Forza Horizon 3 Review

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Posted September 27, 2016 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Forza Horizon 3

Developer : Playground Games

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: September 27, 2016

Platforms:  Xbox One, Windows PC

 

The purest, most precise executions of a creative vision.

Forza Horizon 3 is a spectacle to behold. Without compromise, it seems to me that Playground Games put every crazy idea they had into this game. Load times are as light as the Australian breeze, complex menu and automotive systems are simple and accessible, and there is always something fun to try. A quick cinematic introduces you to the world of Horizon, a lovechild of music and street-race festivals, and you’re the boss. Veterans of the series know it well but Forza Motorsport purists and newcomers are in for a treat.

As I mentioned in my Forza Motorsport 6 review last year, the Forza formula is to introduce a variety of gameplay modes across an equally impressive variety of vehicle types as quickly and interestingly as possible. If you don’t dig the more traditional highway racing, maybe you’ll enjoy racing a jeep – hanging from a helicopter – through the jungle. This game of escalation continues as your Driver Level increases and Horizon expands to new areas and gives the player more agency to put their fingerprint on the festival.

The formula is similar to Motorsport but the fundamental gameplay is different because Playground Games compressed real Australia into a sprawling open-world landscape. And what an awe-inspiring place to cruise around to explore! Hopping around the Outback or smashing through beach umbrellas at Surfer’s Paradise, I found Australia to be a perfect setting for an open-world, racing/music festival simulator/arcade game – or however you choose to describe this Jack of All Trades – Master of All title.

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AWD is a good idea pretty much all the time in Australia.

Many of Motorsport’s elements can be found here (Drivatar, vehicle classes, Championships) but the sprawling nature of Horizon puts a wholly different spin on the racing sim genre. And while this mainly serves as a more inviting offering, gearheads can get their hands greasy and dive into the nitty-gritty fine tuning. The best part about this that casuals, like in Motorsport, can download popular Tune Sets to get the most out of their vehicles without requiring the time-consuming balancing.

As is tradition with Forza titles, the difficulty is invitingly flexible. Generally speaking, I was able to speed into corners a little more aggressively (read: carelessly) than in Motorsport. Full racing lines and other in-game aids offer a comfy safety net for newcomers. And just like previous Forza games, players can switch these aids off for additional challenge, XP, and credits. Even the car classes offer varying levels of difficulty as the S-class races require a fine touch and careful attention to acceleration and deceleration. This self-implemented graduation system makes the overall experience beautifully rewarding.

There is always “just one more thing” to do and somehow, Forza Horizon 3 is the perfect game whether you have five minutes or five hours. Playground gently introduces a massive variety of vehicle types, race modes, community stuff, Drivatar crews, festival expansion, barn discoveries, car auctions, and so much more. Every aspect feels fully realized and like a natural extension of the Horizon festival.

Most helpful, particularly in the beginning, is Anna – Horizon’s Cortana-like GPS/AI. Things can get a little overwhelming so it’s nice to be able to press Down on the D-Pad and ask “What should I do now?” and have Anna direct you to a Bucket List challenge or a PR Stunt. After a while, I relied on Anna less and less but she was there to help me learn how to expand the festival or seek out challenges and events I may otherwise would have ignored.

In previous Forza titles, Drivatars mostly served as a more realistic set of AI opponents. But in Horizon 3, you can hire fellow Drivatars to be part of your crew, bringing along fans and experience to enhance your Horizon festival. So instead of shaking my fist at brockdmclaughlin or pantshater1224, I hired them and we cruised along the beach like a romantic/badass convoy.

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These cops won’t shoot you.

Sadly, I will never drive 99% of these cars in real life. So part of the reason I enjoy Forza so much is because it tends to satisfy my fantasies of climbing into a Honda NSX or even a Nissan Skyline with zero liability about what happens to them. And Horizon 3 takes this fantasy granting to the next level with Bucket List challenges. These are the ultimate dreamworld indulgences. Strap into a Hennessey Venom with damn-near parodic classical music blasting as you scream up to 400 km/h down an airport runway. It’s ridiculous and epic.

Not all Bucket List Challenges have you breaking the sound barrier but the ones that do highlight one of Forza’s often-understated strengths – a sense of speed that will make your legs go numb. Well for me, I literally dropped my controller and had look away on one particular challenge. My stomach began to turn as I lost control of my Ford GT, barreling down the highway at 325 km/h, before smashing into the barrier. “Oh God!” I heard myself yelp. How does a game do that?

Forza Horizon 3 does a superb job of mimicking an online experience while playing solo. Drivatars populate the open world and it’s genuinely gratifying to see Xbox Live friends like BluBlud02 or JeffOnHisXBOX cruise by in their Lancia or Suburu. As good as the offline experience is, things get real online. And not in an intimidating way – which is what I always expect with multiplayer. Drag races – 12-player multiplayer – loaded quickly and are hilariously chaotic but the real magic is in what I’ll call “battle” modes (they’re actually called Playground Games – clever). Flag Rush (Capture the Flag), Infected, and King had me screaming at the screen in a way that is completely reminiscent of Mario Kart. No weapons or power-ups, just no holds-barred octane-fueled fun.

Halo Warthog in rainforest

Whoever put Halo in Horizon deserves a raise.

The only thing I wish had carried over from the Motorsport series are the Brand Affinity levels and bonuses. Personally, I preferred Toyota, Audi, BMW, and Lamborghini and there isn’t really anything in Horizon 3 to reward or play on those preferences. Although, perhaps that’s by design to keep me experimenting with Nissan, Mercedes, or Peugeot. This is about as close to a “con” as it’s going to get. The game is so great that I can certainly overlook it.

Final Verdict

The love Playground Games has for this game is evident with every gear shift.  Forza Horizon 3 is a system seller and a true celebration of cars, music, and freedom.

Australia is simply stunning and is such a natural fit for the Horizon festival. The setting elevates the entire experience because it just feels fun. Is there a better place in the world to host such an over-indulgent car party? It’s exotic, lush, and expansive. And those accents – how could you not have a great time in this party country?

Without a single reservation – unless you hate smiling – this unabashedly engrossing racing game is required gaming. Period.

 

Have a listen to Sean’s discussion with Brock McLaughlin (@StDxBrockstar):


About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.