CarAdvice.com's Tom Fraser explores the scenes and visuals of Forza Horizon 3, a new XBOX title by Playground Games. For the first time, the popular Horizon series is set in Australia, putting popular driving roads and iconic scenes in your hands.
Catch Tom's views, along with his own photography, below. Learn more about your chance to win a copy of Forza Horizon 3 at the bottom of this review.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a driving game that was based in Australia. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason, a digital representation of our own backyard just sounded so appealing. Even more so, once open-world games started becoming mainstream.
It’s cool that you can race Mt Panorama in Forza Motorsport 6, but you can’t really explore the landscape, can you?
Imagine my surprise when the first trailer came out for Forza Horizon 3, an open world version of one of the greatest racing series around – set in Australia.
Given that we are in the business of car-related content, we figured it was fair that we attend the launch of Forza Horizon 3, a road trip along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. We even decided to bring along our home-grown Aussie heroes to mix it up with the other supercars, a blue Ford Falcon XR8 and a red HSV Maloo ute.
To be clear, this right here is no ordinary video game review. As we are lucky enough to enjoy it in real life, we’ll be talking about our experience of driving sections of the game, in real life, in our Australian muscle cars - and see how it compares to doing the same thing in the game.
Forza Horizon 3 is the latest instalment in the Horizon series, which focuses on driving and racing in an open-world environment, where you can go (just about) anywhere and do (just about) anything.
The whole game centres around the Horizon festival, an automotive hub that mixes music, cars and partying in all the right ways.
If you’ve played the series before, you’ll know that it was first set in Colorado, in the United States, and then secondly Southern France and Italy.
Previously, you were dropped at the bottom end of the scale and had to work your way up to become the best in the festival. But now you’re at the top from the get-go and make all the decisions about which way the festival heads.
All the right landmarks are there in Horizon 3. Rainforests like the one that lines the Black Spur in Victoria, the Great Ocean Road, Byron Bay, the expansive desert from the Australian outback, and the city of Surfers Paradise. (Although we would have happily switched that last one out for the most liveable city in the world…)
On the launch, we got to experience the Great Ocean Road in the cars you’re able to drive in-game.
We spent the most time in the HSV Maloo – with its 6.2-litre supercharged LSA V8 churning out 400kW and 671Nm, there was no real need for coffee to kick-start the day anymore.
Turning over the engine, you’re greeted with a bark from the exhaust that settles to a quiet idle. But not quiet enough to suggest that there’s anything less than a 6.2-litre supercharged V8 is under the bonnet.
First of all you’ll notice the terrible visibility out of the cabin, with two huge tonneau humps taking up much of the rear view mirror real estate, and two A-pillars that block your sight of perpendicular traffic.
Once hustling along the Great Ocean Road, though, you won't be looking behind – all attention is paid out through the front windscreen – especially at the rate of speed this car can travel. Annoyingly, there is no exhaust button to make the car louder, it's actually quite muted until around 4000rpm. Once you do hit 4000rpm, a valve opens with a whoosh and then it's one of the loudest cars you can buy.
You shouldn’t have to work that hard to get some good noise out of it, though - not to mention you’re probably going well over the speed limit by then...
Thankfully, a massive amount of work has gone into getting the cars sounding just right in Horizon 3. Where possible, cars were obtained in real life, with microphones placed inside and outside the car to be able to get an accurate representation of what all the cars uniquely sound like. In order to model the sound of each car, they shot up and down the runway, barrelling through the entire rev range.
Even if you’ve swapped the engine in your BMW M4 from a twin-turbo six to a 5.2-litre V10, your car will sound like whatever is under the bonnet.
The Maloo isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed in terms of handling ability, and we find that with a weighty turn of the perforated leather steering wheel, the car itself is a bit slow to respond with a change of direction. Even though it gets the same engine as the 430kW HSV GTS, it unfortunately misses out on its sedan counterpart's magnetic ride control system.
