Falling in love with Forza Horizon 3's brilliantly incongruous soundtrack

"The hairs on my arms raise like a million tiny power windows."

NOW PLAYING

In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Ben cranks it up to 11 as he tours Down Under.   

I've driven a car before, and I’ve listened to Thus Spoke Zarathustra before, but not at the same time, and never at 250mph. So as I’m staring down the barrel of an airstrip in a Hennessey Venom, twinkling runway lights stretching to infinity, the hairs on my arms raise like a million tiny power windows. It’s the perfect music for going somewhere very quickly, and when the sun rises majestically behind a mountain, it’s an almost Kubrickian moment—the ascent of man on fast- forward. It’s just one of many brilliant uses of music in this Australia-set racer.

There are eight radio stations, and as boss of the fictional Horizon festival, l can sign them by winning events and gaining exposure. My favourite is hip-hop station Horizon Block Party, which at one point powers a mad jungle sprint to the furious barks of DMX's X Gon' Give It To Ya. That madness couldn’t be further from a peaceful nighttime drift through a sleeping city as a Drive-like electronica beat plays, soft and muted. 

Later my task is “forge your own path to the city in the #2 Sport Quattro”, an event that regrettably doesn’t use Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, because you can’t have everything. I also like the one in which I must “experience Australian madness in the HSV Maloo ’14”, since the theme is You’re Not Pretty But You Got it Going On by Band Of Skulls, a song containing the lyrics “You’re tone deaf but you’re singing a song”, which speaks to all my karaoke experiences. Also the car is called 'Maloo'. The music always fits the time and place.

You can create your own events with custom soundtracks. I make a sunny coastline course for Lamborghinis set to Runaway by Galantis. If you’ve never heard Runaway by Galantis, YouTube it and then try to tell me you don’t want to race a Lamborghini. I do wish I could pick more than one song for a race, though, blending them to complement the dynamic weather and day/night cycle. Imagine driving through a dramatic lightning storm to Beethoven’s Allegro con Brio, then White Lies’ Come On suddenly starts up as clouds break and sunlight streams down. In fairness, radio stations don’t usually change tracks according to your scenery.

The channels crackle with static as you drive through an area with poor signal. Where this is used as a device to emphasise isolation, the DJ imparts story information. After I earn enough clout in the festival to unlock a showdown against a speeding train, for example, one guy says, “Strewth, it’s all going down in the desert!” I’ve never been to Australia so I don’t know if this is accurate or offensive.

I love discovering songs I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. M83’s Go!, Miike Snow’s The Heart of Me, Lykke Li’s I follow Rivers (The Magician Remix), and Shine by Years and Years, are, in my humble opinion, bangers, and I regularly listen to them outside of the game. That’s another aspect Horizon 3does well: it incorporates your wider music tastes by linking your Groove account and importing thousands of your favourite tracks. If only anyone actually had a Groove account.

Never mind. In Horizon 3, Playground Games shows a keen understanding of music’s power to shape, elevate, and transform.