E3 2012: Forza Horizon Hands-On Preview – The Festival of Life
Written Saturday, June 23, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Who says E3 doesn’t bring people together? If it wasn’t for a chance meeting between Turn 10 guru, Dan Greenawalt, and Playground Games’ Design Director, Ralph Fulton, at E3 2010, then Forza Horizon wouldn’t exist now. They talked games, racing games, cars and there and then, Forza Horizon was born. A racing game in the Forza franchise, but one with a difference that allows Playground Games to put its own stamp on the franchise.
Forza Horizon is Playground Games’ take on car culture, but they wanted to show where it intersects with youth culture. In comes the Horizon Festival then, which Fulton describes as a “mecca for car lovers; a place that’s part race-meet, part auto-show, part summer music festival; a place where you can take your car and your friends. A place where you can go to compete and just have fun and show-off.”
“That’s exactly what Horizon is all about.”
In establishing that central theme, Playground Games was then able to establish a few things about its game, namely that it had to be open-world, that world had to be massive and more importantly, it had to be environmentally diverse. That sent the team off on a trip to establish a setting for the game and after looking at 30 cities, Colorado was the only city that fit Playground's vision. Not only was there all that to consider, but because of the festival, it needed a festival vibe. It needed to be more than about just racing. It needed to be about fun, showing off and stylish driving.
Your job in Forza Horizon then is to become popular, and in Colorado, Horizon Points equals popularity; so if you’re driving stylishly, you’re going to win popularity points. With 30 different skills and combos to master in the game, there’s a ton of different ways to rise through the ranks of social stardom.
Forza Horizon is, as Fulton describes, an “action-racing” game and “not an arcade racing game.” According to Fulton that means that it needs to have “pick-up and play fun,” is about “driving cars fast” and seeing as it’s a Forza title, it needs to be about “authenticity.” That means that the cars use the Forza graphics and physics models, and they use the Forza handling model too. It’s a game about speed, style and freedom.
The open-world will give Forza a feeling like never before experienced in a Forza game. It boasts 65 different surface types that include farm tracks and dust trails, and goes to the more traditional winding concrete roads around mountains and through canyons; a 24-hour day night cycle with real-time clouds and a dynamic sun; 3 or 4 towns of varying sizes, like a ski-resort in the Rockies, for instance; there’s barns dotted around the environment with classic old cars that you have to find and restore; and traffic… lots and lots of traffic to avoid. There is, however, no weather effects, Fulton said to think of it like an “endless summer.”
In terms of handling, when we finally got our hands-on the pad we were racing in a simple A-to-B along a desert highway. It was a short but sweet hands-on, that’s for sure. First off, it was absolutely stunning as always – we expect no less with the Forza engine though – and secondly, despite Playground Games’ keen assertion to say it doesn’t boast arcade handling, with all the assists on, it handled just like any arcade racer out there. That’s a good thing if you ask us and honestly, we don’t expect that arcade handling when we take all of the assists off, meaning that players of all tastes could enjoy Forza Horizon.
At the end of the day though, it’s a Forza game, so you can expect the livery editor – as well as being able to import vinyl groups from Forza 4; you can enhance your car with visual and performance modifications; there’ll be a marketplace; you can use Kinect’s voice commands to set GPS points and whizz through menus; it has a Rivals mode and an extensive multiplayer; it looks like Forza; it handles like Forza; and it even has believable AI, whether that’s opponent AI or traffic AI. It’s still very much a Forza game at its heart.
Playground Games has also put in its own style of Criterion’s popular Autolog system into the game, so you’re always competing against your friends. And the Horizon developer wouldn’t be called Playground Games if there wasn’t some emphasis on playground games in the game's multiplayer. Good news, folks, there’s a whole mode called Playground Games, which is something that the open-world has afforded the studio the chance to really experiment with.
Had it not been for Need For Speed: Most Wanted’s appearance at E3 this year, Forza Horizon would have almost definitely taken home the award for Best Racing Game. Alas, that wasn’t the case though, and Forza Horizon had to settle for second best. That’s not to say that Horizons isn’t shaping up to be a hell of an experience – it is – we're just saying that it couldn’t match the sheer chaos of Criterion’s racer. With the new angle on the franchise though, the open-world, the freedom of the open-road and the new mechanics Playground Games has introduced, the Forza franchise looks to be in safe hands. It also looks to be appealing to a much wider audience as well, which will delight racing fans. And Microsoft too!
Forza Horizon is scheduled for an October 23rd and October 26th release in North America and Europe respectively.