It’s Playground Games’ third outing with the Forza Horizon series, and their second time developing an open world racer on the Xbox One. Their second title, Forza Horizon 2, was acclaimed by many as being perhaps the ultimate open-world racing title. Can this new follow-up in the Forza Horizon series surpass Playground Games’ previous attempt?
Game Name: Forza Horizon 3
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), Windows 10 Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios Developer(s): Playground Games Release Date: September 23, 2016 (Ultimate), September 27, 2016 (Standard / Digital)
Price: $59.99 (Standard Edition), $79.99 (Deluxe Edition), $99.99 (Ultimate Edition)
Despite it being over two years ago, I can still remember the first time I played Forza Horizon 2. That feeling once the game started and I was given control over one of the most exotic and fastest cars on the planet just put you over the top. Well, if you felt exactly how I described, then you’re going to relive that moment all over again in Forza Horizon 3. It’s not too soon after you press start that you’re given control over *Insert Car Name* and go zooming down the road. A few minutes in, the game switches things up, giving you a taste of the off-roading to be found in the game. This is where it gets interesting. Instead of following the path that was presented to me, I decided to see if the game would let me drive through the water—a beautifully rendered beach—and to my surprise, it did. That was just the start of the game and just a taste of things to come.
Forza Horizon goes a bit deeper this time in regards to personalization as well. You’re given a set of several avatars to represent yourself with, and once you do so, you’re also able to select from several names in which the game will call you during your gaming sessions. There’s a large variety of names to select from as well, so unless you have a really odd or exotic name, chances are you’ll be able to find your actual first name. It’s not very much but it’s just that shows that Playground Games was looking to add personal touches to relate you to the game. I really enjoyed the fact that the game didn’t call me “Hey Racer” and instead called me by my first name. You’re even able to customize the vehicle’s license plates in the game, which just goes to show the amount of customization that’s found in Forza Horizon 3. The perks and skill system also makes its return. Here you’re able to exchange points you’ve earned during the course of the game. These perks and skill do a multitude of things, from providing XP boosts under specific situations, allowing Drivatars to find secrets, increasing how much you earn during drifting and more. It’s also a wise choice to spend those points on the perks and skills as they help your overall progression that much faster.
A change of pace from the previous two games, where you were a racer who competed in the events. This time around, you’re the boss of the show. Everything that happens in Forza Horizon 3 is based on your decisions and how well you do in the races. You’ll be in charge in regards to how the festival expands and what parts of the festival are upgraded or unlocked first. In addition, the game tracks what you do and how you mold the events and gives feedback on how many other players did the same as you did. This is similar to how the Telltale Series games show you how many other gamers made the same decision as you. As with the previous Forza Horizon games, the game is centered around festivals. But now that you are in charge you get to not only determine how the festival is run but you can now create events with specific rules, such as the time of day the race takes place, the weather and number of laps. You’ll be able to name that event and share it as well, so get creative.
As part of several returning features in Forza Horizon 3, Anna also makes her return. She’s been given some upgrades that you’re going to appreciate. She’ll help you find events, races, and challenges, as well as help you excite the crowd by suggesting ideas on how to get them pumped up. More importantly, she’ll help you do all this without even accessing the map. By just bringing her up, Anna can direct you to just about any event effortlessly and without any delay or hassle. The only downside is that she’ll only give you info on events/races that are close to you. So if there’s an event that you want to get to that’s further than what she’s suggested, then you will need to find and plot the route on a map. Outside of that, Anna is very useful and you don’t even need a Kinect to use her. Definitely lean on her as much as needed; she won’t let you down. I’m still half expecting her to suggest I get her flowers or something.
You’re encouraged to do more than just get to the objective by performing drifts around corners, passing others without bumping into them, destroying property and basically being as stylish as you can. Forza Horizon 3 wants to make sure that you have fun, and there are events that drive that point home as well, by having you either hit a specific skill point limit or by performing a certain amount of tricks before the timer hits zero. Being stylish in Forza Horizon 3 is just as important as going fast and in some respects, even more important. Fast travel also makes it returns and works just as it did in Forza Horizon 2. You’ll have to unlock the fast travel via smashing the fast travel billboards. Exploration also plays an important part in this game. Items such as billboards that help provide XP boosts, unlock fast travel, and various other secrets are scattered across the map. And the only way to find them is to go and explore; you’ll find them. Some in obvious locations, others in not so obvious locations—places where you’d never think to look. The environment is massive, and you’ll have to get to searching to find everything. The payoff is huge and definitely worth seeing the sights of what Forza Horizon 3 can offer you. Speaking of finding things, the Barn Finds also make their return, so get to searching!
