Published Oct 05, 2016Tracks are the racing genre's primary game design feature, but whether playing an unrealistic "arcade" racer like Mario Kart or a simulator like Gran Turismo, repeatedly going around the same routes to shave seconds off your time can be kinda, well, repetitive.
That's where open-world racers come in. While Rockstar's Midnight Club pioneered the free-roaming format back in the early 2000s, Playground Games gave it a new lease on life with their winning Forza Horizon series. Emerging from Microsoft's more conventionally car-nerdy Forza Motorsport series helmed by Turn 10, Playground's Horizon spinoff fulfils that studio's titular mandate — gamers can drive wherever they want and race whenever they went. With the game's third iteration, Playground has hit a new high gear by going down under.
Australia is a perfect place to explore by car thanks to its incredible array of environments, from lush rainforests and spectacular beaches to urban streets and the off-road-ready outback, and Playground has done a bang-up job recreating the country's ecosystems, even if not everything is in the right place. The Great Ocean Road is nowhere near Byron Bay in real life, but that's splitting kangaroo hairs, since both are such wonderful locales to drive around (and so is everywhere else).
Cross-platform play allows Xbox and PC gamers to play each other in competitive or new co-op modes, while offline, the series signature "Drivatars" (A.I. based on real players' techniques) provide extra realism on the roads.
There are 250 available cars, all of which can be fine-tuned, upgraded and customized to your heart's content. And while you're driving about, there's a 150-song soundtrack populating themed radio stations that ranges from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to Brahms, Miike Snow to KDA.
It follows the same basic Horizon Festival premise as the previous entries, except you're now the festival director and can create custom events. This map is about twice the size of Horizons 2, and every inch of it is worth racing across — literally and metaphorically. (Playground Games / Microsoft Studios)