When the original Forza Horizon was released for Xbox360 in 2012, I bought it more out of curiosity than anything else. In the past, other “less-serious” racing games failed to capture both my attention and imagination, so my expectations were low. I did not expect to find myself immersed in a virtual world of cars, people, and stunning scenery.
One of the things which made the game so great was its Surprise Factor. Who knew rural Colorado could look so stunning? I’d actually find myself parking the virtual car in a virtual layby in a virtual Red Rocks to admire the virtual view. Then, I’d high-tail it back to the fictional Horizon Festival, stopping near the main stage to watch a fireworks display . The level of detail was incredible and the portrayal of the festival made players feel like they were part of an actual event.
Tellingly, in Horizon, I found myself preferring the outside-the-car ‘chase-view’ when tearing around the countryside. In Forza4 (and currently, Forza6), I much prefer the inside-the-car ‘cockpit-view’ as it offers a more realistic racing experience. In Horizon, I wanted to enjoy the view, drinking in the countryside and festival detail. The Surprise Factor was off the charts.
That’s what made Horizon 2 so disappointing to me. The formerly sprawling Horizon Festival was reduced to a small footprint and the storyline of the festival itself seemed like an afterthought. Sure, the driving world was seriously opened up – plenty of cars, great roads, and an airport on which to take your car to top speed – but the human factor was lacking. In FH1, the presence of computer-generated humans partying, racing, and having fun lent itself to a shade of realism utterly lacking in FH2. The Horizon main stage was, in comparison, non existent and the Outposts were shadows of their former selves. To start a race in the original game, one would pull up to a trailer surrounded by partygoers. In the sequel, one simply drove to an illuminated spot on the pavement. It was a huge letdown compared to the vibrancy and atmosphere of FH1.
Set in Northern Italy/Southern France, the FH2 landscape was undeniably beautiful … but one expects that part of the world to look like a million bucks. Racing was plentiful; surprises were few. The game languished on my shelf.
So I was excited to watch the Xbox keynote at this year’s E3 in Los Angeles. Microsoft said there would be a Forza announcement and with the fabulous Forza6 released just last year, speculation of a new Horizon was rampant. Xbox didn’t disappoint. Announcing Forza Horizon 3, Xbox introduced a brand new locale – Australia! – and, for the very first time, players will be taking charge of the Horizon Festival. Now THAT sounds more like it.
From Microsoft’s announcement:
In previous Forza Horizon games, you’ve been a participant in the world’s biggest cars and music festival. In Forza Horizon 3, you’re the boss. That means you’ll be making the big decisions that affect the festival. From choosing when and where to expand the festival sites, all the way down to the music that is played and the events that take place – the decisions are up to you. Your goal is to win fans until your festival is the most popular in the world.
Now, simply casting you in the role of the “head of the Horizon Festival” is one thing. The real fun is found in the power that you will have in Forza Horizon 3, which sets this apart from any previous game in the series. Simply put, you have the power to tailor every experience in the game to your own tastes. That’s done through a brand new feature we call Horizon Blueprint, which lets players create their own gameplay and instantly share it with friends.
If I want a close-to-real, find-the-apex, beat-the-Stig experience, I’ll fire up my copy of Forza6. It’s fantastic for that and I enjoy it immensely. However, if I want to feel like I’m immersed in an event, the original Forza Horizon hit the mark brilliantly. It sure sounds like the third iteration is returning to those roots and I am very excited for it.
The location is going to hit the spot, too. Unlike the megabucks coastline of southern France, we will get the rugged wilderness of Australia mixed with a few rural towns and some sort of city centre. With this and over 300 cars in the hopper, the Surprise Factor will return big-time, I think.
I’ll be unholstering my wallet on September 27th. How about you?