What is it? Forza Horizon and Hot Wheels, making sweet brand synergy together.
Reviewed on: R9 Fury X, i5-3570K CPU, 16GB RAM
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Link: Official site.
I'm not saying Forza Horizon 3's Hot Wheels DLC has a subtext, but if it does, it's about the importance of voting in local elections. You should always know what your politicians are up to, lest they blow the budget for local infrastructure on constructing a labyrinthine network of orange plastic roads and you're forced to do loop-de-loops on your way home from picking up the kids. Sure, it may solve the pothole problem, but can a Peugeot 206 clear a jump through a flaming hoop?
The action for this branded expansion takes place in Thrilltopia, a beautiful and tropical atoll turned playground for the Horizon festival. It's a Hot Wheels track made lifesize, spiralling and climbing and twisting around hills and mechanical dinosaurs. It's silly, audacious, and inarguably impressive. The presentation is on point—the incredibly vibrant track looking resplendent against the hyper real vividness of Forza Horizon 3's environment design.
I was initially hesitant about Forza Horizon 3 going full toytown, but it works. Horizon has always carried a hint of the ridiculous, of course, but the surprising thing about Hot Wheels is that it's not as wacky as I first assumed. Yes, there are speed boosts, flaming hoops and dinosaurs, but the quality of racing keeps things grounded. You might be frequently upside down, but this is still a series of competitive events. You're in a playground, but you've still got a job to do. (The job is going fast through the playground.)
The Hot Wheels license means bright orange tracks, jumps and stunts, and a few Hot Wheels branded cars. But aside from those elements, this is still Forza Horizon 3. The tracks are designed for racing, and so they're wide enough to fit multiple cars side-by-side. In later events, the corners become tighter and more technical, and, because the road is often suspended in midair, taking one too fast can leave you hurtling towards the water below.
It's strange: Hot Wheels is more of a departure for Forza Horizon 3 than the recent Blizzard Mountain expansion, but not for the obvious reason. As visually spectacular as this island's road network is, driving on it feels the same as on tarmac. And many of the stunts are simply things you can do in the base game, but bigger, faster or more twisty. They're fun, but they don't make a huge difference to the difficulty. The layout of the tracks, however, creates a technical challenge that feels unlike anything Forza Horizon 3 has done before.
The roads are straighter, longer and narrower, which makes jostling your way to the front of the pack more difficult. Your car's top speed makes a huge difference, as does your ability to utilise slipstreams and smoothly slingshot past other drivers. It's for this reason that the new Hot Wheels cars are rarely the best choice for these races. Events are restricted only by class, and AI competitors tend to favour Forza's standard garage—often picking faster cars. A new stunt swap option in the blueprints menu lets you change out parts of the track, potentially swapping a fast jump for a slower, more technical roundabout, but it's a basic system that has little real impact on a race.
As in Blizzard Mountain, progression involves collecting medals from races and PR stunts. Finishing nets you one medal, coming in first place another, and a third is awarded for also completing a special challenge—either performing a specific skill, or surpassing a given amount of skill points. I like the implementation better here than in Blizzard Mountain because the challenge feels more natural in this environment. Earning skill score can be particularly tricky. It's possible to build up huge chains during high speed sections, but it's also incredibly easy to nudge a car or roadside barrier and lose it all.
My only real complaint is that, much like Blizzard Mountain, Hot Wheels doesn't really build to anything spectacular. Once again, there are no showcase events, and, once again, it all ends in just a big, long race. Surely this concept is crying out for a more audacious finale? That aside, though, Hot Wheels is an often thrilling series of race events, looks spectacular and provides a unexpectedly deep driving challenge.