Strewth mate! When I first caught wind Playground Games was making a dog's breakfast of the Aussie map for Forza Horizon 3 I was bloody outraged! But now I've had a good gander ya gotta give 'em a fair shake because it turns out they've made a corker that really does get the Aussie vibe of the thing. Go 'Straya!
Translation: If you know the reality, you'll know Playground has done some very weird things with the Australian map for its Forza Horizon 3 setting. But what the game lacks in geography lessons it makes up for in sheer driving pleasure, while still capturing the spirit of what it means to make a racing game with an Australian backdrop.
Driving games love their stats, so here's a few: Over 350 cars, twice the map size of the previous Horizon game, 12-player online multiplayer, four-player online campaign co-op, new events and car types galore. If you want more, Forza Horizon 3 gives you more. Case closed.
The cars all feel wonderfully different too. It's not just that they handle differently. The sounds they make are unique to each make and model. After performing upgrades the sounds change too. There's no mistaking the difference between a BMW RLL Z4 GTE, a BMW M4 Coupe or a BMW Isetta 300 Export. Turbos pop violently, V8s thunder and race engines roar.
But there's something else here. The game feels more open than ever. Forza Horizon games are about enjoy the open driving experience, this time around the game lets you really go wherever you want. Take shortcuts across fields, through forests or even off clifftops. Drive through the surf. There's less of a sense of being hemmed in by invisible walls than ever before.
Fun on the open road
Your first mission in the game sets quite the tone. It's you in a buggy versus a Jeep that spends most of the race being flown through the bush under a helicopter. It's dumb, it's crazy and it's a lot of fun as you chase it through bush terrain on your way to your first Horizon Festival location.
The game is also notably not just fun, but funny. Beauty spot commentaries, radio announcers (my favourite is the classical community radio station -- nothing like doing burnouts to some Beethoven) plus banter with your festival assistant (you're now the boss, by the way). Little touches that make you laugh rather than cringe at the idea that real people with the kind of money to enjoy cars like these are sometimes jerks and, to use the Australian vernacular, wankers.
The race events are fun and a good mix of styles and locations, with environments like beaches, coastal roads, city streets, forests and the outback. But I'll happily argue the best of the game is found out on the open road. Nothing is too gated either. Yes, you must unlock events by gaining fans to open up more festival upgrades and new venues, but the world itself is made to be explored.
The game again features "Barn finds" as a way to discover 15 classic cars hidden out in the world. It really should have been renamed "Shed finds" for the Australian setting, but the fun of the hunt lets me overlook that faux pas. There's danger sign jumps for doing particularly crazy stunts and bucket list objectives with races and events that are even more over the top than usual. But the best of the new additions has to be Convoy.
With Drivatars of friends still a big part of the game, you can now beep your horn while driving past Drivatars to form up in a convoy of racers heading wherever you want to go. Suddenly the basic act of driving through the open world feels like you are racing along with friends, without worrying about actually winning a race. If you go off-road your convoy will still follow along, making for some particularly fun times bouncing through the scrub in search of a hidden barn.