For any Xbox and Windows-based players, Forza is the definitive racing franchise.
Over successive console generations Turn 10’s racing simulator has become one of the genre’s benchmarks in quality. So it surprised some to see Microsoft tap up UK studio Playground Games to develop a spin-off franchise, Forza Horizon. Playground was tasked with bringing an arcade feel to Forza’s core sim experience and three titles down the line, Forza Horizon is still in pole position for games of this type.
Forza Horizon 3 returns players to the franchise’s fantastic arcade-inspired setting, combining an open world structure with a more relaxed atmosphere while sacrificing none of Forza’s hard-charging competitiveness. Does it tick all the right boxes? It certainly does. It’s not perfect, but it manages to hit the sim racing sweet sport even though it doesn’t tinker with the Forza Horizon fundamentals all that much.
More racing, different setting
For its third installment, Playground Games has left the mountains of Colorado and the rolling hills and fields of southern France behind, transporting the action to the wide open vistas and cities of Down Under.
Since this is a Forza title it doesn’t really come as much surprise that visually the game is swoon-worthy, and every small detail of both the game’s world and its dream machines has been paid loving attention. Naturally, there are a ton of new race types – more detail on that below – providing literally hundreds of hours of playing time.
Forza Horizon 3 gifts players with over 400 cars and one would be hard-pressed to find something that doesn’t suit your needs. Players have everything from the BMW Isetta to the eye-wateringly fast Hennessey Venom to the game’s cover star, the Lamborghini Centenario – a $1.9 million beast with a V12 engine that produces 759 horsepower.
Forza Horizon 3’s new features
Forza Horizon veterans will be right at home with the game’s mechanics, but Playground Games has made some attempt to freshen things up.
Racing is now divided into four different festival location areas, each providing its own colour-coded races, objectives and side-activities.
But the biggest change here is that races are now two-fold: one location can have an exhibition race and a championship race tacked onto that. Naturally, the exhibition will be one race only, where the championship will group four or five tracks into it. These have bigger payouts at the end of the day.
Alongside cash and XP, payouts now include a number of fans, which are used as a measuring stick for your progress. The more fans you have, the more festival expansions you can make, which gives you more races to compete in. You can sink hours into the the single-player campaign, but in a neat twist, it can also be completed in co-op.
This is a rather big deal for those that want to play with friends. Previous multiplayer functionality allowed you to compete in races with friends, but this time around you actually help the session host to complete certain main objectives while furthering your own.
Unfortunately, if you want to reap the rewards of all your newly-gained fans and want to expand your own festival, you have to return to solo mode sporadically to do so. Other than that, all other functionality is open to you.
Some slight issues with Forza Horizon 3
The Forza brand is still one of the best car racing franchise out there, and one would be hard-pressed to find a better racing sim series today. But with all its new features and updated graphics, there are bound to be a couple of niggles that creep in.
The most glaring issue is that the game suffers terribly from frame-rate drops as soon as you have to race through water with five other cars next to you (in multiplayer in particular). The first time it happens is forgivable, but when a track makes ample use of water, things get messy.
The frame-rate drops to a crawl, and only picks up again once the water is out of view. This naturally hampers your way in maintaining (or fighting for) the lead, as you have to make vehicle adjustments in fits and starts.
Except for obvious buildings, most things in Horizon 3 are also destructible – shrubs and trees can be mowed down with impunity – but larger trees remain firmly in the ground, killing your skill combo in the process. The problem comes in when a tree that looks destructible doesn’t play ball.
It might not seem like such a big deal, but in a split second of decision making, it can ruin a race or sweet skill combo. And that tree gets us every time, as it looks strikingly like a tree through which you can actually drive.
There are also some minor issues with level design, but we are sure that is just us that can’t straighten a car properly when coming out of a dirt road corner.
The verdict of Forza Horizon 3
Make no mistake: Horizon 3 is right up there in the top tiers of racing games, and is definitely the best Horizon title in the franchise.
Even with all of its annoying little niggles and issues, it is still hugely enjoyable to play. It is a Forza game, so you know exactly what to get.
But that in itself is a bit of a problem: sure, some changes have been made to the way the game plays, but if you take a step back and analyse it for what it gives you, it is still the same as others with nothing really revolutionary.
You still have the Showcase events, you still have the ForzaVista functionality, you still have the same level up system and you still have the skill points. In that respect, it borrows from all of the other games and dresses it up as a new title. But with that said, it delivers on one thing: it is hugely exciting and one could easily pour hours of play into it.
Australia has been beautifully recreated (albeit on a much smaller scale) and the different environments work perfectly well – which also provides a good break between city racing and powering through the Outback in a Ford F150 Raptor.
The graphics are absolutely amazing and it could easily be one of the best-looking racing games on the market at the moment. Besides for frame-rate drops when going through water, the rest of the game is as smooth as butter.
Controls are just as fluid, and if you are thinking of getting Forza Horizon 3, start practising your trigger control finger – some twists and turns will require some delicate throttle control. With that said, each car handles very similar to the way it would in real life, which is always a bonus.
Forza Horizon 3 is definitely worth your money if you are in the market for a brand-new open-world racer with tons of things to do, over 400 cars to choose from and visually spectacular graphics.
- Forza Horizon 3 was reviewed on a Xbox One, with a download code supplied by Microsoft.