Tearing through the stylised streets of Byron Bay in a Lamborghini Huracán, whipping through traffic at 300km/h, what a rush!
The first Forza Horizon released in 2012 was a nice departure from the serious racing sim that the Forza franchise had spent years perfecting. In the third time around, it is Australia’s turn. Though a re-imagined Australia, with the sunny beaches of Byron, high rises of Surfers Paradise, rolling hills of the Yarra Valley and the open off-road action of the outback.
Racing games struggle to marry both gameplay and story together, with the end result being rather cringe-worthy. Forza Horizon 3 does not bother with this, not fully anyway. Turn 10 Studios threw away the formula of working your way up from zero to hero. Opting for a more straight forward approach – a game about racing, lots and lots of racing. Playing as the boss of the Horizon festival, your task is to participate in events that will attract fans that allow you to expand the festival location and set up several others located through the sprawling map. You get to pick an avatar and a name, (I chose Bantasaurus Rex, because why not!) and get racing.
Horizon 3 delivers an abundance of content, most of which will be familiar to returning players. The new structure means that players are no longer locked into a linear career progression, as there is a range of new races and activities added after the addition to the festival locations. If the type of race that Horizon 3 offers doesn’t appeal to you, you can create your own. Using the Horizon blueprint feature, players can create custom races. If you do not want to race in the slow Hummer H2, you can change it to a showdown between hypercars or classic muscle! However, this will create a new race using existing tracks and does not allow for custom routes, which is a disappointment.
The list of things to do is almost endless. I could harp on about everything that Horizon 3 offers. The races with A.I. opponents (using Forza’s Drivatar system), the street racing (racing point to point, all while weaving through traffic), the showcase events pitting you up against seemingly unbeatable opponents like a fighter jet, the list goes on. Roughly 30 hours in, it is amazing to still be treated to new races, festival expansions and vehicle unlocks.
Horizon 3 brings a roster of over 350 cars, covering all sorts from Ferraris’ to Mitsubishis’ to Jeeps’, all with the option of visual and performance customisation. The licensed soundtrack, featuring punk rock, drum n’ bass to club bangers, fits perfectly into the feel of fast racing. A feature called Groove Music, also allows your own music to be imported. Screaming down the streets of Surfer’s Paradise in a newly customised Nissan Silvia, three other cars inches behind me, trying not to use the approaching bus an emergency brake was fun. But adding the calming sound of Beethoven made it even better!
Part of Microsoft’s cross-platform Play Anywhere feature, Horizon 3 allows play between Xbox One and Windows 10. This, along with the new addition of co-op campaign, sounds amazing – when it works. It took several attempts to get into a game with friends, often requiring a complete restart of the game.
In this end, racing is what Horizon 3 aims to accomplish, and it does achieve this. The only exception being, the off-road racing can get overwhelming. The checkpoint system is inconsistent and overly punishing, and online racing against actual people is far too chaotic. However, if you have the right car, circuit racing on a sealed road is incredibly satisfying.
While the lack of linearity with the career progression is great, it would have been nice to get a grand finale to the festival that was present in the previous two Horizon titles. A big race, with lots of fast cars. Something that brings the festival show to a spectacular end. Instead, that ending is a showcase event against a very slow moving blimp vs an off road buggy, not entirely thrilling. Credits roll, then its back racing to expand those festival sites.
Even though there are countless races to partake in and bucket loads of challenges and rare cars to find, Forza Horizon 3 is at its best when you embrace its open world. The roar of the engine sounding much like a chainsaw. The rain glistening on the windows. This is what Forza Horizon 3 gets so right. Even with its few shortcomings, it is all so easily forgiven. – Ben Rochlin
Forza Horizon 3 is out now for Xbox One and Windows 10
Top image from clydeyello’s Flickr photostream