Forza Horizon 3

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2016

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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Xbox One Review - 'Forza Horizon 3'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Oct. 10, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

You're in charge of the Horizon Festival. Customize everything, hire and fire your friends, and explore Australia in over 350 of the world's greatest cars. Make your Horizon the ultimate celebration of cars, music, and freedom of the open road. How you get there is up to you.

Buy Forza Horizon 3

I'm arriving pretty late to the Horizon bandwagon.  I played some of the original Forza Horizon on the Xbox 360, but it didn't click with me.  Having played all of the Motorsport games in the Forza series I preferred more methodical, on-track racing and didn't understand the appeal of this strange new departure.  With the third entry in the books, it's hard to consider the Horizon offshoot to be anything other than a new main line for the Forza series, and Horizon 3 does a really good job of making its case.

While the Motorsport series approaches racing with clinical precision, Horizon (especially this third entry) tackles it with gleeful, reckless abandon.  It isn't as much about clean racing lines and painstakingly tuned setups as it is about taking whatever ride strikes your fancy and hooning it up as much as possible.  It's still about racing but always in a way where entertainment takes center stage.

For Horizon 3, you effectively run the festival, this time taking place across a large swath of Australia that covers everything from city streets and perfect beaches to the rugged terrain leading to the dusty outback.  As you progress by gaining fans, you make calls about where the festival site expands to, effectively opening up new areas of the map.  Further gains to your fan count let you upgrade these sites to unlock even more events before finally getting the option to open up a new site elsewhere.  You'll eventually unlock them all, but this lets you tailor upcoming events to what strikes your fancy.

The game does a very impressive job of showcasing a large variety of environments to race on, and every car and tuning combination will tackle it differently.  As you make your way across the map to reach another point of interest, a hyper car might be the fastest on the road, but that's not to say that you couldn't go completely off-road in a giant truck with souped-up suspension and power.  Dynamic time of day and weather effects can make life a little more interesting, such as rainfall that suddenly creates slippery wet roads and forms puddles on the ground.

The races fall into specific classes.  For example, in the outback, you won't see many events that are optimal for an Audi sports car; you'll probably have to hop into your Subaru instead.  Generally speaking, whenever you unlock a new set of events, you will also be provided a screen beforehand where you can purchase (or sometimes get for free) a suitable vehicle for the events ahead.  However, it can be difficult to find open events for your current vehicle without first driving to their location.  You can easily switch cars once you're there, but it might be disappointing if you really wanted to race the car you were in before.

Race events are always of a particular route, but Horizon 3 has a Blueprints mode that lets you make and share tweaks to the race.  You can set things like the weather conditions, time of day, and a few other smaller tweaks to create a specific set of circumstances for this new race.  Is the rally course too clean for you?  Make it occur during a rainy afternoon and call it the Mud Rumble.  There isn't an incentive to do much with the feature other than because you can; it's not as though you get credits for other people using it or anything of the sort.

Progression has an interesting scaling — namely, there really isn't one.  Within an hour of booting up the game for the first time, you're pretty much able to stake your own path forward, whether it's C class racing in the city or putting some funds to pursue some S class lunacy among the dunes of the outback.  The game lets you scale your own difficulty in the form of AI skill as well as driver assists, but it will generally put other cars in a race close to your car's class rating.  This means that you might want to do the beach circuit in an S class monster, but if it's too crazy, you can scale down to an A class setup that might be more manageable.

At first, I didn't care for this near-complete lack of a progression mechanic.  However, the freedom to pick and choose where to jump in and what you do it with feels like a common thread throughout Horizon 3.  Even driving around in the game world feels like a thing of beauty, regardless of how you do and what you're in.  At one point, I screwed up a joyride so badly that my supercar ended up almost getting stuck in a tree, at which point my wife remarked, "Lambor-tree-ni."  Go ahead and take that expensive car into unfamiliar terrain and have some fun.

The only elements that come close to progression are the skill point mechanic.  Skillful driving — e.g., close calls, drifting, etc. — gains points and builds up a meter.  Once it's full, you gain another skill point that can be spent in one of the three skill trees.  You might make it so some elements grant more experience, gain an edge in some events, or some songs on the radio will give you a skill multiplier boost.  You also level up your driver profile, but as far as can be told, that does little more than let you spin a wheel where you can win a free car for your garage or a bundle of cash.

The events that you can complete obviously include races, but other events pepper the landscape.  There are skill challenges, such as drift zones or speed traps, where your ability in those areas is tested in whatever car you bring to that area of the map.  You'll also drive into areas of the map looking for special cars hidden in barns to add to your garage.  Rarer yet — but certainly some of the most fun — are the events where you end up doing crazy things, like race a diesel train where you ramp over it as it barrels down the track.

Forza Horizon 3 is also one of the pioneers of Microsoft's new "Play Anywhere" functionality, which lets you play the title on either the Xbox One or on a Windows 10 PC and supports cross-platform play.  I tested this with Adam Pavlacka, with him on the PC version and me on the Xbox One iteration.  True to the promises, the functionality was seamless and let the two of us tackle the game cooperatively.  From the ease of joining the group and voice chat to the interface, the whole experience gave zero indication that either of us were on different platforms.  I had high hopes for Play Anywhere, and at least with this game, it has been even better than I had expected.

At the end of the road, Forza Horizon 3 really isn't the type of game where you're cutting surgical lines across pristine tarmac.  Instead, you're racing a variety of vehicle types against an equally diverse landscape while kicking up dust and dodging the occasional downpour.  It's a wilder side of Forza where you're free to tackle Australia in whatever way you feel is the most enjoyable, and it gives you all the tools you need to make the experience yours.  I've always enjoyed the Motorsport side of the track, but Horizon 3 is where you go to have flat-out fun while still sharing the series' strong racing pedigree.

Score: 9.4/10

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