Forza Horizon – second opinion

A few days ago, we posted up our hands-on impressions of our time with Forza Horizon from the Eurogamer Expo. To say they weren’t exactly glowing with praise would be an understatement. Finding faults with the game’s handling model and image quality amongst other things, we hinted that these problems may simply have been a case of Playground exhibiting early code that wasn’t quite ready for public consumption.

After playing the official Forza Horizon Xbox LIVE demo, we’re pleased to say that seems to be the case.

This is not a limp attempt to curry favour or save face after the comments backlash that the first preview garnered; I stand by everything that I said in that write up. There is genuinely a world of difference between the two builds; it’s almost like playing an entirely new game. At Eurogamer, we got to race one lap in one car around one track. The handling was all off, the image quality was appalling, there was no access to the open world, and, in general, it just didn’t give us a taste for the game.

The demo, however, fixes all of these problems and then some. The handling model now feels superb with a real sense of weight and connection, there is an almost-PC level of anti-aliasing present, environments look much more detailed, rich and lively, you can actually experience the seamlessly integrated open world including the gorgeous day/night cycle and, perhaps most importantly, there’s now the ability to tweak those all-important handling settings; ABS; traction control; suggested line; braking assist; transmission, and all that lovely stuff.

Several different races across a variety of tracks are now available to partake in using three cars – the 2013 Viper, the Mitsubishi Evo X and a 1970 Ford Mustang, all of which offer significantly different handling and performance characteristics. The Viper is seriously quick but at top speeds remains responsive, though a little twitchy. At Eurogamer, it felt like it was drifting on a cloud. The Evo, as you’d imagine, handles terrifically well and is a lot of fun to throw around the winding tracks. The Mustang is packing some serious horsepower and is an absolutely unwieldy animal in the corners, especially with traction control turned off ; master the throttle though, and it’s fantastic fun.

Granted, the LED TVs at the expo were all configured terribly (presumably set to ‘Dynamic’ or some other such eye-bleedingly bad preset) but the game was suffering from a serious case of jaggyitis the last time we saw it. In a complete one-eighty turn, Forza Horizon now features some of the best anti-aliasing results we have ever seen on a console game; there are virtually no jaggies and the game looks all the better for it.

Car models are phenomenally authentic and easily match anything found in Gran Turismo 5. Lighting and shadowing is also fantastic, particularly when the setting sun pierces through the clouds at dusk, casting gorgeous light shafts onto the roads. At night, your headlamps realistically illuminate the void in front of you, something you’ll be glad of as a majority of the roads aren’t street-lit.

This is pure conjecture on our part, but we’d be willing to bet that at least a couple of the guys from Playground Games have been on road trips or to automotive rallies like Gumball 3000. That racing culture is faithfully ingrained into Horizon, and the passion for all things on four wheels is really apparent in the introductory sequences. Cruising along an unfathomably awesome bridge in Colorado’s rocky terrain as the sun rises, in the cockpit view of a £70,000 Viper as a cavalcade of similarly expensive supercars rides alongside you, blaring out some LCD Soundsystem is a blissful experience, and as close as most of us will ever get to actually driving a supercar around the States. I now want to go on a road trip.

When we played the EGXP build, we were concerned, but not convinced, that some of the most talented devs in the business from Bizarre and Codemasters could manage to create a game so monumentally average. Thankfully, our latest playtest has eased all of our concerns. Forza Horizon is a truly top-tier product, and the demo has caused us to do a complete about turn in our attitude; it’s gone from the biggest disappointment of the year, to a possible day one purchase.

Forza Horizon launches 23rd October, 2012. In the meantime, Xbox LIVE Gold members can check out the official demo, available now on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

 

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