Being an ancient and slightly crumbling gamer, I can remember way back in the mists of time to the early arcade racers, such as Top Gear and the original Outrun. I can even remember playing Ridge Racer in the arcade in a full size Mazda MX-5 – I tell you, that was an experience. Hoping to recapture the glory days is the latest game from Aquiris Game Studio, Horizon Chase Turbo on Xbox One. From the moment I saw it in action via early trailers, it evoked such a sense of nostalgia I knew I just had to play it.
From the outset, the look and sound of Horizon Chase Turbo is like taking a giant step back into the 1990s. The music is all composed by Barry Leitch, whose previous composing credits include the aforementioned Top Gear and Lotus Turbo Challenge 2, and it just fits the game perfectly. Graphically things are all presented as a 90s throwback, with what appear to be large sprites placed on a track with subtle stripes added to give a real sense of speed. Seeing the game in motion, with the speed and smoothness of the tracks, and the other cars whizzing by made my somewhat rose tinted spectacles near on fly off my face in shock. The cars are recognisable as real life models, albeit with different names – something that is usually a pet hate of mine – but it works brilliantly well in this setting.
As you begin your career chasing horizons, there are, as you’d expect, only a couple of cars to choose from, with more unlocked by scoring points in races. The scoring system is quite interesting, with differing amounts of points scored for the various feats you manage to achieve in the race. In Arcade mode, for instance, you can not only claim a gold trophy (and scoring gold in all races in a particular country will reward you with a new car) but if you collect all the coins dotted about the track and get first place, a special trophy is unlocked. Chasing these special trophies becomes very addictive, as you have to learn the track well enough to remember where all the coins are, but then also have to nail a perfect race against some very unpredictable AI.
There are several modes to enjoy in Horizon Chase Turbo too. World Tour is basically the Arcade mode where you start in a country, and gaining fifth place or higher will unlock the next race in the series. Beat that series, and you can move on to the next and so on as you go. It is here in World Tour where there are upgraded races to take part in, where a third place finish or better unlocks a permanent upgrade for any car you drive in future. Should you choose to upgrade the handling or the speed? Acceleration or nitro? These choices can be yours if you can place high enough.
In addition to World Tour, the Tournament mode places you in a series of four races, where the aim is to be the overall winner, based on points scored for position finished. There are three tiers here, but to be honest even the Amateur level is very challenging. There is also a Playground mode;a series of rotating game modes, which is different each week. The races here can be time trials, reversed courses, set in different weather conditions and so on. It’s certainly a mixed bag that will really test the skills you’ve picked up. The last mode, that of Endurance, requires you to complete the World Tour or win the Master level Tournament before access is granted.
But how does the actual racing fare? In a word, brilliantly.
Each race in the World Tour or Tournament modes feature a full field of 20 cars with you starting off the action dead last. Your task is to get to the front, and stay there, however the cars that you have to overtake are all obviously trying to win too, and there’s nothing they won’t do to try and stop you passing them. The number of times I’ve been screeching round a corner, right on the raggedy edge of grip, and the car in front has just drifted innocently across the track to cause a collision is beyond counting. They get a speed boost, you lose momentum and unless you’re really lucky, a couple of places are dropped as a result. Many bad words are then uttered before you are left to compose yourself and carry on.
Of course, with a judicious lift of the throttle, the line you are carving round the corner tightens and you can slip by on the inside, so it’s very much a reactions game. Thankfully, contact from the side isn’t usually too bad, unless of course it puts you into another car or a trackside obstacle, so the best course of action is to try to keep the racing clean; it’s unusual to get through without some sort of contact though. With controls that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played an Xbox racing game, Horizon Chase Turbo is very easy to pick up, but, at risk of the cliche alarm going off, very hard to master. It always feels like there’s an element of luck to your victories.
Multiplayer is included in all the modes of Horizon Chase Turbo, and it is a thing of joy. Eschewing the modern fad for online gaming, this game goes back to the roots of multiplayer, with a split screen and couch multiplayer option for up to 4 participants. Remember old skool 4-player Mario Kart, with all the fun of trying to remember which of the little squares of screen was yours? That’s all present and correct here. Fighting for position becomes much more intense when there’s a real live driver in one of the cars too, and to be able to play like this across all modes is a rare treat. There are online leaderboards as well to track your progress against your friends, so the element of competition is high.
All in all then, Horizon Chase Turbo is a great game, and one with a massive amount of content to unlock. With 109 tracks, 31 cars to unlock and 12 upgrades to earn, there is enough content to keep you playing for a good long time. The gameplay is smooth and most importantly fun, with the multiplayer being the real icing on the cake. My only reservation is the role that luck plays, and it’s only this random element to the races that stops me giving it a perfect score. However, this is without doubt the best retro ‘90s style racing game available on the Xbox One right now, and it is highly recommended… no matter whether you are old enough to remember the glory days or not.