A NONE TRACK MIND
Traditional racing games were split up into separate tracks, but why bother with fences when the world is your playground?
Racetracks speak for themselves. Each of them is an individual unit, compartmentalised by boundaries that physically and, for the people that race on them, conceptually separate them from all other locations. It’s easy to find a favourite, discuss how one is better than another when you’re thinking about its undulations, sweeping bends, the scenery that flits past while you race through it. This is true for real-world tracks and for fictitious ones, from Gran Turismo’s gravel-laden Laguna Seca to Ridge Racer’s hyperactive tunnels.
Forza Motorsport 5 goes all over the world to famous locations, every square inch it visits has been laser scanned, modelled and preened to recreate the locales as realistically as possible. A loading screen is what separates you from the gorgeous road race in Prague from the legendary Mount Panorama, the sterile Yas Marina from the punishing Nurburgring. The racetrack tarmac is encased in the environment, a hermetically sealed bubble that resets itself once you’re past the chequered flag, a collection of sharply polished gems so big that you can only hold them one at a time.
Now take that philosophy to an open world game where hundreds of kilometres of road wind and crash into one another, a twisted ribbon with loose ends peeling away from each other and back again. All of it needs to be created in a way so that when checkpoints are placed on (and depending on what you’re playing, off ) the roads, they make for captivating routes. The gems knock against one another.
What’s just as important is the location. When I’m not writing about it, I’m spending my time in Forza Horizon 2’ s southern Europe, a compressed version of France and Italy that sprawls over vineyards, rolling hills and rugged coastal drives. The two countries bleed into one another, and geographically they’re very similar: it’s a beautiful world, even when the sunny skies turn dark and a thunderstorm rolls in. At dusk, fireworks pierce the star-studded heavens over the harbour and townships.
Forza Horizon 2 sets itself apart from other open world racers like, say, Need For Speed Rivals, as the world feels natural in its own right. Rivals goes through forest, snow-capped ranges, dusty outcrops in rapid succession. It’s flat-out action, the roster of cars incorporating mean-looking muscular beasts and sharp exotic monsters that want to be driven with the accelerator flat to the floor.
In Horizon 2, there’s chance for finesse, to slow down and admire where you are as well as what you’re doing. Do that in Forza 5 and you’re left with a grid of drivers up your tailpipe. While icons pop up all over the screen, teasing you towards a new race or collectible to find, you can ignore them all and simply go exploring. And that’s what I did. I went into the options and turned everything off – the speedometer, the points system, the map, the lot of it – jumped into a ’54 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe, and took off.
Here, I was a digital tourist, and the Merc was subject to more wanky screenshots of it gliding through the countryside (and also tearing up well-laid out pastures) than an Instagram account featuring soy lattes and brioche in a hip inner-city café.
The world here is the gem. It changes from the countryside to a highway, flowing hills that are carpeted by poppies, a dam, that glittering harbour and back again to the vineyards. Here, it doesn’t speak for itself, but instead maintains a steady conversation, where the words at the end of each sentences are simply, beautifully, ‘ignore the boundaries’. Paul is the editor of Official Xbox Magazine