From the moment you pick up the controller, Forza Horizon 3 and Playground Games wants to instill one thing in you: the sense of adventure. Following a picturesque opener showcasing the beauty of the land down under, Horizon 3 constantly keeps the players engaged with high octane missions, a fully-detailed playground-like map, and hundreds of cars to explore.
Forza Horizon 3 posed an interesting challenge to me — I have never been a hardcore racing gaming fan, and haven’t ventured outside of the genre more than the Mario Kart series or Beetle Adventure Racing on Nintendo 64. That said, the Horizon branch of the Forza mega-series is oft-touted as perfect for die-hard genre fans as well as inexperienced beginners.
Thankfully, that recommendation is spot on. Forza Horizon 3 — much like it’s younger series-counterparts — focuses on a more arcadey gameplay loop with slightly less demanding controls than the mainline series. Your task as protagonist is to build the festival through increasing the crowd size — something easily accomplished by pulling off insane stunts.
Unlike the previous Horizon title, players begin the game as a hot shot in charge of the “Horizon Festival,” a multinational driving expo taking place in the heart of Australia. Compared to previous titles, the Australian setting really bring a lot to the table — players can at any point navigate from rain forests to deserts to beaches to skyscraper-laced cityscapes. Thanks to the rich color — which will be further supported by HDR on Xbox One S — the environments add a dynamic life to the game that makes you want to explore.
And while pristine environments are great on the eyes, more important is the event-crammed overworld. Fans of Forza Horizon 2 will be delighted to hear that Horizon 3‘s world is twice the size. As I mentioned previously, the game feels like a playground — at any given time I am surrounded by three race locations, two speed traps (waiting to be blown through), a couple of PR stunts, and barns to find a few high-end classic vehicles.
Simply put, I was never for a moment bored in the game. While many of the events had the same objectives when compared to one another, the detailed world and stunning environments gave the appearance of variety, and often that itself was enough.
Adding to the arcade-y environment is Forza Horizon 3‘s point system which rewards expert gameplay (masterful drifting, drafting, and no-contact driving) as well as general destruction, missed-hits, and mayhem. No matter what is happening, you are typically receiving points from it and it never feels undeserved. Players will be able to rack up experience from both mastering races as well as demolishing every picket-fence and crop field in the region.
Also, another way to alleviate newcomers fears is the auto-rewind button which will let you rewind your in-race or outdoor action by a few seconds. While it doesn’t sound like a whole lot, it becomes nearly impossible for those leaning on the feature to lose a race (take it from someone who regularly loses races in other games). And while this may simply be seen as a fallback for the inexperienced, it also serves as great training — I have inadvertently become a much better driver in games after being able to inspect my gameplay, and remedy the situation.
The music for Forza Horizon 3 is mostly the same as previous games — an eclectic selection of Alternative Rock, House Music, Rap and (my all time favorite) Classical can be tuned into via unlockable radio stations. The one major exception to the mix is a Groove Music section, which allows you to port a playlist from your Microsoft Groove account (along with their paid streaming service) into the game. Forza Horizon 3 even unlocks a 15-day subscription to that latter service, no credit card data required, for you to test out with your gameplay.
I know, I know — it’s cross promotion. But it is a feature I liked regardless of the marketing value. I simply can’t pass up on the opportunity to drive through the Australian wilderness in my Volkswagen Squirtle-mobile playing Toto’s “Africa.”
Speaking of my Squirtle-mobile, customization is a thing. Players will be able to customize their cars’ paint jobs, horns, and the many inner workings to fine-tune their vehicle to their liking. However, newcomers like me shouldn’t feel out of the loop. The game sports an auto-upgrade option that will recommend all of the best improvements to add to your car.
As I mentioned before, the game sports 350 cars — 150 more than Forza Horizon 2 — to incredible success. While I’m not a car fanatic, I loved hearing brief histories about many of the vehicles, and choosing between the glamorous (2017 Ford F-150 Raptor) to the obscure. Each vehicle looks modeled in-game and, even while I didn’t come close to trying a fraction of the vehicles, they all felt different to operate.
The game isn’t without a few minor downsides — as we mentioned in our Forza Horizon 2 review, the game focuses entirely on racing in the outdoor environments. And while that is fine, some diversity by way of actual racetracks would have been a great way to transfer beginners into the more traditional Forza Motorsport series.
Also, being a tad nitpicky, the narration work was spotty on occasion ranging from humorous quips to cringey lines like “You like to win!” However, when voice narration is one of the few complaints to bring up in a review, you know I am reaching for things to say.
Some of the highlights in the game include crazy PR Stunt races — as you can see above, one includes racing a train occasionally intersecting with it’s tracks. One false move could send you to your death… and the crow loves it. Another memorable mission was one of the first where you race a Jeep, flying by helicopter. While I wish there were more crazy missions like these, I also understand that part of what makes the m so special is their rarity.
Last but not least, multiplayer options are more diverse than ever. While fans of the Forza Horizon series have been used to 12-player multiplayer and 1000-player Clubs, Forza Horizon 3 has added four-player cooperative cross-play between Xbox One and PC. Although I played the game by my lonesome, I can only imagine the insane mischief and antics I would be able to sport with people on my Friends list. Forza Horizon 3 is a game that is unarguably better with friends.
Forza Horizon 3 is an unstoppable force of adventure and fun. Throughout my hours and hours of gameplay, I explored desserts, beaches, and festive cities, demolished my fair-share of farms, and blasted Beethoven over the speaker system, all with a goofy smile on my face. This isn’t a game to be missed by Xbox One or PC players, regardless if you are new to the genre or a Motorsport pro. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the Outback.