Darren Cassey 10 years ago

Forza Horizon: V Festival Meets FoS

Forza Horizon marks a big departure from the super-realism of past titles in the series. Has Playground Games missed a gear or is Horizon as epic as we've come to expect?

Remind me later
Xbox-owning race-game lovers will no doubt be accustomed to Forza Motorsport's real tracks, real cars and near-as-damnit real racing. Grounded in truly anal physics engines and tyre models, it is the game of choice for the discerning racing gamer, but the team behind it decided to take the series in a different direction for Horizon, which left fans of the series a little nervous. I am one of those fans. I was worried that the game would become too much of an arcade-like racer, and reading that 'the e-brake is your friend' did nothing to quell my fears. I had nothing to worry about. This game is so, so good. Playground Games have repeatedly assured fans that the game engines have all been transferred unmolested, just a few tweaks here and there to adapt it to a street racer. Those tweaks do take some getting used to, for example the turn in is a little enthusiastic, but its still very recognisable. The game is built around the Horizon festival, a place where car lovers can go to check out each others motors and enjoy some bangin' music. Its like V Festival meets The Goodwood Festival of Speed. You take the part of a 'mystery driver' who starts out at the bottom and works his way up, earning wristbands that unlock new events. Its not particularly revolutionary but it moves the story along. You even get the standard pixelated pussy turned on by your skills behind the wheel.

The good

There is so much good in this game. Most importantly the driving is fun without going all Need For Speed. You still need to know your racing lines, time your braking appropriately and avoid accidents if you want to be successful, and the handling is perfectly weighted for the game. Within a few minutes you'll have adjusted nicely. There are tons of drifting videos floating about for Forza Motorsport, but doing this took knowledge of setups and a hell of a lot of practice. This is something that has drastically changed in Horizon. Drifting is commonplace, but it is far from simply slamming the handbrake, flooring the throttle and letting the game do the work. Scandinavian flicks and throttle modulation are also key aspects, and sliding for hundreds of yards round a sweeping bend is also not the quickest option, so a happy medium is best employed. There are three radio stations that provide the soundtrack to the game, and they are awesome. There's a good mix of bangin' dubstep, rock 'n' roll and melodious indie. The best way to play this game is with the volume on loud, although unfortunately talking about audio leads me into...

The bad

In real life one of the most evocative aspects of car culture is the sound of your motor. We all know and love those distinguishable bellows, rumbles and wails of our favourite cars. Games never quite seem to capture that. Maybe its just me, but in Horizon they just all sound a bit numb. I was caning a Jag XKR-S at 160mph down a freeway and it sounded like my diesel Passat going 50. If you feel the same, the awesome soundtrack comes with its own frustrations. There's only one SFX slider. This rules the sound of the engine, the world around you and the menu voiceovers. So by turning the engines down I now can't hear what's being said to me before a race. It's generally drivel designed to make you feel like the sexy event organiser is, like, totally into you, but still. Also the radio stations don't stay on between loading screens, which means you might finish a race as a great song starts, then it throws you back into free roam with a different track. And songs appear to be picked for specific races, so if you feel the need to start again, you'll start the same song again. A nice little touch, though, comes in the fact that the song's intro plays as you wait for the green light, with the drop timed as you see 'Go', which adds a little excitement to the start of a race. The final negative is the crashing. It all feels a bit old school, with opposition cars feeling a little 'on rails' at times, and the ocasional little picket fence that can withstand a car crash at 100mph. Only minor frustrations we've seen for years, but its 2012, surely this sort of thing can be eradicated now? And in the hustle bustle world of Horizon's street racing there's a lot of rubbing so, at times, it detracts slightly from the experience. Especially as it feels a step back from Forza 4.

The beautiful

That may have sounded like I'm on a bit of a downer with the game, but honestly I'm not, I can't recommend it enough. With that in mind I'm going to end on the game's most positive feature: the looks. It's more beautiful than Mila Kunis in lacy underwear. The landscape is wide and varied, with winding mountain top passes leading into open fields and desert cliff tops. The day/night cycle is beautifully implemented, with the dusky transition period perhaps my favourite time to drive. The Horizon festival itself is epic. At night, when you're driving towards it, you will be astounded. It might sound like I'm exagerrating, but imagine yourself in the open plains of Colorado, dicing with a group of fellow street racers as your headlights fill the road ahead. Off in the distance there's spotlights and fireworks filling the sky. It's one of the great racing game experiences.

The verdict

If you're a die-hard sim racing fan who mercilessly works to shave that extra tenth off your lap time, this probably isn't for you. That being said, as far as this type of game goes, it would be a great entry point. It has the perfect mix of arcade fun with the drifting and 'showcase' events that include racing a hot air balloon and serious enough racing credentials to keep the fans happy. In short, buy it.