If you’ve been listening to the IVG Podcast, you’d know how much I’ve enjoyed Forza Horizon 2. I’d go so far as to say Forza Horizon 2 is my favourite racing game since Need For Speed Underground 2. There’s so much content and I wasn’t bored for a second. Fast forward to today, and Forza Horizon 3 is everything I loved about Forza Horizon 2 and much more. Playground Games added and polished everything to deliver a near perfect racing game that is both accessible to newcomers and great for enthusiasts while being a blast to play for everyone.
While Forza Horizon 2 was set in Southern France and Northern Italy, Forza Horizon 3 takes you to Australia. This locale is twice the size of the open world of Horizon 2 and also has more variety in every way. You get to experience everything Australia (barring Vegemite and spiders) while cruising through dense forests, barren sandy beaches, and more.
The open world is as much fun as post-game GTA V for me and that is a high bar to reach. Even though the gameplay loop is simple, with the amount of variety through narration, barn finds, and recruiting Drivatars, combined with the gorgeous locations and different race types, Forza Horizon 3 manages to remain fresh throughout. In Horizon 2, you followed along with a festival that was already taking place until you unlocked the ability to create your own festival. Here, the world (well, Australia) is your oyster and you’re the boss. You also get to select an avatar for yourself and a nickname (from a large pool of options with some hilarious choices). This lets the experience feel more personal as your assistant Keira (who is a lovely Irish lady as opposed to one of Rishi’s major complaints with Forza Horizon 2) gives you a bit of a nudge now and then to progress.
Your aim is to get more and more fans to the Horizon Festival and expand it through new locations. Expanding a festival or progressing to a new location has the PR time find points of interest for you. These points of interest come in the form of danger signs, drift zones, races, speed cameras, or Bucket List challenges. You also have the ability to design your own challenge through the new Horizon Blueprint feature (more on that in a bit). You also have the ability to sign radio stations as you progress and I obviously went with Horizon Pulse (the best radio station in Forza Horizon history) to start things off and discover some great new artists.
Horizon 2’s progression system, with credits earned and skill points, makes a comeback with enhancements. The skill system now has three sections to spend your points in: Festival Boss, Skills, and Instant Rewards. Wheelspins are present on level-ups as well, giving you new cars or credit. There’s also skill songs that have the radio DJ notify you of a particular track and you get twice the skill points while the song plays. On paper the progression and festival expansion seems pedestrian, but the dynamics of the implementation is what makes the experience memorable.
Horizon Blueprint lets you customise various aspects of challenges and if you are in the mood to create a custom Bucket List challenge, you even get control over which song plays and the weather conditions. This is a welcome addition as it lets you experience multiple challenges in a single point of interest as created by people online. Customisation also extends to your car as you now can change the license plate, horn, wheel rim, body parts, and more. Some of the best bits of Forza Motorsport have made their way to Horizon 3.
Accessibility is a concern in racing games this generation, but one of the things the Forza franchise gets right with each new entry is how accessible it is. You have options and assists that let even the newest of gamers have fun while also allowing racing game pros to get their fill. This is something Driveclub lacked.
Visually, I’m amazed that Forza Horizon 3 looks as good as it does on the Xbox One. It is clearly pushing the hardware as some areas have noticeable pop-in of greenery, but the combination of stunning skyboxes, gorgeous locations, and detailed car visuals makes this one beautiful package. The weather effects from Forza Motorsport 6 make an entry here with great realistic droplets and water animations on the screen as you drive.
Production values on the audio side of things in Forza Horizon games are pretty high and everything you will hear, from Keira’s voice to the personal assistant Anna and the disgruntled radio DJ handling Beethoven music, is charming. Car sounds are obviously pretty damn amazing and realistic as well. The only real flaw with Horizon 3 is the pop-in I noticed in the visuals in few locations. It is evident that things would probably be a lot better visually on a high-end Windows 10 PC. I also didn’t get the chance to test out multiplayer for this review and will be updating it after spending some time with the new campaign co-op feature.
Saying Forza Horizon 3 is Forza Horizon 2 on steroids would be an understatement. The opening section (that I don’t want to spoil) and Showcase Events throughout are an absolute joy to experience. I just wish the damn trees wouldn’t randomly block your path in the open world. Playground Games are magicians with the quality of visuals and gameplay they have managed to achieve on the Xbox One. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish on Project Scorpio. Playground Games, whatever you’re doing out there, keep doing it. Horizon 3 the closest we’ve come to a perfect racing game in a long time.