An in-depth analysis of Playground Games’ open world racer.
Playground Games’ Forza Horizon 3 is a visually stunning achievement on the Xbox One. Taking place in Australia, the game manages to capture the beauty and essence of down under…from lush rain forests to dense urban areas, Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best looking open world racers of this generation. In an era where the Xbox One has mostly struggled to run AAA games at a full native 1080p resolution, Forza Horizon 3 not only runs at that standard but amps up the image quality with 4x MSAA which results into a clean and crisp image. The game’s frame buffer is limited to 30fps and some may get put off by that due to the genre it’s set in, however one must remember that this isn’t your linear arcade style racer. Forza Horizon 3 is bigger and better in terms of world size and intricate details compared to its predecessor making the 30fps cap sound reasonable.
Unlike its predecessor, Forza Horizon 3 is full of eye popping colors, fantastic looking beaches, huge stretches of crop fields which are all bought to life by the engine’s rock solid streaming solution. You will be driving the latest and the greatest class of exotic cars and reaching speeds of more than 200 miles per hour and even then you will come across only a minor amount of pop in issue here and there. The several hundred in-game vehicles all have extremely detailed interior and exterior which are in turn coupled with a reasonable damage simulation model. As mentioned before, the Xbox One version targets a 30 frames per second frame buffer and according to our observations the game runs at that standard most of the times. This is a testament to the game’s engine which manages to offer a rock solid frame rate despite the improvements and increment to several graphical parameters such as anisotropic filtering, motion blur, foliage density and AI.
The game world is huge in Forza Horizon 3 and it does not compromises at all in terms of visual fidelity, high resolution textures for cars, buildings and structures, and a fantastic physics framework. However, all of this results into long loading times on Xbox One. It’s not excruciatingly long but it can be quite annoying at times. Overall, the console version of Forza Horizon 3 delivers a fantastic racing experience with smooth gameplay, phenomenal visuals and a beautiful world that will suck you right in.
Forza Horizon 3 also marks the first time that a full retail release has made it over to the PC platform. Exclusive to Windows 10 and a part of the fantastic “Play Anywhere” initiative by Microsoft, Forza Horizon 3 promises to have better visuals, performance and higher rendering resolutions compared to the console version provided you have a really beefy PC. But before we jump into analyzing the PC port, let us take a look at the game’s hardware requirements. For 1920 X 1080 resolution, the developer recommend i7 3820 @ 3.6GHz, NVIDIA GTX 970 or NVIDIA GTX 1060, AMD R9 290X or AMD RX 480 along with 12GB of RAM. If you have a higher resolution display and are aiming for 4K image buffer, then get ready to invest into a monster of a hardware. The developers recommend 16GB of RAM, i7 6700 @ 4.0GHz and NVIDIA GTX 980Ti or GTX 1080 or AMD R9 Fury X.
Graphical settings include shadow quality, anisotropic filtering, object geometry quality, reflection quality, car detail quality and the ability to dynamically optimized the game’s performance as per your hardware. Further options include the ability to play the game at an unlocked frame rate, 30 fps and 60fps. It goes without saying that PC players with beefy hardware will naturally like to play the game at a locked 60fps experience, however the reality is quite different. We tested the game on more than a couple of different configurations but before we go ahead, we must note that disabling MSAA is critical if you are looking to achieve higher frame rates…which obviously makes matters confusing given that the Xbox One version already supports 4xMSAA. So coming back to benchmarking…our first two tests were on a GTX 970 and R9 390 GPUs along with 12GB of RAM and i7 3820 and it’s impossible to run this game at 60fps with Ultra Settings with MSAA switched to off. However, when the game is locked to 30fps with MSAA maxed out, we witnessed next to no drops. Given that these are the most popular cards out there, it’s rather disappointing to see none of them reaching 60 frames per second at 1080p. For 4K and 60 frames per second, you would need a Titan X Pascal with MSAA completely off. In short, it’s extremely difficult to run the game at 60fps with MSAA maxed out without any sort of stuttering.
Ultimately it all comes down to this. All the inconsistencies in performance that we mentioned before does indeed tie into the fact that the game’s engine was designed from the ground up for a 30fps console like experience. Whether the game engine will be updated to support various modern GPU profiles for best performance is something that remains to be seen but having said that, the game looks phenomenal on the PC, even at 30fps with all settings maxed out.
The differences between the Xbox One and Windows 10 versions are exactly what you expected. Better car detail, self shadowing, better texture filtering and shadow quality is the norm these days and this continues in Forza Horizon 3 as well. However, we still observed pop ins on both platforms, yet another engine deficiency that seems to be incapable to scale across better GPUs. We have also read reports about noticeable stutter in the city areas and this ties into CPU optimization. However this is something we were not able to verify.
In the end, this trip to Australia is remarkably memorable. We haven’t played a racing game with such high ambitions in open world design, gameplay mechanics and phenomenal visual fidelity and graphics technology. Forza Horizon 3 is in many ways a testament to the the underutilized power of the Xbox One. In an age where the Xbox One has been consistently been criticized for its under-powered specifications, Forza Horizon 3 is one game that really showcases what developers can achieve when you push for performance and take optimization to the next stage. We recommend the Xbox One version over the PC build due to its rock solid performance. The Windows 10 version still needs a bit of work and a couple of patches to stabilize utilization of various GPU profiles. Here is hoping that Playground fixes it soon in the future.