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Microsoft takes on Sony on the racing track

Last updated on: November 4, 2012 11:15 IST

Microsoft takes on Sony on the racing track

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Murali Venukumar, a full-time marketing exec, part-time writer and a life-long gamer reviews Forza:Horizon.


Forza: Horizon
Platforms:
Xbox 360
Price: Xbox 360 Rs 2999
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Distributor: Redington
Genre: Open-World Driving
Rating: 9/10

The Forza series has been Microsoft's answer to Sony's formidable Gran Turismo franchise for a while now. And while its numbered iterations have been more than up to the challenge, Forza: Horizon is the first offshoot from what can be a pretty formulaic driving simulator template.

It also happens to be quite the unknown commodity, developed by newcomers Playground Games rather than series' masters Turn 10. Thankfully, this well thought out franchise deviation proves that Forza can be much more than a staid competitor to Gran Turismo.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft

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Fans of driving games will already have a ton of goodwill towards Playground Games. As a developer super-group comprised of people from Black Rock, Codemasters and Bizarre Creations, they certainly have the pedigree and the know-how to put together a solid racing game. They've also clearly been inspired by one of the most innovative driving games this generation, Test Drive Unlimited 2.

Eden Games' open-world magnum opus showed heaps of potential but a certain lack of polish pervaded throughout your time with it; something that Playground Games would hope to avoid thanks to having the Microsoft juggernaut behind them.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft

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And sure enough, the game starts with a sumptuous intro screen from where you can choose between single and multiplayer, which unfortunately don't exist in a single global mode as it did in the Test Drive Unlimited games. The single player involves you (and your prefab character) competing in the Horizon festival -- a loud event for automobile and music enthusiasts set in rural Colorado, giving everyone involved an excuse to blast music and hoon around quiet country roads flanked by scenic heartland America.

The radio stations are passable with a good selection of tracks, and the ability to quick travel across the sizable map is a nice option to have around even if you'd much rather drive to your destination instead.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft

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Unlike its Turn 10 developed brethren, Horizon is open-world game. There are events dotted all around the well-realised, scenically diverse countryside, and there's also a rudimentary story wrapping it all together. Your long road to topping the ranks at the Horizon festival will involve events ranging from standard races, off-road events, head to head challenges and the like, in addition to more exotic events such as street races, sponsor challenges, and races against aircraft and hot air balloons.

Each event earns you points that get you coloured wristbands (in keeping with the festival vibe), which in turn unlock corresponding colour-coded events across the map.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft
Tags: Microsoft , Sony

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There are also discount signs to smash which give you discounts on performance parts, speed traps to zip through, and a set of rare cars hidden in barns around the map that you'll have to sniff out and restore. You also rack up points for driving skills, including near misses, drifts, knocking over signage and other activities that the games deems worthy of rewarding.

These points go towards increasing your popularity rank from a lowly 259th all the way to becoming top dog at the Horizon festival. You'll also come across festival contestants driving around in the open world who you can challenge to impromptu races for credits.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft
Tags: Microsoft , Sony

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Microsoft takes on Sony on the racing track

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There's an excellent selection of cars that come with the game, with more due to be added via monthly DLC and expansion packs. Handling is a happy medium between traditional Forza and a more arcade model whereby you'll be able to pull of drifts quite easily.

Turn off the assists though, and you'll be surprised at how deep the driving model can go. The good news is that while there's next to no performance degradation with crashes, the cars still scruff up very well visually.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft
Tags: DLC , Microsoft , Sony , Forza

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Microsoft takes on Sony on the racing track

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Being an open world game, there's also a very pretty day/night cycle that kicks in. It would have been great to have variable weather as well, but I suppose there's only so much you can expect current generation consoles to achieve.

That said, Forza: Horizon is a gorgeous, gorgeous game. Aliasing is next to non-existent, which is a miracle in itself, and the broad colour palette makes every drive visually engaging. Custom vinyls also return, with the ability to import your favourite design from previous Forza games.

Unlike Test Drive Unlimited however, the game doesn't let you go off-road wherever you please. There are clearly defined tracks that you must stick to, so those of you looking to go off the beaten track like you did in Ibiza or Hawaii had better reign in your expectations.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft

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While the multiplayer being hived off into its own separate mode is unfortunate, there's plenty of activities for you and your friends to partake in. From organised races to random co-op challenges, there's a lot of fun to be had even if the environment does feel a tad sterile thanks to the absence of traffic. For the more sedate gamer, Horizon takes page out of Criterion's Autolog system and constantly challenges you to take on your friends' times both in events and in speed traps around the map.

Forza: Horizon is a breath of fresh air to the usually stuffy simulation genre. It marries an arcade sensibility to Forza's core simulation ethic and wraps it in a brilliantly realised open-world environment with tons and tons of activities to get busy with. It's well worth a look; enough so that you'll wonder what all the next-gen fuss is about when you have games like this still being made.

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Photographs: Playground Games/Microsoft

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