Queen’s lyrics aren’t just for blaring out at karaoke parties; they’re also used to improve the world. Did you know that an evening in Lucky Voice belting out “I want to ride my bicycle” inspired Boris Johnson’s plan for London’s cycling scheme? Well, now Bohemian Rhapsody’s “is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” has inspired a new type of racing game - Forza Horizon. A game that blends the realistic physics engine of the Forza 4 with real roads. Which is, as we found out this week, a very good thing.
Forza Motorsport on the Xbox 360 is famed for its James May levels of deep detail. Much like PS3 competitor Gran Turismo, the handling dynamics, photographic car detail and pitch-perfect sound offers the ultimate escapism for car nerds. But there was always that tingling desire to take Forza’s cars on the open road, which has never been possible. While going through Hammerhead, forwards, sideways and backwards (sometimes at the same time) in Forza 4 is a lot of fun, we’ve never been able to demonstrate digital Stigness on the real roads.
Well, now you can. Based in Colorado, the premise behind Forza Horizon is the complete freedom to go wherever the hell you want, and for the first time in Forza’s history, this now includes off-road. And unlike some other open-world racing games, you can take any car off-road. So if you’ve ever wondered what a Pagani Zonda R handles like on the rough stuff, this is for you.
The game is centred around a central festival, handily called ‘Horizon Festival’. Think of it as Glastonbury meets Top Gear Live: lots of music, lots of cars and lots of explosions (but less body painting, dreadlocks or Richard Hammond).
You’re a new guy on the scene, who rocks up and needs to race your way to the top. This basically entails completing challenges and races to work your way up the leader board to become the best driver at the festival.
That’s if you want to. If you’re the kind of person who’s lays in bed bored on a Wednesday night and just goes for a drive - you can do exactly that. But instead of your Citroen Saxo, you can cruise around the vistas and canyons of Colorado in a Koenigsegg Agera. There are miles and miles of roads to explore, through both day and night, and you’re actively encouraged and rewarded for doing drifts, burnouts and speeding - things that don’t happen in said Saxo.
It’s not just the physics engine that has been transferred from Forza Motorsport - the damage rendering has been improved and put in, too. So if you’re anything like the resident Top Gear gamers, and get bored of having to do challenges so go on a smashing rampage, you’ll enjoy t-boning the Nissan LEAF’s that circulate the American map.
One of the biggest draws of Forza was the vast and diverse car list. Horizon is set to have a fairly extensive list (we couldn’t get confirmed numbers), and it will be tailored to suit the vibe of the Horizon Festival. That means no LMP1 cars, but plenty of amazing road cars. We played with BMW 2002 Turbos, Lamborghini Aventadors, Bugatti Veyrons, Ferrari 458 Spiders, and many more.
And because we’re driving Gods, we dived straight into the difficulty settings and turned off all assists. It makes it harder, but to get the most out of Forza’s physics you want them gone. And even though the techies at Turn 10 told us that the physics system is exactly the same, the cars didn’t quite seem to have identical characteristics to those in Forza Motorsport. Slightly less weight to the cars, front-wheel-drive cars seemed to have a more arcadey style of grip, and in rear-wheel-drive, there didn’t seem to the same weight transfer through the controller as Forza 4. Still masses of fun, but not quite as challenging to hold a slide.
But that’s not quite the point of Horizon. Where tracks are all about precision, late braking and consistency, Horizon more about out-and-out fun. Things like speed traps, drift challenges and races against P1 Mustangs: a rewarding break from the tedious confines of reality, and exactly what games like this are about.
Because of its pick-upability, Horizon opens car culture and realistic driving dynamics to a whole new section of the gaming market. Is it real life? Or just fantasy? Well, it’s actually a bit of both, and immensely fun for it. We played the hell out of Test Drive Unlimited 2, and this is definitively better.
You can pick up a copy and feed it to your Xbox360 on the 26th October.