The title song for this year’s Forza Horizon initially rings out with a single melodic sentence. “Take me away!” it suggests and the new Horizon obliges, providing a wonderful and quite often breathtaking Australian landscape for your forthcoming adventure.
Purists may disagree but I’m willing to call Forza Horizon 3 the greatest racing game ever, not through any technically nuanced understanding of car mechanics or for the handling, which leans more to the arcade side of the genre, but for shear fuel-driven fun.
The Forza Horizon series might be seen as a less serious sibling of the main Forza franchise, but for me the beauty of the game comes from the fact that new advances from Forza games trickle down to the Horizon games but also allow them to stretch their legs and add their own sense of style.
It’s like the situation with Formula 1; All the best technology from the F1 car makes its way to road cars, but without all the fiddly starts or the need for ultimate driving skills to just get them round a corner and, of course, with the added benefit of the lighthearted enjoyment for the driver who just wants to get on with the thrill of driving.
Couple this with the scenery, 4K backdrops lifted from real life Aussie locations and some of the best environmental graphics ever seen in a driving game, plus the fully open world ‘drive anywhere’ approach to gameplay, even rewarding you more for going completely off road when the satnav is clearly telling you to go the other way, and you have the ultimate driving experience.
Most of this will, of course, be familiar to those who ploughed through the last Forza Horizon. Playground Games, with input from Turn 10, are sticking to the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke…’ but haven’t entirely rested on their laurels, either. There are all the usual vehicles, from exotics and supercars to rusty trucks and even a Robin Reliant van, plus those completely over-the-top PR stunts, the first of which sees you racing against a helicopter carrying a swaying 4×4 underneath. The Horizon Festival, on which each game is based, is opened up gradually through completing races, stunts and events, but this time around you get to choose elements yourself.
The differences centre around this new take on Horizon’s festival. Blueprints for events give you more freedom over which cars race, what the rules are, weather etc. Some inventive gamers have already come up with a few excellent races that are shared out for everyone to enjoy.
The feeling of messing about with the festival formula also comes from the unlockable Groove Radio station, which can pick up your Groove subscription or OneDrive stored music and create a station from it. Since music is a huge part of the experience, this adds yet another layer. That’s not to say that the music on offer isn’t already great. It’s a pretty eclectic mix of rock, drum and bass, pop and even classical and this time the stations are unlocked as you play, with 2 to choose from to start you off.
Ultimately, though, Forza Horizon 3 hits the right note because it manages to straddle so many other racer’s ideas, from Burnout Paradise to Need for Speed and even the more arcade side of racing. It obviously eschews the realism of sims in order to be fully accessible, but I don’t think anyone will be buying this game expecting a realistic driving experience, that’s not really what the Horizon games are about. If you want to tear around Australia, from the dusty outback to the neon lit city streets at night then Horizon 3 is your game.