Saturday, June 16, 2012

Forza: Horizon, Stuck between a Rock and a Hard Place

Here's the most in-depth preview I've found of Forza: Horizon that was shown off at this year's E3. 

Horizon will, for better or worse, make the Forza series annual at least until 2013's expected Forza Motorsport 5. I have a theory that follows most annualized franchises. That is, if Forza: Horizon sees relative success, publisher Microsoft Game Studios will become increasingly greedy year-by-year (an unfortunate trend we're seeing more and more) and not take a year off until sales slow or halt altogether.   

The reception of the comments I've seen below various YouTube videos have been generally very positive. Here's another game publisher taking advantage of the mainstream fans. I say that meaning, the more "hardcore" fans will not find an incremental release like this worth their time or money and therefore, spend their time in more worthwhile simulation games. 

Hearing Playground Games' Ralph Fulton say that Horizon will have the "same simulation that underpins Forza 4" and that they've "made changes to car set ups, suspension set ups, to make that kind of maneuvering [weaving in and out of traffic] easier" made me tremendously disappointed. It appears Playground Games is after the same action that open-world Burnout and Need for Speed series games have already perfected. 

Omitting the "Motorsport"from the game title presumably means fans will not be able to drive on tracks, limiting this game to public roads. What will set this apart as a true Need for Speed Most Wanted contender, or another paper-thin copycat will be the road design. If the public roads featured in the game can prove varied, infinitely replayable and fun in both directions, Playground Games will have a true winner on their hands.  

After watching this Need for Speed Most Wanted gameplay footage for the first time, I found myself asking, "Why would anyone want to play an open-world Forza when this is coming out?" An appropriate analogy would be, do you want a game that happened to throw in short cuts and jumps, or do you want a game that was deliberately designed from the onset with jumps, boost, ramps, police chases, takedowns and more? 

The main problem I see with Forza: Horizon is that it's straddling a middle ground so much. Even to a greater extent than Project Gotham ever did. At a certain point, I just really want Playground Games to just decide what direction they're going to head. If Playground Games did so, the game would be less of a compromise between simulation and arcade worlds and rather than seeing a toned-down arcade game with a simulation back-end, we could see a totally in-your-face, ridiculously-fun arcade game.

How can you have "Forza 4 underpinnings," yet what sounds like nerf the car control for noobs vis-à-vis "car set ups" and "suspension set ups"? The two just don't go together and it sounds like a surefire recipe for disaster.

From my perspective, Forza is all about the difficulty and how that translates to a real car. I play Forza 4 for example, with all the assists turned off and everything to the highest difficulty. I enjoy fighting for grip with the car, and barely winning a Forza race can be of the most thrilling game experiences I've had. So there's my nerd card. 

Forza 4 was a great improvement in terms of tire dynamics and car physics, although I find Turn 10 Studios dropped the ball when it comes to front-wheel drive cars and mid-engined cars. It's as if Turn 10 explicitly picked favorites and made all FR (front-engine, rear-wheel drive) cars handle like a dream, while all other cars don't quite hit the mark. It's great from my perspective because my favorite real-world cars are all FR. But let's not forget that Forza is supposed to be a simulation, right?

On that point about it being a simulation, Forza 4's AI is anything but. The AI opponents are overly aggressive, bumper cars that will run you off the road at any cost. The starting grid is a mess, good luck getting through. I find that if I want to beat the game, I'll have no choice but to lower the difficulty to medium. Ugh, the horror!

Unlike the "Motorsport" Forza games, it appears Forza: Horizon's main emphasis will be on car festivals, for which drivers will meet up and race. (Honestly, they look like higher res Need for Speed: Underground 2 races). 

New to the series, Forza: Horizon will feature dynamic day-night cycles, something that was sorely missing in the past two Forza games. Yet, I imagine Horizon will not include dynamic weather, which means another +1 for Gran Turismo fans. 

I've become jaded expecting the unexpected with Forza games, and unfortunately, I don't think Horizon will be much different. With Forza 4, I was expecting to be wowed with new courses, weather, day-night cycles, new terrain, and cars, but really, none of those things came to pass. Forza 4 was really just a better looking and handling Forza 3, with three or four new courses thrown in, in case a 2009 game didn't warrant a $60 pricetag in 2011.  

Don't expect many surprises with this title, which is why I'm lowering my expectations. I'm expecting Horizon to be a Forza 4 dropped into a new setting and that's about it. Sadly, game developers seem to be willing to give their titles less development time and attention for ultimately fewer, but more yearly sales. It seems like this is a temptation fewer and fewer developers can resist these days, what with pirating and illegal torrenting of their hard work. Maybe having a big title every two years isn't a big enough splash to keep dinner on Dan Greenawalt's table?

At this point, Playground Games still has yet to prove themselves. According to their own website,, Forza Horizon is their "debut title." However, just as with any developer I'm equally as skeptical and questioning just as much how close Playground Games will get tot their vision of Forza: Horizon. 

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