Forza is set to see a dramatic shift in focus for its next instalment later this year thanks to newcomers Playground Games who have developed a title unlike anything seen from the series in the past. First and perhaps most notably is its open-world approach set in the American state of Colorado where you find yourself competing for most popular racer at the “Horizon Festival”. The game’s venture into an open world style is no half-hearted affair either with the drivable area being made of a whopping 206 roads totalling hundreds of mile. Of these roads you can expect to see plenty of varying terrain (65 different surface types in fact) so no more will you be slowed to a standstill for accidently travelling on grass or dirt.
Horizon’s driving physics feel incredibly similar to Forza Motorsport 4 though also somewhat easier to get into. I was never amazing at number four, but even after one quick playthrough of Horizon I was drifting and taking corners in a fairly effective manner managing to claim first place. While yes this is a racing game so pole position will be your aim, it’s also about much more. Design director at Playground Games, Ralph Fulton explains, “It’s not just about winning but also having fun, showing off and doing all kinds of amazing things in cars. The system tracks how stylishly you play – weaving in and out of traffic, drifting and so on. Points mean popularity. One of your goals is to become the most popular driver at the festival. But it’s also about the freedom of the open road; the chance to drive along some of the greatest roads in the world: high speed interstate highways, off-road dirt tracks and winding mountain climbs.”
I noticed a number of cars including Aston Martins and Ferraris in the demo although sadly no official list or number of vehicles were confirmed. Judging by previous entries however I’m sure we can expect a high number. What was promised however, was the ability to switch the sun off at the press of a button. You heard right, Horizon will actually feature night and day cycles. While I didn’t get to see any night time segments, judging by screens it’s definitely something to get excited about.
Whereas before races were selected via a simple menu, in Horizon you’ll be able to roam anywhere on the open road, dynamically challenging AI racers to competitions. Sure you’ll have the standard races and so on, but more obscure ideas like speed challenge which tasks you with earning a higher average speed than your opponent for a short stretch of road add variety. Its little twists on standard race types that should keep repetition setting in that some more realistic racers suffer.
One idea that may give you reason to dust off the old Kinect is the new GPS feature. “One of the things we quickly found was that players became lost easily. The world is so large that players would forget where they were, or where they were supposed to be going. We solved this with Kinect. A GPS system is always on in the game, controlled with voice. If I say: ‘GPS festival auto-show’ a green line guides me to where I want to go. I can even say things like: ‘Where’s my next race’ and the game will point me in the right direction.” Fulton explains. While a small addition, it seems like a genuinely helpful one that should prevent you wasting time searching on maps and so on.
Visually Forza Horizon is extremely impressive with car models looking nice and detailed. However it’s the actual environment that steals the show delivering some stunning canyons and deserts. With more locations and night promised, expect plenty more breathtaking views.
Plenty of online modes are promised along with the same amount of customization you’ve come to expect from the series. Owners of previous titles will also be pleased to know you creations and profiles will be able to be imported into Horizon.
Forza Horizon may be seen as a spin-off for the series, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. While one through four focused on professional races conducted on closed circuit tracks, it seems Horizon is all about the fun and looking good. I have to admit that after four I was growing a little tired of the series’ formula so seeing the new direction Horizon is headed has grabbed my interest.