As we wait for two other slightly more notable “Horizon games”, namely Forza Horizon 5 and Horizon: Forbidden West, we have to revisit a little indie gem from 2018. We’re talking about the old-school arcade racer Horizon Chase Turbo, which received a new downloadable content (DLC) with fairly little fanfare, but with a name that inevitably grabs people’s attention: Senna Forever. This licensed package revisits the most incredible stories and successes of arguably one of the best and most iconic racers in Formula 1 history, the Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna da Silva. Spoiler: it’s surprisingly great!
A New Formula (One)
Maybe one day we’ll get a little break between all these new releases and revisit the original Horizon Chase Turbo with a Retro-Review of ours since we weren’t around at the time this game was first released in 2018. This fun racer, inspired by arcade classics such as OutRun, managed to offer adrenaline-filled events with a colourful look that mimicked the car games of old. And yet, I felt that other similar products such as Hotshot Racing managed to provide deeper and more satisfying gameplay in the long run. It was therefore quite a surprise to see such a meaty DLC drop so late, and similarly, I did not expect to like it as much as I did.
The game’s formula has been updated to a point for this piece of downloadable content, that it would have frankly made sense for the Brazilian developer Aquiris Game Studio to release it as a stand-alone product. In the rather lengthy campaign mode, players can relive dozens of iconic races of Ayrton Senna’s glorious career, all the way from the shocker debut results in the Toleman, to the most iconic McLaren-Honda years between the end of the ’80s and the start of the ’90s. Predictably, the cars’ names and looks are close to the real deal but not licensed, as this DLC only has the right to use Ayrton Senna’s name and face.
Speeding through history
This, however, didn’t stop the developers from revisiting truly the greatest moments of his career. The epic second place in the Toleman in a soaked Monaco, the most memorable Lotus wins, but also the clashes with Alain Prost at McLaren. All this in tracks that closely follow the layout of the real Formula 1 track – the ones used in that time, no less, so for example Spa has the iconic Bus Stop before the start/finish straight as opposed to the currently used chicane. Even the weather closely follows what happened in the aforementioned races!
But of course, this is still Horizon Chase Turbo underneath it all, not a hardcore Formula 1 simulation. Indeed, players travel at insane speeds even through tight corners, as the Outrun-Esque approach allows the cars to fly through corners that even F1 cars would attempt at relatively low speeds. Even the infamous Monte Carlo, with its incredibly narrow corners, can be finished without barely even releasing the accelerator. But the crazy speed, acceleration, and handling of F1 cars somehow work out better compared to the base game content, and the track design is brilliant as well, compared to some of the more flat and less exciting original creations from 2018 and beyond.
Like we used to play
As is tradition, every race is started from the back, as part of the arcade experience is to get around the other 19 cars by the time the canonical 3 laps are over. To do so, players get a couple of cards up their sleeve: perfect boost starts by timing the accelerator optimally as the lights go out, plus a handful of speed boosts that can be used throughout the race, including a single one on the track usually shortly before the start/finish line. Like the base game, fuel level needs to be kept in place, with fuel power-ups on the opposite side of the collectible turbo that can be used each lap – something that becomes a necessity over longer tracks.
There is also a little bit of strategy involved, as players can choose a car set-up from three available ones, focusing respectively on handling, top speed, and fuel mileage. Sure, this is a fast-paced arcade romp, but choosing a low grip set-up for Monaco or a high traction setting for Monza can be a painful experience. Each track also features collectible coins which, once all collected, give another extra boost. Picking up all of them can be part of the three optional challenges that each event offers, that range from said coin hunt to only using turbo on specific laps or hitting a perfect start.
Few lows and many highs
The campaign’s 5 meaty chapters offer dozens of iconic races from Senna’s career, unfortunately, cut short by that unlucky crash that took his life in Imola in 1994, on a weekend that no Formula 1 fan can ever forget, made even more painful for the death of young Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger. Via tasteful slides and inspired artworks, the game does a good job of honoring Senna’s legacy and results, celebrating with positive vibes what was a majestic career. I can whole-heartedly recommend a playthrough of the entire story, as it narrates some of the most memorable tales of Formula 1 a video game has ever tackled.
Fortunately, the game doesn’t end at the campaign. Players can also tackle a series of championships of increasing difficulties, where the car selection is free and there are no optional challenges – it’s all about winning as many races as possible and trying to outscore the slightly renamed F1 rivals of old. There’s even split-screen up to 4 players, while the online multiplayer is sadly missing, but that’s a limitation that’s carried over from Horizon Chase Turbo. The game manages to keep smooth 60 frames per second across the various modes, even without being Series X|S Enhanced. Perks of a simple visual style!
A champion is forever
Horizon Chase Turbo – Senna Forever is, by all means, an unusual DLC. Released a whopping 3 years after the base game, long after the core support of the game seemed to be over, it offers a level of content, detail, and fun that practically dwarves the already fun original title’s ambitions. It’s a respectful and passionate tribute to one of the motorsports’ greatest heroes that left us way too soon, mimicking the style of arcade racers that were in vogue in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which is when Ayrton Senna’s career peaked. Similar to Horizon Chase Turbo’s original release, the lack of online multiplayer is a shame, but the quality and quantity of content are stellar for the very low price this DLC is sold at. Senna is forever in our hearts, and Senna Forever is a worthy tribute.