Since booting up Shenmue HD and making a beeline straight for the arcade, I’ve had a fair few goes of Hang-On recently. It reminded me that it isn’t just nostalgia that makes the simple style of the classic arcade racing titles fun. So, what if you took the core gameplay style of Top Gear or OutRun and reimagined the visual and auditory experience, taking the best cues, for a modern platform? The answer, brought to you by developer Aquiris, is brilliant.
Meet Horizon Chase Turbo, a glorious reworking of a simpler time. Horizon is a racing game but sanded down to left and right steering while travelling at a ridiculous pace. Honestly, the only controls needed here are the accelerator (gas, if you prefer to be wrong), left, right and boost. There’s a brake in there, too, presumably, but I’ve had no cause to use it.
The game shines where visuals are concerned and this entirely due to the art direction. What you’re getting is a clean, chunky, bold, blocky (though not pixelated), HD rendition of the old genre. In motion, running at a smooth 60FPS in docked and handheld, Horizon looks fantastic, with the bright, electric sky and the world’s finest locations throwing minimally detailed direction signs, landmarks and novelties past your face at excessive speed. China and Japan are particular visual highlights (looks out for the pink cherry blossom sections; they look great).
Success in Horizon Chase Turbo isn’t dependant on your ability to take corners. Well that, helps, but it’s more in how you avoid and overtake the nineteen other racers. A bump in the rear will slow you down greatly, a side collision marginally and being rear-ended will give you a boost. There’s no rear-view mirror to aid frustrating your opponents, but you can bet your gasket those cheeky CPU dudes know when you’re coming. This handicap and starting from last position always ensure the odds are stacked again you from the start which, again, is a component of the fore-father racing games. It’s a simple set up and works well when not directly compared to modern counterparts and taken for the genre it is. It’s not a racing game by modern standards and it’s not supposed to be.
Controls are tight, with your car always satisfying gripped to the road but, to be fair, given the limited mechanics, it had to be this way, any elements of veering would be taking too much on within limited framework. It’s perfect as it.
Arcade racing games in this 90s style are almost ‘on-rails’, with steering often only needing to be held firmly round turns. Over and understeer are the last thing on your mind when facing a pack of five vehicles ahead of you in close quarters. To add the strategy, you’re armed with three boosts in each race, which opens a chance for a few tactical preferences; do you use one early to skip past the crowd? Do you save one for when you’re inevitably pushed into a road sign by some asshat in a hatchback? Do you save them all for a clean run on your final lap? Are there additional boosts on this particular track and how do I factor those in? It’s straightforward but it doesn’t diminish the excitement in the heat of a race.
The next layer is fuel management. Depending on the track and choice of vehicle, you may have to pick up a fuel canister or two. Each track has a number of these pickups in set positions, some with an abundance in the natural racing line, some sparingly in tight angles. I frequently found myself cursing as I was too busy paying attention to other cars for the first couple laps, only to realise I was on the last lap, low on fuel with no idea where the pickups were. This is compounded by existence of coins, which can also be collected for the completionist crowd, or for those seeking better rewards. It’s gripping stuff in context of the short-form races.
Bring me the Horizon
Horizon Chase Turbo has a full boot of content including multiple modes; World Tour (race around the World upgrading and unlocking vehicles as you go), Tournament (races in sets of four with point based-league system, not dissimilar to the World Tour set up), Playground (a time trial-type mode with track variations, weather anomalies and other tricks), Endurance mode (long, long, merciless sets of races in which you cannot change your vehicle). Each of the modes is quick to show the ludicrous number of tracks included but, as fun as the modes are, the World Tour mode takes the top spot for me.
That’s not to say World Tour begins difficult, as, although you’ll need to pay attention to take pole, it eases you in and, ultimately, the difficulty curve is as smooth as the soundtrack. The intensity gradually ramps up nicely to, eventually, the point of teeth-grinding difficulty (the good kind). After putting the time in, it really feels worth it though and it sucked me in to point of feeling a bitter rivalry with the front-runner.
Aquiris, in a masterful stroke of genius, decided to dial in the help of Top Gear’s (that’s SNES, not BBC) composer, Barry Leitch, to compile the soundtrack for Horizon. I can unreservedly say this is in my top three soundtracks of 2018. This isn’t the usual 8/16-bit mashup utilising the limited sound chips of those generations, it’s far more impressive. Horizon’s music is wholeheartedly inspired, in that it perfectly captures a synchronicity between the level of visual upgrade between then and now. And it’s damn catchy…
Throw in local split-screen multiplayer and you have a great value package. Minimal frame drops occur in any set up, including four player, undoubtedly down to the clever stylistic graphical choices. Another feature I’ve had great fun with is tackling the World Tour mode in two player co-op. Both players positions and collectable completion rate are factored into each result, making every race guaranteed to be intense.
As much as I love to talk about how great this game is to anyone that will listen, I can’t deny its biggest flaw, at least on the Switch version. On reaching about 60% completion of the World Tour mode, the game began tendency to crash both before and, more frequently, after races to the point where I have had precious victories snatched away before I’ve even had chance to celebrate. It’s not enough for me to dock the score but it has to be mentioned. Having said that, I haven’t seen the same complaint elsewhere so it’s hard to pinpoint the issue.
And guess what? It’s dirt cheap. Just, you know, buy it.
Overall Score: 9 / 10
Format: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch (reviewed)
Price: £17.99 (UK eShop)
Publisher: Aquiris Game Studio
Developer: Aquiris Game Studio
Release Date: 28/11/2018 (Switch, Xbox One), 15/05/18 (PS4, PC)
Based on purchased retail build