In 2011, to promote Homefront, THQ sent hundreds of balloons into San Francisco’s skyline. The marketing drew immediate ire from environmentalists and government agencies – THQ’s actions were potentially damaging to wildlife, and no one in PR considered the consequences.
During Forza Horizon, thousands of balloons ascend skyward as festival locations open. It’s gorgeous, and without real world ramifications. Everything in Horizon is free. No one yells, no one scolds you on social media, and no one complains. Reality twists and contorts into a delusional but well-funded fantasy. Devoid of context, it’s assumed everyone involved must sleep with bags of money and Australians are fine with their land being tortured by pricey vehicles.
Forza Horizon is a car game. However, the genre descriptor conceals an exact Affluenza simulation. Bursting with privilege and rife with illegal freedoms, the sense of self-importance grants Forza Horizon a nearly gross level of high-income, trust funded glee.
Each stage of Horizon pampers and splashes drivers with admiration. Fan counts measure success, and through the headset, endless praise hits the eardrums. No one is criticized – ever. This in a video game where people take (steal?) old cars from barns, smash through crops, destroy fencing, and leave untold havoc on the landscape.
Australia’s beauty makes for a strong selling point. New festival locations open with commentary on the site’s lush, exotic looks. Dirt roads, rocky beach outcroppings, rainforests; Forza’s beginning to lean on the gap left by Sony’s dormant Motorstorm series.
Instantly, construction workers tear into newly established Horizon sites, drywall sheets laid at their feet, and soon, populated by throes of people thrashing to bass heavy music. That’s before the vehicles themselves start roughing up nature.
The videogame medium’s use, to Horizon, is to live out an unparalleled fantasy, satirizing the spoiled lifestyle of one-percenter children. It’s not far off – infamous Affluenza Teen Ethan Couch killed four people while drunk driving, oblivious to his crimes. No one dies in Forza Horizon, but without harsh aftermath, rewards stack up for dumb behavior: Points and multipliers ignite when destroying property. Destructible signs sit posted on private land. Makeshift courses blast through helpless construction zones. If you’re unable to drive luxury vehicles during this festival, then you’re targeted for being poorer by festival admins. Guilty, but with an alluring, freeing sensation.
Nowhere in the planning phase did anyone consider shutting down roadways to avoid collisions with pedestrian vehicles. Horizon drivers smash recklessly into oncoming traffic, those poor bystanders filing enough insurance claims to bankrupt a gecko. So, part affluenza sim, part road rage fantasy. Regardless of where Forza Horizon falls, it’s ludicrously peppy and enthusiastic. Much as it loves cars and car things and the luxury dollars which affords these cars, Horizon loves illegal thrills even more.