The last racing game I seriously enjoyed playing was Burnout 3: Takedown. Burnout 3 was released at the perfect time in my teenage years, right when I needed to hear punk rock music. I was never into racing games growing up; I'd turn my nose up at the sameness of running laps around one track, wondering why people enjoyed watching F1 or Nascar on TV. At the same time, I enjoyed casual racing games like Mario Kart and Snowboard Kids on my Nintendo 64, but this was more likely due to the weaponry within the game.
Even then, I suppose one could argue that Burnout games are as much like racing as
Part of the job means playing games I might not be immediately interested in, and that was the case with Forza Horizon 3. I’ve owned several Forza Motorsports games in the past, if only because I enjoy the menu and the relaxing music. There’s a sense of serenity navigating the menus, purchasing cars and tinkering with parts I know nothing about. I didn’t initially understand where Horizon was coming from when I first started it. The game didn't present me with a clinical environment like Motorsport, where scraping another car was like becoming a social pariah. Instead, Horizon boasted it’s gorgeous visuals and praised me for smashing and damaging other cars and the environment. It was exciting. I was behind the wheel once more, smashing into posts, but at the same time trying my best to stay on track. I was maturing.
Burnout 3 had the sort of music that every teenager needs to hear at some point in their life. Punk rock, emo, grunge and other genres I don’t know thumped through my CRT TV's stereo as I attempted to wreak as much havoc as possible on my opponents. Vicious slams were rewarded with more boost, which in turn allowed for more devastating takedowns. The entire system was self-fulfilling, like some carnage-fuelled prophecy. Burnout 3 was one of the first games I actively tried to “clock”, to use a dated term. Back before the ubiquitous achievement or trophy system, there was simply a percentage, and that percentage climbed the more races you won, cars you unlocked, and special events you mastered. Bragging required more effort on the bragger's side than simply having your achievements on-show. If you wanted to let your friends know how good you were, it meant putting in the disk and booting up the game to flaunt the percentage you were able to achieve.
Forza Horizon 3 has this sense of achievement-chasing, both in the sense of the modern achievement system that I am thoroughly addicted to (despite being a rather shitty addict), as well as in-game percentages to chase.
I purchased Forza Motorsport 5 for my Xbox One when it came out, partly because I needed a game to justify purchasing a console, and because I had enjoyed the previous games anyway. Forza was in my console for less than two hours before being removed and never returned. I enjoyed the way the triggers rumbled, a novelty at the launch of the Xbox One, but the yearning to keep playing just wasn’t there. I liked the menus and looking at the vehicles, but I didn’t want the sterile experience of moving around a track that only an enthusiast would appreciate.
One feature in gaming I feel is underappreciated is soundtracks. It can be difficult in dramas, where a soundtrack is crafted by a single artist and often involves a whole team of musicians, to fully appreciate the subtle emotions they can make you feel. It's different in racing games, as a soundtrack can make or break an experience. Beyond driving and ensuring you don’t crash, there is little else to do other than listen to the radio and let the music fill you. In a drama, you’re following the story, managing an inventory, protecting an ally. But in a racing game, it’s just you, the car, the road, and the music. Knowing this, Forza Horizon 3 introduces you to the idea of style songs, where you really get to know your song. It’s like being at a party and hearing the tune you know the words to. It’s a rush of excitement as the game informs you, “Hey! Now’s the time to show off!” as you tear around corners, drifting wide, knocking down poles in an attempt to earn more experience.
It’s an odd thing, falling away from a game genre that you didn’t thoroughly appreciate but had a slight connection with. Racing games, for me, have always been that good friend who you get along with so well, but you only see them on the odd occasion, and then one day you realize you’ve not seen them in years. Forza Horizon 3 has made me call that old friend and ask if they wanted to catch up. I wonder if it will be a bit awkward at first. It has been a long time, after all. I just know that I’m ready to get back into the driver’s seat and zoom around Australia. So thank you, Forza Horizon 3, for making me want to play racing games again.