Racing games over the past sixteen years have had so many ups and downs that it can be hard to keep track of when features were added only to subsequently disappear and then later be reintroduced. Some racing games didn’t go nearly as far as they should have with the technology available, especially when some levels of visual customization have become commonplace in the genre. If there is one series that has consistently tried to push the boundaries during a time when you need a license for virtually everything that could happen to a single car, it has been Forza. Forza Motorsport itself has always been a solid pro racing experience, but without a solid free roam mode, the joy of owning a virtual representation of a real life car bound by a more realistic physics engine always felt held back. Microsoft and Turn 10 answered that with Forza Horizon. Add in a successful sequel and step that up a notch, you arrive here at Forza Horizon 3. If you want the seminal racer of this console generation, look no further. In fact, you don’t even need to look only to consoles for it, because it’s playable on PC too courtesy of Xbox Play Anywhere.
Forza Horizon 3 ups the ante of both of its predecessors with far more drivable terrain that, while mostly off-road, offers a large variety of locales and land types even for those that decide to stick to the pavement. Nothing is preventing you from taking that several million dollar Veyron Super Sport off the beaten path and into the Australian wilderness, but there is a good chance that the path will beat the Veyron harder than the Veyron will be beating the path if you have simulation tire wear and damage on. Still, it’s not like you’re going to be stuck with the repair bill and a very angry insurance company like you would be in real life because undoing the damage is merely a few (repetitive) menu clicks away.
Within the horrible idea that is in the previous paragraph (spoiler: hypercars do NOT handle off road well) actually sits and the beauty and a large amount of fun found in Horizon 3. While simple open-ended driving is perhaps the most basic element to a free roaming racing simulator, it is also Horizon 3‘s greatest asset, as it has been before in the previous two games. You can level up and gain skill points simply by driving around, both on road and off. You can earn money by challenging other Drivatars to impromptu street races. You can take in the sights as you blaze down the highway at three to four times the legal speed limit in Australia, and quite the sights those are. The visual fidelity of Horizon 3 is very impressive.
If you ran the game in the unlockable Drone Mode and randomly ran around without crashing into anything, you could use the footage to sell an HDTV inside an electronics store simply because of how bloody beautiful things look (Don’t actually swap the store’s feed for your own drone mode footage, as I’m sure the store staff would not approve of it.) During a random bout of rain or even during one of Australia’s many sunny days, the cars and Australia’s many realistically reproduced environments remain beautiful, even on lower graphics settings on the PC. According to a Sydney residing acquaintance of mine, the reproduction of Surfer’s Paradise within Horizon 3, an urban area within the drivable map, is a pretty good reproduction of the real deal.
When you’re done aimlessly messing around, you can actually get to progressing in the game by taking exotic cars, lifted trucks, rallied out sedans, and decked out tuners off of dangerous jumps, drifting through windy roads (both paved and not), and through strategically placed speed traps in excess of 150 to 200mph and more. Actual racing events take place on a variety of terrain and road types. Regardless of your approach to getting your total number of fans up to the level you need to get to the next part of the game, you can tackle it your way in whatever you want.
Remember that horrible idea of taking hypercars off-roading earlier? You can customize any of Forza Horizon 3’s racing events to have regulations force you to take hypercars in that purely off-road course. While that won’t negate how much of a bad idea it really is, it still is fun to know that you can do whatever you want at your whim if the game’s curated event types don’t tickle your fancy. Whatever your preference, Forza’s trademark racing will be in full force, with your customizable difficulties in place with the usual set of Forza physics (feeling only slightly watered down from past titles). You will be on your toes during racing events, as sometimes you will blaze ahead of the pack and yawn your way to the finish and other times you may be biting your nails to the bone. It all will heavily depend on what car types you allow onto the current course you are about to race on, what the characteristics of your car are, and what Drivatars you get matched with. It’s also worth noting that most Drivatars are still very annoyingly fond of brake checking you at crucial corners and leaving you aerodynamically challenged courtesy of you breaking your front bumper on their rear bumper (assuming you have simulation damage on.)
The variety of cars within Forza Horizon 3 is quite wide. You will find humble Jeeps, classic and current tuners, American muscle of all decades, track toys, that GT-R you find parked in the middle of two spaces at the mall, offroad buggies, the kind of truck your neighbors wish they had, and the usual selection of Lamborghinis and Koenigseggs overpaid Motorcross riders get to drive on TV. It’s a refreshing selection, to say the least. With such a wide variety comes great experimentation as you customize events to your choosing. The fun to be had in Forza Horizon 3 will be limited with what your imagination can come up with in a given race route. When racing gets old, make your own Bucket List challenges and issue them to the world.
If I had to be nitpicky about a few things within Forza Horizon 3, it would be the Drivatars’ aforementioned propensity to hit the brakes at inconvenient times and the fact that the developers couldn’t seem to decide which potential obstacles are destructible and which ones are not. It was not uncommon for me to blaze through a forest at respectable speeds only to be stopped dead by a random tree that seemed destructible, but in fact was not. For the PC version of the game, upgrading the graphical settings also appeared to drastically increase the initial load time when starting the game (but everything else tended to load faster than the Xbox One counterpart.)
Say what you will about the Horizon offshoots of Forza Motorsport. There is no denying that Forza Horizon 3 is the definition of what is possible of current generation tech in racing simulation coming to pass short of VR. The absolute freedom combined with an appropriate array of cars keeps enjoyment levels up. If the more pro-scene oriented Forza Motorsport 6 is not your cup of tea but you like Forza, or you’re after an excellent racing experience with a wide variety of cars period, look no further than Forza Horizon 3.
Forza Horizon 3 was reviewed on Xbox One and Windows 10 via Xbox Play Anywhere with a code provided by the publisher.
Forza Horizon 3 is the strongest entry in the Forza Horizon offshoots by far, and easily a strong contender for the best racing sim out there. A wide selection of cars, a massive amount of terrain to explore, many events, and the ability to customize everything to your liking places Forza Horizon 3 in a class of its own. It's good to be the boss.
- Customizable Co-Op Campaign
- Wide Selection of Cars
- Huge Free Roam Map
- Beautifully Rendered Environments
- Long Initial PC Optimization Times
- Random Dead Stop Objects Offroad