Microsoft, Turn 10 Studios, and Playground Games have done a fantastic job with the Forza series in the past. The main problem with a franchise that has seen six previous Forza Motorsport and two previous Forza Horizon titles is trying to keep it fresh. Even though the game isn’t officially out until tomorrow, we’ve been playing through the Ultimate Edition Early Access. Our Forza Horizon 3 review takes a spin down under and checks out what’s new for the series and how it compares to previous games in the franchise.
Forza Horizon has always had a pretty standard story — you’re an up and coming racer, racing through various events to claim your spot as the Horizon champion. That story didn’t really change at all with Forza Horizon 2, but in Forza Horizon 3 you’re the boss. Don’t think for a minute though that you won’t be racing, because racing is still the focus of it. As the festival boss though, there are elements to the game that have been added which really make it feel like you’re running the show.
If you’ve played past Forza Horizon games, you’ll be familiar with exhibition races, championships, bucket lists, showcases, barn finds, and more. As the festival boss, instead of just competing in the races and championships, you are given the option to blueprint the race(s) by setting the number of laps, time of day, weather conditions, and car class. For the championships, you get to set the number of events, as well as the number of laps, and other customizable options for each race. As you progress through the game, you’ll even be able to create and race in your own Bucket List races by setting the course, song choice, and goal parameters, whether they be distance, skill points, or more.
Overall, by putting you into the position of festival boss this time around, it really feels like more than just a racing game and has a nice balance between racing and customizing the races without feeling too much like you’re having to spend all your time managing things.
As with previous Forza Horizon titles, gameplay is even better than the last game in the series, and is definitely smooth and after the introduction to the game you’re thrown right into the races and setting up festivals. You’ll start out in Byron Bay with a Level 1 festival location and a few events. As you gain more fans by racing and completing PR stunts you’ll be able to upgrade your current festival location, and eventually open up other locations as well. Each race will also award you with credits and XP, and each time you level up you’ll be given a free spin which will award you credits or a free vehicle. Speaking of free vehicles, Horizon Edition vehicles have been added to the game and can be won during the prize spins each time you level up. If you’re lucky enough to win a Horizon Edition vehicle, you’ll be granted a specific bonus like XP or skills depending on the vehicle. And they’re no small bonuses either. I currently have a Subaru BRZ Horizon Edition which gives an XP bonus that matches your race result XP, and a BMW M4 Coupe Horizon Edition which gives a skills boost of 65%.
Other additions include convoy travel, where you can honk at other Drivatars and up to 4 of them will join you in a cruise through Australia, and being able to recruit other drivers to your Drivatar Lineup. When in a convoy, you’ll be given an option to race to a destination, and any XP and skills you earn can potentially be increased when in a convoy if you have purchased the necessary perk. The Drivatar Lineup also lets you earn rewards based on the (up to) four drivers that you sign to your team. Once you’ve got them onboard, you’ll earn rewards based on their performance in the Horizon Festival, so you’ll definitely want to pick people who are actively playing. You won’t be able to choose your team though, as you’ll be prompted throughout the game to find and race against certain racers, and if you beat them you’ll be given the option to add them to your Drivatar Lineup if you want (or leave it as it currently stands).
The Forza Horizon series is the open world version of the two Forza franchises, and you aren’t ever restricted to where you can go within the game boundaries. You can drive down any road at any time, pick what order you complete events in or upgrade festival locations in, and it’ll take you awhile to do so as the map in Forza Horizon 3 is twice as big as the one in Forza Horizon 2. I’ve mentioned skills a few times, and if you’re unfamiliar with the series you can chain together different skills like clean driving, 180s, drifts, and more to earn skill points which can be used to unlock perks like bonus XP, credits, permanent XP increases, and more. While driving around, the DJ from one of the in game stations will tell you that it’s skill song time and any skills you complete for the duration of your song will be doubled.
My one complaint with the game though is, and always has been, wheel support. I hooked up the Logitech G920 to it, and found trying to play with a wheel somewhat more difficult than the Forza Motorsport games. This isn’t new though, Forza Horizon has always played a bit “looser” than the Forza Motorsport series, I was just hoping that things would have been tightened up a bit for wheel support this time around. That being said, playing with a controller is just fine — both on the Xbox One and a decent PC.
Australia. Open roads. Rainforests. The Outback. Beautiful cars. What more could you ask for? The setting coupled with the attention to detail on the cars in Forza Horizon 3 is absolutely breathtaking, and it’s just as enjoyable to take a convoy cruise down the Australian countryside or coast as it is competing in the different events. I’ve heard others say that Forza Horizon 3 is the best looking game currently on the Xbox One, and I concur with that sentiment as Turn 10 and Playground Games manage to keep pushing the graphics bar with each new game.
As with previous iterations of Forza Horizon, you can get into any car in Forzavista view, and have a good look at all of the vehicles both inside and out. You can also create custom liveries, or download and use liveries that others have created.
I did take the game for a spin on the Lenovo ideacentre Y900 as well (quite seamlessly I might add with the new Xbox Play Anywhere program), complete with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 video card, and the game looked stunning on Ultra settings.
Sound is always a factor in racing games, and I’m not sure if it’s just me or what but it seems like the attention to sound detail has been upped even more than the already fantastic sound effects in previous games in the series.
As always, the soundtrack selection for the different radio stations (Horizon Pulse, Horizon Bass Arena, Horizon Block Party, Epitaph Records, Vagrant Records, Future Classics Radio, Hospital Records, and Timeless FM) is bang on as well, and this time around you can even set up playlists and stream your music from Groove Music if you’re a subscriber, or from OneDrive if you’re not. Instead of giving you all eight stations and Groove Music access from the outset, you have to “sign” the various labels as you progress through the game. It doesn’t take very long though, and soon you’ll be racing to your favourite tunes.
The great thing about Forza Horizon 3 (and the other games in the series), is that even when playing single player you feel like you’re playing online with Drivatars racing alongside you. For the record, Drivatars are versions of other players and are based on gathered data on their actual driving style over time. Transitioning to online modes is seamless, and you can choose between Online Adventure, Online Freeroam, and Co-op. In Online Adventure mode, you compete in a series of races against other players and earn XP, while in Online Freeroam anyone can set up events and any other players can take part if they wish.
One of the bigger changes this time around is to Co-op. In past games, you had the option to play online or continue your campaign mode. With Forza Horizon 3 however, when playing in Campaign Co-op, any progress made also counts towards your single player campaign progress, so there’s even more reason to go online and play with your friends as you’ll no longer have to choose between playing with friends or progressing through the game.
I’m sure I’ve left out a few things, but the long and short of it is this: if you love racing, with fast cars, great off road events, customization, wicked graphics and sound, and insane stunts, you’ll want to pick up Forza Horizon 3. Microsoft, Playground Games, and Turn 10 Studios have proven once again that the Forza series deserves to remain at the top of the Xbox One racing genre.