Forza Horizon 3 preview: Putting you in the driving seat
These are exciting times for Microsoft and Xbox. Not only does it have new consoles coming this and next year, but it has announced a couple of key new elements to its gaming strategy; Play Anywhere and 4K HDR gaming.
The latter part comes in the form of Windows 10 versions of its home-grown games, but the beauty of Play Anywhere is that you get those for free when you buy the Xbox One equivalents from the Xbox Store, and vice versa.
So while we have to wait until Christmas 2017 for true 4K gaming on a Microsoft console, a couple of games will offer the option this year, if you have a supporting PC and monitor or TV.
Forza Horizon 3 is one of those games. It will be available for PC and Xbox One simultaneously, from 27 September, with the former 4K HDR ready. It will also support HDR tech to make the game look a little better if you are the owner of a brand, new Xbox One S.
That’s how we experienced the first playable demo at this year’s E3; on an Xbox One S and with the new, slightly redesigned controller.
We also caught up with developer Playground, which told us more about the game world and changes to the series behind closed doors. Both sessions left us impressed and full of hope for the arcade racer.
READ: Xbox E3 2016 highlights: What was launched, Project Scorpio, Xbox One S and much more
In play, it handles much like former Forza Horizons. Turn10 and Playground have together refined the driving engine to perfection over the years, so controlling whatever vehicle you are in feels as intuitive and comfortable as ever.
The addition of new vehicle types, such as buggies and extreme off-roaders, changes that up somewhat, and adds different styles to the mix. In fact, there are more than 350 cars in Forza Horizon 2, more than double the previous game, so the potential for variety is huge.
The map too is much larger, more than twice the size of the last instalment. The game is set in Australia this time around, which gives more options for different environments to race in. Indeed, during the hands-on demo we raced on the beach, off-road and through a forest, in three different cars – including the Lamborghini Centenario that was announced earlier this year.
The buggies are great fun to drive, even capable of stunts and flips. What’s great though is that you and your online friends can race each other in different car types, with each offering alternative benefits. And it doesn’t matter whether they are on PC, Xbox One or Xbox One S, the game is cross-platform and everyone can compete in the same sessions, regardless of the format.
Co-operative play has been added this time too, with up to four friends able to take on challenges. And if your friends aren’t around, Drivatars come into play in a far greater way than ever before.
One of the main enhancements this year centres on the Horizon Festival itself. Instead of you taken on the mantle of a newbie driver, aiming to win a tournament, you are the owner and organiser of the festival. That means you get to call the shots. Playground is literally and figuratively putting you in the driving seat.
One mode, Blueprint, even lets you create events for you and your friends to complete, with a vast array of customisable conditions, from the car class to the weather. You can also create and customise Bucket List challenges. You choose the car and type of challenge, then race it yourself. Your performance is then used as the benchmark for others to beat. They can pass it onto their friends afterwards, and we can see better challenges going viral across the whole Forza community.
Back to Drivatars though, as you can set up to four of your friends’ Drivatars as elite racers in your star line-up. Then, when they race for real, you all earn bonuses and achievements. Ultimately, it could make your festival the best on the planet.
Another addition Playground has made is the ability to stream your own tracks as part of the in-game radio system. There is a wider selection of radio channels to choose from, with a wider range of genres, but setting your own music to play in-game is something we, and many other gamers, have wanted for a while.
The last major aspect we’ll talk about is the in-game sky. Remarkably, the developer had photographers camped out in Australia for an entire summer, taking HDR snapshots of the real sky using a custom 12K camera rig. They were digitised and so the sky in the game reflects the exact weather conditions and lighting of the real thing. It looks simply stunning, we have to say.
We’ll find out plenty more about Forza Horizon 3 on the build up to release day at the end of September, but for now you can colour us impressed.
It plays as well as ever before, but all the new social and graphical enhancements not only make sense, they expand the game to something that could be magical.
We’ll find out for sure when we play it in a couple of months time for the full review. For now though, we thoroughly enjoyed the demo and find Playground’s dedication to improve and adapt the game for a new, more social generation encouraging.