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OXM: Forza Horizon shows its playful side
As pitches go, it was pretty ballsy. When Playground Games convinced Turn 10 impresario Dan Greenawalt to hand over the keys to the Forza license for an open-world spin-off, it was E3 2010. At that point you could count the number of Playground Games employees on the fingers of one hand and still have enough left over to flip the bird at a Gran Turismo fan.
"Credit to them that they didn't just laugh us out of the room," design director Ralph Fulton recalls. "Dan's got a real vision for the franchise. They saw past the fact that we were a handful of guys, and saw what we could achieve. And we've made good on our promises."
Having played it at Playground's now fully-staffed HQ, we're inclined to agree. Forza Horizon proves that the series' trademark sheen can be applied to wide open spaces as well as circuit racing. The game is a combination of the main series' established elements, and hard-won new technology designed to ensure every inch of an expansive map drips with Forza quality. "We took the [Forza Motorsport] tech, or at least large parts of it - there are bits you'd be mad to throw away," Fulton details.
"If you've got Forza physics, you don't need to write your own. That gave us a huge leg up in terms of starting development. But our game demands lots of things that other Forza games don't have to do. They can have a stunning view of the alps and that's fine because you never have to drive there - in our game you have a stunning view and we need to know that you can drive there and look at it all the way." Assault a mount
Providing those amazing vistas is a sort of greatest hits of the state of Colorado. Playground wanted a realistic location in which to seat the Horizon festival that serves as the game's central hub - somewhere with diverse terrain and a place that boasts some of the best driving roads in the world. With a share of the Rocky Mountain range, vast grassy plains, shifting desert dunes, mesas and evergreen river canyons, the state has more than enough natural beauty to fill a game world.
There's variety in the asphalt you'll be pounding as well, with sweeping mountain passes for drift-fans, arrow-straight interstate for tickling top speeds, and just about everything in between. In deference to Fulton and studio director Gavin Raeburn's experience on the DiRT series, Horizon also marks the first time that Forza is venturing off-road - not just for brief corner-cutting shortcuts, but also specific racing events set on dusty country trails.
Slide behind the steering wheel of the game's hero car, the 2013 SRT Dodge Viper, and the masterful blend of Forza's physics and a handling model that's a whisker more accessible than the previous games becomes apparent. Vipers are renowned for their outrageous, occasionally lethal oversteer, but in Horizon it can be coaxed with a deft throttle finger into glorious, controlled slides, leaving you to concentrate on slicing past the opposition. Getting sideways is all but encouraged by the game's PGR-esque rewards for style and the car feels extremely compliant compared to the more rigid model that Need For Speed games have traditionally favoured. The result, albeit solely based on a car that's supposedly a bit of a handful, is a driving model that's pleasing without ever being patronising.
That increased car control is useful too, because there are some unconventional challenges to negotiate. When the Mustang vs. Mustang challenge is introduced, it's not just two eras of Ford's muscle car going head to head - it's the original 1960s Mustang Boss facing off against a 1940s P-51 Mustang fighter plane.
You're haring down a narrow cliff-side pass as the P-51 wheels around in the sky and buzzes through the checkpoint gates just a few metres from the tarmac. The large sweeping arcs the plane has to make ensure it's a fair fight, and while there is inevitably some rubber-banding going on, a glance at the two competitors picked out on the mini-map proves that it's not completely scripted. There are 14 more of these 'showcase' challenges to be found, and Playground promises that they'll all be substantially different from each other.
Elsewhere, the thrust of the game is the Festival race series, the tournament in which your rookie driver finds himself, and there's a vibrant street racing scene in the surrounding area as well. Fulton is keen to populate Colorado with a variety of things to discover. "We've chucked lots of stuff into the world, so if you go out and explore you're going to find it," he elaborates. "There are some significant rewards for the guy who goes out and says 'what's in that bar?'" What Playground is promising is a game that takes advantage of traditional Forza visuals and physics but offers a fresh, more playful format in which to enjoy them. What's more, with elements like off-road racing, a real-time day and night cycle, and spectacular showcase challenges, it feels like it's genuinely adding to the technical chops of the Forza series as a whole. Far from a shaky debut for a fledgling studio, this sure-footed reveal means Horizon looks instantly worthy of the Xbox 360's most prestigious racing brand.
Day one purchase for me.
08-08-2012 #5Soldier 95BGuest
The more details we get, the more wet I get. yum
This might be the first Forza I buy. I'm not into racing sims but I enjoy arcade racers. This looks like a cross between the two, more along the lines of the PGR series.
08-08-2012 #9Soldier 95BGuest
08-08-2012 #11Soldier 95BGuest
I know quite a few others that enjoyed PGR4 as well. It just didn't sit with me for some reason over all. I got 770 out of 1000 acheevos, so I gave it a good shot. It was by no means a Haze, but it let me down compared to the previous ones.
I would like another Midtown Madness too.
Deadlight, Sleeping Dogs, Forza Horizon, Assassins Creed 3, Halo 4 and BLOPs 2, my 360 is going to be getting lots of love this year.Gaming on all platforms right now.
This is one of many games I'm pining for.....my wallet is gonna be empty lol
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