EDIT: For those interested, we have new and updated impressions from a more recent build of Forza Horizon here. The reception was much more positive.
Developer: Playground Games
Platforms: Xbox 360
The Forza Motorsport series has been in a neck-and-neck race with Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo in recent years, but this year at the Eurogamer Expo 2012 in London, it came up short against its PlayStation rival.
Forza Horizon, developed by British studio Playground Games, faced up to tough competition from Gran Turismo 5: Academy Edition, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and GRID 2, and failed to earn a podium finish. The majority of games in the Xbox booth had winding, snaking queues. Aside from Fable: The Journey, Forza was the only game whose booth was completely empty when we turned up. With three releases this gen so far, has the Forza series outstayed its welcome with fans? Does Horizon manage to freshen things up?
We were treated to a few laps around a scenic circuit in a 2009 Dodge Viper RT. Granted, the Viper isn’t the greatest handling of cars to begin with (which begs the question – why was it the only car featured during the demo?) but the handling model in Forza Horizon left us less than impressed.
Whilst it’s obvious that Playground are opting for a more arcadey approach this time around, the steering felt genuinely abhorrent; completely devoid of any feeling, and almost akin to performing winter sports with bananas for skis. It strives to emulate its peers in Criterion’s 2010 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but falls well short. It’s worth noting that driver assist and suggested line were forcibly turned on throughout the demo, and turning these off may improve things a little, but we doubt it’d result in a dramatic improvement.
Visually, it doesn’t compare to Forza 4, it’s locked at 30fps, and whilst its free-roaming setup can account for most of that, the game is just not a looker. Car models are decent, though you can see the joins, but there are a disappointing amount of jaggies. In fairness, driver AI was a step up from your typical Forza automatons, it must be said.
Another baffling exclusion from the expo build was the open world, and it’s this area that is critically make-or-break for Horizon. It could either validate the whole package into a worthwhile endeavour, or simply add another Burnout Paradise-shaped clump of inspiration into the smelting pot of series that Horizon tries to emulate
In short, it’s a game with a lot of potential, but also a massive identity crisis. It doesn’t look to be a bad racer, necessarily; just an unremarkable one. We’ll reserve judgement until Horizon launches next month.