To be candid, Playground Games could’ve set Forza Horizon 3 just about anywhere on the planet and I expect I’d have found myself aboard. This UK-based racing supergroup has carved itself a well-earned reputation as a master of open-world racing; frankly, when it comes to open-world racers, there’s the Horizon series and then there’s everything else.
But yes; I won’t pretend not to be hugely excited at the revelation Horizon 3 is bringing the series down under, and I’ll freely admit that I’m buzzing at the prospect of hooning around in some of the new vehicles Horizon’s Australian holiday will feature. But putting aside the novelty of having a racing game set in my own backyard, Horizon 3 is still shaping up to be the most diverse, most social, and most customisable open-world racer in the business. No matter where you’re from, Horizon 3 seems to be striving to make you happy.
While I’m certain we have plenty left to learn before its September release, creative director Ralph Fulton and the Playground team have wasted no time laying out details. Simply put, expect more of everything.
Playground’s Frankenstein mash-up of iconic Australian locations… has resulted in a terrifically diverse environment.
Horizon 3 is twice the size of Horizon 2 and has twice the ecosystem types, and this delivers a fistful of new driving experiences. Speed down a beach, dragging your wheels through the lapping waves. Bomb through the bush on muddy and twisting trails. Attack the outback and crash over towering sand dunes. Playground’s Frankenstein mash-up of iconic Australian locations from up and down the east coast of the continent (and deep into the red centre) has resulted in a terrifically diverse environment.
Horizon 3 will also have the most cars in the series by far: 350, which Fulton notes is 150 more than Horizon 2 shipped with. The car list is even more diverse than the environment, ranging from the newly-debuted Lamborghini Centenario to specialised Baja buggies like the Penhall Cholla, and just about everything in between. Of course, being set in Australia means fans down under can expect some above average and long-awaited local representation lining up against the international metal. I spotted a Torana A9X during the demo, which previously popped up as Forza Motorsport 6 DLC, but Fulton confirmed we can also expect gems like the ’74 Holden Sandman and the first Holden ute (plus, as a bittersweet bonus, the final production utes from both Holden and Ford).
But it doesn’t stop with a bigger world and more cars. Horizon 3 brings new levels of customisation – new rally parts, new rim styles, and, for the first time, widebody kits. It brings back fan-favourite systems from Forza Motorsport 4, like the Auction House and the Storefront. There are more radio stations, one of which allows you to use your own music (Horizon 3 will stream personal playlists from OneDrive). You can even now play the game in four-player co-op, with friends playing on Xbox One or Windows 10 dropping in and out at their discretion. Everything in Horizon 3’s solo campaign can be played in co-op, and everything earned and completed while in co-op will remain with you once you go back to solo play; you’ll never have to arbitrarily race the same event twice. There really is extra everything.
Everything in Horizon 3’s solo campaign can be played in co-op.
What’s more is you’ll be able to create your own events with Horizon 3’s ‘Blueprint’ mode. As opposed to the previous Horizon games, Horizon 3 casts players as the boss of the Horizon festival and, as such, you can fiddle with it as you desire. Horizon Blueprint allows us to change routes, car restrictions, weather conditions, and more to create custom races and events. These can be named and shared with friends, who’ll see them in their own games (the game will even generate a custom poster for the event). Completing your friends’ Blueprint events will net you the same rewards you’d earn for taking on the “official” events Playground has baked into the game. With a few friends and 350 cars to play with, you may never run out of new races.
Playground has assembled a great demo for Horizon 3 that cycled me through several cars and bunch of surface types, and I can happily report the driving is typically excellent. It’s also absolutely stunning to look at in motion, from the fractured shadows in the dense rainforest to the most realistic sky and cloud formations I’ve ever seen this side of simply looking up. Horizon 3 has picked up visual touches from Forza Motorsport 6, too, like the moving beads of water climbing the windscreen as you speed forwards. New wildlife is a great flourish that adds life to the world (you’ve probably seen the kangaroos from the trailer, but I was also encouraged to keep my eyes peeled for a crocodile as I crashed through the shallow streams snaking through the rainforest).
Horizon 3 even sounds better than Horizon 2 already; angrier, perhaps. The crackle and snarl of the cars I’ve driven in Horizon 3 may just be the best I’ve heard in the series to date.
I’ll be making my way back to Australia the moment E3 wraps but I’ll be counting the days until Playground’s version of it makes its way back to me.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office and is clearing his calendar for this one. You can find him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.