Driving northward along the Great Ocean Road into the glamourous Surfers Paradise evokes the feelings of entering Nice for the first time in Forza Horizon 2.
"Forza Horizon 3 is as much a driving game as a racing game". In odd-numbered years we get the more realistic Forza Motorsport series.
Even though a demo of Forza Horizon 3 has already been released for Xbox One, no demo has been released as yet for PC but there is one in the pipeline which actually won't be released until after the full game is released. The city, for example, struck me as particularly boring. And much of that is simply due to how much fun it is to drive around, looking for trouble - rather than worrying about your technical driving skills or your place in the championship. When coupled with the game's more fundamental difficulty-based set of adjustments, the Blueprints are powerful tools for really making the game be what I want. Here you can get a Ferrari 458 and adorn it with a Liberty Walk bodykit for an eye-popping, ear-splitting bastard of a ride, and here you can take a BMW M3 and splice it with a little help from Rocket Bunny to create an extraordinary mutant. Taking direct landmark cues from the metropolis of Brisbane, Byron Bay, Gondwana rainforests, and harsh red interior deserts. Go for it. Want to speed through the rainforest in a sports vehicle?
After a superlative 30-minute intro, that is like test-driving every vehicle in the lot at the speed of light, you choose a driver - Forza Horizon developer Playground Games offers a diverse set of playable characters, not just bald white beefcakes - and begin taking over Australia through good-spirited road races, that leave a paradoxical wake of joyful onlookers and destroyed property. Turning west from Surfers, you'll head nearly immediately into Far North Queensland's Daintree Rainforest and then into the Outback. Take shortcuts across fields, through forests or even off clifftops.
This open-ended Australian tour of Forza is undeniably vast and ridiculous; a successful formula overall.
And it does look right. The attention to detail in everything from architecture to flora is on the same level as that afforded the many cars available in the game.
The Forza Horizon games are hands-down my favourite way to spend time behind a virtual wheel. You can even create your own license plate to reflect your personality. Candyland for rev heads. The artificial barriers scattered across the maps of previous games, like an impenetrable gated train track that bisected its predecessor, are largely gone. The overarching goal of the entire game seems to be expanding your festivals, and to do this, you'll need to perform in various races and physics-defying stunts to attract a certain amount of fans. Before I sat down to write the review, I took in a new perspective on the game.
Also on offer a wide array of Australian vehicles, both classic and modern. I was sitting on my couch in Brooklyn, holding an Xbox One controller, grinning uncontrollably.
There are a few differences to the formula this time around, however.
One of the first things you do in Forza Horizon 3 is race a helicopter. Best of all though, is the ability to join Online Adventures that have you selecting cars and voting in a lobby so that you can go off and play a host of other fun game modes like King and Virus which are essentially versions of tag that you can play with others and offer up a great bunch of laughs. I kept trying to meta it. Good to go. Yearning to carve the corners in a quick, three-wheeled Reliant Supervan III? Finalist cars will be identified during the meet that will be showcased during the Forza Horizon 3 LA launch later in the afternoon. Never mind, I'll upgrade it later and then it'll be capable of hitting nine-tenths lightspeed off the line.
Unlike the more serious Motorsport titles, the Horizon games are open world. It sounds unusual to want to hit the brakes and take in the ocean lapping against your tires while the skies turn from a brilliant blue to a rosy pink, but when you're the boss of the Festival you're entitled to a few moments away from the motor oil and crowds. If a challenge was hard, I could just move to something else. Yes, Forza Horizon 3 adds multiplayer gaming, although I haven't been on it enough yet to fairly judge it.
When I got to play, I was surprised at how well the developers had been able to make mimic real life. You'll also gain access to new race types, and that's where Forza Horizon 3 really shines.
Even the hunt for the game's huge number of collectibles is tuned to be fun without grating. Four player campaign online co-op has been added so you don't have to experience the wonders of Australia alone.