Many videogame franchises suffer from fatigue in the modern industry. The new edition offered year-in, year-out as if every publisher has taken the EA SPORTS model and applied it to franchises that didn’t really need – or deserve – it, delivering incremental updates and an obvious amount of content that was rushed at the final stages to make that long indomitable release date. One might look at Forza Horizon and think much the same of Turn10 Studios – indeed, the Electronic Theatre team were none-too-plused about returning to the driving seat despite loving every previous title in the series – however, after just a few minutes of hands-on time with the videogame, it’s easy to see that this isn’t just another edition in the series; Forza Horizon is a very different beast altogether.
Forza Horizon doesn’t have a numerical value as, in near every respect, it’s a step aside from the traditional Forza experience. Turn10 Studios discussed the situation with Electronic Theatre prior to offering the chance to get behind the wheel, declaring that they were aiming to break down the boundaries between arcade and simulation control templates. While Electronic Theatre would argue that this isn’t the impression players will receive from the final product, it is nonetheless emblematic of the effort that has been involved in giving Forza Horizon a facelift.
Forza Horizon is so named as the entire videogame is based around the fictional Horizon festival that takes place in remodelled vision of Colorado. Unlike the traditional Forza Motorsport presentation, Forza Horizon features a storyline tied to this location, featuring rivalries, loose cannons and love interests as would be expected. Borrowing from the common Need for Speed template in this respect, the plot may be enough to hold the attention of more casual racing fans for longer than a traditional Forza videogame might, but Electronic Theatre does worry about just how corny the story might get. Even within the opening few races we’d met the lovely lady, the friendly old timer, the showboater and the hard-headed champion; not exactly a recipe for an intelligently delivered commentary on the life of high society racing fanatics.
Thankfully the rest of the videogame is built on more solid ground. The festival atmosphere evident throughout much of the opening chapter is reminiscent of Colin McRae: DiRT 2’s carnival presentation but taken much further; it’s not just an elaborate menu, it’s a theme that runs throughout Forza Horizon’s action-racing based design. The hallmarks of Codemasters’ genre defining series are present elsewhere in the videogame too, with Forza Horizon throwing the player into mixed surface races, offering bonus XP for drifts and constructive collisions mid-race, and wristband collecting all with that familiar DiRT vibe. Indeed, Turn10 Studios’ desire to set Forza Horizon somewhere between arcade and simulation has seen them deliver a slightly stricter version of DiRT’s famously generous handling: high-speed handbrake turns all still the order of the day, but every car feels different as they go in and pull out of that skid, meaning that the player has to learn how to react to each one differently.
Forza Horizon does of course have some ideas of its own and not just those hidden extras on the open world map. Pushing that action-racing envelope even further are the Showcase events. Available periodically throughout the videogame (unlocked when reaching preset amounts of reputation and experience points) Showcase events gift free cars to those who win, and so obviously their challenges are a little different. In the Showcase on show, a one-on-one race with a plane was the objective, and while the Showcase wasn’t particularly demanding in either of Electronic Theatre’s attempts at the event, it was the very first offered by the videogame. Later challenges will hopefully be less lenient.
The visual quality of Forza Horizon is impressive, pushing beyond the crisp, clean visuals of Forza Motorsport 4 for a grittier, arguably more realistic look. More impressive than the variety of vehicles and the huge map however, is the combination of visual and aural design. Never has a racing title previously married the two so perfectly, with the opening moments of the experience seeing the player thrown into a race to the festival with Dizzee Rascal playing in the background, and the Showcase race against the plane demanding that the player add to the pressure with the rough stained up tempo indie of The Hives. The videogame will reportedly feature sixty six licensed tracks across its three radio stations, but Electronic Theatre is keener to see this marriage of visual, audio and adrenaline based gameplay taken even further.
For fans of racing videogames in the widest possible sense, Forza Horizon will be a familiar gameplay experience. For anyone outside of Turn10 Studios however, it won’t be a familiar Forza Horizon experience. This is a brand new Forza, designed with a brand new attitude and for a brand new audience. Those who have stuck with Forza Motorsport throughout the years will still find plenty to get excited about in Forza Horizon but in a very different way, instead it’s the chance to bring newcomers into the fold that has lead to Forza escaping it’s simulation roots, if only for one instalment.