Microsoft’s Turn 10 Studios, the development house behind the Forza Motorsport series of driving simulators, has done nothing but turn in quality work ever since they released Forza Motorsport all the way back in 2005 on the original Xbox. Over the last 11 years they have managed to evolve over three generations of consoles quickly enough to produce more games than Sony’s Polyphony Digital studio, the team behind the powerhouse Gran Turismo series and many would argue that not only have they done so faster than the Japanese juggernaut, they have also done it better.
Forza Horizon 3, from Playground Games in association with Turn 10 is another incredibly strong piece of evidence in favour of that argument.
The Horizon side-series of Forza titles is a far cry from the usual, more professional, strictly track-based racing simulators that you’ll find in the main Forza entries or similar titles such as Project Cars or Gran Turismo. They are a more accessible, easy to pick up, energetic and fun series of racers. Breathtakingly fast, ultra smooth off-road then on-road then off-road again collections of balls-to-the-wall speedy action. The fictional music and racing festival that sits at the centre of the Horizon universe has expanded across the Pacific onto our fair shores of Australia without an ounce of jet-lag. Bringing with it a huge open-world full of driving challenges to test your skills on. This game is a belter.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get on the open road is how good it looks, this game is truly stunning. From the skyscrapers and tight city streets of Surfers Paradise and the sandy beaches of Byron Bay, all the way to the Yarra Valley River and the harsh desert of the Australian Outback. This is one of the most visually striking games on consoles of all time. From the glare of the sun as it reflects off a damp road during a summer shower to the bashing of the raindrops on your viewpoint during a downpour all the way to the sand your tyres kick up as you peel off the starting grid in the desert. Turn 10 have turned in a fantastic looking game that held a rock solid 30 frames per second throughout my entire play-through, even when I was travelling at over 300 km/h.
The game has a very loose structure which pretty much leaves you to your own devices to go wherever you want and accept races and other speed challenges in whatever order you wish. As you complete these you are awarded with “fans”, indicating your festival is attracting more people and when you reach certain fan milestones you get to either upgrade an existing festival location, unlocking more challenges and races in that area or opening a new location altogether in a different part of the map. Sometimes you even unlock a “Showcase” event, a great feature of the Horizon season games. They are a series of challenges that pit you in a pre-selected car in an odds-stacked-against-you race against various methods of transportation such as trains, speedboats and a bloody Harrier jump jet!
The structure isn’t the only thing that’s loose, the representation of Australia’s geography on the map is a little off-course. I may not originally be from Australia (I’ve only been here 6 years!) but I’m preeeetty sure that The Twelve Apostles aren’t in Byron Bay. It makes sense that liberties had to be taken to fit the landmarks that they wanted but anyone coming to this expecting to get a road-by-road recreation on the land down under are going to be sorely disappointed.
If I can say anything about the Forza games, it’s that they look great, which we’ve already covered but they also FEEL great, the 350+ cars in the game all feel like your brain thinks they should. Heavy off-road trucks and Utes have the appropriate weight behind them and the lighter, meaner faster hyper cars are super quick to go and also super quick to turn. The weather and terrain all affect the way you drive too, you should break into turns earlier if it’s raining and the lack of traction in the Outback sands means you can throw your vehicle’s arse around the corner easier. Taking all of these differences of drive into account is important if you want to earn more fans with higher podium finishes, especially on higher difficulties.
Every so often, you’ll be alerted to a Barn Find rumour by one of your festival crew. The rumour is that there are classic cars scattered around the map hidden literally in barns that you have to find in order to add them to your collection. Your map will show a very approximate location, this lead to more than one occasion where I spent more than 10 minutes driving in gradually shrinking circles trying to find a bloody building that looks remarkably like several other buildings within the radius, waiting for the cutscene to trigger. These have a tendency to be frustrating as I found the “classics” often weren’t worth the time. This could mostly be attributed to my acknowledged ignorance of car culture so your milage may vary depending on your vehicular passion.
Australians beware, however. If you’re looking for a slice of Australia on a disc/download you best keep looking. All of the voices you will hear throughout your time in Horizon Straya, barring one, will not be Australian. Your head of PR, Irish, your GPS voice, British, all of the radio hosts that I heard were either American or British (granted, I didn’t listen to all the stations intently, dance music just isn’t my thing). Your “guy in the garage”, as he labels himself, is the only Australian accent I heard which, for a game set in Australia, is a bit lame. It would have been nice for a country that gets such little screen-time in games to have had a bit more representation.
Speaking of the radio, there’s a bunch of stations to choose from so you should be able to find something to your taste. Personally, there wasn’t enough classic rock on there, so luckily there is an integrated Groove Music station. It’s basically Microsoft’s version of Spotify or Apple Music, and this station allows you to stream and play any playlist that you might have on that service over your car stereo. It works surprisingly well, and little details like transferring the sound from your stereo to the loudspeakers of a festival location as you pass it is a nice touch. Personally, I don’t subscribe to Groove but Horizon 3 gives you a free 14 day trial so if none of the tunes tickle your tastebuds, that could be an option for you.
Still, even with a couple of nitpicks I’m happy to recommend Forza Horizon 3. It’s a well polished, meticulously crafted gem of an open-world racing game with a great dollar-to-hour ratio if you want to see everything the festival has to offer.
Want to try it for yourself? There’s a free demo on the Xbox One Marketplace right now that gives a pretty good taste of what you can expect.
For those that are already sold, search for and join the Player Attack driving club once, we’ll cruise until the sun goes down and beyond…watch out for those drop bears, though.