The Forza Horizon series tells the tale of the “Horizon Festival,” sort of like the Woodstock for fans of cars and driving. And if there’s one game that celebrates the joys of cars and driving, it’s Forza Horizon 3. With an open world and less realistic mechanics than the main Forza series, you can drive just about any time of car on any type of terrain that you can think of. Set against a beautiful interpretation of Australia and any music you want, it’s a driving game as much as a racing game. Even with some noteworthy flaws, it’s simply a joy to play.
Forza Horizon 3 plays pretty much the same as its predecessors. It’s an open world racing game, with mechanics that fall somewhere in between the simulation of Forza Motorsport and the arcade antics of Need for Speed. This means it’s a lot easier to steer than in the simulation games, and it’s easier to pick up and play with pretty much any car you get your hands on. The partial focus on off-road racing returns, along with a new category of buggy vehicles (like the Ariel Nomad, for example) that make bouncing around sand dunes and rainforests just that much more fun. There are only a couple of major changes since the last game, but they’re important ones.
Forza Horizon 3 Truck Dune Jump
The first is the setting. The last game took place in Europe, and this one takes place in Australia. Graphically it’s a beautiful setting, with a great variety of terrain and backdrops. Time of day and weather effects return, and add even more variety to the huge map. But beyond a new and bigger area to explore, the setting adds a lot of personality to the game. Australian car culture is front and center; one of the NPCs is basically the quintessential Aussie car-lover, and Australian cars that might otherwise be excluded from the game are celebrated. In fact, one of the starting cars you can get is a ute. There are even wallabies running around on certain parts of the map. It gives the game some identity that the last one was lacking.
The other major change is that this time, you’re in charge of the Horizon Festival. This doesn’t mean as much as you might think; it’s not a management simulation or anything like that. You just make the big decisions. Basically, this comes down to deciding where on the map you want to develop the festival (adding new events there) and deciding the conditions and cars for all of the races. The nice thing about this is that you can make use of whatever car you happen to want to drive at the moment, along with deciding the length of the race. You can even decide what the weather will be like; apparently the boss of the Horizon Festival gets some pretty major perks.
There are a few minor improvements too; for one, the full Forzavista mode from the Forza Motorsport games is now available in Horizon, allowing players to check out every nook and cranny of the cars. Also, as we saw with the Fallout 4 car in Forza Motorsport 6, developer Turn 10 has embraced fictional vehicles. This time, the iconic Warthog from the Halo series makes an appearance as one of the best off-road vehicles in the game. Finally, while the game has a great soundtrack, you can now integrate Microsoft’s Groove Music service into to the game. You don’t even have to subscribe to the paid service; you can use the PC app to make playlists out of the songs on your One Drive (which is free up to a certain point) and play those playlists through the game. The only downsides are that if you want your music to play like the in-game radio music (meaning not playing when characters are talking or while in the menus), you’ll have to wait a little while before that feature is unlocked.
These are all changes for the better, but there’s also a pretty significant change for the worst that I need to address. Cast your mind back to when Forza Motorsport 5 was released, at the launch of the Xbox One. People complained that without paying real money, it was prohibitively difficult to unlock many of the best and most interesting cars in the game. One of the ways Turn 10 responded to this issue was the introduction of the Wheelspin in Forza Horizon 2. That features lets you spin a wheel every time you level up, gaining additional cars or in-game currency based on where it lands. It returns in Horizon 3 just as it did in Motorsport 6, but it gives out much fewer credits than in previous games. As a result, a lot of cars are once again almost impossible to get for all but the most devoted players. You can’t even sell cars you win and don’t want for half of their value anymore; you have to auction them off to other players. Even the cover car for the game, the Lamborghini Centenario, is so expensive that I’m not even halfway to having enough credits for it despite buying few other cars. As before, the only available remedy involves spending more money; specifically, spending $20 for the game’s VIP membership.
Don’t let this scare you away from playing the game, though. If you’re a fan of cars, driving, racing, stunts, or speed, it’s worth attending the third Horizon Festival. Enough good cars are available at decent prices that you won’t be stuck on the low end, and there’s tons to do in the game. The atmosphere, the mechanics, the visuals, and the design all complement each other wonderfully, making one of the best racing games I’ve ever played. It might not last as long as an RPG or something like that, but the time you spend in Australia will be fun and exciting no matter what route you take.
Adventure on the horizon
Graphics - 10/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Challenge - 8/10
+ Excellent graphics
+ Fun and exciting mechanics
+ Plenty to do and see
+ Groove Music integration
– Some cars are way too hard to get