- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Developer: Playground Games
- Players: 1 (offline), 2-12 (online)
- Site: http://www.xbox.com/en-GB/games/forza-horizon-3
- Game code shared from freelance work
There are more racing games around nowadays than you could shake a reasonably large stick at. Developers have to do something pretty special to stand out in a market so crammed full of competition. Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t just stand out; it zooms out of the crowd on a jetpack and does several backflips in mid-air.
‘Forza’ is synonymous with ‘pretty’. Things are very, very slightly less shiny here than in Forza Motorsport 6, but it’s still an incredible looking game, and you’d be hard pushed to find a more attractive racer from another franchise. There’s a small amount of pop-in in the distance when there’s a significant draw distance to deal with but, to be honest, you’ll rarely notice and never care.
Such a tiny graphical speedbump is no price at all to pay for the depth and breadth of the game and environment you’re handed here. An open-world experience set in a compressed version of Australia, between races and events you’ll be driving over and through roads, fields, beaches, forests, city streets, and the sandy outback. The world itself is pleasingly large and, as you would hope, some cars are better suited to one type of surface than others. In true Forza fashion, there are absolutely loads of cars to be unlocked and driven here, and they all handle in an impressively unique way.
Being a Horizon game, the experience is built around the fictional festival of the same name. This means the slightly bizarre presence of unskippable cutscenes and radio chatter from people supposedly working for you. This stuff forms only a tiny proportion of your time with the game though, and the annoying radio station DJs can – thankfully – be turned off completely. You can concentrate on the actual driving bit.
Indeed, FH3 is relentless in its determination to allow the player to mould the experience to their tastes. The aforementioned radio stations are split into a decent variety of genres such as dance, American pop rock, drum & bass, and classical; though the overall quality of the music will of course be down to personal taste. You can even incorporate Groove music, if you’re one of the six people to have a subscription.
You can fiddle with AI difficulty, as well as other settings and assists, before the start of any race or at any time while in free roam. Casual racer or hardcore realism junkie or anywhere in between, you’ll be just fine here. There’s incentive to make things more realistic/difficult, as each tweak you make to bump the difficulty up increases the rate at which you earn credits, which you then of course use to buy shiny new cars.
Then there are skill points. You earn skill points, and kick a multiplier off, for almost anything – to the point where we believe it may be literally impossible to finish a race without earning any. Drifting, keeping a good speed going, overtaking, jumping, and much more gets the unobtrusive on-screen counter all excited. Keep rolling through these numbers to level up, and thereby earn a turn on the virtual one-armed bandit which will reward you with a rare car, or a nice bunch of credits. You’ll also earn skill points, which are spent within the menu on passive bonuses such as an increase in the rate at which certain skills generate XP, or instant rewards such as a lump sum of credits.
Pre-programmed races include mini championships, and ‘Showcase’ events. There are only a small number of these showcases, but each sees you racing against an overblown opponent such as a train or a fighter jet. The bulk of the races are single-shot Exhibition events; which, once you unlock the option early on, can be ignored completely in favour of a Blueprint race. Blueprints allow you to change certain settings (though not the actual route, sadly) such as time of day or type of car used. If you fall in love with a particular car, or car type, and find yourself thinking “I wish I could just use this for all the races” – you can! Well okay, not all of them, but most of them.
While driving from one event to another, there’s plenty to do. 15 rare cars to find and keep (“Barn finds” – we’ll let you decode that), speed cameras, drift zones, jumps, and there are always Drivatars around that you can trigger an instant sprint race against. There are hundreds of XP & fast travel discount boards to find and smash, and the ‘bucket list’ events that set you a challenge with a specific car and route or points/speed target return. There are massive piles of things to do to unlock, and it’s all enormous fun. Then there’s online.
It’s not entirely seamless – you get a “welcome to online adventure” screen when you join somebody’s game – but you can go online while driving with a few taps of the d pad. We’ve yet to come across even a tiny bit of lag, and there’s no shortage of people playing online. It’s disappointing to see that the spirit of choice hasn’t quite translated to the online experience – players vote on one of three pre-selected sets of game modes/cars every four races in online adventure – but it’s fun nonetheless. Kudos to Playground Games also for making placings in the championship determined by XP rather than individual race/mode rankings. If/when some moron purposefully smashes you out of the way to pull ahead, it’s still annoying, but you know that you have a good chance of doing better than him by driving with speed and skill.
If you like driving games and you have the money and the gaming machine to buy Forza Horizon 3, you really should. Not only are there dozens upon dozens of hours of content, you’ll love every minute therein.