Forza Horizon's Journey Into the Unknown

How Turn 10 and Playground Games are looking to blend two genres that don't always go well together.

There's a short list of open-world racing games that you can classify truly great, and an even shorter list of those that veer towards realism. It's generally a result of the fact that people enjoy a good driving sim for the exact opposite reason they enjoy a good sandbox. What it comes down to is familiarity: a great racing sim is one that makes it a joy to learn every last nuance of a circuit so that you can speed through it with maximum efficiency, while a great sandbox constantly surprises you with unexpected delights. It's the known versus the unknown.

Dan Greenawalt realizes this. That's why Turn 10's creative director wants us to know that the upcoming Forza Horizon (developed by Playground Games in the UK) isn't simply Forza Motorsport in an open-world setting. "In Forza Motorsport, your motivation is very much about shaving ten-tenths of a second off your time at Nurburgring," says Greenawalt. "In Horizon, your motivation is in pick-up-and-play fun. It's in exploration."

While Horizon's driving model can still get awfully demanding when you disable the various driving assists (it's the same engine as Motorsport, but made a tad more forgiving by default) the focus here is very much on the setting. Horizon's world is one continuous swath of Colorado countryside, complete with sweeping highways, sun-baked deserts, and towering Rockies. The anchor is a fictional automotive festival attracting gearheads from around the world. That story conceit--the Horizon Festival--brings with it some light narrative and a noticeable tonal shift. There are shaky-cam cutscenes. There are neon lights and dance music. There is a man named "Krash."

None of that focus on hyper-stylish festival culture feels very invasive, though. It's a big part of the game, sure, but it's goofy rather than cynical. If anything, it serves as a good springboard to get out on the road and look for a good time.

If looking is what you want to do. Because you can just as easily wander with nowhere to go and find plenty of challenges to take on. Driving up behind another festival-goer and hitting the X button lets you challenge him or her to a point-to-point sprint. Randomly placed speed trap cameras record how fast you're going at a specific location and add it to a leaderboard. You can even discover challenges that simply ask you to find a scenic viewpoint and snap a snazzy photo of your car.

Half the fun, though, is simply driving around looking at the scenery. Imagine an entire world made up of vistas like the Bernese Alps circuit and foliage like Maple Valley Raceway. That's the Colorado of Forza Horizon. There's a full day-night cycle to go along with it, as well. But be warned: driving 130mph at night feels, well, like driving 130mph at night. It's slightly terrifying.

Where Forza Horizon looks most promising is in the way it marries this sense of freewheeling exploration with the more traditional elements of Forza Motorsport. "We don't want cars to be disposable," says Greenawalt. "With a lot of [arcade racers] the car is a weapon. You might start off in a Ford Focus, and the moment a Ford Mustang is available, the Focus is useless. It can't compete. Eventually it leads to a one-way street where the game is ultimately disposable because there's no depth."

In other words, Forza Horizon may not be about developing an intimate relationship with real-world raceways, but it's still very much about developing intimate relationships with your fleet of cars. Once again, you can get in touch with your inner auto mechanic by upgrading various parts of your car to keep it competitive over longer stretches of time, as well as decorate it with vinyl decals that you can then sell on the community storefront. And, yes, you can port over your custom vinyls from Forza 4.

The game will throw some curveballs your way to force you out of your comfort zone, though. With new racing surfaces like dirt and gravel, you'll sometimes find yourself in a rally-oriented event that's more Dirt than Forza. In these situations, you'll need to switch from the Volkswagen Corrado you begin the game with to a more off-road-friendly vehicle like the Subaru WRX or, if you really want to embrace the Colorado setting, a Ford F-150 pickup (SVT Raptor edition).

At other times, you might not even be racing cars, as one event early in your career will have you going head-to-head against an airplane--one that makes it feel like the world is ending when it buzzes over you. Initially, it feels a little odd to take part in this sort of over-the-top race with a driving model that feels more or less like Forza Motorsport (it's perhaps a tad more forgiving, but you can still scale the difficulty level by toggling numerous assists), but in our hands-on time we quickly learned to throw our expectations out the window and embrace the silliness.

And that's kind of Forza Horizon in a nutshell. It's a game that borrows from Forza Motorsport where it makes sense, and then fills in the gaps with its own oddities and eccentricities. Bottom line, though, it feels good. All that business with the festival atmosphere and stylish storytelling won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it doesn't seem like it'll get in the way of what appears to be a very promising spin-off of the Forza franchise. Hopefully that list of great open-world racers will have one more added to it come October.

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Discussion

31 comments
genrichs
genrichs

I don't see silliness in racing against a plane. Top Gear, the leader and better by far programme in TV already did it, not once, but twice. It is a pretty interesting approach. Top Gear challenged a Bugatti Byron with a Eurofighter Typhoon, and it was awesome!

ieatfatpeople
ieatfatpeople

PUMPED for this!! Forza 4 has been my most played game now for about 9 months

naserzayed
naserzayed

hai sorry but i am new is the game coz it is sooooo cool remaind me of the need for speed

sanechupp
sanechupp

Very glad to see Forza make a game like this. Most Wanted 2 needs a small storyline like the first one, it's more reason to play it

DAMSOG
DAMSOG

Got excited about this and wen't and put TDU2 in the xbox for a fun time, took the disc out and smashed it in half.....it's really that bad....c'mon Forza don't let us down!!

