Forza Horizon Preview [Xbox 360]

Whatculture look ahead at Playground Studios' beautiful looking racer.

It's a bright but cold Wednesday morning as I leave the crowded London tube station and head for a specially prepared Audi Showroom. As I approach, I notice people looking through the glass walls as a team of people rushes around setting up rows of large TV screens, high quality headphones and preparing for the oncoming rush of journalists. I walk into the showroom not to be greeted to the Forza I am used to seeing, but rather the screens show me cars racing around the streets of a surprisingly alive American city. My first thoughts were more akin to the arcade style racing of the Burnout series than a Forza title, but my time with the game showed how much of a Forza game this still is. Forza Horizon, due out on October 26th, appears to be a pretty big shake up for the series. Taking the traditional Forza focus on accuracy, usually applied to shaving tenths of a second off your lap times on famous racing tracks, Playground Games have taken you to the streets and given the game a much more pick up and play aspect. This game is about taking a car, and driving it far too fast, with your music blaring far too loud, and enjoying every minute of it. Your aim is simple, you're heading to the Horizon Festival, a music and automotive festival that encompasses a large driving competition. Having managed to get a last minute chance to enter the competition you try to race your way to the top of the rankings. You can win money to buy new cars, win respect and points for doing well in races or driving in an impressive manner and challenge other racers to street races for pride and success. I was able to play through the finished version of the game for around two hours and got a pretty good sense of what the opening hours have to offer. In my first two hours with the game I took part in a multi car street race to win a place in the festival, took on a rival in a one on one race, bought about 5 new cars, won a car from another driver and even raced a plane in a mustang. The games races all felt varied and offered a lot of different settings and challenges to overcome. While the game is pretty pick up and play, with driving lines visible on the road which advise you on corner speed as default, the accuracy of the driving simulation is still top notch. You'll find that the cars drift, corner, accelerate, brake, bounce and even lock their brakes in a way that feels incredibly natural. These will feel like powerful machines, but ones that require a gentle and subtle touch to get the most from. Due to a lack of internet access I was unfortunately unable to play through the games social features or online modes, but have been given some information on what we can expect. The single player game features a social layer, displaying your friends records, race times and progress on your single player map. You can either asynchronously tackle their records to earn rewards, or play a direct online race against them on any of the challenges in the dedicated multiplayer mode. The games lighting effects, car models and open world all looked fantastic. Crisp, bright and colourful textures caught my eye and were constantly impressive. The pre rendered cutscenes suffered from character models who looked a little too much like plastic and at times crossed into the uncanny valley, but the in engine game looked brilliant. One of the most impressive things about the game was how seamlessly the huge open world loaded. I spent some time just free driving and exploring, the game world is enormous and when free driving around the world, not selecting missions, I didn't notice a single load point regardless of my speed or my changing location. I really appreciate the developers providing headphones for the preview event, because the games music was one of the highlights of my time with the game. With a soundtrack hand picked by Rob Da Bank, the games in car radio features 66 tracks, which apparently works out as around 6 hours of music and is split between three different radio stations. You can choose between a Drum and Bass themed station, an Indie and Acoustic style station and a Rock station which was my personal favourite. The music selection was fantastic and really helped add a great sense of atmosphere to the races. All in all I was very impressed by my time with Forza Horizon. It keeps the series hallmark accuracy and realism of its car simulations, but allows you to do what everyone really wants to do with a super fast car and take it out on the open road. You could enjoy just driving the streets with the radio turned up loud just as easily a you could enjoy the actual race content. It's fun, It's fast and it's got me very excited by the future of the franchise. Forza Horizon is available to buy from the 26th of October.
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Long time JRPG and Nintendo SuperFan, Laura is a passionate gamer who comes to WhatCulture to share her nerdy ramblings with the world.