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Forza Horizon 3 is Constantly Trying to Impress

In Forza Horizon 3, everything is trying to impress you, the player/driver/superstar. Acting as a direct sequel to the other Forza games (I skipped straight from FH1 – but I imagine 2 is more of the same) you have now risen up in the ranks and become such a cool badass racer dude/dudette that you’ve been invited to Australia as the star attraction and headlining racer of a new festival that is “just getting started”™.

The game plops you onto a beachside “festival” hub on the southeast corner of the map. At first, there’s only a few races and events. To continue through the game, you must attract more fans to the event (consequently, attracting more people to your slice of Australia) and unlock more events. 

One of the ways to unlock fans is with “PR Stunts,” aptly named places where you either drift, hit a specified top speed, jump, or navigate a special loaner car to a predetermined location. Horizon 3 also brings back traditional “Showcase” events which have you racing & jumping versus a mix of planes, trains, and boats at certain fan milestones. Both of these events illustrate your responsibility as a driver/player in Horizon: you’ve become the jerk who everyone wants to beat. Most of the time, you’re parading around doing cool stuff explicitly for the fans.

This responsibility is taken a step further with all of the races. While the game sets the routes for each race, you’re in complete control of what kind of car (or truck/dune buggy/etc) everyone will race in. Want it to be a slow-moving, D-class race full of Volvos and Volkswagens? Go right ahead. Rather have a fleet of supercars driving off-road through the desert? Everyone else plays by your rules.

The game is generous with free cars, especially if you have a mix of save files from previous games and downloaded all the DLC. I started the game with a full fleet of cars of all flavors and levels – which feels like the right way to play. You’re already the best, so you were sent to Australia with a bunch of great cars, and people continue to throw new ones at you as you force them to race against a growing collection of vehicles you horde all to yourself.

Speaking of hoarding, Barn Finds are back, and I feel especially guilty this time around finding all these “classic Australian gems” and then racing them against everyone else. The game repeatedly talks about how cool and how special it would be to find one of these rare cars and then gives them all to you, the jerk who’s already better than everyone else.

The game never explicitly states how the other drivers feel about you. Whenever you reach a milestone, you return to the festival hub to upgrade the festival to accommodate more fans. After a few upgrades and showcase events, the game lets you open up a new festival hub somewhere on the map, up to a total of four hubs (plus two DLC hubs, which take you off of the main map).

These upgrades are completed by your sponsor, who is congratulatory of you reaching the milestones, but also fairly sassy when she essentially tells you to shove off while the adults handle putting together the world’s biggest racing party. While the game has a “final” showcase event at 2,000,000,000 fans, it never really ends, and I see other people’s “drivitars” with fans upwards of 15 million.

The fact that you’re constantly racing against other people’s virtual selves somewhat contradicts the game’s notion that you’re the best and works as a minor disconnect in the narrative. Every opposing racer you come across has a name like “F34risaH4mburger” or “420mushr00m4lyfe” giving you the impression that you’re not really the jerk because you’re actually racing against an army of Xbox Live jerks, or at least their digital avatars.

How the game pulls these Xbox Live names and whether they accurately represent their real selves is another question, and your ability to dictate the terms of their races (including the difficulty) makes them indistinguishable from regular computer opponents in all but name. The minor fact that you’re racing against the ridiculous population of Xbox Live helps you feel a bit better about forcing everyone to drive at 70mph on the freeway because you feel like racing with this today:

Just this week, Turn 10 just released the game’s second expansion, an off-map hub that comes packaged with a bunch of new races and free cars. When they licensed this new property, it seems pretty apparent Turn 10 wanted to reward all the special snowflakes who love playing Forza… (admittedly, I’m part of the club):

The game never gives anyone any real opportunity to dethrone you from your title. Sure, you can “choose” to lose races, and amp up the difficulty to “Unbeatable” so the other racers drive like gods. But the game won’t change if you suddenly start losing all of your races. Even though you’re responsible for being the best, the game never takes that responsibility away from you.

For now, you’re safe. But there’s always that lingering feeling that you’d better be on your guard, looking over your shoulder, waiting for the terrifying scream of a supercar coming at you at 200mph and ready to take you down a notch or two. Maybe in the next festival.

Written for May 2017’s Blogs of the Round Table topic ‘Responsibility‘ on Critical Distance – do yourself a favor and check out Taylor Hidalgo’s article. If you haven’t already, join their Patron and donate $10 or more to see cute pictures of Kris’s cat Jason every month.