It was hot day in the small, quaint town of Leamington Spa, when I visited Playground Games. People from the studios behind Dirt, Grid and Test Drive Unlimited have joined forces to develop Forza Horizon, and I have been asked here to take a look at the highly anticipated racing game.
A hyperactive DJ announces that, at the moment, there are ten tickets left for the famous Horizon Festival, and it's up to you to be there before nine other finalists, so you can get a chance to compete for both wealth and fame. We put ourselves in a shiny red Dodge Viper and roll out onto a paved road, in one of Colorado's green spaces, as we set foot to the pedal. Get ready for a real race against both opponents and the time (as well as a few innocent civilians).
Not long afterwards I realise that the MTV-inspired world seen in the trailer a while back actually matches the content of the game. Here, there are both boys racers and music lovers in the same room, and it stinks of motor oil and sweat. Horizon Festival, a mega-popular racing show in the middle of the Colorado desert forms the game's core. This is where the main competitions are held and also where you will go to purchase new pictures, upgrades, etc. But Forza Horizon is much, much more.
Chief designer Ralph Fulton explains enthusiastically about how you can drive around anywhere you want with your car in Forza Horizon's open world. Also, this is the first time in a Forza game that we will drive off-road, and we believe the designer when they tell us there is a total of 65 different surfaces.
The developer also mentions the golf course players can go out on. In the middle of the huge world map, modelled on a real golf course after two scouting trips to Colorado, there are contests and other challenges to sink your teeth in to.
The design team has made several trips to Colorado, and this is because Playground wanted to have very diverse maps that still felt like the same world. Colorado is perfectly suited with its vast deserts, the Rocky Mountains, red-tinged rocks and green-colored woods. They have also added a 24-hour circadian rhythm so that driving at night is completely different than during the day. It helps that Playground has free access to the fantastic Turn 10's impressive lighting.
The gleaming Viper we are driving glistens so much that the head office of Dodge is probably exploding with pride, and when the developer Chris Downey gives us a demonstration of the game's day cycle, I draw parallels to Red Dead Redemption's beautiful sunsets. To make things better, the game has a very good draw distance, and if you're on flat ground you can see right into eternity.
It is now we get the Xbox 360 controller placed in our paws. The first thing that strikes me is how authentic the driving is - Forza Horizon is obviously more than just a pretty face. You can still get help from the green arrows on the road if you want, and Forza still gives you tools that will make things easier for you, but it is when you manage everything yourself that Forza Horizon is at its best, since each bit of grit and every piece of bark can be felt under wheel.
It requires not just money to upgrade your cars. Each time you perform a bold action, such as stylish overtaking, you get extra points to collect that can be spent later.
It is not necessary to drive mile after mile, despite the game's enormous world map. Playground has thrown in a voice-controlled GPS function (which of course requires Kinect) to help you find your way. Moreover, there is a teleportation system, but this only allows you to travel to the sites you have visited before, and it costs a small amount.
Since so little is said about multiplayer, it is unclear which vehicles will be available for use over networks, but the above Dodge Viper will be. The point is that the cars people bring to the Horizon Festival will be cars likely to be included in such a festival. You can't be in the desert driving a Lada. He also explains that you will also be rewarded if you have kept your save files from Forza Motorsport 3 and Forza Motorsport 4.
Horizon clearly has great potential and will hopefully succeed as there is a talented group developers preparing the game for launch in October. With the Turn 10-godfather, Dan Greenawalt, in the background to keep all the pieces in place, you can expect the team to keep their foot on the pedal until they cross the finishing line later this year.