'Forza Horizon' hits open road

“Forza” has long been one of my favorite racing franchises. But with “Forza Horizon,” Turn 10 Studios, in collaboration with Playground Games, switches gears, taking all the automotive authenticity fans love about the series to the open road, giving gamers the freedom to drive their flashy rides at high speeds throughout the majestic Colorado countryside.

The new game revolves around the Horizon auto show and music festival, as gamers race from event to event in some of the sweetest polygonal cars ever seen in a video game.

Seriously, “Forza” should change its name to whip appeal, the cars are so slick.

But anyone who has ever stepped cyber foot inside one of “Forza’s” past games already knows that. What’s new is the fact that you’re no longer restricted to racing on the same tired tracks the game provides. Now you have the ability to drift and drive between events, giving you a freedom you’ve never had in “Forza” before. And if you get lost, all you have to do is use your Kinect as a verbal GPS, and with voice commands you can say, “Where is the next race?” and green arrows will appear on the road to direct you to your destination. Pretty cool, especially for those map-impaired like myself.

Throughout the game, players are not only racing for position, but for popularity, using a combination of style and skill to earn bonus points (squeeze between two cars to pass, or drift around turns at high speed, for example). “Forza Horizon” is as much about car culture as it is about racing, creating an environment where car lovers come to compete and show off with the ultimate goal of becoming the most popular driver at the Horizon festival.

“We knew our game had to be fast, it had to be environmentally diverse, and it had to be stunning,” said Ralph Fulton, the game’s design director. “We wanted to create more experiences, more great things you could do with cars., so we made ‘Forza Horizon’ as an action racing game. If you enjoy driving fast, you’re going to be able to jump in and have fun immediately.”

And Fulton’s right as I picked up the controls and, right from the jump, needed to beat a number of other drivers to the Festival in order to register for the first race. That’s right, a race before the race, finding shortcuts, sliding around corners, and bumping competitors out of the way as I hit top speed to finish first by a headlight.

Whew. Talk about starting the game off right. My heart was already racing in the first few minutes. And now everything you do in “Forza” is compared to your friends list, so as you race, you’ll be able to see how fast you’re going through a particular area and measure your speed against everyone you know online.

“Action racing is about more than pick up and play. It’s about authenticity. In other games, the more arcade-like they get, the more all the cars start to feel the same,” added Fulton. “That’s not good for ‘Forza.’ In ‘Forza’ we believe every car is the star, every car is special, we believe every car has a unique personality, and we go to great lengths to research every last one of them. So we’re using ‘Forza’s’ physics systems and graphics and its unrivaled handling model that gives every car that sense of weight, heft, and maneuverability.

“’Forza Horizon’ proves that you don’t have to sacrifice authenticity to build an open world driving game.”

And with “Forza’s” physics system updating 360 times every second, the way the game delivers its first off-road racing experience is spectacular, diving into everything form dirt tracks to farm trails.

Added Fulton: “That fidelity is essential in order to give you a realistic feel of what the car is doing as it travels across these surfaces.

“Whether you’re spinning sideways across the dirt in a race or chasing your friends across a golf course online, you’ll feel the thrill of our open world. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen in ‘Forza’ before.”