While down in LA last week we got a chance to play Microsoft’s upcoming racer Forza Horizon. I know that in our community there has been some divide as to what this game has to offer and what it will really be. Well after sitting down for more then a few spins on the E3 demo, I am somewhat excited by what the team at Playground Games is whipping up.
One of the biggest things I took home was that this game is not an arcade racer. I got the chance to speak with Operations Director Trevor Williams on more then a few occasions in L.A. When I used the word arcade he politely corrected me and stated that game is “accessible”. What he emphasized was that the game may not have many of the constraints found in the previous Forza games (e.g. closed track, no traffic, etc.), but in the end Horizon is still built on Forza technology, which is simulation based. Each car will handle differently given the Forza heritage.
For those not in the know yet, Forza Horizon’s story is set in Colorado. You, and a lot of other drivers, head on down to participate in the Horizon Festival, a fictional car/music event. Your goal is to race against other drivers and gain popularity to such a level that you become “the king of the hill”, or in this case King of the Horizon Festival. Given the open nature of this game, you can mindlessly drive around the unspecified number of routes that stretch for kilometers at a time or you can enter any one of the numerous race events. We were not told how many kilometers of roadway there is, but we were assured there was a lot.
For the hands on demo at E3 we were locked into one specific track and not allowed to go off the beaten path. I am fairly positive that the race we were involved in is at the start of the game in an effort to allow racers to get a feeling for the new game. It was like an introductory stage so to speak and gave all of us playing at E3 a chance to see what the basic story premise was all about. The car choice was also locked to the 2013 Dodge Viper SRT. This is a car that is making a big comeback later this year, and Turn 10, along with Playground Games, have been highlighting this car since its official unveiling a couple of months ago.
During our time in L.A. we were lucky enough to get treated to a “deep dive” of the game while attending the Microsoft Showcase Event. This was an in-depth look behind closed doors where we were given more of a presentation of what they have been working on. We didn’t get to play the game during this presentation but we got to see that the game will feature racing on different types of surfaces, from pavement to gravel roads. The dev-team is quite proud of the fact that the game’s physics engine does some amazing things when driving on the different surfaces. It was noted by the presenter that the game adjusts the cars physics 100 times a second…..yes, I said per second.
Also new to the world of Forza is the ability to drive at night. This is something that I have been hoping for for quite sometime given that I played games on the PSone that allowed me to race in dark of night with my headlight on. Seeing the bright white light from the virtual SRT Viper’s lights hitting the roadway in front of the car was somewhat of a delight, as it adds a whole new level of racing not previously found in the Forza series. I asked about different weather effects being implemented in the game and I was informed that there would be none. That’s too bad as it looks like I am still waiting for different weather, and given the setting of Colorado for Forza Horizon, it would have been a natural fit.
I enjoyed the control and feel of the game even though we only got to try out the limited track for the E3 demo. The speed was there, and there are your four traditional racing views (bumper, hood, inside car, behind car). I always race from the hood view and found it as comfortable as ever. Given the new open world setting, there is a map in the lower left hand corner that shows you where you can go and what routes you can take. Although our route was locked for the demo, the final retail release will allow you to take different routes during a race. I for one can’t wait to try this type of racing out, as it is new to the Forza universe. Add to this mix the traffic that will be populating the road, and you have a whole new Forza experience.
Forza Horizon allows for 8-player online play, which is down from the 12-players in Forza 4. When I asked about this decrease in numbers I really didn’t get an answer why, but nonetheless it is 4 less, which isn’t always a good thing.
Visually the game is very solid. The framerate seems steady and the locale of Colorado looks to be great to race in. The open roads winding through canyons and open vistas are quite scenic and quite stunning. We were told that the graphics engine allows for rendering of the games scenery 20 kilometers away. This is a long draw distance, and the power of the graphics engine was noticeable when they showed us a track through a canyon section. I did not notice any draw in and the canyon walls, shadowing, and lighting all looked great.
My time with the game was fun, plain and simple, and when playing games isn’t that what we look for? In the end I believe that there will be critics of this next Forza game no matter what, but this game is not meant to be the next true Forza, so people have to get by this fact. It is a new Forza franchise that is meant to be more accessible, even though the game is built on the existing Forza physics model. In the end I think that many people will enjoy this game, and hopefully it will bring many new people to the Forza universe. I for one look forward to seeing the final retail version when it hits store shelves in October of this year.