Let’s get one thing straight before we start this review. Forza Horizon 3 is not a racing game made for racing fans. If you hate racing games I truly believe you will still love this game. It is as much an old school arcade racer like Daytona USA or Sega Rally as it is an Open World exploration game and a platformer. If you ever liked Test Drive Unlimited this is basically a new version of that game. I can not stress enough that you should not pass by this game just because it seems like another racing game. So let’s get into the review then.
There was no bigger announcement out of this years E3 then when Microsoft announced that Forza Horizon 3 was coming in September and would be set in Australia. I was all in on this game from that very moment. Forza Horizon 3 launched on the 23rd of September for people who purchased the “Ultimate edition” and for everyone else on the 27th of September. The developers behind this game are Playground Games and they also have some input from the Forza Motorsport developers, Turn 10 studios. Forza Horizon 3 came to both PC and Xbox One and not only provided cross-play between the two systems but for people who bought the game digitally it was cross buy. This is part of the new initiative from Microsoft Studios called “Play Anywhere”. It is really amazing as you can play the game on Xbox One and move to the PC and continue on with your progress there.
I have put more than 20 hours into this game in the first week of having it. This was not an easy thing to do with working full-time and having a family. In that time I found it a really hard game to review because I was really trying hard to find some negatives to the game. Yes, there were small little things that I would like to see tweaked but realistically I couldn’t find the negatives after that first 20 hours of gameplay. This means it has been really hard for me to review as I have found it hard to give positives and negatives for a balanced review. I really do not want this to turn into a fluff piece for Forza Horizon 3.
One of the small issues I had with Forza Horizon 3 was the online side of the game. I wholeheartedly believe this is to do with the quality of the Internet in our area. We did play most of the modes available to us in Forza Horizon 3. I will not be playing the standard online race mode but this is my personal preference. I found the lobbies were just full of people not willing to take it seriously. However, my group had a lot of fun in the Co-op mode. It was great just driving around the map with friends. However, two big things stand out for me in this mode that I did not enjoy.
First was the checkpoints on the track and the punishment for missing them. Even on tracks that were enclosed, some checkpoints do not cover the whole track. Slight bumps on the track can throw you off your line and outside the checkpoint really easily. This is ok in single player because of the rewind feature but in Online there is no rewind feature for obvious reasons. This penalty is to be placed back before the gate. You lose speed and a massive amount of track position which is far too harsh. The second issue I had with Co-op and online, in general, is the ease of playing with friends. I seemed like a lot was done outside the game and just seemed to be an issue every time we tried to do it early on. For example, at one stage our private group had to be disbanded after somehow we ended up with five other random players with us.
This does bring me to the overall interface of Forza Horizon 3. At times it just felt clunky to find things that were needed. I completely understand that after 20 to 30 hours of gameplay it would start to feel natural but I feel that is way too long. The issue almost felt like a bi-product of how many things they have crammed into the game. Like I mentioned before you have to leave the game to invite friends to play with you. Finding the Garage and other options in the menus also just did not gel with me and others I was playing with. I still believe I have free cars that I received as part of the Ultimate Edition I purchased and I have no idea if I have them in my garage. Also, events like Championships and midnight races just seem to get lost in the number of things in the game.
So now that is out of the way let’s move onto what are the key things that make this game shine above so many others this year. At the front of the pack has to be the graphics. Playground games have done something special with how this game looks and feels. How it looks is like a beautiful sunrise on the morning after a magical night out with friends. The work Playground games put into the sky really paid off. Clouds roll across the sky and just look photo realistic and the way the sun shines through the clouds is spectacular. This seems like a novelty thing but when half the game is made up of the sky then this becomes an important part of the game. Lighting and reflections are also truly a sight to be seen. Instead of the reflections being standard light reflections in Forza Horizon 3 the reflections take into account the colour of the surface being reflected.
These amazing graphics really help Playground games show off Australia and make it feel so homely for us Australians. Little touches like street signs, white roadside posts and wheelie bins that litter the streets really make the setting scream Australia. The bigger things are amazing, though. The landscapes are uniquely Australian and being able to drive over a ridge and see grape fields, rolling mountains and the Gold Coast skyline just make you feel like you are at home. The strangest part that was so immersive that it almost broke the immersion was having to drive on the left-hand side of the road. Even though we do this every day in real life, in the gaming world we have never had to do this. This aspect of the game really had me thrown for the first few hours. Driving through fields of Banana trees, however, feels extremely rewarding and for some strange reason really Australian.
