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Forza Horizon 3: Review

9.5

The Forza Horizon series, developed by Playground Studio, is a sort of spin-off from Forza Motorsports. While the Motorsport games are much closer to simulations, Horizon is more of an action-arcade racer that this time takes you through the beautiful landscapes of Australia. This year saw the latest game, Horizon 3, make its way on to Xbox One and PC, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to review.

The first thing that is really worth talking about is just how visually stunning Forza Horizon 3 is. Playground have really outdone themselves this time with a masterfully-built world and their extensive attention to detail: their artificial world is beautiful. I was filled with shock and awe when driving through the rain forest with realistic rays of sun and shadow flashing across the road. The only issue I found was that the visuals were so mesmerizing that they tended to distract me from the actual race – good job it isn’t too bad if you crash a few times!

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Stunning visuals

Content is in no short supply in the playground of Australia. Races are numerous and are as fun as ever: players are constantly rewarded with XP for doing just about anything, from reaching insane speeds or impressive passes to destroying property and going airborne. More fans are gained with the completion of events, which unlocks more festivals across the country and provides more races and PR stunts on the map. One might think that these events would become repetitious or boring, but because the landscape is so large and expansive, nearly every event feels unique in its course. Besides the traditional race, players can explore and discover things like beauty spots or barn cars. Beauty spots are exactly how they sound: spots found around the world that are a marvel to look at. Barn Cars are vehicles locked away in – you guessed it – a barn, and tend to be a bit more exotic or rare than the regular roster. The car enthusiast will have a lot of fun hunting all of them down.

Speaking of cars, the car roster in Horizon 3 is substantial, coming out to just over 350 in total (with the core game). All of these vehicles look superb, mirroring exactly how they appear in the real world, and this applies to both the interior and exterior. My father owned a 1993 Hatchback Mustang, which led it to be my all-time favorite car, and I was pleasantly taken aback by just how familiar that same Mustang felt in Horizon 3.

A returning feature from Horizon 2 are the showcase events, which consist of over-the-top sequences where the player races against something a bit more exotic than another car. One of my favorites was when I was pitted against a train. This may not exactly sound like an exciting race, but Playground did an excellent job of making it fun and exhilarating. More than once I found myself ramping over the said train while it was captured beautifully in slow motion, and it’s during these segments that you’ll experience the most attention-grabbing gameplay.

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Exciting race against a train.

In Horizon 3, you are the boss. That means that you can change the rules for every single race you come across. Don’t like the cars chosen for a particular sprint? No problem, that can be changed, and the customization doesn’t stop there either. The player can choose car class, the number of laps, time of day, and even weather elements. While all of this is quite neat, it’s a feature I didn’t use that often. I found that it was more enjoyable to stick with what was already planned because it often led to the trial of new cars and challenges, but some players may enjoy the more-customizable experience.

As previously mentioned, you can unlock new cars, races and events, but progression can be a tricky thing to balance. If a game is too difficult, players can become frustrated and quit, while making it too easy means players might lose interest. Unfortunately this time Forza Horizon 3 seemed to lean towards the latter point. You can make races as challenging as you like with an impressive array of difficulty sliders, but progress made seems to be without a real challenge. Cars are continuously handed out and credits are awarded at an alarming rate. After only 5 or 6 hours of my play through, I had already attained dozens of cars, a few of which are some of the most powerful in the world. This could have been done to allow more casual or new racing players to enjoy the game without feeling punished for not being too good, but it can sometimes rob you of any sense of accomplishment. Luckily though, Forza Horizon 3 is incredibly impressive on all other fronts, so this is unlikely to be a huge issue for most people.

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Ford Mustang has always been my favorite car.

Sometimes, Horizon 3 simply feels like a nice Sunday cruise, where the pure joy of driving is all you need. That being said, who doesn’t need some good tunes to improve their trip? The music is a big step up from Horizon 2, increasing in both quality and quantity. As you progress, different radio stations can be signed to the Horizon tour, each one playing a different genre of music. Personally I lean towards the Rock end of the spectrum, but found myself listening to the “Timeless” station quite a lot too (which features nothing but classical music). Laugh if you want, but there was just something epic about racing to a finish line to the iconic sounds of Beethoven.

Another improvement from Horizon 2 to Horizon 3 is the social element, which is an impressive feat considering how impressive it was with Horizon 2. If you’re in a competitive mood but don’t actually feel like pairing up with anyone, then Rivals mode is for you. Rivals can be accessed in any of the many races found across the world and is simply a leaderboard-centric mode that pits your times against racers from all around the globe. For those who like competing with others, Online Free-roam is a mode that pairs you with a number of other players. Anyone can set up a match and all the other players choose whether or not they would like to partake. This is a system that works well and was a lot of fun, but due to the lack of skill ranks there isn’t much of a competitive edge to it.

For the first time in a Forza title, the player can also experience the campaign in co-op, either with friends or through matchmaking. This was, in my opinion, the best new addition to the game. Progress made for both players is kept even after the session ends, allowing a seamless transition back into single player. Just driving from one event to another was more fun, as one couldn’t help but race the other to see who got their first. Playing through the campaign with a friend is easily where the most fun and laughter is to be had.

Forza Horizon 3 is without a doubt the most enjoyable racing game I have ever experienced. Its top notch visuals and exhilarating gameplay are unmatched in the genre, and being able to play every aspect of the game with a friend is incredible and a welcomed addition. The only negative aspect is the progression system, which may feel unbalanced at times but it seems a small price to pay for an otherwise excellent game.

Have you picked up Forza Horizon 3 yet? Which of the Horizon games are your favorite? Let us know by commenting below.

This review was performed on an Xbox One.



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