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Forza Horizon 3 is a dopamine drip for motorheads

Forza Horizon 3 is a gambling addict’s dream disguised as a high quality racing game, writes Don Rowe. 

Forza haunts my dreams, whispering in the night, winking at me from beside the TV. ‘One more spin’, it says.

Points for crashing, points for not crashing, extra points for getting points. It’s rats and cocaine water all over again. Hell, just leveling up literally earns you a spin on a slot-style gambling wheel – win cash, a car, or more cash, everyone’s a winner!

And for the real hardcores, a paid VIP membership doubles your gambling earnings and imbues the player with a VIP crown to let the fellas know what’s up.

But it’s still a hell of a game. There are moments of brilliance, where the game straddles the line perfectly between fantasy and realism. Other times it’s a cartoon nightmare in the best of ways, with seven Lamborghini flying through a sub-tropical swamp and out into the Outback while a Steve Irwin impersonator screams from a jeep.

The premise needs work however. “Hey we’re establishing a series of gigantic car festivals around Australia, why don’t you do some burnouts and hype up hundreds of thousands of people.” I’ll suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy flying a suped-up WRX off a cliff, but there’s a limit to credulity.

holden

The cars though. The cars. What Gran Turismo was really missing was a Holden SS ute straight out of your uncle’s shed. Lime green and supercharged, my ute was the envy of farmers and bogans alike, a sleek and ridiculous abomination of the genre. I bought a Holden irl this week, and therefore no longer drive Fords, or even acknowledge their existence outside of jibes, so I can’t comment on the lineup there, but rest assured the high-end sports car range seems appropriately flash and space age.

merc

Turning up the difficulty is where the game gets really fun. Admittedly the handholding can feel a little patronising – I haven’t played a racing game since Gran Turismo on the PS1, I shouldn’t be able to race in the ‘highly skilled’ division – but ramping up the difficulty makes it feel as though the cars are actually being driven to win, rather than artificially handicapped as to not accidentally hurt the players feelings. That user experience, yo.

Australia itself is astoundingly beautiful. Sunlight glinting off the frothy shallows of a white sand beach, eucalyptus groves with dirt tracks, the way the side of my car caves in when I swing it too wide and smash into a barricade protecting a thousand screaming fans; this is how I remember Gran Turismo looking, except these days I’m peering out at the world through spoiled and jaded eyes, rather than sparkling windows to the soul of a small boy.

helicopter

Showcase events are cool, too. Racing a jeep attached to a military helicopter through the jungle, or a freight train along the GC, adds a nice twist to the somewhat repetitive racing model, although it also veers Forza more heavily towards the arcade than the realistic.

A cynical attempt to shoehorn Microsoft’s music streaming service Groove into the game is the only real sour point, and the curated radio stations are often overwhelming and totally invasive to the gameplay. One more playlist of pop-punk and shitty DnB and I might crash my real car on purpose, just to avoid this bastard addictive game.

But not really, because I will play again, in the night, when I’m alone. I’ll sit down before that great dopamine dispenser and hammer away. Just one more spin.


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