A NONE TRACK MIND

Tra­di­tional rac­ing games were split up into sep­a­rate tracks, but why bother with fences when the world is your play­ground?

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

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

PAUL TAY­LOR

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