Forza Horizon: An open-world PGR

It’s natural to approach spin-offs with caution. They’re often made by different developers and don’t get the attention mainline titles receive. They may even be seen as milking of a successful franchise. I wouldn’t blame you if you felt the same about Forza Horizon. But for all the scepticism around them, spin-offs do deserve a look-in, if only to see a different take on a successful formula. With a playable demo of Forza Horizon hitting the Marketplace today, it was my chance to put this open-world action racer under the microscope.

It’s quite a beefy demo, delivering at least a couple of hours worth of entertainment for its 1.5 GB download. Horizon is developed by Playground Games. This is the UK-based developer’s first game, but look at the all-star talent in there and you can see why Turn 10 trusted them with its baby. The studio is comprised of ex-Bizarre, Blackrock, Criterion, Slightly Mad Studios and Codemasters talent – some serious racing stripes. Enter your first race and that pedigree is all too evident.

Let’s tackle the all-important question right now – how arcade is it really? Quite a bit. It lies somewhere in PGR and Grid territory when you turn a few assists off, but with them all on, it’s easily manageable for those coming off games like Need for Speed and Split Second. You won’t be throwing your car around corners recklessly like you would in those games though (even if the damage is only cosmetic). Horizon demands a little more calculation, and it’s all the better for it. It’s far more forgiving than the simulation-based Forza Motorsport series though, even if it does borrow many of the fundamentals from Turn 10’s games.

If you’ve always had a passing interest in the Forza series, but didn’t want to tackle the steep learning curve, this is your in. The same love for cars and attention to detail is seen here. From intricate car models and individual dashboards in cockpit view, to the distinctive engine sounds and subtle variations in handling, it’s all in evidence here, only in a more accessible package.

There are various assists that you can turn on and off as in the other Forza games, but the difference here is that with all assists off, the game isn’t nearly as challenging as a sim would be. The developers have positioned Horizon as an action racer, and the car handling is designed to let you enjoy the action, the spectacle, the Colorado landscape, and the open-world environment.

While the demo closes off most of the game world in the demo, there is a fair amount of the open-world to drive around in. There’s a mix of asphalt roads and dirt trails, but you can’t go off-road anywhere you’d like as in Test Drive Unlimited 2. The demo comprised of three events – two point-to-point races (one offroad and one on) and a Showcase event. Showcases are Horizon’s over the top events. The one here had me in a tail-happy classic Mustang racing through a series of checkpoints. My opponent? A plane. What I lacked in speed, I made up in turning radius. The AI does seem to rubberband quite a bit in all events and more so in these events, but I can see these Showcases being a lot of fun.

The offroad driving isn’t quite on the level of a Dirt, but it sure is a lot of fun. Driving the Lancer Evo X, I found the car easier to control with a few assists turned off, but with the Dodge Viper SRT on asphalt, the assists were more than welcome. The game allows you to change assists at every race start and restart, and rewards you with additional XP for turning them off.

There’s lots more to do in the demo aside from the three events. There are signs all over the place, and each time you drive through one, you earn greater discounts on upgrades. There are speed guns to drive past at high speed. The game will also throw challenges your way from time to time. Once you’ve completed one of the three events, the game will pick a real-world rival for you and task you with beating his/her ghost at that event. In the final game, it will pick your friends’ times.

Forza Horizon features a dynamic day-night cycle and it looks phenomenal. Everything from the lighting and car models to the landscape look fantastic. The game’s soundtrack is comprised of several radio stations, encompassing a variety of soundtracks in tune with the game’s festive atmosphere. The one gripe I did have is that the game comes a little too close to Dirt’s presentation style, especially with the HUD and menus. But hey, if you are going to copy someone, you might as well copy the best.

For those longing for a new PGR game, Forza Horizon looks like it will fit the mould pretty well, albeit with an open-world design and Mototstorm-esque festival setting. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that there would someday be an arcade-y open-world Forza game, but if I had, I’d have hoped that it would be something like this.

Forza Horizon is in stores on 23rd October exclusively for Xbox 360. Price: Rs 2,999 (Standard Edition), Rs 4,599 (Limited Edition)

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