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Technical issues aside, Forza Horizon 3 provides an awesome Aussie adventure

14 Oct 16
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The car hits the railway embankment somewhere around 150 km/h, launching itself off the slight incline, hanging in mid-air as the engine screams. After almost an eternity, it slams back to Earth, bounces and, with seemingly no ill-effect, accelerates away.

The Lamborghini Urus is perfectly matched to the brutal Australian outback, its laughable Jurassic Park paint scheme a stark contrast to sandy desert.

This isn’t some super-exclusive car jaunt. Neither is it a stunt from the good old days of Top Gear.

It’s just a five-second slice from Forza Horizon 3 – the latest installment in the long-running driving video game series that has been exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox console for years, but is finally on Windows as well. It’s not a serious track simulator, instead offering an open world based on Australia with a huge roster of cars to buy and race against.

Screen captures by Patrick Dell

Let’s jump to the finish line. If you like cars, video games or Australia, get Horizon 3. I love all three (and am an expat Aussie) – but the advice to buy comes with caveats.

My Windows 10 computer isn’t cutting-edge, but can play most contemporary games at fairly high settings. Horizon 3 brought it to its knees. With all graphics set as low as they go, the frame rate of the game is decent. However, there are notable pauses as new segments of landscape load in the background, and all trees and other flora look like clones.

The game also crashes without warning. Just ‘pop’ and I’m back at my Windows desktop.

Horizon 3 seems happier on the Xbox One console. Videos posted online show the game looking better and running smoother then what I get unless I were to invest hundreds of dollars on hardware upgrades. The game is also beset by microtransactions. For a few bucks, you can unlock a treasure map, or get custom horns faster. However, there’s nothing you absolutely must have with these transactions.

Neither is this a title you’ll be able to play soon after purchasing. The download comes in at a whopping 49 gigabytes and took about 10 hours to download over my Internet connection. If you’re on a data cap, you could blow through most of a month’s data in this one download.

It’s a testament to the gameplay of Horizon that, in the face of those issues, it’s still enormously entertaining.

From early in the game, the open road beckons. There’s nothing stopping you from driving into the distance to explore Horizon’s abbreviated version of Australia. The game doesn’t lock you into starting with a beginner car, like a Focus RS or a Civic SI. A range of decent cars are immediately available and, as you rake in credits, the realm of what you can afford and how you want to upgrade rapidly opens up.

The car roster even includes classic Aussie iron like the Ford Falcon XB, and Holden Torana, as well as more recent local offerings in the form of ‘utes’ with thundering V-8s.

There is a ‘story’ trying to tie Horizon 3 together, something about a car festival, with dance music, and something, zzzz. Who cares? It’s a thin veneer to justify driving with extreme prejudice. The story does have some voiced characters, and two of them have the worst Australian accents you’ll hear outside of an Outback Steakhouse radio ad.

Don’t plan any real driving trips to Australia based on what you see in this game. This is an idealized version of Down Under, where the beaches of Byron Bay are just a few kilometres away from the outback, rather than thousands. And, to be a complete geography stickler, The Great Ocean Road and The Twelve Apostles are not near Byron Bay. They’re a few thousand kilometres southwest, on a different stretch of coast. Plus you don’t get all of Australia, either. Instead, you get a portion that conveniently captures representative landscapes like the coast, rainforest, desert and big city. My dreams of tearing it up on my home roads in Melbourne or Sydney are dashed.

Drivatar is a word you’ll see often playing Horizon. They’re computer-controlled cars but their on-road behavior is supposedly based on other real-world players. It adds a sense of community to the game without struggling with griefers (players who delight in wrecking other’s multiplayer experiences). Beyond these digital doppelgängers, you can invite friends or join driving clubs with other flesh-and-blood racers. I go by CathodeRay2k in Horizon-world.

A side-benefit of the Drivatar system is that your virtual self will appear in other’s games, too, and will passively earn credits for you to spend next time you’re online.

With its arcade racing style, Horizon is as its best when you’re pushing its limits – drifting around bends, or ignoring the road completely and going cross-country. The Tesla P90D (with Insane Mode) makes a surprisingly effective all-terrain vehicle. And when you mess up, the ability to rewind time is a button away, so you can try that hairpin turn until you get it right.

There are ways to sample Forza before paying for one of the three versions (the cheapest of which totals $90 with tax). On Team Xbox, there’s a free demo; on Windows 10, there’s a sample version of the track-based iteration called Forza Motorsport Apex 6.

Forza Horizon 3 is a fun mix of car collecting and ludicrous racing. I hope updates to the Windows version will make it run better but, in the meantime, I’ll be out there with my low-resolution version of Australia, racing into the distance.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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