Review: Forza Horizon Demo
*Disclaimer: this review is based solely on the DEMO for Forza Horizon, released on October 9.
Forza Horizon is best described as the condensed automotive fantasies of every male between the ages of 15 and 25. It packs exotic cars, mountain roads, dirt trails, an improbable music festival, and lots of street racing into a world conveniently free of law enforcement and other consequences. As an exercise in wish fulfillment, it is perhaps unmatched in driving-game history.
Unfortunately, it’s also not very good.
I am a big fan of Forza. For me, the Motorsport series, especially games three and four, represent the ideal balance of realism, customization, and car accessibility, without being so difficult as to become tedious (F1 2012, higher levels in GT5). After just a few minutes of play, it is abundantly clear that Horizon is not the Forza I know and love.
There are some elements of the Forza series that Horizon manages to carry forward undisturbed. The dull, repetitive soundtrack is the worst example; the intuitive menu structures the best, even if everything is splashed in a vile shade of pink.
The real troubles begin when the driving starts. In the Motorsport titles, the series has gradually improved on already decent physics and handling simulation, with the result that F4 was a genuinely impressive representation of the traits of various cars and tracks. Horizon’s developers cast aside this heritage, choosing instead to present the player with physics-defying slides, magic brakes, and tacky “AWESOME DRIFT!” graphics superimposed precisely where you’d normally be looking for the next apex.
Of course, this fuzzy relationship with actual vehicle dynamics enabled them to get rid of another crucial element of Forza: controller feedback. The vibrations generated in F4 ranged from subtle to violent, and once accustomed to their meanings, they provided feedback nearly as valuable as the shivers and twitches of a real steering wheel. They were a huge step forward from the vague rattles of F3, so of course Horizon binned them in favor of arcade-game smoothness.
For me, these two flaws make suspension of disbelief completely impossible. My wishes remain unfulfilled, because I am constantly aware that I am playing a game, not driving a car. The excitement, anticipation, and fear that I normally experience never manifest themselves.
Horizon’s major draw is its open world and inspiring roadscapes. Aesthetically, this is a pleasing game, if not a stunning one. After an hour or so, you stop noticing the appealing scenery; at least, until you crash into it, at which point I found myself thinking, “My, that tree sticking through my windshield is very nicely rendered.”
Also, “I hate these stupid arcade-game dynamics”.
The game’s most egregious sin, however, is not apparent in the demo; it was announced several months ago that Horizon will not feature any racing cars.
I’m sorry, but if I’m paying $60 of my own money, I want to drive an LMP1 through the Rockies, d****t!