Last year I gave Forza Motorsport 6 my first ten out of ten. From a critical perspective, I couldn’t fault the game whatsoever. Forza Horizon, however, is my preferred series to play. It’s reminiscent of Need for Speed’s best games, trading in rugged, thuggish cheese for a more soothing festival aesthetic. In our Forza Horizon 3 review you’ll find that, even though I prefer it over Forza Motorsport 6, greater scope can come at a cost.

That said, Forza Horizon is the best racing game I’ve ever played.

Read my thoughts below and get my official score at the end of the article. Since the game has been out a while now, feel free to share your thoughts with me. You can leave me a Disqus or Facebook Comment at the end on what you think of the game. Or if this has helped convinced you to get it on your Christmas letters to Santa!

Look and Feel

Visually there’s not much that can match Forza Horizon 3. Whether it’s from the perspective of other franchises or within its own series, the open-world racing game reaches new heights of beauty. A feast for the eyes.

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The cars themselves are as impressive as they’ve ever been, and I always appreciate the modelling of the insides when I’m in that first-person view. There’s a certain feeling you get from barrelling down a sand dune at 100 miles per hour, hitting a bump and watching your Audi do a few flips in the process. It’s intense to watch.

The previous game’s European setting was appealing, but Australia pops on-screen. The variety of the landscapes; from bustling cities, forest-covered grasslands and the dusty, sand-laden Outback set the scene for the most impressive Forza to dCate. I may not be a technical guy, but I know how to appreciate a vista, which Forza Horizon 3 has plenty of.

Forza Horizon has always been about positive vibes and plenty of cars. The third installment pushes that concept to the max with the setting and vehicle variety. You haven’t lived until you’ve taken an off-road truck along the beach just as DMX’s “X Gon’ Give it to Ya” plays on the radio.

Presentation

Horizon 3 doesn’t technically have a “story” but there’s a loose narrative to your antics. In this iteration, you’re the Boss of the Horizon Festival. Having just arrived in Australia, it’s your job to drum up interest in the new home of racing.

Accompanied by helpful employee Keira, Australia’s own wacky Warren or the assistance of ANNA; your navigation system, Forza Horizon 3 does a good job of immersing you in this world and making you feel as if you’re building these festival spots up. I’m not trying to tell you these are fantastic characters with world-class voice acting, but it does a fine job as always and it serves as a light, motivational push towards the races themselves.

I’ve always enjoyed how the radio DJ’s comment on your escapades and Forizon Horizon 3 brings that back. The game has you signing radio stations to the festival and, as you do, you’ll be able to listen to their catalog. Not only that, the hosts of each show will occasionally mention what you’ve been up to as well as play dedicated songs that boost your skill meter (more on that later).

Gameplay

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Forza Horizon 3 is an open-world racing game, to put it simply. You’re free to explore all of Australia’s landscapes at your leisure, but ideally you’ll be participating in the myriad of race types. The core goal of the game is to race, win and thereby earn credits (the currency), experience and, most importantly: “Fans”. By earning more fans, you can expand the Horizon Festival and branch out to different areas, allowing new races, PR stunts and photo opportunities in the surrounding environment. That’s the core progression of the game. Horizon 3 also emphasises its Online Modes and Clubs more-so than ever before, but it’s a perfectly satisfying solo experience.

The Best Racing in the Series

Without a doubt, Forizon Horizon 3 offers the best arcade racing experience to date. It emphasises the thrill of racing much more than its sister series Motorsport, which is a more traditional racing game. Whilst track racing has its perks, it can’t compete with the joy of a mixed surface race in a Subaru that sees you kicking up dust clouds one minute and steering through shallow water the next. More importantly, it offers a more enjoyable experience than its predecessors in the Horizon series too.

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Traditional laps, sprint races with a percentage-to-finish and three-to-four race Championships make up for the majority of the focused racing aspect. All of which come with a pre-determined car type entry requirement OR the new “blueprint” feature. Blueprint allows you to customise the races to your liking, from route to car type. This works in theory, but the recommended race and car type are usually the best suited to the experience. You don’t want to find yourself spinning out in the sand in a lightning-fast track car that performs terribly in that environment.

The rewind features makes a welcome return too. If something goes horribly wrong for you, just press Y (on the Xbox pad) to rewind time and set yourself in a better position. Is it cheating? I guess, but it’s better than doing an entire race again because you hit a tree. Remember: arcade racers are all about fast fun.

Take it to the STREETS!

Horizon 3 has content for months as far as I can tell. At a certain point, Keira will inform you of talented drivers that could join the festival. If you beat them in a street race, they’ll be recruited and provide bonuses. In order to beat them, you must find them in the world (within the marked radius on the world map) and initiate the challenge. These races are a short but enjoyable distraction that benefits the experience.

It’s also a good source of credits, which you’ll need if you want the fancier cars in the game. High-value targets are marked as they appear nearby on the mini-map. By initiating a street race and winning the drag, you’ll get a healthy reward. More-so than you would from any other source at a fast pace.

