Forza Horizon Offers an Open Road to Action, Music and the Fast Life

Illustration for article titled emForza Horizon/em Offers an Open Road to Action, Music and the Fast Life

Total simulation racers are not something I've played much at all. I've got nothing against them, but I tend to drive like a maniac and a lot of the detailing and physics are like pearls before swine with a guy like me. Reflecting on my preferences makes the existence of a spinoff title like Forza Horizon apparent.


Playground Games, the title's developer, is careful to say this is not "arcade racing," it is "action racing," every chance they get, I can't speak to whether it really is a hardcore Forza Motorsport fan's cup of tea. It seems to appeal to my colleague Jason Torchinsky at Jalopnik, and I'll defer to his car knowledge. You should read his appraisal, and consider mine below more of a companion to it from a more casually interested perspective.


As a guy who really enjoyed the festival atmosphere of something that was arcade racing—MotorStorm—I appreciate the context that the Horizon Festival serves in this game and could see myself sinking some time into a very long weekend or two there.

Conceptually, the Horizon Festival melds what Playground wanted to do with the title—highlight car culture and a youth lifestyle, give you a lot of great courses to drive and a lot of fresh music to listen to as you do so. The open-world aspect introduces off-road to a Forza title, too, and civilian traffic supplies an additional hazard in your racing.

I ran through a demonstration level on the floor—it appeared to be the first mission, in which you were expected to finish among the top 10 racers to earn a wristband getting you into the Horizon Festival. Wristbands are a kind of social currency at these outdoor gatherings, explained Ralph Fulton, the game's design director, and he was indeed wearing a lot of them. In Forza Horizon, they'll chart your progress as you progress through the game's ranking system.

In the demo, I was given experience points for normal racing tasks like burnouts, drafting, drifting, passing, and then also close calls with civilian traffic. Busting down fences or stop signs also accrues experience points, which seems kind of incongruous with a culture devoted to great looking cars, but who knows. I was running very well in my 2013 SRT Viper, slipping out of a draft, overtaking a competitor, drifting without leaving the pavement, feeling very confident. Then I clipped a stop sign, overcorrected, and plowed headfirst into a Prius. It didn't completely disable me or kill the other driver, of course. This is a arc— an action racer.


The goal will be to become the No. 1 racer at the festival, a reputational achievement reflecting not only victory in races but performances within them. You can expect this to have a large effect on leaderboards both within your friends list and at large. The Festival is a hub serving as the game's showroom and garage, where you can tune your car or acquire new ones. Out on the roads, encountering other festival goers gives you the opportunity to challenge them on-the-fly. If you're unsure of where to head in the vast Colorado landscape for your next race, Kinect voice support will allow you to ask it a question—your next race, next event, or the location of the Horizon Festival, and the most direct route will appear on your road and the minimap.

The presentation and the physics will be up to the expectations of the Forza fan, Fulton assured us. The fleet will be a different lineup. Whereas Forza Motorsport would supply an extremely diverse roster of cars, allowing you to race anything from the ordinary to the exotic, the fleet here will be governed by two standards. Cars will have to be showpieces, for starters. Then, they should have useful capabilities in varied competition—thinking off-road here. So vehicles that offer a "diverse driving experience," such as the Audi Quattro or Mitsubishi Evolution will be desirable, Fulton said.


The lineup isn't yet set because all of the licensing hasn't been worked out, Fulton said. But when the game arrives, those who have Forza 3 or Forza 4 gamesaves will be rewarded with additional automobiles at launch, depending on how deep they advanced in either game.

Arcade racer, action racer, whatever label suits you, Forza Horizon looks like a reasonable inducement for someone like me, at the periphery of the core racing experience, to give a Forza title a try. Clearly Microsoft is trying to grow that population with this kind of entry product. I'll admit to being curious enough to want to give it a closer look when the game releases Oct. 23.

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This is in response to a discussion with another user earlier this week about Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 4. Yeah, I know, blah blah it's an old argument, but… Gosh, GT5 is such a great game and I'm sick of hearing the argument: "which is better?" And things like "Forza blows GT5 out of the water." They're different. I'm not calling Forza Mario Kart. But on a scale of racing-to-sim, Mario Kart being a 1 and GT5 a 10, games like GTA and Burnout are a 2, and Forza is a 9. But putting them on a scale completely misses the point.

I never said Forza's not a great game. Just serves a different purpose than GT. Let's give credit where due. Forza's PROs: meatier engine sounds, arguably better graphics (not necessarily modeling, and parts of tracks look bland and flat), more real-world tracks, Autovista = holy awesome. Definitely better UI in Forza. Top Gear stuff. I'm sure there are others.

But first of all, damage? Really? Of course the damage is not a big feature of GT! You're not supposed to crash and go "woah dude did you see that?" and then gawk at how crazily tortured your car is. GT does factor damage into car's performance, greatly. Crash a car, you won't finish the race. Like real life. Which brings me to my next point.

Rewind feature!? Are you kidding me? It's cool for casual gameplay, but nothing about this says "simulation," "mastery," "real life." Have you ever played a retro game via emulator? It's a great way to relive all those great old games. But with the ability to freeze state every second, winning the game is not nearly the feat it was back in the 80s. Who were the better gamers?

Quoted review: "Forza is what you play with your friends when hanging out. GT5 is what you attempt to master in solitude—and it’s what makes you end up throwing the controller across the room, because it’s more difficult than it looks." GT has a steeper learning curve.

Forza has a bowling mode... Are you starting to see my point?

There's a great reason GT5 took so long to get out—and then longer—and all GT fans agree they're glad. A large part of the years spent making this game was accurately modeling the physics, both general, and for each individual car. Weight distribution, torque, etc. Each of the 1000+ cars feels so different!

Same track, same car, easier in Forza. Everyone says this. People say that warmed soft tires in GT5 feel like regular tires in Forza. You say you felt like you were driving a metal sled in GT? You're proving my point all over the place! Cars are harder to drive in GT because it's not arcade-style. It's less video game and all sim. Also, you may have had traction control on. Turn it off. It's a whole different game. The TC is there for beginners and makes cars undrivable for experienced players. At the same time, no TC is extremely hard for beginners and makes the game the perfect sim it is for experienced drivers.

It's no wonder that the nature of the game inspired the creators to start up the GT Academy, and still feel safe about it. Imagine any other game picking the world's best players and putting them in a real situation. If Forza creators did that, we'd have a lot of people understeering off the track saying "this car drives like crap compared to the game." Well, yeah.

GT has been called "the best driving game and the worst racing game ever." I agree. There are elements about game mechanics like starting most races in 12th place, or bad A.I. that make the game really frustrating at times. There is a connotation to "racing game" that is completely absent from GT. But in a good way. It is a driving simulator—the best out there. Professional drivers feel the same way about the game.