E3 2016: Sunkissed Beaches and Outback Offroading Meet in Forza Horizon 3
For the past few years, every time there's a new Forza game announcement to make, Microsoft, Turn 10 and Playground Games roll out an impressive new feature car to view in person at E3. Last year's debut of the 2017 Ford GT was cool, but if you're an '80s kid, this year's showcasing of the Lamborghini Centenario for Forza Horizon 3 blew it away. What can we say? If you were a kid in the '80s, you probably had posters of the Lamborghini Countach hanging in your room right next to the New Kids on the Block. Lambos have come a long way over the past three decades, and the Centenario is work of art. It's also a blast to drive through the beaches of Australia, even if it is just a video game.
Forza Horizon 3 is getting bigger and bolder in its representation of the real world, this time taking place across an entire continent, not just a single state or region. Granted, Australia won't be recreated down to the square mile, but it's arguably the most diverse and expansive location we've seen in a Horizon game yet. Where else could you speed along the shore with the ocean lapping at your tires and then quickly cut through a city highway to travel to the rain forest? The number of places on Earth you can find just one of those things isn't very limited, but finding all of them together? That's a different story entirely, and one that is written beautifully by the ForzaTech engine.
"The development of ForzaTech is non-stop with two teams working on it," Turn 10 design director Jon Knoles told us. "The puddle tech from Motorsport has now become streams and ponds and the ocean in Horizons. We keep ratcheting it up, and now Playground invented a camera they took to Australia and camped out in the wilderness to capture 24-hour day/night cycles that only happen in Australia.
"That happens all over the world, but in Australia it happens with just some fantastic visuals. Then we have the weather systems on top of that, so we take thousands and thousands of HDR images and blend it with our atmospherics so it's all combined into the most immersive skyscapes we've ever seen."
He's not kidding either. Though the demo on the show floor wasn't mean for lollygagging, it was hard not to take in all the spanning vistas and incredible landscapes it had to offer. Our time with Forza Horizon 3 was spent driving a handful of pre-selected vehicles across a number of the terrains appearing in the game. While we could have been actively competing in the ForzaThon --- a series of challenges showing off how different Horizon is from Motorsport --- it was hard not to stop and take in all that scenery. Forza Horizon 3 is just beautiful, and it presents such a stark contrast to the rigidity of Forza Motorsport. Don't get us wrong, Forza Motorsport 6 was equally eye-catching, but that game had a clear set of parameters defining each track. Horizon 3 is just a big old world to explore, and every corner you turn is as blindingly brilliant as the last.
"Australia is incredibly diverse and huge," Knoles said. "We didn't map the whole country to satellite imagery, but we cherry-picked our favorite parts and put them together in a way that made sense with roads that are really fun to drive. We hope that anyone that's ever been or wants to go to Australia feels like it's being presented with some authenticity."
With locations spanning wide-open spaces like the outback, gleaming cities like Surfer's Paradise, crystaline oceanfront areas like Whitehaven beach and the rainforest, Horizon 3 makes a rather compelling case for that authentic feel. To go along with those diverse road types, there's also a number of new vehicles being introduced into the Forza family for the very first time. You'll get to take a spin in extreme off-road buggies and trophy trucks, as well as your standard Forza fare like the Lamborghini Centenario.
"For every part of this world, we make sure there are a variety of road types --- fast sweeping highways, so you can really open up," Knoles explained. "But we've also added new vehicle types like extreme off-road buggies --- they have like three feet of suspension travel --- which are perfect for conquering the outback. The environment really has an impact on the choice of car you make. If you take the Lamborghini to the outback, you're going to discover it's not as good as the trophy trucks, and vice versa. We spent a lot of time on the tire physics and the handling model to make sure that you pick the right car for the right terrain."
We didn't truly get to put those new physics demands to the test in our brief hands-on time with Forza Horizon 3, but we certainly can't deny the number of options available just from the demo last week. Cruising along the beach, splashing through the incoming tide was a lot fun, and we can't wait to really get out there and explore Australia this fall. Sure, we might spend more time than necessary just staring at the sky, but with views like these, who could blame us?
Forza Horizon 3 will be available on Sept. 27 for Xbox One and Windows.