and challenges earning extra credit. If that sounds more like Hot Pursuit or Burnout, then there are similarities, not least because Horizon features traffic, whether we’re talking everyday drivers or your fellow Horizon competitors.
Cars, Music and Online Play
To get the festival feel right, Playground enlisted the help of Radio 1 DJ and Bestival curator, Rob Da Bank, and he’s also been responsible for the soundtrack. With Turn 10’s existing Forza engine at work the cars and tracks look incredible, and the game features a full day-to-night simulation, with the driving getting even tougher after dark.
Details are scant on online play modes at the moment, though we know that the popular Playground multiplayer challenges will make it into Horizon, and that all the content in the single-player game will also be available for online play, Similarly, the car line-up has yet to be revealed. Ford, BMW, Ferrari, Bugatti, Dodge and Aston Martin are certainly represented, and we expect more to be unveiled later on,
With EA and Criterion’s remake of Need for Speed: Most Wanted still to play, we can’t say if this is the racing game of the show, but it’s an exciting new direction for Forza, and one racer we can’t wait to see more of.