Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided by the Developer for the review.
When people think of Xbox, they tend to think of Halo and Gears of War, but for me, Forza is the equal of those mega-franchises. As much as I love Microsoft’s superstar shooters, I adore the Forza games. While the first entries in the Forza franchise were the equal of their contemporaries, in the last few years, Forza has moved head and shoulders above the competition to become the best racer out there. This year it is the turn of Horizon, Forza Motorsport’s less-serious younger brother. Can the latest entry continue this family legacy?
For this third installment of Forza Horizon, the festival of music and motorsport has moved to Australia. While native Antipodeans, might not be too happy with the accuracy of the map (apparently The Twelve Apostles are south of Byron Bay not north), it does provide a great playground for the motorised mayhem. There’s the beautiful coastline of Byron Bay, the cityscape of Surfer’s Paradise, the red sand and openness of the Outback, as well as the sprawling vineyards and lush rainforest of the Yarra Valley. Whether geographically accurate or not, Playground Games have once again given us a brilliant world to drive through, even if it is difficult to take it all in while blasting down a road at 250mph in a $2.8m hypercar.
The big new thing in Forza Horizon 2 was the weather, so what’s new in this latest entry to the series? First of all there’s co-op gameplay, and I have to confess I was a little disappointed with this. It’s not that I don’t think it works, I just think so much more could have been done with it. As is, it’s basically a way to drive together to races and mess about in the world. Once you get to an event it’s just like a standard event as you race each other and some drivatars (Forza’s clever AI which uses the play-style of your friends and other Xbox Live users). As I said, this all works well, I just wish that they could have been a little more creative with it. What if they had set up events where you all started in the same place and individually had to reach separate spots on the map before meeting back at the start within a time limit, or what if you had to work together to drive as blockers for one of your teammates as the AI tries to stop them getting to a finish line before time runs out? Anything like this would have been great fun, but nothing that interesting has been added.
The other new gameplay addition to the franchise are blueprints; these allow you to create your own championships and bucket list challenges. Creating a championship blueprint lets you set your own restrictions and conditions to the racing. An example is that you could set a championship for off-road buggies only, or AMG Mercedes cars and M-Sport BMWs. You can also choose the number or tracks to be raced on (with a minimum of 3 races allowed), as well as the weather and time of day of the races. Any blueprint that you set up is also made available to other gamers, which means that the number of races in the game will keep increasing as time goes on. Bucket list blueprints work in a similar way with you choosing the vehicle and the type of challenge that you want to create. These are completely separate to the standard bucket list and work more as just fun challenges for you to undertake.
Showcase events make a welcome return. These absurd races once again supply a fun break from the standard racing and some of them offer up genuinely jaw-dropping moments. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone, but I will say that there is a moment in an event that takes you along a river, and it will stay with me for a long time yet. I would say that nearly all of these showcase events are brilliant, if anything it’s only the final event that is a little anti-climatic. I would go as far as saying that the only real issue with these events are that there aren’t enough of them.
Like every Forza game, Forza Horizon 3 is a real treat for the eyes. This entry looks gorgeous and moves as smooth as ever. Special mention has to be made of the sky in the game, I don’t think I’ve seen a more realistic sky in any other game ever. This photorealistic sky is really complimented by the great day/night cycle. Weather is also featured, with rain turning up at random points during gameplay. This game doesn’t have the physics based puddles of Forza Motorsport 6, but there are puddles that will slow you down, and the game has some great animation for the raindrops hitting the camera and windscreen. I didn’t notice any screen tearing or slowdown in the game, even when speeding through the countryside. In fact, the only thing that I could possibly criticise is that there is a little bit of pop-up in the distance. This never affected gameplay, and is more than excusable when you’re flying along a dual-carriageway at over 250mph.
Not only is the game a treat for your eyes, it’s also great on the ears. Like all of the Forza titles, the cars sound superb, with engines revving and thrumming just like they should. And if the soundtrack of V8s and V10s isn’t enough for you, there’s also a comprehensive selection of music to please everyone. Whether you’re into drum and bass or classical, pop music or punk, there is a radio station with tracks that keep your feet tapping while you notch up the miles. There are also some particularly nice musical choices to go along with certain specific bucket list challenges, such as the Halo music when you have to drive the UNSC’s own Warthog.
I think it’s safe to say that Turn 10 and Playground Games have delivered us another classic. While I don’t think that it’s perfect in the same way as Forza Motorsport 6 is, some of that is down to the type of racing game it is. The choice of tracks in the Motorsport series is superb and that’s because they are based on real-world tracks. Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t have that luxury and has to create it’s own tracks and routes. This isn’t to say that there aren’t great tracks, courses, and routes in the game; it’s just that it is almost impossible for these to match up to classics like Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, and the Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans. The game looks and sounds gorgeous, unfortunately I didn’t get to try the game with HDR, however I’m sure that will make it look even better. The array of cars on display is extensive, and there are enough races and championships to keep even the most hardcore gamers busy for months to come. The showcase events are once again highlights of the game, but there is something here for everyone. Whether you’re a hardcore racer, a fan of cars, or just an Xbox One owner, Forza Horizon 3 is a game that you owe it to yourself to play.