If Playground Games and Turn 10 were searching for a definitive way to differentiate the Horizon games from the mainline Forza series, they’ve just found it. For all of its brightly coloured visuals and exuberant action, Forza Horizon 3 maintained some semblance of reality, but with the arrival of the Hot Wheels DLC they’ve quite literally gone off the reservation.
For those of you living under an extremely expansive rock, or perhaps that don’t have small boys living in their household, Hot Wheels are the ubiquitous toy cars that you’ll find clutched in the sticky hands of most car-obsessed five year olds. If they’re not in hand, they’re likely shooting down bright orange loop the loops before embedding themselves in a nearby potted plant instead.
So along come the Forza Horizon 3 team, who’ve clearly decided that their game isn’t wild enough already, and as such have taken those plastic orange loop the loops and various weird and wonderful track pieces, along with a number of the wildly designed cars and hotrods from the world of Hot Wheels. They’ve then thrust them into the ocean off the coast of Forza Horizon 3’s fictionalised Australia, on a barmy rollercoaster island called Thrilltopia with robotic dinosaurs scattered about. The good news is, it somehow manages to work, the bad news is, perhaps not as well as you’d hope.
As with the main game, you’re presented with a map covered in a steadily increasing range of potential events to take part in, and you can either drive there or jump directly to an event, if you’ve got enough in the bank. The map is a hilarious tangle of roads which looks to have more in common with a bowl of noodles than an island’s roadways, but you’ll probably be fine if you just follow the blue markers to your next destination.
These are true Hot Wheels tracks, and they look utterly amazing, stretching off in every direction like a freeform rollercoaster. Besides the aesthetics, Playground Games have captured just how it feels to try and pilot a ridiculously fast car around a sweeping plastic track. Sadly that means that there’s often little grip to be found, and you’ll persistently find yourself coasting along the outer plastic wall at various points. Unlike the real thing though, that doesn’t really work to your advantage, beyond stopping you falling in the water, and anyone used to the wide open sweep of many of Horizon 3’s highways may find the adjustment a less than enjoyable one.
In fact, one of the biggest annoyances in the open world, and the races themselves, was trying to return to the raised track if you’ve fallen from it to what lies below. In some cases there are small ramps available to drive up, but a virtual inability to reach the speed needed to get up them when travelling through the water makes them largely pointless. If the game resets you to track during a race, then you can’t rewind before that point, making a number of the races an annoying slog for absolutely no reason.
I had far less fun trying to drive from one end of the map to the other compared to the rest of my Forza Horizon experiences, which seems to miss the point a bit, and when you’re trying to make a right turn that’s directly after a speed boost pad, you’ll begin to tire of some of the design decisions here.
Your first car is a 2012 Hot Wheels Rip Rod, and it definitely looks the part in its lurid green livery. What is great is that it really looks like the toys you see on the shelves and in the hands of children – and some “adults” – everywhere, and there’s some fun to be had trying to spot ones you’ve seen, or owned before.
However, it’s not so fun to actually take out on the track – at least not in its stock form – and if you upgrade it to fun levels you’ll suddenly find you can’t then take it into the early races. I had more luck with my trusty BMW M235i to begin with, but then I was able to unlock the next class after only two races, so it wasn’t that long before I was jumping into the expansion’s next offering in the shape of the ridiculous skull-fronted Bone Shaker.
As you progress, you’ll begin to realise that the Hot Wheels cars probably don’t feel as good to drive as your favourite vehicles from the main game, when they should be an essential, rip-roaring part of the experience. It’s definitely a shame.
Forza Horizon 3’s Hot Wheels DLC is something of a missed opportunity. Visually spectacular, but adding virtually nothing to the core Horizon 3 experience besides some new-found problems and annoyances, fans are arguably better off sticking with the tarmac/dirt/sand of the mainland. Unfortunately, when it comes to roads, plastic is not fantastic.