I have a huge amount of respect for racing game developers who aren’t scared to push boundaries. For me, racing games have a dangerous tendency to feel ‘samey’ – sharing similarities with other games and not showing enough variety in gameplay. One can argue that codemaster’s F1 series differs to Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport series, and Slightly Mad Studio’s Project Cars, but to me these racing simulators are constrained in the same way: similar tracks, similar rules, similar physics and similar game mechanics.
Racing games are too often lacking in personality and identity, which is why the really good racing games I’ve played over the years stand out so pleasantly in my memory. The Need For Speed Underground games (2003-4) gave us explorable worlds, stories and missions to follow, as well as a diverse amount of car modifications – setting an incredible standard for future open world racers.
The Burnout series (2001-8) was another of my favorites. Whilst admittedly being highly unrealistic; the speed and handling of the cars combined with the nonchalant attitude towards destruction and the high energy soundtracks made Burnout hilarious fun to play.
More recently the Forza Horizon series (2012-16) innovated when Microsoft Studios handed the worn Forza reins to Playground Games. The resultant 3 beautiful open world racers have grown in quality, size and popularity – refining a party fueled formula where you are invited to a lively, car-centric festival.
However, if you come to 3 different parties and bring the same tricks each time then the other guests are going to start cottoning on.
Forza Horizon 3 welcomes you jovially to Australia where the explorable area is bigger and more diverse than ever. Race through rainforests, over pristine beaches and through sunsoaked cities; tour around vineyards and trek as far as the Outback where deserts and arid canyons provide the perfect place for crazy stunts. There have also been a number of notable improvements made, with more bucket list challenges, promotional stunts and event types, and fewer barriers to ruin improvised offroading.
So at face value, Forza Horizon 3 is Forza Horizon 2 but bigger and better. Looking deeper though, I’m not sure I like it as much!
For one, you are the boss of the Horizon festival, which means there is very little reason for you to be taking part. Indeed the sense of progression is emphasised largely by the number of fans the festival gains rather than your improvement as a racer. This is obviously Playground Games’ attempt to change things up, but in adding more player choice it has made the game less streamlined, giving the player less incentive to continue, with no perceivable aims.
For newcomers to the Horizon festival I completely recommend Forza Horizon 3 – it plays incredibly and the visuals are mesmerising. But since it is the third game in the series, the party tricks are beginning to look suspiciously familiar. It incites the question: what can we expect from Playground Games in the future? I suspect the ever increasing popularity of the series will spawn another iteration in 2018, but there is a part of me which wants to see something completely new from this innovative development company.