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Hyped or Afraid: Forza Horizon 3

(Forza Horizon 3, Microsoft Studios)

Racing games demand time and dedication; they are frequently more complicated experiences than your typical video game genre: action adventure, role playing and first-person shooter. Like games belonging to the fighting genre, it seems that unless all you do is spend time with a single type of input sequence by memorizing combos and perfecting your skills, it’s almost impossible, or at least unlikely, to enjoy games that demand so much expertise without first paying your dues. That’s why many turn to games part of genres that have an easier barrier to entry; most just don’t want to be bothered with having to learn to master something. They often play games for their immediate enjoyment and strive for perfection for later. Though I do enjoy a good racing sim from time to time, even though I wouldn’t ever consider myself to be any good at them, the Forza Horizon series does something that’s unique for specialized games of its kind. Playground Games makes definitive racing experiences that are enjoyable by any kind of racing enthusiast, whether they be an expert or a casual player. From my experiences with Forza Horizon 2 and the current critical reception of the upcoming entry—it’s damn good—Forza Horizon 3 is definitely an Xbox console exclusive I am hyped about.

Unlike its counterpart Motorsport series, which is also a master-class racing game, Forza Horizon makes racing much more accessible. Part of this is due to its open world environments and emphasis on recognizable sports vehicles, but most of it is due to the gameplay and lack of hyperrealism. Make no mistake, the graphics in Forza Horizon 2 were crisp and the upcoming entry, especially in 4K, looks to be no different in its visual appeal, but the physics of the cars don’t need to be spot on like they are in the enthusiast, expert racing series of Forza Motorsport.

(Forza Horizon 2, Microsoft Studios)

(Forza Horizon 2, Microsoft Studios)

To really home in on its target for ultra-realism, Turn 10’s franchise uses real-world tracks, and I can’t help but feel that I grow tired of racing along the same meticulously developed tracks over and over again. But that’s how real-world racing goes: professionals push cars to their limits in a loop several times to test the ability and stamina of their high-powered machines. In the Horizon series though, the soul of the game is much more about the semi-linear adventure through open landscapes, a historical and cultural introduction, in a way, to carefully recreated landscapes. Who could forget the beauty of Southern France in Horizon 2? And this same love for racing environments is, as noted from recent trailers for Horizon 3, no different in the Australian locales: the dazzling sun-soaked beaches of Byron Bay and the wonder of the skyline of Surfers Paradise all have an alluring presence that makes speeding an adventure and not just another lap around a fixed course.

The Forza Horizon series puts the heart, the passion, and the character into racing games, something that is non-existent in many other racers. When I play them, I am reminded of my days playing the Need for Speed series as a child.  Though not focussed on the thrill of escaping officers or the pressure of hunting criminals, Forza makes the challenging mechanics of realistic racers take a backseat to the pleasure of simply enjoying the cruise along breathtaking roads, beaches, and country landscapes at high speeds with sleek supercars.

(Forza Horizon 2, Microsoft Studios)

(Forza Horizon 3, Microsoft Studios)

The Horizon series, because of its open world nature, feels refreshing to play even when not in a race. Typically, open world games agitate me because there is too much reliance on traveling back and forth—aside from the main plot there are frequently few enjoyable objectives aside from the ones you create for yourself. But this all changes in the racing genre. There is no need to fast-travel or grow wary of travelling the same roads, because speeding around the environment is the game. The fun of driving makes exploring the open world an experience that is engaging; it feels well-integrated because the mechanics involved in travelling are the same as those used in the actual prepared events. Walking to and from locations in an open world is no fun because walking or horseback riding is not the primary mode of gameplay that makes the games fun. The existence of fast-travel systems proves this: no gamer wants to travel between two points in an open world, and that’s why developers are often stuck with trying to create exciting side missions or menial tasks that make the journey feel more organic than simply teleporting from one objective to the next. Inherent of the genre or not, it’s always a pleasure to pump the gas in the Horizon series to get from one end of the map to the other.

Forza Horizon 3 looks to be a great start to the fall season, and a perfect title to really show off the beauty of the HDR capabilities of the new Xbox One S. The series takes complicated racing games and translates them into fully enjoyable titles for those who have a passion for cars and racing, without the technical know-how or the patience to learn the deep physics involved in classic racing sims. Let me know in the comments if you feel the same way about Forza Horizon 3 or prefer the precision of its brother series.

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