The real-life Forza Horizon festival

Last year the global video game industry generated revenues of over Β£83 billion, with Β£32 billion of that coming from PC and console games - by contrast the global film industry turned over Β£31 billion. One of the biggest releases of the year was Forza Motorsport 7, which to date has sold over 1.3 million copies, despite being exclusively available on Microsoft platforms. All of which is to say that there's a lot of money in the business, enough that when it came time to launch the latest Forza title, developer Playground Games was able to go all out.

Unlike its Motorsport counterpart, Forza Horizon's scope extends considerably further than track-based racing. It includes a more eclectic selection of vehicles, a great deal of off-road action, surreal Showpiece events that pitch you against everything from steam trains to hovercraft - more on that later - and, of course, the whole Horizon Festival backdrop with its influence scores, radio stations and hot air balloons - more on that later too.

To the launch then, which took place at various locations across the Goodwood estate, a place uniquely suited to hosting an all-encompassing Forza event. Having slept soundly in our furnished tipis the night before, the morning was set aside for hands-on time with the game itself, demoing both its single- and multiplayer elements as the Duke of Richmond's ancestors gazed down at us their perches on the walls of Goodwood House.

Virtual reality out of the way, it was time to see how things played out in real life. First up was a spin around the forest rally stage, famous for hosting WRC heroes past and present during the summer's Festival of Speed. Today, though, it's been transformed like never before, dressed up in the guises of all four seasons to reflect Horizon 4's dynamic spring, summer, autumn and winter cycle.

With fake snow, autumn leaves and flowers aplenty, the Tim Burton fever dream would have been a remarkable setting on its own. It was made even more so by the human extras placed around the stage; a group having a snowball fight in winter, a couple throwing a frisbee over the passing cars in summer and a man raking the leaves in autumn, all staying in character unblinkingly as we flashed past them just metres away. Drivers Rob Snowden, in his Mk.2 Escort RS2000, and Danny Mennall, in the GC8 Impreza going flat out to provide an unforgettable passenger experience.


Next up was a chance to get behind the wheel ourselves, piloting a fleet of Series 2 Defenders across the estate. With impossibly slow steering, a dreadfully vague gear shift and brakes seemingly crafted from bars of soap, it was without doubt the worst car I've ever driven - so naturally I loved every moment of it. The Land Rovers deposited us at the site of our hot air balloon rides - a series of words I never thought I'd write - which were tethered and all too brief, it being a truly fantastic experience.

From the hot air balloon it was into a McLaren 720S - another sentence which looks even more bizarre written down than I imagined - for a B-road blast back to Goodwood House. The unrelenting surge of power from its 720hp V8 proving to be the perfect repost to the Defender's low-range lethargy, and waking us up for the day's Showpiece finale.

This took the form of a race between a Ford Ranger Raptor - the only one in Europe at the time - and a racing hovercraft, in a scenario straight out of the game's opening sequence. Having been told on arrival that, "it turns out hovercraft don't really like hills", the Raptor was given a slightly longer course to navigate, just to keep things interesting. Despite having to negotiate a half-pipe, slalom and jump before the straight line charge to the finish line, we edged it aboard the Raptor by the tightest of margins, before swapping into (onto?) the passenger seat of the hovercraft to experience a sensation only otherwise offered by strapping your face directly the back end of a lawn mower.

From an all-season rally stage to a head-to-head race with a hovercraft via some classic off-roaders, a modern supercar and a hot air balloon, the day encapsulated everything that makes the Forza games so unique. There were a smattering of 007's cars on hand, too, to celebrate the game's James Bond car pack, Ken Block did his usual thing around a few of Goodwood's most recognizable landmarks and a McLaren Senna took centre stage in front of the house.

Was it entirely necessary? Not really. The game itself is good enough that the only outlay its creators need have incurred to launch it was the cost of a jiffy bag and a first class stamp. But that's somewhat missing the point. The gaming industry is - has been for some time now, really - at a size which it could have only dreamt of just a couple of decades ago, and it's only heading in one direction. Titles like Forza represent developers flexing their muscles, taking advantage of that scale to produce experiences of such incredible depth and breadth that they are no longer recreations of real life, but improvements upon it. In choosing to go so big for debut of its latest title, Microsoft was not so much demonstrating how close to reality it is able to get, but how far beyond it it is now able to explore.

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (2) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Jtrink2 06 Oct 2018

    Series 2 Defender? Come on PistonHeads. There is no such thing! There is a Series 2 Landrover, or a Defender. Two different vehicles! Please can someone proof read these articles before they are published, to avoid mistakes that will almost certainly be picked up by us car people!

  • JohnnyMc 07 Oct 2018

    Agree with your sentiment Jtrink. But, in reality, this is an ad, not an article. Think that’s where this sort of stuff creeps in worst

View all comments in the forums Make a comment