Forza Horizon has until now existed only in the form of a very cryptic live-action trailer. All we really knew was it involved the Chemical Brothers, there was a road and cars were going to be driving down it.
This is all about to change: read on and you will find all the juicy details of what has to be the most ambitious game the Forza franchise has ever put its name to. Forget what you knew of Forza before, this time it’s different and boy, does different feel good.
The Chemical Brothers connection was a bit more than a hint - it was giving away the whole idea behind the game. The live-action trailer showed the CBs playing at a festival - turns out this festival is real, or at least in a video game sense.
Driving all the action behind Forza Horizon is a fictional festival in Colorado for car lovers. Somewhat conveniently, this festival is set right in the middle of the world’s best driving roads, based entirely on the varied landscape found in Colorado. The festival acts as a hub for your character to change his cars, tune and tweak them and engage in all sorts of other car-related shenanigans that we are sure will become clear once we know more on the single-player story.
This festival has been designed in part by none other than Rob Da Bank, Radio One DJ and Bestival Curator. This means it has all the trimmings of a real-life festival, right down to the toilets and the type of tents used. The whole site from what we saw has a proper living, breathing feel to it and from the look of it, is massive.
The open road
So here is what makes Forza Horizon so ambitious: it’s an open world game, taking the absolute cutting-edge handling and graphics engine from Forza 4 and then opening it up to a Grand Theft Auto sized environment. This is a game about pure driving, with world’s best supercars pitted against each other on dream roads.
Bringing the Forza engine over means Playground Games, Forza Horizon’s developer, has one of the best lighting engines available. The game has a 24-hour dynamic lighting cycle which, coupled with the open world environment, ensures you get some awesome vistas to enjoy while driving.
Having the open road to play with does mean you might end up driving off it. This means off-road vehicles, creating another first for a game in the Forza series - both on and off-road racing. The varied environment of Colorado helps, because it features everything from arid desert to mountain tops, ensuring there is lots to drive around and plenty to see while you are doing it.
At its core Forza is all about racing. In Forza Horizon you can forget about those early stages, driving a Fiat Punto around the track over and over again. Instead the game wants you to enjoy the best driving experiences in your dream car - after all, it is based around a festival for car lovers.
We had an incredibly brief play of Forza Horizon and even that was enough to have us hooked. Driving a Dodge Viper on a two-minute dash back to the festival across Colorado farm lands, we immediately saw what Playground Games was aiming at. It isn’t easy, because the physics engine is still pretty realistic, but tearing across fields and smashing into oncoming traffic felt good.
Think of Horizon a bit like a combination of Need for Speed with Test Drive Unlimited, then add an extra level of polish and top-notch gameplay. You are awarded xp points for various driving actions such as overtaking and drifting. These can be used to increase your popularity ranking and gain access to different events. On top of that you will get the odd special event, which will turn what you expect from a driving game on its head.
We didn’t get to play it, but we did get to watch a Mustang vs Mustang special event which had the classic car taking on the classic Second World War fighter in a head-to-head race. None of it was scripted either, as the aircraft would put in different times every attempt. It looked fantastic with the Mustang tearing across the top of screen trailing smoke over the Colorado mountains.
There is going to be a competitive multiplayer element to Forza Horizon but Playground Games hasn't announced anything on it yet. Nor has it announced much else about the core gameplay experience. We assure you all the Forza goodness is there, but this time round it has gone Spinal Tap and turned everything up to 11.
Forza 4 had plenty of cool Kinect functionality like Autovista thrown in on top of the core gameplay experience. All of that has gone for Horizon, as has the ability to steer the car using just your hands.
Instead Kinect is used differently this time round. In what has to be one of the coolest implementations of voice recognition ever, you can just shout out locations and Kinect will then plot them out on your in-car GPS. So say you want to go to the festival, just say it and then green arrows will appear on the road directing you the right way. Very simple but very useful indeed. For non-Kinect users the GPS will be accessible from the pause menu.
When is it out?
Forza Horizon is set to ship to racing fans on 26 October. The build we saw looked damn near finish so we doubt this release date will slip and we can’t wait. Turn 10 and Playground Games showed us plenty, yet we imagine this is barely scratching the surface of what Forza Horizon has to offer. Either way, it’s a big change for a series that is traditionally all about road racing.
So many questions remain. What about a cars list? Dynamic weather? Multiplayer? We guess these are all going to be answered the closer we get to October.
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