A tranquil horizon with a promise of a new day, disturbed ever so slightly by the engines of an airplane seeking land. Slowly, as the plane approaches 4 exquisite cars, the music starts to build. In a haste Keira steps out of the plane, answers a call and get handed keys to the beautiful Lamborghini Centenario. It’s day one of Forza Horizon Australia and these cars need to make their way to Byron Bay. Keeping the car from stalling, Keira revs up the engine as the camera man walks around the Lamborghini for some iconic shots to showcase the brilliance of what Playground Games achieved. Keira revs a few more times, allowing for the fluid to reach maximum pressure and puts pedal to the metal.
Energetically, Scott announces over the radio that he is coming to you live from Horizon Radio. Jumping from station to station we get a feel for the energy of each host. Visuals and music start speeding up, radio presenters get more excited, cars doing stunts, revving, racing, drifting… all to build up to this glorious moment: Forza Horizon 3.
I absolutely loved the intro into this gorgeous game. The build-up was amazing and just like revving up for that max fluid pressure, they managed to rev my heart-rate in anticipation of what’s to come. What makes it even more brilliant is the fact that the build-up was warranted. They did not fill my tank with false hope. They promised, they delivered.
Forza Horizon 3 is an open world racing video game exclusive to XBOX and Windows 10 machines. Want to lay back on the couch but still play with your more serious PC platform friends? They got you fam. This game features cross-platform play between the two Microsoft platforms and boasts a 4-player co-op to encourage more friends to play together. Game release was done in two sections; the Ultimate edition released on the 23rd of September 2016 and then the unfortunate souls that could not afford the ultimate edition had to wait an extra 4 days to join in on the fun.
Remember how you started off as a rookie driver in the previous titles, working your way to the top? Well, it seems all that work finally paid off! You, yes you, are now the festival boss. You will be the one making the decisions which affect the outcome of your festival. You will choose the festival sites, choose which ones to upgrade, sign radio stations and hire Drivatars to join your line up. Like any other festival; your goal is to create the biggest, most epic Horizon Festival in history.
They incorporated a couple tutorial-like races into the intro of the game. Basically, to just show-off what the game can do and get you familiar with the controls. Good heavens, did they nail this! From sweet visuals, down to seamless vehicle transitions. Imagine yourself pressing back into the couch as you jet off in the Lamborghini Centenario. Life around you all but a blur to the untrained eye. Switch over to the Baldwin Motorsports Trophy Truck and take to the sky… kind of. Move into a cutscene and realize just how extravagant these festivals are! Open skies, fireworks, loud music, revving engines, tyre squeals as fellow car lovers show off their rides and last, but not least, fans joyful to see you. Welcome to the Tomorrowland for car enthusiasts.
Before we continue you need to pick a character. There’s a total of 14 to choose from with a mix between male and female. I know, I know… most people don’t care about the human sitting behind the wheel, it’s a racing game after all. I love feeling like the character is a little mini-me emerged in this virtual world. Therefore, I love to customize and the closer I get to my mini-me (or fantasy) the happier I am. Unfortunately, they only give us static faces to choose from but it’s definitely a step in the right direction! What should they call you? When last did you choose your own pet name? No custom names I’m afraid, only a pre-set list you need to choose from. They snuck in some epic nicknames so be sure to go through the list! For the serious guys… don’t worry you have a whole bunch of standard male/female names to choose from as well. I went with Wingnut and to this day I still get a little grin on my face whenever Keira or Anna says, “Hey Wingnut!”.
Jump into the 2011 Penhall Cholla dune buggy for your first showcase event, immediately after the character selection. Marvel at the sight of Warren being airlifted in his Jeep, as Keira explains that these events will not be boring. You need to catch up to Warren, suspended from a helicopter. I particularly enjoyed how nervous Warren got whenever he thought his vehicle might fly into a tree or building. George, George, George of the jungle… watch out for that… ahhh! These events are amazing and it’s truly sad that we only get 5 of them. Earn the hearts of more fans to unlock these Showcase events and take racing to a whole new level.
Jump into the Lamborghini Centenario for one last introductory event; the hunt for the perfect Drivatar for your line-up. The Forza franchise is doing an amazing job of replicating the driving styles of player Drivatars. So well that I actually got a bit ticked off with actual friends of mine (without them even knowing), because they kept forcing me off the road. Are they bad drivers? Compared to me they are pro… Nevertheless, Forza believes they are dirty little drivers. Note that you need an internet connection for these Drivatar AIs to download. It does add some dynamic to the game, and when you are offline it still feels like your buddies are around. So, I would like to apologize in advance to anybody that runs into my Drivatar online! As you progress through the game, numerous opportunities will pop up to challenge drivers for your line-up, beat them and you get to hire them. You have 4 spots on your line up and you want the best of the best. The more successful drivers you sign up the more fans it will attract to your festival. Your Drivatar team will compete in events to earn you some bonus credit. As mentioned before, you only have 4 spots on your team so you need to make sure you check their stats before hiring and firing.
Finally, you realize the true start of your journey will commence soon, as you get prompted to pick your first car from the available selection:
- BMW M4 Coupe: Performance goes out the window when you drive off road with this one, but offers a decent drive when you stick to tar.
