Forza Horizon 3 is the third entry in the arcade style open world Forza franchise. Featuring licensed cars, a festival vibe and my homeland Australia as the setting, I was very excited to try out Forza Horizon 3 as a gamer who has loved open world arcade racers such as The Crew and Need for Speed, but never got a chance to check out this particular series thanks to it’s Xbox exclusivity. Thanks to the new Xbox Play Anywhere initiative I was finally able to delve into the series on PC and it was well worth the wait.
While not much of a story, the games progression all revolves around an event called the Horizon Festival. The main character who you take the role of is the boss of the Horizon Festival and it’s basically your job, with the help of your crew, to expand the festival into something greater. It’s sure not an epic tale and it’s not even particularly interesting, but it gives reason to many of the games actions and the currency of fans which you need to grow your festival. You can choose the look and name of your avatar from a fairly substantial list; a nice novelty especially as the name gets spoken in dialogue.
As you grow your festival more events open up which in turn gives you experience fans and credits which in turn allows you to grow your festival even more. It’s a simple progression system yet an effective one that clearly demonstrates your progress and constantly showers you with rewards such as new cars, credits and other goodies like new novelty horns. Wheel spins are undoubtedly fun and reward you with heaps of credits and rare cars with a bit of luck at each level up. Leveling also rewards you with skill points for use on perks, skills and one time bonuses which give you even more rewards. While a small feature it gives the game a small RPG element and does nothing to detract from all the fun.
As the boss of the festival you also have the ability to modify most events to your liking with the new blueprint feature which gives you the ability to change the amount of laps, weather, time of day and more. A very nice touch that gives a sense of meaning to your role of boss.
Perhaps the most important aspect of any racer are it’s controls. Rest assured, Forza Horizon 3 does just fine in this regard. Controls feel responsive and not too slippery or too ‘grippy’. As expected, each car handles differently based on it’s size, weight and build. You should be able to find a car you feel comfortable with in the games 350+ roster of unique vehicles which includes lots of recognisable ‘standard’ cars as well as super cars, classic cars, buggies and even some novelty cars like the Warthog from Halo. Car experts can enter the tuning menu to modify all sorts of things from tyre pressure to wheel alignment to further affect their cars handling. I played with the control pad with no issues and of course the game has wheel support for those looking for a more immersive experience.
The ‘sense of speed’ FH3 delivers is another highlight and is really well demonstrated in the Koenigsegg Regera which can reach speeds upwards of 400km/h and just feels absolutely insane, however is surprisingly still controllable if you can keep focused. All the games physics are realistic and you won’t find yourself crashing for no reason or anything like that, even though I did get stuck on rocks a few times and was forced to use the handy rewind feature to get free. My only complaint in this section is that crashes are handled in a very lackluster fashion, with cars just bouncing off walls and other vehicles with no real consequence. It’s a small issue but in a game trying to strike the more real end of the spectrum it does come across as odd.
The second most important thing for me in a racer is the amount of things to do and Forza Horizon 3 does not disappoint here with a stunning variety of gameplay modes and ways to play. You’ve got standard sprint and circuit races, street races, drag races, unique bucket list challenges, head to head races against anyone you find on the road, speed camera challenges, jump challenges, barns to find, billboards to smash and unique story races that put you in crazy situations like racing a helicopter with an SUV attached. You can do all of this solo or online through the 4 player campaign co-op mode. It’s going to take you a long time to complete everything this game has to offer. Most importantly the events make great use of the Australian setting and they are all fun, with no particular event inducing any groans.
While the online co-op and free roam are a great way for you to play together co-cooperatively, the online adventure mode is the centerpiece of the competitive online community. Up to 12 players can compete at once in an online adventure which is like a pack of 4 separate events. Your total XP yield from each of the four events and in between races to the event location is tallied at the end to decide the winner and each player is then rewarded based on their position. It’s a great system that doesn’t just reward those for coming in first as driving style and other factors are also considered. Each online adventure is different and can focus on sprint races, off road races, games and more.
The ‘playground games’ online adventure was my personal favourite, with three different types of events being included with capture the flag, infected and king. These take place in small arenas and most of the time you’ll be avoiding or chasing down a player to try and win. As you can guess this is heaps of fun, especially if you’re playing infected and are one of the few remaining survivors in the party or are avoiding everyone as the king. It’s a great break from all the racing and allows players who might not be the fastest in time trials to enjoy some victory as well. All the online features work well with minimal lag issues and finding games outside online co-op was a quick process.
The third and final integral part of an open world racer is the world itself. Props to Playground Games for choosing the seldom seen Australia as their setting, it was a gamble that definitely payed off. Well far from a one to one realisation, the developers have taken all the best, wild and unique parts of Australia and merged them into one substantially sized map featuring outback desserts, beaches, sand dunes, caves, farms, rainforests, towns and cities to explore. This allows for some truly awesome exploration and unique race tracks to be formed, some of which take place over multiple terrain. The games inbuilt navigation system ANNA does a great job guiding you around Horizon Australia, featuring a no-nonsense navigation system that also helps your progress with the ability to take you to the next biggest event on the map or an event that will give you the most fans quickly.
