Review: Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One)
In 2010 some of the most influential people in the racing game business got together and formed Playground Games. The aim for this talented group of individuals was simple – make the best driving game in the world. Six years later and perfection is on the horizon.
Forza Horizon 3 has instilled a feeling in me I’ve not experienced in many years. A feeling of excitement, gratitude and pure enjoyment all rolled into one moment. When you go to bed at ungodly times in the morning and wake up at sparrow fart just to get your next fix of driving you know that you’re playing something very, very special. As soon as you pass the loading screen you’re dumped right into an oasis of pure driving mastery.
Forza Horizon 3 kicks off exactly where the demo got going, or the first bit of footage you would have seen at E3 earlier this year. You’re thrown into the thick of it right away as you make your way to the next festival setting in the featured car for this particular game, the Lamborghini Centenario. That’s followed by an off-road vehicle session where you can just about feel the wind blowing through your hair as you blast through the checkpoints on the beach on your way to Byron Bay. It ends up in a Showcase where you are tasked with chasing and beating a chopper that’s carrying another vehicle. Oh yes, the crazy has gone to cloud cuckoo land. This time however you’re not just attending the festival, you’re the owner. That’s why you’ll choose a look from preset avatars and decide what they’ll call you (of course there’s no Dawid, so I’m Dave…). This particular festival is taking place down-under in Australia and is now so big that it’s been split up into four territories: Byron Bay, Yarra Valley, Outback and Surfers Paradise – each with their own festivals. If I had to compare the map to Forza Horizon 2 I’d say it’s about double the size.
Where we’re going we don’t need roads
Your main objective is to build these individual festivals by levelling it up. To do so you have to gather fans. Get the required number of fans and you get one upgrade point. How do you get fans? By taking part in events and, this is important, by obtaining recruits to join your team. Keira, your PA, will make you aware of a new potential recruit and mark them on the map. Challenge and beat the recruit and you can add that drivatar to your line-up. Once the festival has been upgraded you’ll now be able to host more fans and it’ll unlock more events for you to enter in that territory. Each territory comes with its own unique theme and it’s this in particular that really sets this outing apart from any previous Forza Horizon games. Keen on some off-road racing? Head to the Outback. Want to enjoy some dreamy twisty roads in a supercar? Visit the rain forest. Are you after some tight cornering and high speeds? Head to the city skyline that you can see in the distance. Want to just barge through to the next checkpoint and make up your own road? Go for it. It feels like an adventure game for cars.
Every event type in Forza Horizon 2 has returned to this sequel. You can take part in exhibitions, or you can take on a championship made up of several races. There are 30 new Bucket List events and, if you feel there aren’t enough, you can now setup and challenge your friends (and the rest of the world) to a Bucket List of your own. Set it up and invite your friends to the Bucket List Blueprint Point. Let’s see if they can beat it! The setup is not perfect, as you can’t set your own checkpoints, but it’s a start. You’ll also once again be on the lookout for Barn Finds that has a bunch of Australian classic automobiles featuring this time, though you’ll still find a global classic or two here and there. At some point in all the racing you will find that you need a moment to do something silly, and you’ll be glad to hear that PR Stunts have returned from the original Forza Horizon.
Think of PR Stunts as a fun distraction. The Speed Trap and Speed Zone events, that featured in Forza Horizon 2 as well (though not as PR Stunts), will have you pushing the limit of your car, but the return of Drifts and, the new kid on the block, Danger Sign, is where you’ll find you’ll spend most of your time trying to get a three-star rating. Danger Sign is just that – danger. Your aim is to hit the Danger Sign ramp at top speed in your effort to gain the ultimate distance. Be aware, some of these stunts are tough and you’ll be swearing when having to deal with traffic while drifting. These various tasks will earn you some fans, but also XP (to level up) and credits to buy cars. As you would have gathered by now Forza Horizon 3 dips its sexy 22” wheels into both the sim and arcade racing waters, and somehow they’ve struck this phenomenal balance in handling that just works.
Body modifications makes you car look sexy… sometimes…
You’ll get a feel for each car you drive in seconds as each vehicle feels unique and you’ll drive that particular car to its strengths. If you feel like tampering with the car you can as before play with the settings and tune the car as it best suits you, but if you’re really feeling like being a daredevil you can now, for the first time, add body modification kits to your car. Not all the cars can be improved, but I can tell you that I had a 1957 BMW Isetta 300 Export in a D tier upgraded to a S1 tier (pictured above). Yes, it was unbelievably funny when witnessing another local media person playing it online and watching the little bug-looking piece of metal shoot off in record speed down the straight, or seeing him adding training wheels to a three-wheeled car. Another player? Online with me… in my campaign? Well, yes.