- Nissan Silvia Spec-R: Probably the best pick for the person not used to the handling of FH cars. Easy handling and survive those outrages skid-drift moments. You will be able to handle dirt, at the cost of performance.
- Ford Shelby GT350R: This is the one! If, big if, you know how to treat this car. Otherwise you might end up skidding yourself silly. It’s an S class so not for newbies… but spend some time to learn how she likes to be driven and she’ll gladly shower your opponents in dust.
- HSV Limited Edition Gen-F GTS Maloo: The “limited edition” got me tempted, but it’s way too slow. I need speed. However, very good balance between speed and handling.
Unfortunately, you won’t get the customize option here like when buying a car at the festival. Playground Games did put in some excellent work though and allows us to perform upgrades on body kits, rims & tires, performance parts, horns, interior and license plates. Pimp your car out as a Fast & Furious looking beast or keep it simple with stock colors. Set your horn to the ever so popular La Cucaracha or be different and choose from various other toots and hoots available. Make your license plate (or vanity plate) unique. Upgrade or downgrade your car class if you don’t want to switch between vehicles for different class races. Dive into the tuning of your car, to optimize it to your driving needs. They also weren’t shy with the number of cars they made available in this game, over 350 available in-game. The list of possibilities is impressive and I can’t wait to see just how granular they will make these cosmetic customization options in future releases.
The human soul is hungry for beauty and two of the things we always look for is landscape and music. Playground Games placed a lot of focus on the environment during the intro. It’s easy to see why. They have full right to be proud of what they created here. When last could you look at the sky in a racing game and appreciate the sunrise or sunset? When last could you imagine the heat, as the sun glimmered on the sand dunes and feel a cool shiver as the sky turned dark for that incoming rain storm? The visuals are just that good. Take a drive through the rainforest and feel like you are right there, with sunrays fighting their way through a dense set of trees. Find some water and lose yourself in the reflection of the surroundings. Some incredible attention to detail here. Fun fact, Playground Games sent a team to Australia to set up a panoramic rig of three 4K cameras in the Australian Outback. They captured a whole season’s worth of footage to create an authentic Australian environment. Some say the lenses on these cameras also had to be changed every 30 minutes, so you can really appreciate the amount of effort they put in to give us the best experience possible to them.
Only good things have been said about the in-game music as well, with an option of 9 music labels (radio stations) to listen to. You will have to unlock these music labels as the game progresses and ultimately get that Groove Music label to listen to your very own music in-game. It’s clear that they are trying to accommodate more of their players with the added genres. I got quite excited to see the Block Party label (promise of fresh new “hip hop”) and really just hoped for the good ol’ tunes we got to enjoy in the NFS Underground series. Some might disagree, but those tracks were legit. What a disappointment this label is though! A very bad start with their introduction of a Hip Hop station. It’s fun to hear an old school track, like RUN-DMC, on the radio. It’s not fun when it gets over-done. One thing all players have been asking for is the freedom to listen to their own music in-game. They have made it possible for us with their new added music label, Groove Music. Make sure you have an active Groove Music pass (in real life) if you want to access music from the Groove music library, otherwise you can stream from your OneDrive music library.
FH3 makes use of the ForzaTech engine, so it’s of no surprise that the physics and handling of the cars are comparable to the Forza Motorsport titles. It is an arcade racer though, so it’s more relaxed than its simulated big brother Forza Motorsport. Unlike FM, you get to drive where, when and how you want. Plus, get rewarded for epic stunts and clean racing. Careful though, the higher the score climbs the harder you will cry when you accidently mess it up. We also see the traditional FM view options which include; bumper, hood, cockpit, chase near and far views. Horizon does have its championships like Forza Motorsport, but ultimately the best value for money here would be the various events, and Playground Games weren’t stingy here. You have your Horizon Festival events which includes circuits, descents, hill climbs, scrambles etc. Then to step away from the festival itself, you can show street racers just why they call you “boss”. Take part in midnight battles and street races. As if there isn’t enough showing off already, you can also complete PR stunts. Where, oh where will this world be without the media? Go ahead, engage in PR and show off some stunts that’ll drive the fans crazy. Go and live your dreams in the cars given for bucket lists and create your very own blueprint which you can share with the community. All these events, stunts and races will reward you with fans, credits and XP or a combo thereof.
But wait, there’s more! As if the above events weren’t enough, they have added the popular Barn Finds once again plus some breath-taking beauty spots. Throughout the game Warren will be in touch and advise of any rumors he heard of cars just waiting to be found and restored. Drive to the marked rumored area, search for that barn and Warren will come through and describe the car with passion. So, what’s the deal with these beauty spots? You need to take a drive through the amazing world they have created and check them out! These locations will be marked purple on your map and all you need to do is drive up to them and hit X to view the full beauty of Australia’s remarkable scenery.
Overall this game is exquisite and Playground Games achieved new heights here. It’s truly amazing to see how the console limits are being pushed and in general this game is just a huge win for Microsoft’s exclusive game list. With the release over a year ago, this game is still thriving. People still get excited to play FH3, either to challenge themselves or to take on epic circuits with their friends. Yes, even I still have endless hours of fun on this beauty and I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future.