Apart from the core features Horizon 3 also does a whole lot of other stuff right. Detailed car customisation is present here and while physical modifications to your cars parts are in short supply, a fully fleshed out paint and decal system makes up for it. Players are able to paint separate parts of their vehicle how they like and use layers and the provided decals to build truly unique works of art. If you aren’t good at being creative don’t fret, as browsing and downloading everyone else’s awesome creations is incredibly easy. Rest assured any popular movie car design will be there for you to download.
The game is also very challenging. Even on the games default average difficulty I found myself barely winning races as the AI drivers here are no slouches apart from the odd hiccup where they might do something random. A vehicle class system helps create balance in events so that all cars are on a fairly even playing field. I also praise the development team for one of the most intuitive difficulty settings menu I have ever seen, allowing the player to change certain settings and features which has a correlated effect on the percentage of Credits you receive for completing events and skills. For example, turning off the racing line guide or rewind feature will provide you with more Credits at the cost of losing two helpful, but not completely essential features, leaving the player able to set all these difficulty features to their liking. Forza Horizon 3 never punishes you for experimenting with all the freedom it offers and it all works in the favour of the player.
There’s really not too much to say in terms of negatives outside of a few problems with loading times which strangely are not an issue out in the open world at all but are in the garage menus. Notable times where lag became annoying include when I was selecting rims for my car and in the auction house where it seemed the server was struggling to obtain the data needed which can lead to some lost opportunities bidding on soon ending auctions. If you have a reasonable amount of patience this won’t bother you too much but it will otherwise. Hopefully this small problem will see a patch in the future.
It always seems like racing games are used as a showcase for what games can accomplish in the graphical department and Forza Horizon 3 could be the centerpiece. The car models, the sky boxes, dynamic time and weather effects, the landscapes, it all looks incredible and in certain moments could pass for real life. The first time you see the detail on the 12 apostles on the Great Southern Road it will blow your mind. The team that worked on the lighting and reflection systems particularly need to be commended. They have perfectly captured the feel of Australia’s varied terrain from the outback to the rain forest and cities.
This is one of the first Xbox Play Anywhere titles and Forza Horizon 3 is a great advocate for the feature. PC gamers will be happy to know this is in no way a lazy Xbox One port, with all the graphical options one would expect on offer here. There are also numerous improvements on the PC provided your rig can run it, most notably higher resolution textures and an option to run the game at 60 FPS as opposed to the locked 30 on the Xbox One which is important for any racer. The cross save feature between Xbox One and PC also works effortlessly although the inability to manage your save data on the PC at all is annoying.
It’s important to note I was running the game on the medium preset which was recommended to me once the game had finished optimising. My PC is slowly becoming outdated and for Forza I was just able to meet the minimum requirements recommended by the dev team. My PC struggled to keep a consistent frame rate, often hovering around the 40 to 50 FPS mark. As a testament to the games optimisation, I will say that with frame smoothing turned on this was hard to notice without the frame counter turned on and I can’t say I was unsatisfied with the games performance in that regard. With the recommended hardware these issues will most likely not arise.
What was more noticeable was the pop in which only affects shadows and dynamic foliage like trees and grass. If pop in does bother you this will be a bit of an issue as I couldn’t alleviate this issue on any setting. The photo mode on PC also seems bugged at the moment, lowering picture resolution dramatically and darkening colours (although a quick fix is to use the drone and turn of the UI to simulate the photo mode but you have less options available then). That being said for the most part this game is a well performing visual treat and I could only imagine how great it would look at max settings with a HDR enabled 4K monitor.
The sound design matches up very nicely with the quality of the visuals. Drifting through dirt, driving over a wooden bridge and even jumping off a cliff all sound as you would imagine. Car engine sounds are a highlight with most cars having their own signature engine sound which comes through your speakers loud and crystal clear. There are also lots of options within the audio menu so you can adjust car engine volume, tyre screeching volume and more which is nice as after a while I prefer to just hear the music playing instead of my obnoxiously powerful engine revving.
The voice acting is well done and believable except for the lead male character Warren. This guys voice just irritated me from his bad jokes to his played up Australian accent. In contrast the female lead who is always talking in your ear sounds much more natural even though her dialogue isn’t much better.
The soundtrack is excellent and features lots of variety. You’ve got your big name tracks from popular artists most people would have heard of as well as some equally great sounding tracks from lesser known artists. A lot of genres are covered here with each genre typically being represented by a radio station making it easy to find something you want to hear. My only criticism is that you actually have to unlock radio stations as you progress through the game which seems like a strange limitation to me especially as someones mood for certain music can change quickly. The option to use your own songs through Groove Music is also locked until you’ve put a decent amount of time into the game but the included soundtrack should easily hold you over until them.
Forza Horizon 3 is a fantastic addition to the open world arcade racer market. Featuring an expansive car roster, awesome setting and gorgeous presentation on both the visual and audio side, the fantastic and varied gameplay ties everything into a near perfect package. While the story and surrounding elements are lacking that is clearly not the focus here and most of the issues noted in this review will hopefully be fixed in time or aren’t big enough to detract from the games overall quality. Racers seem to be enjoying their golden age right about now and it’s title like Forza Horizon 3 that help solidify that ideal.
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