The Racing Playground Returns In 'Forza Horizon 3,' Hands On

When my girlfriend bought an Xbox One two years ago, one of the first games I bought for the console was Forza Horizon 2. I immediately fell in love with its vast and open world, its gorgeous views, and its balance between arcade and simulation gameplay. Now, Playground Games has come out with yet another installation in the series, Forza Horizon 3, and the team successfully created an even more enjoyable game than its predecessor.

The Outback And The Cars

The good stuff starts at the very beginning of the game. Multiple cars arrived in Australia to signal the start of the exciting Horizon Festival, whereupon I was provided with a quick tour of the Australian landscape. Unlike the French and Italian regions in Forza Horizon 2, Australia plays host to multiple environments. You can drive through a swampy forest that eventually turns into the desolate Outback. Farms and small towns dot the roads that lead to massive metropolitan areas. Each area is a sight to behold, whether it's numerous trees, rows of crops, miles of sand, or small ponds. I usually play racing games in the cockpit camera mode, but I opted for the third-person view of the car just so I could admire the scenery around me.

Speaking of cars, there’s even more to choose from compared to Forza Horizon 2. In fact, there are 150 more available in this game. There are the usual suspects--supercars, classic cars, Japanese domestic models, and luxury vehicles--but Australia is also the perfect backdrop to introduce more off-road cars such as buggies and trucks. This is something you won’t see in the main Forza Motorsport series, as it’s more focused more on real-world tracks and simulation. The Horizon series, however, provides this huge world as a playground with a massive catalog of vehicles to use. Sure, you can approach it with some realistic tendencies in terms of vehicle assists or performance tweaking, but that takes all the fun out of what is considered to be a more arcade-style approach the Forza franchise.

As the list of owned cars continues to grow, so does the desire to customize each vehicle. Veterans of previous Forza games will notice that most of the customization options are still present in Horizon 3. However, there are some new additions. Some cars support the implementation of bodykits, and you can now change the sound produced by your car horn (I’m expecting a majority of you to switch it to “La Cucaracha”). You can even create your own license plate to reflect your personality. This is all on top of the multiple visual and performance enhancements that you can put on your car.

Lead The Festival

Customization, however, isn’t just limited to the vehicles. This time around, you’re put in charge of the entire Horizon Festival. This means that you can choose the festival sites (from a list of pre-determined locations) as well as each race’s traits. The main goal is to attract more people to the festivities. In order to do that, you’ll need to win races and perform multiple “PR stunts.” These include drifting the car in select zones, speeding through areas where cameras will take a picture if someone is going above the speed limit, or defying gravity by participating in the Danger Sign jumps. Completing each of these small events grants you fame, and with it, fans. The more fans you accrue, the larger the festival.

There’s also the ability to recruit “Drivatars,” or AI opponents that base their actions on other real-world players, to your festival lineup as top drivers. Based on their peformance in the festival, you’ll receive rewards throughout the game. When it came to managing which four Drivatars should be in my lineup, I didn’t care so much about it. I was winning races one after another to the point where I didn’t care about their contributions. I was enjoying the game so much on my own that my ace racing team seemed to have little to no effect on my reputation and income.

Of course, there are still some classic methods you can employ to boost your reputation. For example, the Barn Find cars make a return. These classic cars are rotting away, hidden in garages throughout the world. In the past, they were easy to find, but the studio made the task more difficult this time around--some of these hidden cars are away from roads, so you won't find them if you stay on the beaten path. To make the discovery process easier, the new Drone Mode allows you to scout the area. It took me nearly an hour in the car to locate my first Barn Find car in Horizon 3, but with Drone Mode, I found the garage that housed an old Ferrari mere minutes after I launched the small device.

The Bucket List missions are back, too. These challenges vary in difficulty. In one mission, I was supposed to drive the Hennessey Venom on an airport runway and reach 250 miles per hour before the finish line. To set the tone of the challenge, the game switched on Richard Strauss’ “Sunrise” fanfare from “Also sprach Zarathustra” (which you may recognize as the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey). I laughed at the musical choice, but it also made the Bucket List challenge a bit more enjoyable. It took two attempts, but I successfully met the goal with less than 500 yards to spare.

There are also some “Drag Race” events not condoned by the Horizon Festival. However, these aren’t the same short drag races that you’ll find in other games or movies. This is a longer sprint race from point A to point B; most sections of the race are straight, which lets you push the car to the limit, but there are some curves, too. For speed freaks, this is your type of race. I don’t see how these "drag races" differed from other races in the game. It would have been easier to implement them as part of the Festival events, but for some reason, it’s separated from the rest.

As for the actual race events, you’ll have a significant impact in how they’re executed. In the past, each race was already pre-constructed with a specific group of cars in mind. The time of day and number of laps were already picked, so all you had to do was race. This time around, that won’t be the case. With each event, you can choose from the usual pre-built race, or tweak its traits and make it your own. For example, you can change the list of eligible cars for the race, make it harder by changing the weather so that the race starts under stormy conditions, set it to one or five laps, or even make it a showdown between two car manufacturers.

Even though tracks are already pre-built, it’s up to you to determine which conditions and vehicles are suitable for a race. You can also opt to use the custom events that were created by other players. With this custom race approach, it's possible to mix and match race attributes to make each event more exciting.

Your Own Australian Playground

Gaining more fans for the festival is just the game’s way of showing progression. The real fun lies in tweaking the custom races. Some prefer to race in supercars for the entire game, whereas others want to drive each car in the catalog. These events cater to both parties by simply putting specific choices in your hands.

Outside of the races, there’s more than enough to do in the world of Horizon 3. You can approach any “Drivatar” vehicle in the world and challenge it to a head-to-head race, or you can link up with other cars for a convoy and earn higher points to put towards multiple skills.

In the end, Forza Horizon 3 is more than just a sequel. It’s one of the most enjoyable games I've played this year. I’ve always been a fan of racing games, and although I sometimes crave the authenticity of simulator titles such as Project Cars, I also sometimes love a carefree and fun game. Forza Horizon 3 is a humongous playground, and you can use it to drive the car of your dreams. There’s no shortage of events, whether it’s an official race or crossing a specific challenge off the Bucket List. With so many things to do and explore, it will be hard for you to drop the controller and move on to another game.

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NameForza Horizon 3
DeveloperPlayground Games
PlatformsPC, Xbox One
Release DateSeptember 27, 2016
Where To BuyXbox StoreBest BuyTargetWalmartGameStop
  • David_24
    forza horizon has never looked good. it's always been just a sparce desert with like one uglee town of a city.