The best racing games, in my opinion, are the ones that stick to reality. What good is a racing game where you slam your car into a concrete wall at 200 kmph and only the license plate at the front falls off? And really, how many of us have seen a Ferrari Enzo police car? Not many, I’d dare say.

Forza Horizon, the latest in the Forza Motorsport series of games, takes life-like driving to a whole new level. So far, the highly appreciated Forza Motorsport series developed by Turn 10 Studios has always been about racing simulation on proper tracks and circuits.

But after teaming up with Playground Games, a UK-based team consisting of developers from Codemasters, Bizarre Creations, Black Rock Studios, Slightly Mad Studios, Criterion Games, Rockstar North and Ubisoft Reflections, Horizon has been released as a spin off from the original series.

This edition brings all the action on to the roads and rough terrain of countryside Colorado, set in a fictitious ‘Horizon’ festival, where racers and musicians come together to do what they do best.

Cars and customisation

The choice of cars is quite vast. The options comprise of real-life makes from real-life brands. Let me put it this way – it’s got every car. Or at least every car that a real-life gearhead can own or would wish for. From popular street cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and Subaru Impreza 22BSTi to performance cars like the Audi RS4, BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series, Horizon’s got it all. You’ve got muscle cars like the Shelby Cobra 427 and the Mustang Boss 429, among others and even those supercars with mind boggling top speeds, like the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and the Pagani Zonda.

Of course, you start with a Volkswagen Corrado VR6 and there are some races wherein to compete you must buy and drive a car like an Impala SS 409 or a 1965 MINI Cooper S. And four-wheel-drive lovers can have their picks from Ford 150s, Hummers, Jeeps and Range Rovers. You also get to find cars in ‘Barn Find’ events. All of these cars are slotted into different classes, depending on their engine types, layouts, manufacturers and the terrain they’re best suited for.

The credits that you earn in the gameplay can be used to purchase modifications for the cars you own. And again, from appearance to performance, every modification that you can think of is available. In the paint shops, you can choose from a very wide palette of colours, in metallic or matte tones, for the entire body, hood, rear wing and even mirrors. You also have a wide variety of decals and artwork to choose from, to apply on whichever part of the car you wish to.

Engine and performance mods are available in the form of cylinder blocks, air intakes, liquid cooling systems, exhausts, transmissions, valves, drivetrains, brakes, rim (size and design), tyre width and compound, roll bars and a lot more.

Gameplay

This is the first edition of Forza with a storyline, and as I played the game, I was glad to see that the story itself has no loose ends or unreal challenges. It is very simple- you land up at the Horizon festival, along with 249 other racers and race your way up to the top slot. One has to earn street creds (Forza’s version of money) and fame to rise up in the ranks.

As the game begins, you get introduced to the festival, and given a wrist-band (it is a festival, after all) that lets you participate in events that you are eligible for, depending on the colour of your wristband. You start with a yellow wristband, work up to green and so on.

Horizon, as I discovered, has a very fair gameplay. The races are theme based with caps on the class of vehicle and performance tuning for each event. If you’re entering a class-D event, you can turn up with a class-D car only. You can’t enter the race if the Ford F-150 you bought (which was originally a class-D) has been tuned on par with class-A cars like a Nissan Skyline. Of course, you get to chase the occasional bi-plane or hot-air balloon once in a while, but that’s a different thing.

Even when you’re not in a race, there is an air of extreme competition around you. Since it’s a rise to fame, every push on the gas pedal and every flick of the steering wheel is being watched. You get rewarded with credits and points for skills on drifting, two wheels, e-drifts, near-miss passes, hard acceleration, speed and even crash landings. During the free roam mode, you can pull up behind any of the 249 other racers (festivals racers can be recognised by a name blip above their cars) and challenge them to a race. These street races pass through civilian traffic, and car-class doesn’t matter (you will, of course, be notified if you’re at a disadvantage). There are even races for pink slips.

The free roam mode, in my opinion, is a very handy mode as each car has a learning curve attached to it. During races, turning off drive assists like ABS, steering assists and traction control can give you bonus credits. Therefore, a free roam mode helps you get to know how your car behaves without traction control and on manual gear-shifting. It lets you realise that there’s more to the car than just slamming hard on the gas and turning the wheel towards your destination.

Graphics

If you have an eye for detail, you’re going to need more than that one eye – Forza Horizon is a detail lover’s paradise. Whether it’s the constantly changing scenery the physics simulation, you will appreciate Horizon for its attention to the minute details.

As this game is set in country-side Colorado, the terrain is very diverse. You can drive on straight stretches of asphalt, winding hillsides, dirt tracks, suburbs, freeways and the likes. And wherever you go, the roads behave accordingly.

What really impressed me was the graphics engine. Real-time reflections on the car’s painted bodywork, the sun gleaming on chrome parts, debris flying when you smash cars etc are quite good and realistic to look at. Even the details on the car are quite life-like. For instance, when you drive on a manual gearbox, the car will have just as many gears as the real life make would have. Or, the rear wing of the Bugatti Veyron adjusts automatically in accordance to the speed it’s being driven at.

Verdict

It’s a bit of everything, I’d say. It’s got DiRT, Need for Speed (sans the cop cars and nitro boosters) and of course Forza Motorsport, in its DNA. As a racing game, Forza Horizon is quite an impressive one, as is has life-like physics simulation and graphics, a decent learning curve attached to each car, real life cars and customisations and a very engrossing gameplay. If you like all of these in an arcade game, I’d suggest you to try this one out.

Rs 2,999

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Developer – Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios

Platform – Xbox 360

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 11, 2012)
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