In the ‘80s, America fell in love with Australia. From Crocodile Dundee to Mad Max, we met decent old Aussie guys driving good old Aussie cars, including the ubiquitous “Ute” – the country’s version of a pickup truck. Since seeing those movies we’ve always wanted to drive one. Sure, we’ve managed the infrequent spin in a pickup, and once got stuck in a horse trailer (don’t ask), but how could our desire ever be scratched by vehicles whose load trays aren’t integrated into the main passenger framework? Exactly! But thanks to Playground Games, our weird desire has at last been realized.
“Forza Horizon 3’s Australia is twice the size and twice as diverse as 2’s France and Italy”
Which is to say: Forza Horizon 3 structures Utes. And it does so because the game avoids its predecessors’ US and European settings in favor of the much-less-driven Australia. Playground promise a map that’s twice the size of Horizon 2’s sizable slice of France and Italy, and one that’s seemingly twice as diverse, too – expect to tackle dense rainforests; outback plains; the glistening, high-rise Surfers Paradise; Yarra Valley’s rolling hills; and, of course, miles and miles of shimmering beaches.
Out of the blue
It all looks great, too, thanks in large part to the game’s amazing skies. They’re down to the most tanned members of Horizon 3’s dev. team, who nobly sacrificed a summer of desk work to camp in Australia, armed with a custom-built 12k HDR camera rig. They captured thousands of photos of real Aussie skies, which were fed into Playground’s bespoke tech when they returned. The results are fascinating, with clouds forming and rising and falling past, and weather fronts gathering before breaking into showers or storms. The whole thing functions as a giant HDR light source, too, lending the game an unusually naturalistic artistic – one that is further improved by Xbox One S’s HDR capabilities – which proves flattering to both the beautiful landscapes and its awesome Utes.
For some purpose, Playground felt that 350 different Utes would be excessive, so they’ve peppered the game’s wide selection of vehicles with other options such as SUVs, trophy trucks, supercars, and buggies. Our demo starts by plunking us in the seat of a Lamborghini Centenario as we race against a field of other hypercars through the outback, across a large dam, and into the damp shade of a rainforest. There are kangaroos hopping along at the edge of the track, and an extraordinary view of the game’s open world as we descend towards
“According to Playground, this is the most friendly and customizable Horizon yet”
the forest. Forza 6’s puddles make a look under the cover as our car torpedoes into standing water, but thanks to the magic of video games there’s no lasting damage (it should be noted, however, that Ute would have been a more healthy choice). The Lambo handles with Forza’s characteristic combination of heavy sim-baiting heft and flickable arcade charm, and feels mercifully less prone to breaking traction than Horizon 2’s more slippery, Forza 5-influenced driving model.
After a while we switch to an 800hp Chevrolet trophy truck and bound along a dirt track down into a stalactite-lined cave before emerging onto a sunset-lit seashore. Hot-air balloons float up ahead, the cyan sea laps at the sand. It’s a contrivance for the demo, but we’d love to see more mid-event vehicle switching in the game, as it makes for a varied challenge. Our final run is a Showcase event in which we race a dune vehicle – against a man in a jeep suspended from a Chinook. The cheating goober cuts loose for the last hundred yards or so, but in the end we sail past and secure victory, teaching him a valued lesson about sportsmanship.
Name that tune
As well as the new setting and larger garage, there are profound changes under Horizon 3’s hood. Chief among these is your promotion from Horizon festival participant to organizer. Now you’ll get to choose how, when, and where the festival expands, and select the music for each event and venue. But there’s even greater customization available in the fresh Horizon Blueprints feature, where you create and share custom events – alter routes, define time of day and weather conditions, and set vehicle restrictions. In a smart, though potentially chaotic, move, Playground have given Blueprint events the same validity as their own ones, which means that completing any variant of a race will still count towards your career progression.
Perhaps the most interesting outcome of your new-found authority, however, is the ability to hire and fire friends’ Drivatars. You have four open slots for star drivers in your Horizon group, and you can seek out good players to fill them. Their accomplishments in their own games will count towards your festival progression, so you’ll be give weak associates’ Drivatars the chop – and then undoubtedly telling their real-life counterpart how they failed you.
If you have any friends left after that, the entire campaign can be played in drop-in, drop-out four-player co-op – a first for the series – and everyone involved will be able to check off any events they complete in their own game, too. Horizon 3 is, according to Playground Games, the most social and customizable Horizon yet, offering new road and rally parts, the series debut of wide body kits, selectable avatars, and – most prominently – the ability to choose the sound your horn makes. And all this creativity can be showcased in the returning auction house, where players can trade for their artistically superior results. You’ll be able to set up a storefront to tempt potential buyers, and you can follow your favorite uniform creators, too.
Forza Horizon 3 is shaping up to be very extraordinary. Not only does it promise to deliver the most extensive Forza game yet, and sate our thirst for Ute ownership, it also threatens to set a new visual and technical high-water mark for the Xbox One. While Forza 5 failed to raise the console’s debut profile, Playground’s HDR-enabled effort is well positioned to get the ball rolling for the Xbox One S.
Forza Horizon 3 Heading Australia Specifications:
Playground expand their horizon by heading Australia
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Format: XBOX one & Windows 10 PC
Due: 27 september
Updates: A demo for Forza Horizon 3 could be out as early as September 11