Along the Great Ocean Road, though, with a fleet of other supercars, it's just fun changing up and down the gears unnecessarily and hearing that exhaust bounce off the rock wall. It’s the kind of car that’s built to be enjoyed for all of its lairiness, rather than its precision-like sports-car ability.
Back in the virtual version of our drive, the game’s handling system is a lot more fun – especially considering there’s no consequences of pulling a massive powerslide on the very same road that we were just driving in person.
If you’re expecting a hyper-realistic physics and handling system from Horizon 3, you might be a bit disappointed in what the game is actually like. As with previous Horizon titles, the experience has a more “arcade” feel to it that suits the nature of the game.
If you’re after a racing simulation game, Forza Motorsport 6 is arguably more serious and you’re rewarded for driving quickly. One thing that Horizon 3 strives for is the fun aspect – to be able to make the urban world your playground, create cool paint job designs, and to meet up with other like-minded car enthusiasts.
At times, it can be a little frustrating trying to connect with friends in-game. The tried-and-true ‘lobbies’ system of Horizon 1 is no longer around, so now it’s a bit harder to invite your friends along to the same game you’re playing.
Also, I’ve found it a bit difficult at times to join a friend’s free-roam session. According to Mike Brown, senior developer at Playground Games, co-operative play was one of the hardest aspects of the game to create.
Speaking of hanging out with other car enthusiasts, our HSV keeps steady pace with the rest of the group, including a previous gen Audi R8 V10 Spyder, a Ferrari 458 Italia and Jaguar F-Type V6S. The power really starts to surge in the top half of the rev range, accompanied by the snarling V8 exhaust note coming from the rear.
Using the plastic steering wheel mounted paddles, the gearbox is usually quick to respond to a change of gear and intelligent around town in automatic, never really becoming bogged down if caught off-guard.
Without a doubt, Horizon 3 is one of the most visually stunning games on the market. More than two years of time spent collating data and photos were collected from Australia in order to model the game accurately, including the skies.
The team spent six months in the Australian outback capturing light data from the sky and fed it back into their system to mimic what we get in real life. All the effort spent on recreating Australia has truly paid off, as it looks phenomenal.
Every car in the game, was found in real life. The team at Playground games took thousands of photos of all angles of each car, including interiors, boots and engine bays.
Once all reference photos are collected, art designers use 3D modelling to create the vehicles using polygons and vertices, sticking to the reference as much as they can. Car manufacturers sign off on the models making sure that what Playground Games have created is accurate and the whole process takes roughly 3 months for each car.
Back in our car, the design of the interior is pretty well thought-out, making the most of what little cabin space there is. Alcantara and leather cover the comfortable seats, with big bolstering holding you in tightly through the bends.
Under the bonnet, HSV know how to put on a show with a fantastic looking engine bay showing the truly special motor in all its glory. We wish Holden were as excited with what’s under the bonnet of its SS Commodore as HSV is...
For a utility vehicle, the ride is pretty damn good when considering that it’s built to carry a load as well.
Over speed bumps it can be a little stiff, but you remember that the chassis is a playful thing, and around-town duties are not its forté.
Let’s be real for a moment, here. The car is pretty impractical, obscenely thirsty with fuel (try upwards of 25L/100km!), has terrible visibility and is quite expensive for a two door ute. A rational thinker would pass on by the R8 Maloo.
However, once you do get it out of town to a spot like the Great Ocean Road – it all makes sense. If there was ever a car that embodied the “work hard, play hard” Australian culture, this is it.
To be able to do similar from your own living room on your Xbox – that’s pretty cool. Forget the worries of fuel cost, servicing, police and responsibility. Do it all on the Xbox from the comfort of your armchair.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.
Thanks to XBOX Australia, we've got two copies of Forza Horizon 3 to give away. For your chance to win, tell us on our Facebook page: if you could have any car immortalised in Forza Horizon 3, which would it be? Answer right here.
You have to until 5pm AEDT on Friday, October 14, 2016, to enter!
The two entrants whose answers impress us the most will be contacted via Facebook, and we'll announce the winners on Saturday, October 15, 2016.
Click here for full terms and conditions.