Johny_47
Johny_47

Seems really cool except I'd like to customize a car as much as I want like on Need for Speed Most Underground or Wanted, I'd love that and definitely performance upgrades that could keep a regular everyday car going for a very long time if you've got enough money for these upgrades.

 

I'd really like that but I doubt it'll have this level of detail.

brok
brok

Well the day-night cycle already gives it an edge on Driver San Francisco- we'll have to see if Forza's car handling is as engrossing as Driver's.

tgwolf
tgwolf

Well, at least if this formula fails--they can keep trying and start making successful combos using MORE RESPECTABLE GENRES!

poseidion
poseidion

it sounds great, but Turn 10 can't deny they took many ideas from games like Need For Speed and Test Drive Unlimited. Instant races and scene snapshots? Been there, done that. I'm buying anyway :)

SadPSPAddict
SadPSPAddict

I loved DiRT Showdown for what it was - a very arcade based spin off from a great series. This looks like being exactly the same and I can't wait :)

kekejefferis
kekejefferis

I'm really looking forward to this, after putting countless hours into previous Forzas this new take on the formula will be welcome change.

Forza games have become rather stale in their gameplay so I hope this spinoff does well and we can have 2 differing Forza experiences, kinda like what the Dirt games are doing with showdown. Sometimes you need a loud and obnoxious game to break the mold.

Can't wait! :]

itchyflop
itchyflop

forza for us ps3 boys is only a dream !! what a beaut of a game, this is what GT5 should have been. To offer a more arcade feel with whats already been written is a clever and gamingly sound direction. I may have to re invest in my 6 th xbox 360 and turn back to the dark side. :)

bmart970
bmart970

I'm excited. Wish Amazon would put out the collector's edition though.

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

I hope there's some mountain pass racing in there somewhere.

TheodenofRohan
TheodenofRohan

Been a Forza fan since its intial release, Great sim all way up till 4. This nedw direction interests me cant lie there. I had a fun time on TDU while it lasted, yet as the developer stated himself "We don't want cars to be disposable," says Greenawalt. "With a lot of [arcade racers] the car is a weapon. You might start off in a Ford Focus, and the moment a Ford Mustang is available, the Focus is useless. It can't compete. Eventually it leads to a one-way street where the game is ultimately disposable because there's no depth." which is why TDU had a lot of downfall IMO. heres to hoping this game does it right and brings a good new feeling back to racing

SomePlayaDude
SomePlayaDude

Forza + Test Drive Unlimited + a bit of NFS Carbon and the 2006 Most Wanted + Burnout Paradise = This?

 

I'm sticking to Paradise for free roam car driving. Not impressed enough if it's just Forza outside the Bernese Alps and if it's going to be as social as Autolog, but that's my opinion.

mlcarter815
mlcarter815

And someone on the Maxis article was saying that Forza was a sim.....

rbrwebber
rbrwebber

I can't tell you how much I'm not getting this game. NFS is ruined, Gran Turismo comes every 8 years, and now Forza seems to be dieing.

Zulu2065
Zulu2065

lol, TDU 2 was just so awful that it gave me nightmares, really. I doubt Forza will be that awful. And I lol'd at your smashed it in half quote, you could have sold it online :D @DAMSOG 

Gixzr
Gixzr

 @Johny_47  i sooo agree the NFSU options were great - hope it can match it!

Kort1987
Kort1987

 @Johny_47

 Have you even played a Forza game? Car custimization is what its all about. I spend about as much time customizing my cars on Forza as I do actually racing them. No other racing game out there even comes close to the number of ways you can tweak your car collection.

 

Kort1987
Kort1987

 @poseidion Gran Turismo was the king of sim racing games for a really long time. But then Forza came along and stole my heart away. If there is any team I woulda trust to build a winning open world racing game with proper sim elements it would be Turn 10.

 

 

Kort1987
Kort1987

 @SadPSPAddict

I'm liking that they said you can ramp it up to a more realistic sim if you like. One of the things I've always loved about Forza....it can cater to every skill level out there without sacrificing the quality at either end.

 

Soldier46
Soldier46

 @rbrwebber I think people misunderstand something. It's not end of Forza Motorsport, it's still be there for us, but just not this year(which is good, because Forza 4 is just one year old). This is new serie in Forza's world, this is why it's called just Horizon. 

Personally I want to try Horizon, but I'm waiting more for Forza Motorsport 5(maybe next year or on the next Xbox? who knows).

shaunmc
shaunmc moderator staff

 @rbrwebber If this isn't your cup of tea, it's still just a spinoff. Motorsport isn't going anywhere. 

poseidion
poseidion

 @Kort1987 totally agree. I'm crazy about this game and I already reserved the $80 version. But It makes me boil the way they talk about the features of the game, like it was something never before seen.

Kort1987
Kort1987

 @Cillah187  @mlcarter815

 They've said in this article and others that if you turn off the assists you can get back to the hardcore sim of the original Forza games.