It’s award season here at Twinfinite! All week long, our editors and writers will be nominating games that stood out enough in 2016 to be a Game of the Year candidate. And later this week, we’ll reveal our winner! Today, senior editor Chris Jecks tells us why Forza Horizon 3 is worthy of being Twinfinite’s 2016 Game of the Year.
Forza Horizon 3 is the culmination of Turn10 and Playground Games’ recent efforts to offer the finest racing game to date, and topple their PlayStation rivals, Polyphony Digital. Its impeccable level of detail, plethora of events – from the outrageous to the more grounded – and extensive roster of cars are but a few of the masterfully crafted components that make it the ultimate racing game.
Offering a more laid back approach to the racing genre, the Horizon sub-series has always been about open-worlds, arcade-style steering, and over-the-top races that would all feel out of place in the simulation-focused ‘Motorsport’ sub-series. Freedom has always been at the heart of these open road experiences, and that’s where Turn10 and Playground have really blown the doors wide open in Forza Horizon 3.
Previous Horizon titles had seen you merely taking part in these automotive festivals as you raced your way to be the very best driver. For Forza Horizon 3, you are the boss of this festival. It’s down to you to create events, set car restrictions, find new festival locations, sign radio stations, expand your fan base, and ultimately, make the festival the most successful one in Horizon history. That may all sound a little bit daunting, but Horizon 3 puts racing, and most importantly, fun, at the forefront of all of these activities.
Need to increase your festival’s fan count? No problem. Just drive a Lamborghini Centenario at full speed off a rickety wooden ramp and see how far you can fly it through the air. Alternatively, you could race a freight train across the Australian outback, or a Jeep suspended from a helicopter through the dense forest.
Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t need to rely on outrageous set pieces to win you over, though. Simply racing a mid-range car down a beautiful asphalt straight that cuts through the outback against 11 competitors is enjoyable enough, thanks to the perfected Drivatar feature. Taking the data of yours and every other player’s racing style, Drivatar then creates an AI that drives exactly like its owner. These make up the rest of the starting grid and are above and beyond the AI you’ll see in other racers, making each event feel wholly unique. If a player has an aggressive driving style, you can bet they’ll pile into you in the corners, or give you a gentle reminder in the form of a shunt to the rear when they’re behind and trying to get past. Taking part in a race has never felt more “realistic”, and this alone sets the Forza series far apart from its competition.
Forza Horizon 3 also boasts an extensive roster of cars from around the world from old-school classics to the upcoming class of 2017. This is where Forza Horizon 3’s attention to detail begins to show. Its vehicles are nothing short of works of art. Each car interior has been replicated and can be extensively explored in the garage. Stitching on the seats is clearly visible, engine bays are perfectly recreated, and brake calipers can be seen peering out between the wheel spokes of your chosen beast. Every engine purrs or roars just as their real-life counterpart does. It’s something that’s been at the heart of the Forza franchise for some time, but has reached new levels in Forza Horizon 3.
It’s not just the cosmetic attention to detail that’s prominent, either. Every car, regardless of whether it’s simply a later year of the same model, feels different. An Audi R8 V10 may stick to the asphalt as you fly around a gentle bend overlooking the shimmering coastline, but a BMW M4 will slide its back-end out at every opportunity it gets. Choosing your car for a particular event isn’t just down to which is the fastest, but which one you personally can handle best. Particularly, when you bring the various terrains into the picture.
Set down under in Australia, Forza Horizon 3 is one of the most stunning games you’ll find on the Xbox One and has an incredibly varied and diverse environment for you to explore at your leisure. The world around you comes to life as Kangaroos sprint across the road, trees blow in the wind, and dynamic lighting effects make for some of the most beautiful views I’ve witnessed in a video game. Even venturing to the very edges of the map offers a new opportunity.
Whether it’s the sun-baked outback or the shady forest floor sheltered by the dense canopy high above, every inch of its world has been lovingly modeled and detailed. However, the variations don’t just stop at the aesthetics. Each of the different terrains will handle entirely differently, and thus, your car choices can quickly backfire. That R8 we mentioned before may glide effortlessly on the asphalt, but will slide and stumble its way across the finish line if you’re going off-road. Meanwhile, a Land Rover Defender will make light work of that uneven grassland, but lags far behind on the open road. Car selection has a completely new dimension to it, and this forces you to explore areas of the vehicle roster you’d never normally venture into.
Every element of Forza Horizon 3, on its own, is amazing. But it’s when it all comes together that no superlative will do it justice. Speeding through lush forest, drifting between trees as the sound of your engine and the booming bass from your favorite radio station blast from your speakers; sunlight beats down through cracks in the dense canopy above, leaving delicate, leafy shadows contrasting against the glistening shine of your paintwork. There’s quite simply nothing like it. Forza Horizon 3 is the epitome of the racing genre and the shining example of video games from 2016.