When you think of Forza Motorsport, you think of a serious racing simulation packed with fast cars and a list of tracks. The last thing that would come to mind would be a more casual, open-world racer with a light story. Yet that's exactly what you get with Forza Horizon, a new racing title being co-developed by series helmers Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games, a new studio made up of some ex-Codemasters guys. We got to play the demo at a Comic-Con press event and came away both surprised and relieved with the new direction of the spin-off.
The demo immediately established the vibe. There's a festival bearing the game's name in the state of Colorado, complete with a radio station blaring music and festival information. In this section of the demo, the DJ had announced that open qualifiers had started and that players have the next 14 hours to arrive and participate. As everyone scrambles to get there, you hop into your Dodge Viper in a race to be the first to reach the destination.
The core tenets of the racing series are still there. The cars that surround you are all high-class machines. The sense of speed is there, and so is the use of car damage, which doesn't seem too different from previous incarnations. The various racing assists are also there, from brake assists to the racing line; bonuses are still given out if you turn off some of these options. The handling is what you'd expect, and overall, it feels like Forza Motorsport 4, fun factor and all.
There are a few differences that longtime players will immediately recognize. Bonus credits are given out for things like drifting, drafting and clean takeovers. Aside from the other racers, civilian cars now litter the road, though the cars are real models, like the Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Beetle, instead of generic autos. The environments are also much wilder than before. While there's still plenty of asphalt to race on, you can get on the dirt without too much slowdown, and road signs are destructible.
The race featured in the demo was also on a more straightforward track instead of a lapped one, and while previous entries also had these types of tracks, expect more to show up here based on the premise of the game alone. The changes weren't too drastic, though. Forza Horizon still retains the feel of the series, but these additions liven up things a bit and tweak it to attract gamers who are scared off by the series' hardcore nature. Longtime fans will feel right at home while newcomers will feel welcome since there's no punishment for not knowing how to properly control the vehicles.
The presentation remains solid. The graphics on the car models, both on racers and civilian cars, look just as good as they did on previous series entries, and the wilder terrain provides an opportunity to show off some impressive environmental destruction and some great particle effects in the form of smoke and dust clouds. The typical sound effects, like engine revs and scraping metal sound, just as crisp as before but the presence of a soundtrack and DJ hearkens back to the days of the original Project Gotham Racing, giving the races a more impromptu and organic feel. The only track available in the demo was a dubstep one, but we were told that the tracks on the radio would cover a wide variety of genres.
According to one of the producers, Forza Horizon is going to be more open world than before. You won't go from one race to another via a menu system. Instead, you'll actually have to drive to certain locations to get the races started. You'll also experience a complete day/night system when you're driving, a first for the series. It was a shame that all of this could only be translated into trailer footage instead of being able to experience it firsthand.
There were a few other tidbits of information that will please series fans. Like previous games, the developers plan to throw in some extra credits if you have a save file from a previous Forza game. Decals are also going to be compatible, so everyone who spent lots of time making decals won't have to re-create them. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a plan for letting you access those old decals directly, so those who want that instant decal collection when they pick up this game need to start downloading them now.
Forza Horizon is scheduled to hit stores in the last week of October. The racing in the demo left us confident that everything is headed in the right direction, but we'll have to wait to see how well the open-world aspects integrate with the game.
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