Open world driving games where prostitute murder is not an option risk tedium.
Not necessarily due to the lack of such grisly activities to partake in, mind, but because few take place in a sandbox worth placing your toys into in the first place. Turn 10 Studios and new partner Playground Games are looking to avoid such pitfalls in the upcoming Forza Horizon by preserving as much of its winning predecessor’s modes and realism as possible, and by situating the game in the varied environs of Colorado.
The former will certainly be helped by the inclusion of Forza’s 360-updates-a-second physics engine, which has been tweaked so damage is only cosmetic rather than mechanical. This decision was made after the dev team discovered that driving an impaired car across an expansive world to the nearest repair spot proved a somewhat dull affair. Vehicles will all drive very differently and no compromise has been allowed when it came to maintaining Forza’s authentic feel according to the studio, who took great pains to emphasise that this would be an action driving game but in no way arcade-y.
Colorado was chosen for its mountain passes, speedy interstates, and off-road tracks, and views are certainly impressive scale-wise. A new tech known as Uber LOD is being pioneered in Horizons, which allows a draw distance of an impressive 20 in-game miles. A day/night cycle, dynamic cloud and sun system, atmospheric scattering, and an impressive amount of variation in elevation help give the huge world it’s alluring character, with all boundaries in the game being natural ones rather than invisible walls.
The Horizons landscape boasts 65 unique terrain types, and even golf courses aren’t out of bounds. From any angle and regardless of the time of day, in-game Colorado looks fantastic.
However, with such a big world to navigate, there are some problems. A map function is available, but pausing a driving game to map out a route is about as fun as stopping mid-make-out to take a call from a relative. Fortunately, Turn 10 and Playground have added Kinect voice support in the form of a nifty GPS function. This feature looks great – saying “GPS nearest event” or “GPS next race” for example updates the mini-map and other on-screen navigation aids immediately, without requiring the player to do anything with their hands.
The hub of the game is the Horizon Festival, a concert setting where players may race, upgrade and paint their car, or purchase a new vehicles. The gameplay we saw featured a Dodge Viper, and BMWs were also spotted, but a car list announce isn’t due for a month or two. Off-road sections suggest 4x4’s will make an appearance. The developers did tell us that two criteria influenced their car selection: each vehicle must have been one that someone want to show at an event such as Horizon, and each must take advantage of the unique Colorado environments in some way. Ladies and gentlemen, start your speculating.
Outside of the festival there appears plenty to do, with points awarded for stylish driving which in turn accumulates fans, money, and invites to exclusive events such as racing against a plane Top Gear-style. Over 30 moves produce points out on the open road, from drifting and speeding to near misses, jumps, and generally messing with civilian traffic. Others drivers from the Horizon Festival are also out in the wild, and may be identified by a name banner over their car. All have distinct personalities, and races can be set up with them on the fly.
Horizon outposts are also dotted about the landscape, and provide fast travel back to Horizon provided the player has some cash to spare. These outposts also provide missions, and should all missions at a particular outpost be completed, the fee for fast travel from that point is waived.
Asynchronous online play should also keep players happy. Every road has a leaderboard associated with it, so battling with friends can be done indirectly this way, or directly with up to eight players within one game at once. Rivals mode returns, and will be refreshed every month with new challenges. Playground Games also return, and these make far more sense in the open world environment so we’re looking forward to putting some time in there. It’s worth noting that the series’ rewind mechanic is still intact too.
To be honest, without getting behind the wheel ourselves, it’s hard to make an educated call on how Forza Horizon is shaping up. However, from what was on display here at E3, the game seems to promise loads of structured content, but also moments of pure driving pleasure derived from the simplest things: approaching the Rockies as the sun rises, tearing up dirt roads illuminated only by headlights and the stars which wheel overhead, or weaving a supercar between lanes of dullards in stock Corollas.
The only compromise we can see has been made by expanding the Forza experience thus far seems to be a framerate drop from the series’ signature 60 a second down to 30, but despite this, the game looks great, and coming off the back of the best Forza – and arguably best driving game – yet, there is no reason to doubt that Forza Horizon will bring the goods.
Colour us excited.