Forza Horizon Preview from E3 2012 -- Cruising Through ColoradoBy Jonathan Deesing - Posted Jun 07, 2012
Probably my main gripe with most racing games is the inevitable lack of replay value. Once you’ve unlocked every car and every track, there’s nothing new. Every turn is the same, every fellow racer can be expected to do the same thing; on a long enough timeline, it almost becomes mathematically boring. Fortunately, the newest Forza title, Forza Horizon looks to change all of that—with gusto.
Horizon is Playground Games’ debut title and emerges from a close conjunction with original Forza developer Turn 10 Studios. A concept that originally took me about a day to wrap my head around, the game takes place as a festival, something design director Ralph Fulton describes as “part race meet, part auto show, part summer music festival.”
The best way I can think to describe it is an idyllic summer music festival in scenic Colorado, except you get to drive exotic race cars all over the surrounding region…and it never ends. During this time, you can choose to compete in races, challenges, etc., or simply tear around the beautiful countryside (and I do mean “tear.” Feel free to crash through that picket fence and just cruise around a field if you feel like it). For the massive open world, Fulton explained, “it had to be vast, it had to be environmentally diverse, and it had to be visually stunning.”
After some research, it turned out the location Playground Games was looking for was Colorado. Research consisted of over 60,000 photographs of the area and hundreds of hours of video; most of which plays constantly on the walls of the studio during development. In my initial hands-off demo of the game, I was able to see a variety of terrains including red rock, foothills and the distinctive Rocky Mountains. In true Forza fashion, all of these feature their own unique surfaces both on the road and off—at last count the game has 65 different surface types. Dynamic lighting changes shadows up to the minute with a day/night function.
As any fan of Forza would expect, the gameplay is just as tight and fantastic as any previous title. In my hands-on demo of the game I found the controls to be intuitive and terrain changes subtle but noticeable enough to lend realism to the driving. While this quality of driving is greatly appreciated in a race, it’s even more delightful when simply out for an afternoon drive…up a canyon in Colorado…in a Dodge Viper…at 110 mph.
Forza Horizon is less of a racing game and more of an experience. Though Fulton insists on calling it an “action-racing game,” with the incorporation of great tunes (headed up by London DJ Rob da Bank, who actually does organize summer music festivals in the UK) and spectacular visuals, the game will likely not feel like something that needs to be beaten, but simply something that needs to be played.
The end goal, becoming the most popular racer at the festival, is achieved through winning races and just being generally awesome. This is determined both by civilian drivers scattered around the roads and fellow racers who may just be out for a drive, but up for an ad hoc race when you see them. These races will line your pockets and earn you respect within the festival.
When I asked Fulton what games the team looked to for inspiration, he explained that they “looked beyond the racing genre” to games such as Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption. Perhaps this is why I doubt I’ll spend too much time obsessing over beating the game and instead simply enjoy exploring the game world. Fulton mentioned toward the end of our interview his emphasis on “freedom of the open road,” an interesting sentiment for a man designing a racing game. But perhaps it’s why I have never been so excited for a racing game.