I am probably the worst person to review a racing game. While I have enjoyed many in the past including Burnout Paradise and San Francisco Rush, normally I shy away from racing titles. Modern racing games have become quite complicated to play compared to the racing games of my youth. I find that the genre only caters to those who would consider themselves gear heads. Thankfully, the developers at Playground Games realized this while crafting Forza Horizon 3 and were able to achieve what many developers have failed to do in the past — create a solid, feature-rich racing title that can easily tailor itself to any sort of play style and gamer. Playground Games totally nailed it.
Upon first booting up Horizon 3, players are treated to a casual race through the beautiful beaches of Australia. After allowing the player to get their feet wet, the race quickly shifts into a high-octane set piece that consists of racing a truck being carried by a helicopter in order to gain notoriety among the country’s citizens. This race sets the stage for what players are to expect while progressing through Horizon 3’s lengthy campaign mode — a bunch of thrilling races set in the backdrop of Australia’s gorgeous landscape.
After a quick and basic character creation tool, players are thrust into the role of a leader of Australia’s Horizon Festival; a large outdoor music celebration promoted by viral racing events across the country. A selection of radio stations can be signed to help promote your festival while also providing different genres of music for the player to listen to during gameplay. As you progress further through the game, more radio stations can be unlocked including access to your Windows 10 Groove Music library as well. Music plays a huge part in Horizon 3 and it’s apparent that the developers are big music lovers, which is a huge plus for a fellow music aficionado like myself.
Forza Horizon 3 takes place in a fully open world version of Australia, filled with beautiful forests, hilly outbacks and bustling cities. The game sports an amazing graphics engine that recreates Australia in a stunning fashion. Vehicles ranging from classic cars, off-road machines and sports cars are all rendered in extreme detail. Weather effects are also fantastic with wet roads, beads of water running down the windshield and storms cracking and pounding in the distant skies. The audio design is also killer with punches and purrs from the engines and squeals from the tires sounding very authentic. The framerate stays at a stable 30fps on Xbox One while the PC version is able to achieve higher framerates, even though it tends to struggle to do so unless your gaming PC is extremely powerful. The soundtrack consists of a great mixture of different genres, ranging from indie pop, electronica, hard rock and classical music. There’s something for every music lover stuffed into this game.
Scattered throughout the world map are various activities for players to engage in, including circuit races, dangerous night time street races, tournaments, and more. In addition to these races, there are opportunities to earn new fans, similar to a social media campaign, by participating in stunt races, drifting challenges and bucket list challenges that ask the player to complete a set of rules in a specific vehicle. Completing these activities earns you more players, money and opportunities to expand and build new venues for the Horizon Festival. Collectibles are also scattered around the game in the form of XP billboards, fast travel billboards, restorable classic cars found in abandoned barns and scenery locations. In other words, Horizon 3 has TONS of content to keep players busy.
Since this is a game made in 2016, of course it has to include an experience system. Participating in races and activities, driving skillfully and finding hidden objects all earn the player XP that will allow them to level up their character. Each time the player earns a new level, a chance to spin a roulette wheel filled with cash prizes and brand new cars is given. Skill points are also earned that will allow the player to unlock helpful buffs like more points from near-misses and special abilities such as experience boosts when certain songs appear in the radio station playlists. All of these goodies encourages the player to race as over-the-top as possible, work harder to win each race and become a more effective festival boss.
The sheer amount of cars in Horizon 3 is overwhelming, with downloadable cars and DLC packs adding even more to the game each month. Players can earn new rides by progressing through the game and discovering abandoned vehicles inside of special barns, but can also visit a showroom located at each festival headquarters where in-game currency can be spent on new vehicles and upgrades. The game even has a Diablo 3 style Auction House where players can sell their earned cars to other players online for in-game cash. The customization options, which have always been a staple of the Forza franchise, are even more robust, allowing players to create custom paint jobs and upload their creations online for others to use. The paint job feature alone can force me to lose many hours to this game.
Once I laid eyes on Forza Horizon 3’s suite of online features, I was excited to jump into the large connected world and interact with other players. The entire campaign integrates Drivatar data (which is profile data collected from players to create an AI that performs similar to that person’s play style) from players in your Xbox One friends list and populates them into your game to provide a feeling of racing against your friends even when they’re not playing. Also, the whole campaign can be played cooperatively with a total of 12 players which is literally one of the coolest features in a racing game I have ever seen. Of course, players can jump online and race random opponents while also creating clubs for other players to join and compete in as well. Everything you do is compared to other players in your friends list, which makes every little accomplishment feel like a competition against your buddies. It’s brilliant!
The magic of Forza Horizon 3 is that the team at Playground Games were able to allow the player to fine-tune the game to their play style without cutting features that would alienate different groups of gamers. If you consider yourself a gear head then you can custom tune each car’s mechanics while disabling any assist features to make the game feel more like a simulation racer. Casual racing fans can enable driving assists that make vehicle handling, gripping and turning much easier to handle. Playground Games even throws a bone to casual players attempting to upgrade their vehicles by integrating an auto-upgrade feature that will automatically purchase the needed parts to make your vehicle competitive in the current position within the campaign. Races also have AI difficulty settings in case new players are turned off by aggressive opponent AI too, making the experience feel more relaxed. Even racing events can be customized to the player’s tastes.
As a player who typically only enjoys arcade styled racing games that are very relaxed in the driving physics and controls, I am thrilled to say that Playground Games have successfully crafted a racing game that allows me to get the feel of a simulation racer while also getting the thrill of arcade racers. Forza Horizon 3 does not take itself seriously at all and this relaxed nature of the game makes it easily accessible to anyone with an interest in racing through Australia. Thanks to all of the different tuning and slider options to tailor the game to your play style, Forza Horizon 3 is extremely fun and welcoming to players who are intimidated by sim racers. If you enjoy the difficulty and complexity of games such as Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo, all of that content is still here for you as well. I never thought I would enjoy a racing game with turning guides and tweak-able car mechanics ever.
Forza Horizon 3 isn’t without its faults, but the blemishes here are very minor. I felt like many of the best features were not unlocked until after the player puts in many hours into the game, making you work for many of those awesome online features instead of handing them over right away. Also, some of the racing settings can feel a little overwhelming for those who wants to veer off of the default path. Some events like the drifting challenges are not very fun at all and requires the player to turn off assist options in order to complete them properly, but the game fails to inform you of this and results in multiple failures until you realize it. Including challenges that force the player to break their play style is a shame, but thankfully they’re all optional. The PC version is well made but you can tell the game wasn’t really designed for 60fps gameplay since the engine tends to buckle once the 30fps cap is removed.
I find it shocking how much I loved playing through Forza Horizon 3. The races are exhilarating, the challenges are addictive, the graphics are jaw-dropping, the soundtrack is fantastic and the sheer amount of content is overwhelming. With so many ways to play and connect with other players, Playground Games has succeeded in making a racing title literally for everyone. I honestly feel like this is the best racing game I have played in over a decade and easily one of the best titles to be released in 2016. Buckle that seatbelt; you’re in for a treat!