Forza Horizon 3 works in several different ways. If you’re content with just driving around the landscape, you can definitely do that. Racing is also another option, as you can race against other drivers that are found on every road in the game. The main course, however, is progressing the storyline and participating in the festivals. This is done by entering in events, winning those events and getting the crowds pumped up and earning fans. A number of fans you earn work you up into multiple tiers that open up newer events, upgrade the festivals and help you score new cars. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this part is a bit tedious, yet the racing more than makes up for the somewhat boring progression. Everything you do basically will earn you experience that’s needed to move up in the ranks.
Car lovers and enthusiasts are going to be spending a lot of time with the Forza Horizon 3 garage, and I’m telling you this now as a warning. You’re able to change just about every aspect of any vehicle in your garage; tires, rims, brakes, engine, body kits, suspension, paint, vinyl and much more. The customization is deep and I’ve found myself either turning my favorite cars to be the best they could be or just by playing around with the body kits and painting options. Yet again, Playground Games reaches into the Forza catalog and lets you retrieve any customization files that were created in past Forza games. You’re able to access tuning files from either Forza Motorsports 5/6 or Forza Horizon 2 and apply those to your cars in this game. Don’t have a certain car that you’re looking for? Not to worry, as you’ll have access to a vast amount of cars via the car auto show or even an eBay-like auction system, where you can bid or buy as many cars as you like. Just as long as you have enough credits that
Just as long as you have enough credits that is. As an added bonus for those who’ve played the previous Forza entries, there are specific awards in the game called Loyalty Rewards. During certain parts of the game, you’re provided a preset pick of several cars that are added to your garage. If you played any of Forza Motorsports or Forza Horizon games, you’ll be given additional cars as an extra bonus. It’s a nice touch of rewarding fans of the Forza racing series.
Alright, let’s cut to the chase. You’re probably asking “How do the cars handle” and/or “Do they feel like they have enough weight on them?” To that, I say great and yes. While every car handles in their own unique way, from every car I’ve driven they’ve all handled as they should. Especially the SUV’s that handle like a rock once you’ve gotten them up to speed. I hate using the word “realistic” in a game like Forza Horizon 3, but that’s how everything handles. The game also has a great sensation of speed. Get a car to its max speed on a wide open road and it all becomes a blur while trying to stop on a dime from 140 mph simply isn’t going to happen. The only thing I was unable to do was to roll my car, not on an open road anyway. Things are different, however, if you launch a car off a makeshift ramp, hill or even a building. Playground Games has refined the racing element that they’be built on in their previous outings and it shows. Regardless if you’re in an official event, illegal street race or just challenging someone to a little one on one, it shows how well they’ve crafted the racing element.
The Xbox One version of Forza Horizon 3 runs at a solid 1080p 30 FPS. The game is a graphical tour de force and that’s putting it mildly. For example, once I was able to return to the beach area, I noticed that when I drove through the water that my cars’ windshield wipers turned on. In another section where I was able to get enough light to look into the car, I noticed that the driver’s hands and steering wheel were moving when I turned the car. Driving through some dirt caused the side of the car and tires start to getting caked with dirt and dust. Don’t like that dirt on your car? That’s ok, find the nearest body of water to get it nice and clean. Adding on to that last bit, the water just didn’t take off all the dirt at once, it was proportional to how much water was kicked up and how deep it was. I literally drove in and out of the water to see how much dirt it took off the car, then again with just one side. It reacted just how you’d expect to happen if you did in an actual car. The water also wasn’t just sitting motionless when I drove through it and stopped. Instead, it rippled around the card, as the waves swayed past me, lowering and rising in the tide. It’s the little touches like that, that show off the graphical prowess of the game. This also applies to the weather as well as the day & night cycling system. Roads become slick and wet when rain touches down, sometimes leaving puddles on the road, where the game shifts between night and day during races, which can increase the difficulty depending on which car view you use. Just wait until you see that Skybox, it’s amazing.
