Playground Games’ open world racer is pure fun.
Everyone has a racing fix. Some people prefer simulations which tap into both their inner gearhead and professional racing enthusiast. Those games, like the Forza Motorsport series, demand excellent racing performance focusing on drifts, correct braking, drafting and smart handling. Then there are the “arcade” racers. We’ve seen a number of these games over the years but these are the racers that focus on fun without any restrictions. Skating the line between these two genres is never easy but the Forza Horizon series has been doing it successfully for years now and Forza Horizon 3 is undoubtedly the best of those efforts till date. Did I mention it’s a damn fun racing game? Because it’s that too.
"Some may take issue with the game being locked at 30 FPS on the Xbox One but given the open world setting and effects on screen, it’s a compromise I can accept."
Forza Horizon 3 sees the Horizon Festival, an event spanning different continents across the globe, heading to Australia. As the “boss” of the festival, you’ll choose your own avatar, name (or nickname if street cred is important) and go about expanding your event. The story as it were doesn’t have a fixed plot – your assistant Keira is on hand to guide you through the experience.
The key distinguishing factor between Forza Horizon and Forza Motorsport is the wide open world and Forza Horizon 3‘s world is simply gorgeous. The 30 FPS frame rate doesn’t see any drops (or any that I’ve noticed thus far) and allows for crisp vegetation, extensive alpha effects and environmental design, lush sunrises, you name it. Playground Games deserves credit for so faithfully capturing the mood and atmosphere of Australia, from the serene beaches to the dusty and dangerous outback. Some may take issue with the game being locked at 30 FPS on the Xbox One but given the open world setting and effects on screen, it’s a compromise I can accept. Although for as good as the textures and draw distance can be, there can be some rather obvious pop-in at times.
Forza Horizon 3 is chockfull of things to do and many of these activities will be familiar to fans of previous games. Your main goal is to expand the festival, opening up other locations in the process and even signing radio stations over to the cause. This is done by participating in races, Showcase events, knocking off Bucket List challenges, challenging and recruiting rivals and so much more. The sheer range of things to do in the game is pretty cool but you never feel overwhelmed. Thanks to the very intuitive Anna, an AI controlled driving assistant, you’ll be directed to the nearest intriguing event, suggested some possible activities or further delineated tasks based on the category of your choice. Reach certain fan milestones and new festival locations will lead to car rewards.
Level up your avatar and Wheel Spin rewards will become available, bestowing free cars or large amounts of credits. Further level up and you can assign skill points, either specializing in more credits and fans from completing certain activities or opening up other avenues. For example, racing rival avatars is fairly linear in the early going but once you unlock bounties, it’s possible to challenge any avatar on the road. Some will even net higher rewards depending on their difficulty. Another skill allows you to earn increased credits if a certain radio station has a featured song on.
"At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 3‘s open world encourages exploration as much as simply proceeding to the next activity."
In a varied environment like Australia, it’s a given that Forza Horizon 3 will offer a lot more than just street racing. Off-road tracks are fairly common and can often lead to rushing through water or careening through a forest. All the major brands are present and accounted for from Aston Martin and Chevrolet to Ferrari and Lexus. You’ll have a choice between muscle cars, sports cars, trucks and much more. While the list isn’t as extensive as Forza Motorsport 6, there are still over 350 cars to choose from. Once again, the difference in each vehicle’s handling and performance will always be radically different. A Dodge 1969 Charger R/T is nothing like the Lamborghini Centenario and it’s incredible to feel the raw horsepower of the former against the overall greatness and speed of the latter.
It highlights another aspect that makes Forza Horizon 3 so much fun – you can play the game the way you want. While certain races and circuits will push you into choosing certain car classes depending on the conditions, it’s possible to customize the Drivatar difficulty, enable options for real-time car damage, switch ABS off and whatnot. Cars can be tuned for optimal performance whether you prefer improved handling or increased speed but at the risk of spinning out.
Real-time weather like rain further affects racing conditions, thus pushing you to adapt and change things up. I never found it too difficult, especially thanks to the handy Rewind feature, but that was on Average difficulty. Crank it up further and your opponents will find frightening new ways to turn each race into a nightmare. The ability to earn XP by racing clean or going as crazy as you’d like, careening into trees or stop signs, is also a great motivator for really letting loose in Forza Horizon 3.
At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 3‘s open world encourages exploration as much as simply proceeding to the next activity. During one play-through, I happened upon a beach with rusted ships. The site was beautiful in its own way and by just careening around, exploring the environment, I found several billboards that bestow increased XP. That being said, some fans may find the overall missions to not be all that different from Forza Horizon 2.
"The infectious atmosphere and adventurous bent of Forza Horizon 3 is one of the better racing experiences in quite a while."
There was enough freedom offered and Forza Horizon 3 does a great job keeping things fresh all throughout just by the sheer range of its activities. As you progress through the game, better cars across more difficult tracks, more interesting Bucket List challenges and Showcase Events open up, thus keeping you on your toes. The aura of familiarity doesn’t feel like Playground Games is cashing in an established format at all. Rather, it feels like a formula with all these great new additions set in a compelling new world (with support for online campaign co-op that will count towards your own campaign progression) with lots of fun things to do. The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind but when something is this fun while containing so much that’s new while still feeling familiar, it’s a testament to great game design.
Forza Horizon 3 is an easy recommendation. Hardcore racers, casual arcade players, those who toe the line and even for those who simply want to try out the series for the first time will have tons to look forward to. It doesn’t just offer a greater appreciation for racing – the infectious atmosphere and adventurous bent of Forza Horizon 3 is one of the better racing experiences in quite a while.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Excellent open world with a variety of missions and worthwhile rewards. Great freedom of choice for both arcade and realistic racing fans. Car variety is strong with each vehicle offering a unique Beautiful environments with striking environmental effects and atmosphere.
Mission structure may be too familiar for Forza Horizon fans. Some texture pop-in at times.
Forza Horizon 3 is a compelling, all-round excellent racer that should appeal to both hardcore fans and first time players.