Experience and Skill Level

Experience is gained as you play, granting “Lucky Spins”. The Lucky Spin has featured in past Horizon games. It gifts the player whatever the cursor lands on, with credit rewards as well as valuable cars up for grabs. My luck has been terrible with this game. Inordinately so, leading me to question whether or not the slots are less giving to encourage users to check out the microtransactions. Still, that’s just a bitter man spouting conjecture.

Skill levels are based on pulling off tricks during the game. Whether it’s drifting, drafting, getting air of trashing the area, as long as you can land the chain without crashing, you’ll obtain skill points. When you level up, you’ll gain a point to invest in a Perk. Perks can offer a variety of bonuses that’ll make earning more of the in-game resources a lot easier. Basically; do fun stuff to make the fun stuff more rewarding.

PR Stunts and Special Events

If the more traditional racing or basic street drags aren’t enough, Horizon brings its power-players back this time around.

PR Stunts and Bucket List events will challenge you to do a certain task within a certain area. Some will ask you to take a high speed leap over a “Danger Sign” ramp and land the vehicle on the other end. Others might want you to drive at high speeds down a highway chaining near-misses with oncoming traffic. They’re definitely the most fun for a short bite on the Forza sandwich. They’re also the quickest way to earn more fans.

Special events can be anything from Speed Trap cameras that clock your immediate mph as you pass to speed zones that monitor your average pace through a select area. Drift zones are all about getting the best drift between the start and end of the markers. Like the PR stunts, these little events earn loads of fans and rate you between one and three stars. The more stars, the more fans. There’s no fear of failing as you can always try again.

Return of the Showcase Races

I really missed the Showcase races from the first Horizon. Horizon 2 opted to leave them out and it just didn’t feel the same despite its general improvements. Playground listened and now, we have an off-road truck race against a military helicopter carrying a jeep as part of the game’s introductory moments.

By advancing through the Horizon Festivals, you’ll get a Showcase race to do. They’re the biggest spectacle in the game that pits a specific vehicle against a crazy alternative. You’ll race a freight train and speed boats amongst other things. These moments aren’t the most difficult, but they’re a fantastic expression of how light-hearted the Forza Horizon series can be at its best. They live up to the name “Showcase” and I’m glad to see them return.

Online Options and Clubs

Forza Horizon 3 lets you join clubs and get together with like-minded players. As well as the benefits that clubs can offer, the online modes are fun and take place within the same world. All of your online progress carries over to the main game, so credits, experience and skills earned will help when you’re back in your own world.

Racing to event locations is a lot of fun, but the experience rating system is a bit off. Taking part in an online championship, I won a race but ended up seventh overall due to a lack of experience earned during. Those were the rules set by the group in charge but still, I wasn’t a fan of that particular setting.

Nevertheless, the online portion is strong and beating other players is much more satisfying than the Drivatar A.I that imitate your friends in solo mode.

You can make the online experience your own by hosting it instead of joining, so that would alleviate my one minor complaint about it, though the heaps of content in solo mode kept me occupied enough.

Feature Round-Up

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The usual Forza inclusions are here: the photo mode and garage where you can upgrade your car to different classes (D up to S2 I believe, depending on the car) for credits. You can purchase cars from the Horizon Festival Auto-Show. Tuning the car is still availble for the more invested gear-heads. The new Drone Mode is somewhat limited in how high it can fly, but allows from different perspective on the world around you outside of the car. Look; the game has plenty of customisation options, community generated as well as developer-made, for you to play with. I’ve got a Raichu on one of my cars. It’s pretty cool. Another’s made of wood. Glorious.

There are multiple collectibles making their return. The XP boards and Fast Travel boards can be smashed for their respective bonuses and the Barn Yard Finds are back, featuring classic cars hidden in remote areas that you can choose to go looking for. It’s all in good fun.

Minor Moan

There’s one thing that holds the gameplay back a bit for me and it’s probably impossible in such an open world: the game still has a habit of bringing you to an abrupt halt at times when you hit an odd object. For instance, you could be having the time of your life tearing down a forest only to hit the one tree that just won’t go down. Getting up some hills after a loss of momentum can be annoying too.

Rant: the pre-order incentives and micro-transactions have taken their toll on me. Ordinarily I can just ignore them, but the trend of “buy this game and play it early” is getting far too bold. If you can “play it early” that’s not early; that’s release day. Everybody else is late, through no fault of their own. Here I am, unaffected and playing this in December, but I felt it for others at release. In a world where games aren’t ready at launch, how can we justify allowing these early access pre-orders? I’ll step off the soap-box now, but I wanted to express my distaste for that specific practice, though I’ll bet it saw a spike in numbers.

Regardless, nothing can ruin the bounce of an off-road buggy soaring through the Outback. NOTHING.

Overall

I really love Forza Horizon 3. It’s not a perfect open-world racing game, but it’s damn near the closest we’ve ever had in my opinion. The sheer variety in landscapes, race types and cars offer the most enjoyable arcade racing experience short of crashing a 4×4 in Brisbane yourself. Also without the injuries and expenses. If I were to recommend a racing game at all, it’d be Forza Horizon 3, and I’d feel good about doing that.

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