Car models are amazingly detailed and despite a few differences between the in-game models and the actual cars, they’re spot on. Smashing them up is equally impressive as crashing them up leaves your vehicle with dents, cracked windows, busted headlights and ultimately deforms it. Sadly, it doesn’t affect the performance of the car, not that I’ve noticed and I would have liked to see that included in the game. The environments are also well detailed, and most of everything in the game is destructible – trees, fences, signs. You can even recreate some of your favorite car chase scenes by racing through the backyards find in the game, with some of the barbed wire fences getting attached to your car as you plow into them. It’s pretty amazing to see how far the Playground Games team has come with working with the Xbox One. Despite this being the second game they’ve released on the system, this definitely looks to be one of better-looking games on the Xbox One. I’d even go on the edge and say that this is the best-looking title on the Xbox One currently and easily the best-looking entry in the Forza Horizon series.
One of the complaints of Forza Horizon 2 was the music selection, which has been vastly improved Forza Horizon 3. While both Horizon Pulse and Horizon Bass Arena make their return, Horizon XS has been replaced with a new station called Vagrant. Not to worry as Vagrant replaces XS in name only, the station is very similar to its previous self. What’s new is the addition several new stations; Horizon Block Party (Hip-hop), Future Classic (Electronic), Hospital (Drum and Bass), Epitaph, (Punk / Metal), Timeless (Classical) and finally Groove Music. Yes, you’re able to connect directly to Microsoft’s Groove service, if you have a subscription, and stream your own music directly into the game. I’m excited about the addition of Groove as many have been asking for this ability, as well as the first time that Hip-hop has made it into the series. There’s nothing better than running a race, only to hear Young Mc’s “Bust a Move” or DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” as you’re blasting through the competition. That’s just me, though there’s pretty much something for everyone this time around. I do have to point out that you’re only given access to four stations are the start, with the others being unlocked as you progress. The car sounds are equally impressive, with each vehicle having a distinctive growl and an even more impressive sound when the throttle is wide open. Thankfully, Horizon has plenty of open roads to race down with the music turned off, so you can appreciate nothing but the wind in your face and the roar of the car.
The only stain on what can be considered the perfect racing game on both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PC is someone or something stops the flow of the game and explains something to you. This is especially annoying during a race because it’s so sudden and you can’t do anything about it but watch it. Thankfully this only happens several times towards the beginning of the game, while later on they’re handled via a pop-up on the screen that lets you review it after a race. I don’t mind the chatter from my virtual teammates as I know. I know they’re only doing their job, but let me find out things on my own. I don’t need you in my face constantly, Warren! Finally, the AI has balance issues or more to the pop, they simply love crashing into you through races, despite having a clean line. I’ve lost more races that way. Yet, some of the Drivatars are simply stupid. During my sessions, I’ve watched some crash over and over into obstacles, while another rammed straight into a tree and attempted to go through the tree with no luck. I also did encounter a few odd glitches, such as the one that showed an XP boost in between two sheds. However, the distance between the two is too small for a car to fit in, with no way of causing any damage to it. I’m still trying to get that blasted XP boost.
Other than that, Forza Horizon 3, is in my honest opinion the best racing title out now for the Xbox One.
*This game was provided to The Outerhaven Productions for review purposes. You can find additional information about our review policy here.
I have to hand it to Playground Games. They took everything that made Forza Horizon 2 great and refined it. There’s basically nothing in Forza Horizon 3 that doesn’t say perfection. From the moment you press start, the game throws everything it has at you, from flawless execution on or off the track, its presentation, and fun online session/matchmaking. This is, at least for the time being, the pinnacle of racing games for the Xbox One.
Forza Horizon 3 has my vote as Game of the Year and if not that, easily the best title on the Xbox One by far.
Best looking game on the Xbox One to-date.
Cars handle well and have a solid weight to them
Plenty to do ensures you won’t get bored easily
Tons of open & off-roading to tear up
Drivatars are a bit too aggressive at times
How are they going to surpass this game?
A perfect racing experience for Xbox One and Windows 10