Playground Games returns with their latest Forza Horizon game making it game number three in the open world series. What started as an excellent game on Xbox 360 to compliment the more sim like approach Forza had established, the Horizon games have cemented themselves as the go to driving experience for this generation and as you might expect, Forza Horizon 3 is no exception. Cue pumping soundtrack, cue a plethora of desirable cars, cue a racing festival theme and cue the rather splendid Australian setting for one of this year’s best racing/driving experiences. Actually, it’s up there as one of the greats right off the bat…here’s why.
Playground Games have obviously well tuned their Horizon formula with this latest iteration being the pinnacle of their tinkering. You’ve got the open world to explore at leisure and then you are offered a selection of varied events based on the types of terrain within the Australian outback, cities, forests etc. The game pushes you into its festival spirit the moment you pick up the controller and never ceases to stop awarding you with an incentive to keep pushing on. In this case, more fans you earn from winning and completing events you can expand your festival zones and create new ones. As an underlying theme you’re also gaining XP and credits to purchase more vehicles and of course bragging rights for the high number next to your name – a sign to others how much of the game you’ve raced, driven or completed. Everything fits perfectly and means that regardless of what you do – and that includes simply driving around the open world with no fixed objective – you’ve got opportunity to gain XP, cash and fans.
There is a story somewhere here, but it’s not really the prime focus and given that you’re able to choose a male or female avatar and cleverly name them from a wide selection of popular names at any time means your mute avatar is really quite cosmetic, as is the story. There’s few characters you meet along the way but these aren’t as fleshed out as those we saw in the previous game. The idea here is to simply drive and discover by taking part and opening up more of the world map. Once you find your feet the map becomes littered with all sorts of events, activities and PR stunts to choose making for quite a daunting task if you’re looking to beat them all. There’s a fair amount of customization of events this time though which actually is a neat addition to the core game. Rather than be forced to use specific vehicles you’re able to tailor the events to suit the cars you want to drive even if it can cause some mismatched moments such as Ferrari’s racing off-road.
The drive itself is thrilling and you’re given a taste of what high speed is like as soon as the game starts. In some instances the highest speeds can feel too fast especially as there are unpredictable elements to contend with such as AI vehicles driving about and pedestrian cars driving slowly. In this case, Horizon 3 feels suitably populated even if it’s devoid of actual people outside of events and specific built up areas.
There’s some fantastic visuals on PC (with plenty of tuning options to suit your rig) especially at 4K resolution 60 frames per second, on Xbox One it’s obviously scaled back but still looks rather pleasant across the themed zones. The game features a day and night cycle, changeable weather (with some awesome rain effects) and an overall increase in variety which gives the game world a far more diverse visual presence. The vehicles are also modeled well coming from the Forza series and there’s enough customization under the bonnet and on the surfaces available for those who want to spend time tinkering or painting giving the game a personalized look. It’s certainly an arcade racer but there’s some serious undertones for the taking as well.
Audio is kicking, with a neat selection of radio stations to tune in to complete with DJs who talk at opportune moments. Whilst some of their comments are repeated it still feels natural and part of the game making them entertaining to listen to. You’ve also got the roar of car engines and other ambient sound effects to listen to making for a well accomplished aural pallet whilst playing.
Gamers can spend many hours, week and months playing around in Horizon’s back yard and whilst it might take a couple of days solid playing to wrap up the main festival story (if you can call it that) what lies beyond will take far greater persistence. As you’d expect there’s collectibles to hunt down, on the spot challenges with AI opponents based on friends, Rivals and online play with friends making for the most comprehensive game in the series to date even surpassing its Forza Motorsport 6 cousin. There’s a real community spirit to the game even if you’re just playing solo making for a game that feels online alive which is a fantastic achievement.
Forza Horizon 3 is possibly one of the best racing games ever made as there’s little to criticize here. A simple complaint might be levelled at some of the AI’s overuse of check-braking or using slower vehicles to hold you back whilst the leading AI car storms ahead, but these are minor issues you learn to overcome with practice. As a racing game it has it all leaving nothing more to ask for really aside from perhaps more locations which are likely to be added as DLC in the future. But as a standalone package you’ll get your monies worth here and have a game that will certainly last until the next Forza game arrives. If you love cars, high speed racing, variation and a tropical climate then Forza Horizon 3 has your name on it. Being completely honest there’s really no room to improve the game now as the last game was pretty special and this one simply shifts that little bit further to make the definitive racing/driving game for this generation.
Review code supplied by Microsoft Xbox