Games What I’m Playing. 2 – Forza Horizon 3

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I bought my Xbox One S on 3rd November 2017 as part of a pretty decent bundle – Forza Horizon 3, Hot Wheels DLC, and Call of Duty WWII for around €260. I’d had no interest in the console up to that point, what with Microsoft’s anti-consumer stance on pre-owned games, always-online, Kinect spying on your TV viewing habits and so on. I was more than happy with my PlayStation 4… until Gran Turismo Sport came out and ruined all hopes and expectations I’d had for the game. My intention was to buy the Xbox One purely for the few exclusive games I wanted, keeping the PS4 for all other games.

It seemed that Microsoft had answered the problems with some solid solutions – pre-owned games weren’t a problem, Kinect had been shelved, and they were making good progress with Backwards Compatibility with discs from both of their previous systems. Many of the games from those older systems are also quite inexpensive on the online Store.

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So, on to Forza Horizon 3 – the primary reason, along with Forza Motorsport 7, for my new purchase. I’ve been playing a lot of it over the past few days, and I’ve started to find the swing of it. It controls beautifully, as you’d expect from a Forza game if you’ve played one. Gran Turismo prides itself one its deep simulation of real driving physics, but there’s always been something about Forza that is more alive, more urgent. The graphics are also quite something, with all the details coming together nicely.

Of course some credit must go to the Xbox One’s controller. It is a marked upgrade over the 360 pad, in particular its joysticks have been adjusted to have a little less weight in their spring, and the rumble triggers really help take you deeper into the game. I have no interest in using a steering wheel controller, and this will do very nicely thank you.

The game is essentially the same as the first Horizon game (I haven’t played the second) with some clear improvements. For a start the map is considerably larger. One event takes you on a lap of the entire outside edge of the map, and in a quite nippy Ford GT it takes around 14 minutes to complete the circuit. So far so impressive. Another big change of the freedom to go off piste as it were – most fences can be smashed as you fly cross country, cutting some time of your long drive to the next event.

Similarly to Grand Theft auto, your available events are shown on the map and you are free to pick what you want to do next. Circuit races and sprints are all well and good, but some of the best thrills come from the showcase events, which have you racing a train, jumping over it at it each junction, or driving along and through a river as you race speedboats to the finish line.

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As you travel the world (in itself a relaxing experience) you can challenge other drivers to a race, usually a couple of kilometres, winning credits for winning the race. These drivers (or Drivatars as they are known here) are based on people in your friends list, or others you’ve encountered along the way online, or their members of the car clubs you can decided to join a short way into the game. Sometimes you will be prompted by a search area on your map to locate a particular driver, and beating them will give you the opportunity to recruit them to your “team” earning money for you.

Another type of search circle comes up from time to time – a barn find. You’ll hear a rumour about a particularly interesting wreck discovered in a barn, and you have to find said barn within the search circle, then wait a few minutes while your mate restores it, and it’s yours.

Dotted around the map are various other challenges. Speed Cameras award up to three stars according to the speed you manage to trigger them at; Danger Signs task you with driving off a ramp and trying for distance, again with three stars up for grabs; Speed Zones require a high average speed through a fixed section of road; Drift Zones require you to drift skill fully through the winding corners.

Good fun can be had with the Bucket List events, which put you behind the wheel of some fast car or other and give you a destination, a tight time limit, and an extra task to complete on the way, such as getting so many near misses or catching air a certain number of times. One event placed me in the Warthog from Halo, though thankfully kept the controls “proper”.

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As I stated at the beginning, I got this game with the Hot Wheels expansion pack included. Early into the game you can travel to Hot Wheels Island and enjoy some adjusted physics on plastic tracks, in full-size Hot Wheels vehicles. The effect is quite something, with the track looking authentically plastic and the car designs well realised, though a few more Hot Wheels cars would be nice. Events are pretty much more of the same, just with more loops, banks, and less friction. I’ll be honest it’s not encouraged me to spend the money on Blizzard Mountain, the other available expansion. It’s great fun, but for my money doesn’t add enough extra interest to the already quite expansive main game.

I’m still relatively early in the game, despite having many hours spent cruising about taking in the scenery, so undoubtedly I have a lot still to find out, but I can say without a doubt that this is one of the very finest driving games available, it’s main strength being in its open world and the sheer joy of visiting its four corners. Oh and the incredible experience of controlling the cars.

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