For the second consecutive year Ford pitched up at Gamescom in Cologne, their European HQ, this time unveiling the Ranger Raptor and an exhilarating 4D race simulator.
Ask anyone in Hall 8 of Koelnmesse what the most unexpected brand they expected to see at Gamescom was and you can bet the majority would point in the direction of the Ford stand.
Standing proud with two car-shaped drapes angled towards a stage, an enormous screen and a 4D simulator that looked like it had been extracted from the set of the Matrix, Ford were back at Gamescom.
Either side of a stage there were eight Forza Horizon 4 gaming pods for the public to strap into and their progress was streamed onto the screen in front of me, neatly enhanced by commentary from a friendly German man from Ford.
That made sense to the casual passer-by; Ford has a proud tie-in with Forza dating back to 2015 where the Ford GT graced the cover of Forza Motorsport 6. In the press conference held just before the simulator fun began we were told by Roelant de Waard, VP of Marketing, Sales and Services, Ford of Europe that players have spent more 290 years in Forza Motorsport 7 driving Ford vehicles. Thats…quite a lot of years.
And de Waard spoke enthusiastically of the growing bond between Ford and gaming, even if onlookers may have required some convincing.
Before I was invited onto the simulator, it was time to watch a trailer Id heard a lot about. Are you a fan of explosions? Near-misses and Austrian quarries? You should watch the below:
While the trailer rolled, the black drapes to my side were pulled back and I found myself face-to-face with the Ford Ranger Raptor, an absolute beast, if I can be so blunt.
Described as going off-road just by being at Gamescom (nice line), the Ranger Raptor is the first vehicle to be released at the gaming exhibition, highlighting the car giants determination to be seen as part of gaming.
Now I couldnt imagine driving the Raptor out of Gamescom and through the streets of Cologne but that wasnt really the point. The Raptor is coming to Forza Horizon 4 garages (700,000 drivers owned the F-150 Raptor in Forza Motorsport 7) when the game releases and the Ford execs played up its sense of fun. – something that shone through from the trailer alone. For that reason I can see the Ford brand staying relevant and even growing its audience in Forza. It all makes sense, Roelant.
And so to the simulator.
Set up in an elevated position on a stage at Gamescom, I couldnt help but feel there were eyes on me as I sat down in the chair and strapped myself in over the shoulders and across the chest. A quick glance confirmed that yes, there were eyes on me.
A 4D simulator, for those in the dark, does a bit of everything. It chucks you around, it fires puffs of air at your face, the whiff of a race track is subtly wafted under your nose, it cant seem any more real than this.
Confidence wasnt exactly boosted when I realised I didnt have the luxury of a tutorial and I received very little instruction other than here are your pedals, the brake is stiff and you change gears with the paddles on the back of your steering wheel.
That said, its all about self-belief. Ive played Forza before and in real life Ive still got my no claims. It couldnt be that bad could it?
Well the first thing to note was the gyroscopic chair caused all manner of issues. Remember this simulator was described as the nearest-to-real experience imaginable for driving a performance vehicle and as the lights changed to green and I hit the accelerator, all became clear.
My chair lurched, I tipped backwards, the three monitors in front of me seemed to engulf me and I had air blown in my face as I set off around the track. As intended, my senses were overwhelmed.
So overwhelmed, it turned out, that I forgot to brake at the first corner and flew straight into a tire wall. Not a fine start but a portent for the rest of my lap, at least. There were spells of high velocity, close control (the straights) and moments of fishtailing and spinning over gravel into yet another wall (the bends).
It was difficult. Oh so very difficult. But I was as invested in a racing sim as Id been in years and my heart really was beating. Every crash pained me (not physically, that would be bad product development) and every well maneuvered corner felt like an accomplishment.
Ultimately though, it left me with one thought: Im not made for the life of high performance vehicles.
Approximately six minutes after I started, I hopped out safe in the knowledge I wouldnt be troubling those recording the days fastest lap.
Racing sims have never been my forte but they were always entertaining whether you fancied yourself as a pro or more of an amateur there for the scenery. Though this might not be something everyone can try (it was built specifically for Gamescom), the depth and levels to this simulator gave me an experience in gaming Id never had before and it was a pleasure to be one of the select few to say theyd had the smell of burnt rubber sprayed up their nostrils.
Forza Horizon 4 releases for the Xbox and PC on October 2 2018.
And the Ford Ranger Raptor will be available in Europe in early 2019.