“You know, it’s funny, you live there, but you never really visit any of these great places.”
That’s probably going to be most Aussies’ summaries of Forza Horizon 3 -- arguably Game of the Year for 2016 without even really trying, purely because it does such an amazing job of being a Forza Horizon game.
Set in Australia in kiddie, shrunken form, Forza Horizon 3 is pure fun at its best. It’s a benchmark for where we are as a gaming community, where even principle seriousness can be moulded to over-the-top silliness and Australian icons in the motoring world can launch across ‘outback’ dunes to join global Leaderboards for, you know, braggin’ rights, mate. And sorry, I’ll try and keep the tongue-in-cheek cobberism to a minimum, but the game goes a long way to not only embrace ‘Straya, it also brings out the (hopefully good-hearted and all-loving) Aussie in you, no matter where you look or what you drive.
My first Forza Horizon experience was in the second game, and it was something of a revelation to me
. The freedom of how -- and where -- you drive was obvious, but I touted in my review just how rewarding the game was. Mistakes were rewarded. Ballsy driving was rewarded. Making silly decals for silly cars was rewarded. (And is
rewarding.) Destruction was rewarded -- the whole thing was just a big invite to have fun in some very serious, and very digitally well-made cars. Like, the polar opposite of the series proper, or the likes of Gran Turismo and such. Those games can be scary, despite the wussy options for driver assists, because they tend to demand a clear and outright understanding of cars and how cars truly
work. And you can have that and apply that in the Horizon series, too. It’s just that in Horizon you’re treated with absolutely zero contempt for not
being that person. Horizon is like your Nan just letting you play cars however and wherever you want, while other games tend to be that smug, all-knowing car-loving Uncle who tells you your over-the-top Hot Wheels hot rod could never
drive on sand. Jerk.
It’s also fucking gorgeous. Sorry for the swears, Nan.
Seriously though, the team at Playground have outdone themselves. Hooning through lush rain forest or across ‘outback’ Australia -- the two biggest extremes in the environmental front for the game -- are just outstanding experiences. The level of detail that has gone into even some of the smaller things, too, is to be applauded. Our wheelie bins, for example, are perfectly represented here. Like, who cares about that stuff enough to not only include it, but get it right in the first place? There’s a genuine love you can see in here for the land they decided to create, down under the hood of their impressive game-engine. (Sorry, again.)
Oddly, it also never feels weird being in the Yarra Valley one minute, and then Surfers Paradise the next. And it should -- no one should feel at home in Surfers Paradise, but how they’ve jigsawed our Great Southern Land is next-level, and I just love every single minute of driving through it in videogame form.
A lot might wind up being said about some of the ‘questionable’ Aussie accents in the game though, especially Warren or “Wazza” as he should have been known, and sometimes it does sound a bit like they got a Pom to try and channel the ocker, but it really isn’t all that bad. Anna -- your in-car VO (and point of interest helper) can also call you something from a massive list of nicknames, with myself appropriately choosing “Mate”. It’s just one of many new additions to an already robust list of player-rewarding features.
You can now hire and fire Drivatars to be in your own stable of drivers who go out and earn money for you -- money being both necessary and arbitrary all at once (a bit like life, really). In Horizon 2 you simply raced your way to the next Horizon Festival, but in Horizon 3 you’re the (alleged) architect of of each one. This means you need fans, and fans only flock to you when you do cool things. In Horizon 3 this doesn’t just mean getting podiums, it also means everything else you do in the game -- more rewards for just being you. Though these are specific with PR Stunts (such as distance jumped, high skill-chains, drifting challenges and more), cross-country races, rally specials, discoveries and oh-so-much more. There’s mountains of content throughout Forza Horizon 3, and even after a week with it, I’ve barely made a dent in my quest for racing completion.
Australia is also heavily represented in the music department, and thankfully there’s even more variety in the radio stations on offer (you need to ‘sign’ to a station which means they gradually unlock). There’s an all-new Epitaph station which has plenty of punk, hardcore and emo stuff on it, while the “Future Classics” station features plenty of our local talent such as Flume, TK Maidza and more. It’s kind of awesome the first time you hear one of the songs come on that might actually play when you’re driving in the real-world. Again, like the wheelie bins, it’s just an added -- unforgettable -- everyday Aussie thing that ties this game to our being so much more than anywhere else in the world. It’s something I’m sure our non-Aussie readers won’t get, but in games we’re often the forgotten country and it’s hard not to be impressed. I mean, they even nailed our phone booths -- the phone booths only modern day junkies use here, but they wanted authenticity and boy, did they go for it.
In Forza 6 Turn 10 introduced hydroplaning which was a game-changing addition to otherwise very tight racing, while here Playground has taken the humble puddle and upped the ante with creeks, rivers, dams and more. They affect your driving, of course, but it’s also just very liberating being able to drive through water -- be it crystal clear beaches or murky creeks. I actually drove the length of one around the Maroondah Waterfall area and found I could navigate the whole thing (though launching into Marrondah Dam resets you back on the road). It’s just another addition of freedom and exploration in a game that simply fosters creative driving for those of us happy to ditch the bitumen for something a little different.
And as variety is the spice of life, there are options-a-plenty within Forza Horizon 3’s boot. Multiplayer is bolstered with Online Adventures where you can join a session in play, or customise your own and invite friends. You can play co-operatively with friends in co-op sessions, join clubs, play in online freeroam -- there’s just so much to do, and even if you don’t wind up playing any multiplayer, your game-world is littered with the Drivatars of friends anyway, so there are unique driver behaviors always taking place. New race additions come by way of nighttime ‘illegal’ Street Races which are a bit harder than a lot of the stock racing you do because the design of the game-world features a lot of the Aussie countryside which isn’t all that well lit. I’m finding these to be among the best new features in the game, and some of the races are just exhilarating.
About the only negative I can find so far is that “Barn Finds” are called “Barn Finds”. “Shed Finds” would have been much more appropriate, and it would have been nice to see both AFL and NRL fields about the place, just to deepen the Aussie stamp that little bit more. Apart from that, though, Forza Horizon 3 is the best in the series yet. It features some amazing parts of Australia, amazing Australian cars and fully embraces our country, car culture and just the general “Aussiness” or our country. Dynamic weather, gorgeous lighting in both day and night help highlight the absolutely stunning Australian setting we’re in, and we still don’t know what they plan on doing as far as expansive DLC is concerned -- here’s hoping they somehow join Melbourne and Sydney together in a new map to offer up more urban playspaces, or just gives us an entire Tassie to explore. If you’re looking for a game to call home, set in your own home, this is it. But if you’re looking for a game that will keep you playing throughout the year in a variety of creative, engaging and freeform ways, Forza Horizon 3 is definitely what you’re after. This is a strong contender for
Cobber of the Year, mate.