The Forza Family Resemblance

I want you to think of your friends, your siblings or even families other than yours -- people you’re close with in your life. You either know of or belong to a set of siblings with distinct interests, tastes and lifestyles, but despite any differences have incredibly similar mannerisms and upbringings. Maybe you are an artist and your sister is an engineer--left- and right-brain opposites--yet you share the same hair color, laugh and accent. That’s what you’d call a “family resemblance.”I can’t help but see a strong family resemblance between Forza Motorsport 6 and the just-released Forza Horizon 3. However, for the sake of both developers and game players, I think the resemblance is a very good thing.

For the unfamiliar, Forza Motorsport -- the older brother -- is a console driving simulation franchise from Microsoft and developer Turn 10. Motorsport 6 was released last year and  released DLC and updates throughout 2016. What was once a head-to-head competition between Forza and Sony’s Gran Turismo during the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 era, the Forza series has become my favorite racer in the market due to its flexibility, accuracy and polish, and has surpassed Gran Turismo’s framework entirely.

What Horizon 3 is all about: Big, fun power slides all over.
What Horizon 3 is all about: Big, fun power slides all over.

Then we have the younger brother, Forza Horizon 3. Created by Playground Games as an off-year alternative to Motorsport and first released on the Xbox 360, Horizon 3 makes you the boss of a motorsport/music festival in Australia. As a spin-off, it prioritizes racing culture and lifestyle rather than the hard science behind motorsports.

I’ve spent a lot of time playing the Forza Motorsport games, and managed to get Motorsport 3 into our GOTY discussion previously. I’ve spent countless hours painting cars, practicing on tracks, and racing online. And having bought an Xbox One in the last month to jump into both titles, Horizon 3 has beyond surpassed my expectations. Though I’ve got less experience with the Horizon side of things, it’s this cool, hip younger brother that’s really impressing me.

Horizon 3 sometimes feels like a cross between Burnout and Project Gotham Racing. Jumps through billboards are definitely more like the former.
Horizon 3 sometimes feels like a cross between Burnout and Project Gotham Racing. Jumps through billboards are definitely more like the former.

I knew what to expect when I fired up Motorsport for the first time: start with slower cars, then win races and progress to better rides; customize cars with graphics and tuning parts; hone my driving skills to maximize my speed in the game’s circuits. Motorsport 6 may not be as hardcore as Project CARS, iRacing or other PC-focused racing simulators, but it does the job while remaining accessible.

In comparison, I knew little and expected less of Horizon 3. I felt the hype and positive vibes coming from preview materials and impressions by games press; however, I hadn’t dug into open-world driving games like Burnout: Paradise or the myriad Need for Speed titles of late, which made me nervous that I wouldn’t latch into this title as well and would waste the investment on a new system and the pre-order on this game.

Australia, Motorsport 6 style: Licensed V8 Supercars at Bathurst.
Australia, Motorsport 6 style: Licensed V8 Supercars at Bathurst.

But those fears were baseless. Horizon is oversaturated with charm and glee.  Directing a music and car-focused festival in a pastiche of Australia by winning races and passing challenges may be one of the more video game-tastic premises in a while, but where the Motorsport series feels clinical and cold, Horizon 3 leans into the cartoonish premise and driving yet makes it believable. The aesthetic may be a bit dude-bro, but the game wears its flat-brim hat backward with zero hint of irony or cynicism. Horizon 3 doesn’t try too hard to be cool, which is crucial for a game all about selling “cool.”

Being the most stereotypical car anorak out there, I find I almost prefer the laid-back vibes of Horizon. In Motorsport and other “serious” driving games, I always set the camera to the front bumper, to see the track and spot my line through corners; in Horizon, I’m playing from an overhead rear view because there’s less pressure on performing. While the Motorsport brother prefers a nice pint and intellectual discussion at a quiet pub, the little Horizon brother is doing Jagerbombs at the club. And even though you’re no longer 20 and in college, hell, it just seems like the right thing to do sometimes.

The family resemblance is strongest in the details — Horizon 3 carries over Motorsport 6’s ‘Forzavista’ view mode which lets you drool over virtual Hemis.

The family resemblance is strongest in the details — Horizon 3 carries over Motorsport 6’s ‘Forzavista’ view mode which lets you drool over virtual Hemis.

Horizon is the flat-brim-cap wearing, Monster Energy-drinking dude bro to the Gap sweater and Starbucks-toting older Motorsport brother. But that doesn’t mean that either is better: just like parents don’t (or at least shouldn’t) love one child more than another. In fact, the similarities both Forzas share -- namely the game engine and tuning features -- provide a robust set of racing for different tastes. Obviously, Horizon being built off the solid platform of the Motorsport side of the family is a massive benefit. Horizon doesn’t remove features which are central to the Motorsport experience (like car tuning, buying new parts or adjusting the difficulty and levels of braking, turning and driving aides), but instead buries them so the dedicated can explore and tune if they so desire without scaring casual players. Positioning those as additions to the depth instead of mandatory features places the driving more front and center. Retaining the depth without scaring people away? Sounds like the right balance.

Recently, fellow Sasquatch scribe Tyler came over to my apartment to sample the Xbox One I’d picked up. I handed him the controller in Forza Motorsport 6 and set up a race, and he promptly spun a powerful sportscar into a wall. Considering his lack of experience with and interest in more serious racing games, it was only ever going to be a disappointing comedy of errors. He’s much more excited about Horizon, though. And that’s okay -- not everyone loves science class the same way the engineer brother does. Somehow, I think that he’ll click much more with the laid-back Down Under style of Horizon.

Sometimes, even the most diverse of siblings can share hobbies. It’s clear that older-brother Motorsport and younger brother Horizon both love cars, but follow their passion in different ways. If they’re at the same car show, Motorsport is in the back, talking about classic races and the engineering that goes into the automobile. Meanwhile, near the import tuners or modern muscle cars, younger brother Horizon is talking about great driving roads and Ken Block’s newest video. But they both have motor oil running through their veins. No matter which way you approach the hobby, Microsoft has a title for you. Fun for the whole family.