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[PAX] Forza Horizon Hands-On Impressions

Forza has been Microsoft’s answer to Gran Turismo for years. The development team makes sure that they focus on making the game feel as realistic as possible with hundreds of cars and even more customization options. This winning formula has led to over 10 million copies sold since the release of the first Forza for the original Xbox. Four of us got a chance to play through a section of Forza Horizon over the weekend and there were some interesting new changes.


Hit the jump for some of the new features and how they felt to play around with.

The biggest change is the inclusion of an actual story. The Forza series has always been more of a racing simulator than a racing game. Horizon aims to change all that with a plot that has you racing around an open world, trying to drive to a fictitious festival called the “Horizon Festival”, set in Colorado. This takes the game out of the familiar tracks and closed circuits and places you on realistic streets and locations. This makes it seem like the development team wants to try to expand their fanbase to make it more accessible to the less car-obsessed among us. There was a spot in particular that reminded me of Need for Speed: The Run, where an announcer over the radio said that the first 10 people to reach a certain location would be entered into a big race for cash. This turned driving through an open world into a race. Hopefully the final game continues this menu-less way of starting races.

The other change I noticed tied directly into their effort to make Horizon more accessible to non-gearheads. Previous games were almost unforgiving in how precise you had to be with your speed around turns to prevent spinning out or slamming into the walls. Horizon is much more lenient with this. While you still have to be aware of how fast you’re going before trying to burn through a turn, you can go faster than ever before. There’s an arcadey feel to the controls that help take this game more towards the mainstream. In Forza 4, you had to plan your every move carefully to avoid losing precious seconds. In the Horizon demo, there was a solid 10 or 15 seconds where I was uncontrollably drifting through turns without ever feeling panicked.

I’ve always been a fan of racing games, but I felt a little more intimidated with how serious and meticulous each Forza became. Every game drilled into your mind that sometimes you need to slow down to go faster. It’s good that the development team took their own advice and toned down how intense the series was getting. This focus on trying to bring in fans that are more interested in racing games than racing sims will pay off big time in the long run. I doubt anybody would say no to a game that combined Forza’s cars and customization options with a story that should be more interesting and deeper than Forza 4’s bare bones career mode that just told you where the next race was and what class of car was allowed.

Forza Horizon releases for Xbox 360 on October 23rd.

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