Forza Horizon - Preview

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Release Date: 27/09/2012

Forza Horizon on Xbox 360 at GAME

Lost Horizons

Driving in circles is fun and everything, but nothing really beats the thrill of the open road. Which makes it a bit of a mystery why that's not featured more in driving games that, historically, have fussily kept players on single, un-branching ribbons of tarmac.

There have been exceptions, though more often than not they've been noble failures. Take Test Drive Unlimited, Eden Studio's eccentric racer that burst onto the scene before any of our Xboxes had even had a chance to red ring. Its ambition was peerless - exotic cars were hurled against the exotic backdrop of Hawaii while the game was stitched together with fabric borrowed from MMOs - though its execution sadly wasn't.

We're On The Road To Nowhere

Perhaps it was a lack of funds, or perhaps it was a lack of technical know-how. They're two things, however, that the next open world pretender has in abundance. Forza Horizon comes with the backing of Microsoft and all the cash that entails, and while it's the developer Playground's first game there's a serious amount of talent in the new UK studio. Founded by veterans from Codemasters' racing studio, Playground has hoovered up the casualties of the racing scene in the UK, with staff credits including Burnout, Project Gotham and Split/Second.

Open road, open world in Forza Horizon on Xbox 360 at GAME

Not a bad foundation for a new game, and that's before you've even factored in the Forza element. Turn 10, the developer of the mainline Forza games, is lending a guiding hand, and that means that Horizon has a certain amount of polish, a certain amount of depth and a rather large amount of auto exotica to get all hot under the collar for.

Pedigree Racer

And what does it mean for the game itself? Well, Forza Horizon seems to have found the perfect middle-ground between arcade and simulation, and a couple of hours of play reveals a game that's a true pretender to Project Gotham Racing 4's crown as not only the best racing game of the generation, but one of the best racing games of all time. Seriously, it's that good.

You're an upstart racer, entering into a festival of speed that's spanning the entirety of the state of Colorado. It's a bit like the UK's Goodwood Festival but with less mud, less tweed and about the same number of Bluetooth headsets knocking around. There's a self-consciously youthful vibe to the whole thing - the soundtrack's provided by Rob da Bank and there's a handful of excruciating cut-scenes to get through - but that doesn't detract from the real star of the show.

Forza Horizon's cars, as you'd expect from a series of this pedigree, are a joy to drive. The slightly exaggerated handling that's defined Forza actually feels more at home on the open road than it does on a race track - and placed in contrast to other arcade racers it feels as simulation-minded as you'd want to go. There are a handful of assists that can ease the ride, but when they're all switched off the cars are a real handful.

Preview racing simulation in Forza Horizon on Xbox 360 at GAME

The Long and Winding Road

It's easy to just get lost to the joys of the open road, picking a direction and then burning through one of Forza Horizon's well-realised day/night cycles. There's a smart sense of progression that could mean that Horizon's one of the more engaging racing games in recent years, though, and it's all centred around that music festival.

The festival acts as a central hub from which a series of missions spoke out, and they're quick to usher you through the various flavours of machinery that Forza Horizon offers up. One second you can be driving a Volkswagen Corrado across the freeway, the next you could be tearing up gravel and dirt off-road in a Subaru Impreza.

And even in between the races there's plenty for you to do: cars can be unlocked by finding them in well-hidden barns, billboards can be smashed through and speedtraps allow you to engage in a little competition with your friends, powered by the Rivals system that made Forza Motorsport 4 such a success.

Could Forza Horizon be the game that finally unlocks the potential of the open road? All signs are suggesting that it can - and that in the process it could create one of the finest racing experiences of this generation.

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