Forza Horizon 3
2012’s Forza Horizon was a game-changer for the long-running Forza franchise. While it provided an amazing blend of simulation racing with customization, it had also become a bit rote and formulaic. Horizon gave players the same high-quality racing, but opened things up a bit to include a music festival vibe and greatly increased the accessibility of the series. Forza Horizon 2 closed the series out on the Xbox 360 and brought Horizon to the Xbox One with a few new features – but largely kept the core formula the same. Forza Horizon 3 follows this trend quite well and delivers something that fans of the franchise will be sure to enjoy.
The core gameplay of Horizon 3 is unchanged – so you still get a great blend of arcade and sim racing across the area. However, things have been refined and the stakes are bigger. The in-universe Horizon festival has gone to Australia – giving you the largest racing playground to work with yet. Exploring Colorado in the first game was enjoyable, and the Italy-based sequel gave you more variety. The third entry gives you everything from regular roads, to neighborhoods, to lush outback to race through. It’s one of the most diverse racing environments ever and allows you to scratch an itch for off-road racing, street racing, and regular racing game supercar-only fun.
Events are now not just limited to scenarios the game gives you. You can craft your own events and essentially make the festival your own. New jumps have been added that grade you on just how much height you get and how perfect your landing is. Like anything of the sort, it’s a matter of trial and error. Doing well right away and getting three out of three stars feels great – while only getting one star gives you a goal to strive for later. Ideally, you want two stars because that’s good enough so you feel like you tried, but can also move on from it.
Completionists will be in for a rough road here given how many little goals you have to accomplish. Barn finds are back, and a bit easier to come across now than they were before. A smaller part of the map is shown for you than in Horizon 2, which was still far easier than the needle in a haystack approach of the original game. Those seeking to immerse themselves in the in-game world will love the various photographic goals thrown in. Like Horizon 2, you can gain bonuses for snapping photos of a certain number of cars in the festival. The higher the goal, the higher the reward – but now, you have specific photographic targets to hit. These are clearly labeled and a fun diversion from the main game.
PR stunt races have always been a showcase for the series, and are crazier now than ever before. Earlier entries “just” had you race hot air balloons and planes. Forza Horizon 3 begins with you racing a Jeep being sent over the track by a plane! This may seem impossible, but it isn’t as the pilot is a bit off his mark – so you get a few chances to catch up. These are absolutely thrilling and even pay homage to other Microsoft IPs with one that is sure to make longtime Xbox gamers giddy.
When it comes to online adventures, Horizon 3 is about on-par with the prior entries. There is no shortage of things to do, and extended play sessions with friends are a great way to try out some new things. During the solo adventure, it’s so easy to just focus on one type of activity. You could want a series of street races, or make it your mission to locate all of the area’s barn finds. Online, you’re going to have to go outside of your comfort zone and the great thing about that is it leads to you expanding your comfort zone. It also forces you to get better since you will likely get trounced at first, and being beaten can lead to you gaining little tricks to emerge victorious the next time around.
Much like the Project Gotham Racing series, little touches make a big difference towards personalizing the game. For the first time ever, you can actually craft events for your friends. Like PGR, you can also customize your license plate – which is perfect for gamertags or first names. In the big picture, Forza Horizon 3 looks stunning. The Xbox One’s power is put to better use here with lusher colors and even more detail in the world. Reflections are better shown-off here than in prior games as well, and the look and feel of the festival itself comes alive with fireworks and a festival-style presentation. Horizon 3 looks absolutely gorgeous – and given that Forza 5 was one of the original jaw-dropping games on the Xbox One, it should come as no surprise that the latest Horizon entry raises the bar even more.
As is the norm, Horizon 3 features a diverse soundtrack of excellent music. Beyond the usual stations like dance and techno, you also get classic rock – where The Offspring and Bad Religion return to the world of driving games! There’s also a classic rap and hip hop station and as you go through the game, you unlock more stations to enjoy. It’s a fairly unique progression system and it works well. Horizon 3’s soundtrack is outstanding and its overall sound design is excellent as well. Just using your TV’s basic speakers will reveal little touches like the sound of waves crashing around you as you race through water-filled terrain However, to truly immerse yourself in the experience, a solid home theater setup or high-end headphones really add to the experience. The game’s sound design excels with them, as you can hear where rival cars are in relation to you and gain some kind of an idea as to how powerful they are.
Overall, Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way – but it does perfect it. Everything that worked about past games is better here. There’s more terrain to traverse, more variety, and the inclusion of off-road racing alone expands the game’s already-expansive replay value. If you have always wanted to enjoy a Forza game, but don’t like the idea of sim racers, the Horizon series makes for a great gateway. By default, they’re almost arcade-like in their ease of use, but offer up sim-level depth if you so desire. Forza Horizon 3 gives you the highest amount of content in the series, and is definitely the best entry in it. Newcomers can jump in just fine, while veterans will definitely want to see all of the new sights.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Forza Horizon 3 for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.