It's that time of year again: it's Forza season. Microsoft's trademark racing simulator gets better with each release and this year's title is another free roam emphasizing Horizon game that keeps the streak going. Forza Horizon 3 builds upon the open world Horizon titles with a number of new features, new activities, and the ability to customize events as you see fit. After all, this time, you are the boss of the Horizon Festival, and the success of the namesake of the Forza Horizon series is wholly on you this time around. As it turns out, being the boss is a good life indeed.
Forza Horizon 3 is an Xbox Play Anywhere title, allowing players to race to their heart's content on both Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One. Play data seamlessly syncs between both platforms. I've personally enjoyed being able to get a good run in on my battle station, then hit the couch and resume right where I left off on my TV.
Forza Horizon 3 continues the tradition of taking place in areas with large amounts of open terrain and drivable roads, and the third of the series takes place in Australia. Subject to your driving whims is a dense rainforest, a hilly coastline, a major city, Australia's equivalent to Wine Country, and none other than the Australian Outback. The amount of detail put into the lush environments is quite impressive and the sheer amount of terrain to cover could bring the off-road racing enthusiast (I'm personally a rally guy when it comes to off-road) to the next level of driving zen. Though I must admit that I am rather disappointed in the lack of actual paved roads when the proportion of open terrain is taken into consideration.
Racing events in Forza Horizon 3 are still the overall core of the experience. Available events are listed along "Routes" and come in the form of typical Circuit races, point to point Sprint Races, and even a mixture of rally style events. Gone are the days of the game telling you what car to drive, or what you should be driving or what to try out (though it still does try to add variety to your garage), as you may take the same car through a grand majority of racing events if you so choose, but doing so would cause you to forfeit one of the best features of Horizon 3. That feature is the Event Blueprint; where you may change the properties of any Event that takes place along a Route by changing weather, time of day and what types of cars are allowed in. While many presets are available, there is an option to allow a custom variety of cars in on the Event - up to 50 different cars. Want your ultimate WRC rally car showdown? Go for it. Want to settle the JDM sports car wars of the 90s and early 2000s? All you, pal. Think your Vauxhall can kill a Lambo? Set it up. Want hypercars to run off-road in heavy rain? Say the word. You are the boss, after all. Too lazy to make your own rules? Simply browse other player's event ideas and see if you're up for their challenge.
One of my favorite new features is the ability to make Custom Bucket List events at predetermined locations. When making a Custom Bucket List, your current car becomes the one used for the event, and from there, you choose what the target to achieve is, whether it is a type of skill execution such as drifts or constant speed, or reaching a target destination. You can choose time of day, weather, and whether traffic is present, whether you are locked to one type of camera, and whether rewind is on or not. Afterward, you take your own challenge, where your run becomes the benchmark. If you are satisfied, you can then post it for the world to take on. If you feel you can take on another players challenge, these Custom Bucket List locations also allow you to peruse other players' Bucket List throwdowns and take them on. Winning will net you Experience and Credits, just like any other race.
Progression in Forza Horizon 3 is attained through Fans. Each race event you complete, each stunt you perform, and each Bucket List entry you knock out (the preset ones, this, unfortunately, this does not apply to custom ones) earns you fans that you can use to expand the Horizon Festival or set up new sites proper. What festival location you upgrade, and what new area you set up a new location at are, as expected, completely up to you. Each upgrade or new site adds new event routes and stunts to perform. Before you know it, you're up to your shoulders in distractions and race events. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that you actually have an offline game to complete...or that there's even an online co-op mode.
Forza Horizon 3's greatest strength is the great amount of agency it affords players. Customizing individual races, championships and Bucket List challenges can be used to really change up each individual playthrough, as well as afford some replayability once you have experienced everything the Horizon Festival has to offer you. Combine with Forza's usual detailed customization and upgrade system and the result is a solid racing simulator that allows you take your car to the open road. Forza Horizon's focus on freedom of exploration and multi-surface racing has always served as a strong compliment to Forza Motorsport's focus on professional tarmac racing, and Horizon 3 ups the ante further than Horizon 2 with more playable cars and a greater amount of open terrain to explore. If you're more into the pro racing experience, then Forza Motorsport 6 will remain your cup of tea, but if you're out to take everything that makes the Forza franchise great and add free roam and off road racing, then Forza Horizon 3 will offer that in spades.
The Horizon Festival within the Horizon series has always been about car culture, music, and racing. Forza Horizon 3 captures the essence of a car culture festival quite well. Driving through a festival location will present you with jumping crowds, loud music, fireworks, and lights. The best part is that you're in charge of it all. It's good being the boss.
Forza Horizon 3 was previewed on Xbox One and Windows 10 with a code provided by the publisher.