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Horizon Chase Turbo (PlayStation 4) artwork

Horizon Chase Turbo (PlayStation 4) review

"It never reaches top gear."

Bumper cars. The bumper car effect is the only thing holding Horizon Chase Turbo back from being the perfectly polished retro racer it wants so desperately to be. You can picture it, can't you? You've been making steady ground on the leaders but it's the final lap and it's now or never. You make your move: you hit the nitro and blast by one racer immediately, almost incidentally. You're in third place. Only two pretenders remain in the way of you claiming that coveted gold first place trophy and all the upgrade points that go along with it. Here comes the second place car on the horizon.

Your blue Shelby Cobra-esque roadster eats up the road and the gap both in two beats. You let off the accelerator to allow your car to drift ever so slightly for an outside pass. And then it happens, even though it looks like it shouldn't: you rear end the pretender at speed, and impossibly, infuriatingly, lose forward momentum through the collision while simultaneously propelling the other guy forward, like you're handing off a baton in a relay you wanted no part of -- you're done, and he's gone.

It's frustrating, it's terrible, and it happens all the time in Horizon Chase Turbo. The games that inspired this homage: the Lotus Challenge and Top Gear series are sprite based affairs, and so you could slip past images of other cars no matter how tight the spot. Perhaps the fact that Horizon Chase Turbo uses beautifully realized 3D models to admirably approximate the same look is the culprit here, and it's a shame. The scenario I describe above is a gut punch because it's victory snatched from your hands at the 11th hour, but truly, the bumper car effect gets much worse. At the beginning of races, where cars are all clumped together: you may well find yourself regularly hitting retry, because ten seconds and two or three bumps in, and your gold will be well and truly sunk, and you were never in it.

And all the other ingredients are present for Horizon Chase Turbo to be the next throwback classic. The car models look 3D-realistic and sprite-quaint simultaneously; the music is bouncy retro goodness by the man who scored the Lotus Challenge and Top Gear games in the first place. Racers can fall into that trap where tracks and locales get repetitive, but across 12 destinations, each with three city stops which themselves host three races -- Horizon Chase Turbo manages to keep things fairly fresh.

The racing progression too, is well balanced, keeping new cars with better specs locked behind a reasonable number of points, so just when you might be getting listless, a new machine is yours to behold. There are so many levels of mastery to achieve: finish in the top five to move on, or better still, on the podium for real points. Aim for gold in the race you're in, then across that city, that destination; aim for super cups by winning gold and collecting all the coins on all the tracks. Bonus tracks pop up and finishing first earns upgrades across your entire garage, in top speed, acceleration, handling, fuel capacity, and nitro ability.

And that's just the world tour mode: there are also tournament and endurance modes to unlock and try your hand at. And yet... despite the completeness of Horizon Chase Turbo, its vibrant sights and sounds, the way it makes you feel speed, and the danger of its hairpin turns which thrill despite the game's arcadey decision to never crash you (you just flip and slow momentarily before you're on your way again): the bumper car phenomenon is real. It's real, and it takes so much away. The passing game is the life blood of short races on tight, winding tracks. And Horizon Chase Turbo's bumping and launching routine would be a laughably bad wrinkle you might overlook if it didn't manage to imbrue that life blood the way it does. But it does, so tread carefully.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (May 26, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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