4-Player campaign co-op is a thing in Forza Horizon 3 and it’s a blast. Suddenly championships become more competitive and in free-roam you’ll find that you and your mates (we’re in Australia, okay?) are pushing to see who can perform the best PR Stunt… or anything that looks goofy and fun. There are however some drawbacks. When searching for a Barn Find, and the Barn Find appears on the other player’s map, and not yours, it’s somewhat of a pointless co-op search, though using a drone to help you search does help a bit. The co-op works, but it’s not as if you’re about to play a shooter in co-op with friends. It feels a little disjointed from the single player experience that feels like something you want to experience at your own pace. The other drawback is that you can’t use the rewind feature for obvious reasons, though I believe it made the races all the more enjoyable, and photo mode is completely disabled, which is a massive disappointment. Other than using the screenshot mode on the Xbox One you can’t setup a beauty shot of you and your mates being a bunch of idiots. Hopefully that gets added when the inevitable sequel launches. When you do play in single player mode the photo mode is a reminder that Forza Horizon 3 is quite the graphical showcase.
There were many, many moments that simply had me observe the beauty that was unfolding in front of my eyes. Each car is drenched with detail, and when you’re out on the road you’ll notice it changing as bits of mud or blades of grass stick to the body. The weather system is like something I’ve never seen before. Yes, we’ve seen real-time weather in a game, but not like this. When you see dark clouds building, in an unbelievably realistic way, and soon after it starts raining it adds to the realism. You’ll also now drive through pools of water, not just the little puddles that Forza Motorsport 6 introduced. Get to the Rain Forrest and you’ll get to take images that look something like the one at the top of this paragraph. Details such as smoke hovering over the festival once the fireworks come to an end or the details of bushes, fences, sign posts and everything else you can plough through is just of the highest quality, with the damage model on the cars being just as good. There’s just something mesmerising about the colour palette in the game. Each area you visit has a distinct look and feel to it, and you’ll find yourself siding with a particular area. For me it was the beautiful rain forest. The production quality of this game sets a new benchmark for racing games.
The perfect sound for any track
If the purring sounds of the cars have overstayed their welcome then the music selection, which was a major issue for me in Forza Horizon 2, will fill any gap that might exist. You now have access to eight radio stations with at least one station appealing to your tastes (you can find the entire listing here). As an owner you’ll sign up radio stations, two at a time. Once you’ve unlocked all festivals you’ll have access to all the stations, and if you’re still not satisfied you can play your own music using the Groove feature, though you’ll have to switch to a UK locale to get this working.
Forza Horizon 3 is filled with content. You can buy your cars at the auction house (for the first time since Forza Motorsport 4) or put your car up for sale after having spent hours working on the perfect design. You’ll get to challenge your rivals and your drivatar will take care of matters in your absence. In fact, that difficulty curve can be set to perfection because of the use of drivatars and you’ll truly feel like you’re racing real people. Throughout all this you’re also building up skill points to unlock unique perks such as earning 20% more credits per race or 500% more skills score for drifts taps. Keeping the skill chain combo going is tough, but highly rewarding. Street races are also available for you to take part in, which is especially grand when you have your club members joining the event. Hoot at passing drivatars on the road and they’ll join you by forming a convoy. There is never a dull moment, and there’s no greater example than the Online Adventure mode.
In Online Adventure you can join your friends or random people and take part in races, challenges or games. You get to vote for the discipline you’re most interested in and then face off against up to 11 other players. I had an enormous amount of fun doing course and point-to-point races, but nothing beat the games. I got to play Infected and King and sat there with a huge grin on my face. In Infected you’re basically playing ‘Zombie’ mode. One player starts off as the infected car and its his or her aim to touch another car to infect it. The last car standing wins, but if you are infected and touch other cars you will be awarded points too. King is basically a game of touchers, but there are two cars who are King. Touch the car and you become King. Your aim is to remain King as long as possible. The winner is the car that dodged pretenders to the throne for the longest. It’s an enormous amount of fun and will likely last players until the next Forza Horizon game. You can also still meet friends and other players at car meets that exclusively take place at the airport and lets you dice your friend or another stranger down the airstrip to claim bragging rights. As I mentioned earlier – there is so much content in this game.
I’ve unfortunately not had the opportunity to test the cross-play feature with the PC version as it was not available at the time of writing, but we do plan to write an in-depth feature on that as soon as we have access to it. Other than that there was not much that could be faulted, besides me bitching when the wheelspin would have me missing out on a vehicle I really wanted and gave me a measily 2,000 credits instead. I should also point out that I don’t think the navigation system, using Anna, works as well this time round using the Kinect, though that could be down to the lack of decent voice support for our territory.
Forza Horizon 3 is the Godfather 2 of the series. It’s taken everything you loved about the first two games, added some 100s and 1000s sprinkles of pure magic, and you now have what is arguably one of the best racing games of all time. It’s for both the driving enthusiast and the clueless among us. Forza Horizon 3 is really for everyone. If you own an Xbox One or PC you owe it to yourself to be part of this vibrant festival celebration of automobile crack.
Below you’ll find an image gallery showing off various photos I took. Yes, it’s highly addictive: