Forza Horizon 3 was good. Well, Forza Horizon 3 still is really, really good, and after some 30 hours I'm still having a great time fiddling around in its wilderness, and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Driving from the tip of its coastline deep into its sun-baked heart, taking in the many and varied sights as I made my way to Redstone Airport in order to be jetted out to the separate Blizzard Mountain map, I realised I wasn't quite ready to leave when there was so much in the main game left to do. Churlish, I know, and it's hardly Playground Games' fault that they created an open world that was so generous first time round.
Blizzard Mountain grabs your attention from the off. Your all-new Ford Focus RS Gymkhana is strapped to a helicopter (and its Ken Block livery is a reminder, if you really needed one, that this is former members of the Dirt team proving what they can do when they head off-road), unbound into an electric downhill descent that happens at breakneck speed.
To say it's exhilarating would be to do it a disservice, and the best thing Blizzard Mountain does is introduce two new events that make the most of its finest asset. Hillclimbs have you winding your way to the peaks, but it's the descents where the magic lies. Here you can let gravity do its thing as you try to keep out of the scenery, the descent almost daring you to press the throttle as you thunder on down. It's amazing, and unlike anything that's been in Forza Horizon to date.
There's a fair amount else that's new here, too. Slippy conditions mean an emphasis on tail-out moments which can be a beast to tame - especially if, like me, you let your affection for Opel Mantas get the better of you and start off with a rear-wheel drive car with a relatively long wheelbase. Drifting was always a difficult art in Forza Horizon 3, and Blizzard Mountain forces you to master the discipline - something which can only be done with feather-light fingers and a fair bit of patience, though it's well worth putting the effort in.
Blizzard Mountain also gets its own progression system - the fans that you accrue on the main continent are forgotten, and in their place is a new stars system that's easy enough to parse. Meet the right requirements in any given event and you get the full three stars, and you'll need a certain amount to unlock the next tier of events on Blizzard Mountain. The star system might have its roots in more casual fare, but it disguises the fact this expansion is much more hardcore than vanilla Forza Horizon.
Unlocking two stars is often simply a case of winning any given event - something which itself seems much trickier here, leading me to knock down the AI difficulty a notch - while earning the third star often requires a more imaginative challenge. Sometimes the challenges are dumb - one requires you to simply get a clean start, meaning you've either failed or succeeded within seconds of the event starting - while others push you towards some underloved facets of Horizon.
I've always appreciated the style points system as it showers you with positive reinforcement, but I'd never really engaged with it until one of Blizzard Mountain's events tasked me with racking up 60,000 in a single race. Keeping a chain of drifts, jumps and passes while lost in the chaos of a blizzard presents a different side to Forza Horizon 3, and one that's deeply satisfying too.
The new unlock system does make Blizzard Mountain feel a little restrictive, though, especially after the free-wheeling generosity of Forza Horizon 3. That much was always going to be the case when moving to a smaller, self-contained map, and the more rigid structure that's to be found in Blizzard Mountain will likely please those who found the main game a little too aimless. By contrast, the new map can feel a bit featureless after the many sights and sounds of Horizon 3's Australia - that mountain dominates all, but beyond it this take on the snowies can sometimes feel a little flat.
It still looks gorgeous, mind, especially as the sun sets on its iced lake or hangs low in the frosty sky. And Forza Horizon 3 is still a sublime game to play, with Blizzard Mountain bringing into focus some of the unsung elements of the main event. Whether it's worth the price of entry depends very much on how much you've rinsed Forza Horizon 3, and as much as I've enjoyed Blizzard Mountain I'd still hold out to see what the next expansion holds before investing in the expansion pack, and there's not quite enough here to justify the standalone price. If you've reached the limits of mainland Australia, though, this is a fine expansion. It's more Forza Horizon 3, and that can only be a good thing, right?
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