‘Forza Horizon 3’ Review

Platforms PC/Xbox One
Developer Playground Games   Publisher Microsoft Studios
Genre Racing   Platform Played Xbox One

Known for providing an excellent arcade-style racing experience, the Forza Horizon series takes its third installment Down Under, allowing players to race across a variety of environments throughout Australia. Fortunately, the franchise has not lost any of its quality while making the lengthy journey to the Southern Hemisphere.

Forza Horizon 3 takes a slightly different approach than its predecessors when it comes to the overall concept of how the player interacts with the Horizon festival. Rather than being a random racer merely trying to make a name for themselves, this time you play as the person running the entire festival, who also happens to take part in all of the events. From a plot-focused point of view, this makes far more sense when it comes to showcase events, as the festival’s boss is the one racing in all of these ludicrous scenarios rather than one racer who happens to have been selected for each of the events. As more races, Bucket List challenges and “PR Stunts” (the formal name for all speed traps, drift zones, jumps, and speed zones) are completed, the festival gains more fans, and begins to expand. Across Australia, four festival sites in total will be opened and expanded, unlocking even more events to complete. Given that you are the individual making all the important decisions surrounding the festival, you actually get to choose where to open the next location for the festival when it comes time to aggressively expand.The game will offer two choices and provide a brief description of the area, in addition to providing community statistics once your choice has been made, informing you what percentage of gamers made that same choice at the same time and who from your friend’s list did the same thing. For such a small feature, the inclusion of choice and statistics makes the title feel far more connected rather than the previous two games which felt more like solo adventures until you played some online multiplayer.

On the topic of multiplayer, Forza Horizon 3 introduces online co-op play, allowing for friends or strangers to play through their festival adventures together while adding to their single player progress. Obviously this addition has made a significant improvement in the eyes of those who may not enjoy racing titles alone but thoroughly love them when playing alongside friends. While you do need to choose to play co-op from a pause menu, the way it is handled is relatively seamless. I did not find myself waiting for extended periods of time, generally only between 10 and 15 seconds to find a game, and never found there to be any connectivity or server issues. When switching back to single player, all of the progress carrying over reduces the redundancy felt by players and helps keep everyone invested in the game. While certain tracks will be repeated during events based on whether you are taking part in a championship or exhibition, not having to redo the last hour’s worth of racing simply because it was online is greatly appreciated. You can also choose whether you wish to play strictly races, games, or both when online, or you can opt to have a large free roaming session of online multiplayer.

However, there is one technical issue which plagues the multiplayer component moreso than the single player. Occasionally you will find your car lodged in an awkward position against rocks, cliffs, trees, or houses. If your vehicle is flipped over or on its side for an extended period of time, the game will reset your car automatically and you can continue on. Sadly, if your car is still upright, or the game does not deem it to be flipped over, it will not reset your vehicle. In single player, rewinding time and avoiding the collision is a simple solution, but in online multiplayer, the rewind feature does not exist. This means that if your car gets lodged in a spot which you can not maneuver out of, you will be stuck there until an event ends or someone else in the game is kind enough to hit your car out of that spot unless you happen to have discovered the manual reset option which is never actually explained or detailed in the tutorial. If you get stuck, it is possible to pause the game and press in on one of the analog sticks to reset your car, but unless you happen to be looking carefully at everything on the screen when the game is paused, you will likely never know it exists. Without the knowledge of this button, you will believe you are simply stuck until a multiplayer event finishes. Considering a large number of the games available online require hitting other vehicles, you can easily be stuck in a spot. Not having the manual reset button explained during the tutorial is a gross oversight, and results in the enjoyment being sucked from playing almost immediately when you find yourself stuck between rocks or trees in online play, spinning your wheels helplessly.

Issues with the reset button aside, the control mechanics are as solid as they have ever been in the Forza Horizon games. The various terrains will still cause cars to handle differently based on their design and tuning choices, and given the vast number of choices available for modifying a vehicle allows players to customize their cars for specific tasks or challenges. A Lamborghini Aventador will clearly never be great for taking off-road, but changing the tire pressure, tired width, suspension, or reinforcing the body with roll bars will all affect the performance of the vehicle and allow for that fine-tuning which gear heads will eagerly search for. Over time, you will also unlock body kits from various companies, allowing for complete overhauls in performance and appearance with a single option selection.

One of the biggest staples in the Horizon franchise is the music associated with the festival. Typically the focus has been electronic music, and while there is still a large emphasis on that genre, hip hop, alternative rock, and classical music are included, as well as the ability to listen to your own music through the Groove service. While this service is something you have to pay for, it is still a viable option for those who wish to listen to their own custom soundtrack in-game. Not all of the stations are available at the outset, and following the trend of running the festival, you decide which stations are unlocked in which order. This means if you happen to be a fan of hip hop, you can choose to have this station available for your listening pleasure far sooner than the classical station you may not wish to hear at all. Of course, you can always opt to turn off the radio stations altogether while playing so that you only hear the roar of your engine and the squeal of your tires.

In terms of replay value or sheer content, Forza Horizon 3 is sure to please. With more than 400 unique cars, more than 130 races and championships, Bucket List events, barn finds, 150 hidden bonus boards, online auctions for buying and selling vehicles, the ability to create your own races or Bucket List challenges, photographing every unique car via Horizon Promo mode, and online play, players can expect to easily put 40 or 50 hours into the game without thinking much of it. Even if you only plan on completing races and PR stunts until you finish expanding the festival, you will still be putting 15 or 20 hours into the game, minimum. Once you are done drooling over the gorgeous scenery and you make your way to the various showcase events, some of the moments will make you sit back in awe. There are usually several key moments during any event which pulls away from the player’s point of view, placing the camera in a more cinematic location, and slows down time for a spectacular jump. Even if some of the showcase races seem to be eerily similar to past Horizon events, seeing them in a new setting, with these moments or improved details will feel fresh. It may be a matter of adding multi-coloured smoke spewing from a fighter jet’s engines as it races across the sky, or a freight train with enough flatbed cars to allow your car to jump overtop, but players will find themselves impressed with the visuals and the grandeur of these events.

While there is a significant issue with the reset button never being explained, particularly before going online, every other aspect of Forza Horizon 3 is guaranteed to satisfy players. The sheer volume of content available will keep any racing fan’s attention for extended periods of time and the beauty of Australia’s environment encourages exploring every inch of the terrain. Cars handle exactly how you would expect, community-designed liveries are available by the thousands, and you are constantly being shown how your own performance compares to that of your friends. Online co-op play is a monumental addition to the series, and hopefully one that continues to appear in any successors within the franchise. Forza Horizon 3 has set the new standard for arcade racers, making it a necessary purchase for any fan of the genre or series.

The Good

  • Phenomenal quantity of content, both single player and multiplayer
  • Co-op progress carries over to single player
  • Breath-taking visuals
  • Cars behave differently based on surface, speed, and tuning
  • Increased variety in music and cars

The Bad

  • Fails to inform player of manual reset button at any point, potentially leading to infuriating online situations

The Score: 9.6