The term we use in Australia for what Americans call doing doughnuts is “circle work.” Right now I’m doing some spectacular circle work around an outback airstrip in a custom V8 ute with all the trimmings. I’m talking high-powered spotlights, a CB antenna sticking proudly up into the air, and a giant, mesh-filled roo bar that looks like it’s fallen off the front of a Kenworth. ‘Thunderstruck’ is banging on my stereo and the tacho needle is banging on the redline. This is Forza Horizon 3 for me; an experience that could only get more Australian if it was delivered inside a giant jar of Vegemite by Paul Hogan crashing into your living room riding an actual crocodile.
I once hired a Mustang and drove it around the southern US for two weeks. I reckon it was the best thing I’ve ever done, at least where thrill-seeking is concerned. But I’d be useless in competitive racing. I know nothing of torque or differentials, and I only ever pop the hood to add screenwash.
The point is that you don’t need to be a petrolhead to like a good drive, to enjoy zooming through gorgeous vistas, or appreciate the idiosyncrasies of a powerful machine when the weather gets tough. It’s clear that Playground Games understands this, and that’s why Forza Horizon is my favourite race series.
It strikes a balance between the bonkers fun of an arcade racer and the in-depth nature of a racing simulation – and that balance is tweakable to suit you. For those just after a thrill ride, every car is ready to go as soon as you get in. For those who want a more difficult, more realistic driving experience, there’s an insane amount of customisation, right down to the tyre pressure.
Many racing games in the last decade have cleverly crafted single-player narratives around building the player’s reputation. This has been used to attract fictional rivals and grow an imaginary fan base, the latter being the crux of Forza Horizon 3's main path. It takes the reputation game to its next evolutionary step with a lesson in Branding 101. Without blatantly using the term “influencer,” some of the most effective fan-growing events are themed on positive public relations. No joke--these sections are actually called “PR Stunts.” Once you finish rolling your eyes and accept that it’s a sign of the times, you can look beyond the propagandist window dressing and simply focus on the objectives, such as stringing together stunts or executing a single vehicular feat.
With Forza Horizon 3, Turn 10 and Playground Games affirm the series’ status as the driving game for everyone. The new emphasis on off-road options isn’t at the expense of traditional races, thanks to the sheer volume of activities. All the while, Playground Games’ calculated kitchen-sink design philosophy and rich reward system persistently tempt you to explore beyond your comfort zone, whether it’s gifting your first Ariel Nomad buggy or reminding you that stunt races can impress thousands of fans. Enhancing your own brand might feel like a strange motivation to hit the road, but pulling off sick e-drifts on a mile-long series of curves makes the PR work worthwhile.