Burnout (Surfers) Paradise…
The Forza series has been a staple of Microsoft’s line up since its introduction in 2005 on the original Xbox. With the “Motorsport” side of it focusing more on the simulation side of things, Horizon has come to the fore as the flashier, more fun younger sibling. How does the latest entry, set in Australia, fare against its older brothers and sisters?
Game: Forza Horizon 3
Developer: Playground Games/Turn 10
(Review code provided by publisher)
If you’ve played Forza Horizon already, you know the drill. A festival of music and racing is set up somewhere in the world, and you need to expand it and attract as many fans as you can to it. The idea sounds straightforward enough, but Horizon has a number of enjoyable spanners that it throws into the works every now and then to test you out. For example, the first thing you do in the game is race against a jeep… That’s being suspended from a helicopter. It’s these outright crazy races that make the Horizon series a different beast entirely from the po-faced tune-em-up simulator that Motorsport is.
Australia, then, is the setting for Horizon 3. Beautiful plains, bustling cities and lush greenery are all par for the course when you think of the land down under, and Horizon 3 replicates this beautifully. Running at a solid 30fps on the Xbox One, it’s the best looking, and most diverse, open world racer that I’ve ever seen. Sure, there are instances of pop-in and the occasional low texture that flies past you, but the sense of speed given off by the game negates any real impact that it may have. Technically, this is the best game I’ve seen on the Xbox One, and it looks absolutely fantastic.
The core gameplay of Horizon 3 is, unsurprisingly, competing in a series of races to earn enough credits to get yourself a faster car, to upgrade your festival and to buy more cars, to compete in another set of races, to… You get the picture. It’s an open world racing game. You gain fans along the way, which allows you to expand the Horizon festival to other iconic locations in Australia, such as Surfers Paradise, The Outback and more. It’s a nice mechanic that gradually introduces you to more of the map, and lets you run riot across the different types of environments at your own pace. Want to hammer through and get the festival as big as possible in no time? You can do that. Want to take your time and just tick over the progression when you feel like it? Yeah, that’s an option too. This is your festival to expand, and the game allows you to do it in the best way you see fit. Head to Head races can be won by going off road and taking shortcuts, whilst street circuit races are as challenging as you’d expect them to be, and equally as much fun.
Horizon 3 also features “Skill Points”, which you can unlock by performing tasks in the world. Driving in oncoming traffic, driving at high speed, drifts, smashing billboards… If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it is. I had an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for Burnout Paradise whilst playing Horizon 3, and it never really went away. This is possibly the closest racing game I’ve found in terms of sheer fun since Criterion’s 2008 masterpiece. But I digress, the skill points lead to you being able to give yourself perks, including the ability to fast travel around the map, and will also give you fun little bonuses like additional horns for your cars, if that’s what you’re into.
As you’d expect from a Forza game, there is a phenomenal range of cars, including a whole bunch that have been scheduled in for DLC down the road. Every car that I’ve sat behind the wheel of so far has been intricately detailed, right down to the strangely mundane interior of Master Chief’s Warthog from Halo 5. Every car has its own unique traits when it comes to speed, handling and every other aspect you could hope to imagine, and mastering them will become a challenge for anyone, regardless of ability.
The online side of things isn’t something I’ve really delved into too much, but everything seems functional after a couple of launch day jitters. The ability to team up with a friend and do some of the “story mode” missions is a nice touch.
Forza Horizon 3, then, is an incredibly fun racer with a wealth of content for you to dive into. Whilst some of the progression races feel a bit too familiar as you go on, there isn’t much negative that can be said about the game. Taking what makes the Motorsport series enjoyable to driving game fans, and throwing a healthy dose of Burnout Paradise infused nostalgia into an open world as beautiful as Australia is, Forza Horizon 3 is the most fun racing game you could hope to play in 2016. Fantastic stuff.