The odd thing about Forza Horizon is that despite committing three of my personal Driving Game Cardinal Sins it actually manages to be really quite excellent.
The narrative. I mean, seriously. It’s a racing game. Why on earth would I want a narrative infused into it? Even if it were a genuinely compelling and well produced narrative I’d remain dubious. But it’s not, obviously – it’s like watching one of Bay’s Transformers film but with all the robots edited out. PES 2013 was guilty of this with those absurd mid ‘90s boardroom sequences in Master League that felt like the most boring Shenmue cutscene ever. Over and over again. I mean, when I play FIFA 13 I’m ultimately playing for the narrative. But it’s a personal, psychological narrative. I’m playing as Southampton in the Premier League FFS! To me that’s one of the most inherently exciting stories in the world. The commentators, the transfer controversy, the star player getting benched – every single bit is there. In my head. Where it should be. I run through it all Match of the Day style when I’m in bed falling to sleep. If the game attempted to displace this with its own narrative the whole illusion would be destroyed. (Incidentally, with every FIFA release in the last few years EA has slowly upped its enforced narrative in Career mode but still, I think, stays on the right side of too much. FIFA 13 just gets away with it.)
Forza Horizon’s North American Rural Canyon Community. Who gives a fuck, right? The Horizon gameworld is beautiful and despite it all I DO love it, but c’mon – I’ve seen this setting (albeit never as well realised as this) a hundred times before. Give me something different. Asia maybe, or any one of many European locations that spring to mind.
In my book you’re either Outrun or you’re Gran Turismo 5. Forza has always received more praise than its driving model deserved. It doesn’t even come close to giving you that feeling Gran Turismo 5 (and to a lesser extent, Shift 2 and sometimes GRID) does. That, by the way, is the feeling of being behind the wheel of a MENTAL FAST HEAVY FUCKING METAL DEATH MACHINE. So what do they do in Horizon? They dumb it down even more. Duh. But actually, it completely works for reasons I’m not talented enough to explain. It forces you to drive the car, not direct it (as it should) but doesn’t punish you for existing in the world that surrounds you. Friction variation form surface changes are reduced massively, but enough detriment is maintained to make it worth your while to stay on the straight and narrow. Really, it’s one of those odd things about the game that just works. For me it’s up there with Gran Turimso 5, Burnout 2 and PGR3 as one of the best driving models ever made.
So the conclusion is that I hate it. Or at least that is the conclusion when I appraise its elements logically. And that just proves that logic is stupid because Forza Horizon is genuinely really, really great.