A highlight of the game for me was how often it gave you a reason to try and beat my friends. Every small statistic in the game is always compared with other people on your friend’s list. So as you unlock a new stretch of road it will tell you how many you have done and then who is the next friend that you can overtake. This little feature was the number one reason I spent an hour driving around streets that I had not driven before just to overtake someone on my friend’s list. It really adds to the overall gameplay and the length of gameplay you will get out of Forza Horizon 3. Rather than doing an event once and then never again I have found myself jumping over the same jump over and over again.
Playground Games have nailed the flow of the gameplay in Forza Horizon 3. At no stage did I find myself grinding out to open up new content. Everything you do in-game progresses your game closer to a new festival upgrade and more content. The content felt like it might have taken a little bit long to get all 4 festivals unlocked. However, the fact that all you had to do to unlock them have fun play the game, then the length isn’t an issue at all. Even when I thought I might have been getting to a point where the grind was going to kick in I realised I wasn’t even doing championships, midnight races or rival races. Unlike most games where developers lock you into playing a certain game type to unlock a certain aspect of the game Playground Games trust you to play their game how you like. Everything gets you cash, XP and fans which are all used to progress the game.
Gran Turismo was a big influence on my gaming and a huge part of that was customisation. Forza Horizon 3 really lets you have that same experience and then goes to amazing lengths to improve on that level of customizations. You really can do anything to your car and it really does make a difference. Many times I made a car that was purely undrivable because I just added any old thing to make it better. My Falcon XY had a V12 engine put in it and it was amazing to drive in a straight line, could overtake four cars in 100 metres. However, to stop this car it was next to impossible because the balance of the car was completely out. You can auto upgrade which makes things easier and more reliable. Decals are unbelievable in Forza Horizon 3 and they are so easy to put on. Whenever you buy a car you get offered a custom paint job that someone online has made. This is the icing on the cake for making a car truly unique.
Another aspect of the game that lets you play the way you want is the gameplay itself. Forza Horizon 3 has such a wide variety of game types it will really keep you going forever. The Barn finds are really great and one of the first things I completed. If you’re not into that then the PR stunts you get offered can be pure chaos or super challenging. In these, you will find yourself taking on speed cameras, longest jumps, drift zones or even style challenges. From there you can jump in and hunt down the collectables in the way of fast travel boards or XP boards. You could then actually race cars I guess in circuit races or point to point races. These can be done offroad, on road or a mixture of the two to add to the variety. All this just scratches the surface of different ways you can play this game and when you add online and Co-op to the mix the variety is really stunning.
Photo mode could have been one of those features just added to the game and it would have been cool and fun at its simplest level. The amount of detail that Playground games have given to this feature is mind blowing. You can just about take professional level photographs of cars in all the different environments in the game. I only played with the basic level of features in photo mode but if you know what you are doing there is so much there for you to play with. I took shots of my warthog in mid-air with the Byron Bay coastline in the background as the sun was bursting through the clouds. Once again the UI let this mode down a little bit as it was hard to access them outside the game.
Playground Games have nailed fun in Forza Horizon 3. With the amazing graphics, the flow of the game and the variety of cars and gameplay it is almost impossible not to have fun in Forza Horizon 3. It was simple to just jump from one event to the next and even that simple act could lead you down many a rabbit hole that you never thought you were going to take. I constantly found myself getting distracted by the world just by driving around it. Like I said before, there is no feeling of grind in the game even though that is all you actually do in Forza Horizon 3, this alone is a testament to how well Playground games has nailed that feeling of fun in every part of the game.
I am not going to explain to you if you should get this game or not dependant on what type of a gamer you are. Simply put, you should get this game. Forza Horizon 3 is not a racing game in the true sense of the word. The game is so forgiving that anyone can get into this and start having fun. If you are a bit better at the game then it will accommodate you as well as you can toggle the game to give you a bit more of a challenge. Don’t take my word for it, there is a demo of Forza Horizon 3 out there you can download and it will prove to you that I am right. Please at some stage of your life give Forza Horizon 3 a go because you will have fun and that is all you can really ask for in a game these days.
The Good: Just about everything in Forza Horizon 3. If I had to narrow it down to just one thing, however, it would have to be the flow of the game. It really just feels like there is no grind to Forza Horizon 3 and it is all about just having fun.
The Bad: The User Interface can sometimes make it hard to find what it is that you want to do. This is down to there being so much that you can do in Forza Horizon 3.
The Final Word: Please give this game a go, it will be worth it i promise. There is a demo out there for PC and Xbox One so you can give it a go for free. The game is forgiving for non-racers and a challenge for the experts. You will have fun from start to finish with Forza Horizon 3.