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Forza Horizon 3

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


PC Review - 'Forza Horizon 3'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 18, 2016 @ 1:30 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

Forza has been a mainstay on Xbox consoles since the franchise's inception. Both the sim-focused Forza Motorsport and the more arcade-oriented Forza Horizon series have found their respective niches, providing different, but equally engrossing, driving entertainment. Making the jump to the PC is a little different than just shipping the latest version of the game. PC gamers have different expectations than console players, and while Forza Horizon 3 manages to deliver on the gameplay, the PC port isn't quite as polished as the virtual vehicles in the game.

The good news is that Forza Horizon 3 has mastered the fun factor. As a racing game, there is little to complain about, especially given the high level of customization allowed — and I'm not just talking about the cars. Although it starts off in a relatively straightforward manner, Forza Horizon 3 quickly opens up when it comes to activities and goals. Rather than force you down a convoluted storyline or drop hard requirements in front of you, the game allows you to pick and choose how you want to proceed. Yes, there are some key events that must be done, but in general, you can do what you want, where you want, and when you want.

If the wide-open event selection weren't enough, Forza Horizon 3 pushes the envelope by allowing you to customize events to your liking via the blueprint feature. Customized events are automatically shared with your friends and seamlessly integrate into their games. For example, when I was racing around, I ran across a few events that were crafted by a Tony Mitera, who was playing on the Xbox One version of the game. They appeared in-game, alongside the standard event, and were tagged with his name.

Progressing through each of the events, the one thing that stands out most about Forza Horizon 3 is the laser focus on the experience of driving. It doesn't matter what specific event you're participating in or what vehicle you are controlling, everything comes back to nailing the feel of navigating around the world. Small differences in steering and acceleration can easily mean the difference between making a turn or blowing it and spinning out of control. No matter what car I selected, the game always felt like it was encouraging me to push the vehicle to its limits. Mistakes weren't frustrating; rather, they were learning experiences. That's true even when using a controller. While Forza Horizon 3 benefits from playing with a wheel, it is not a mandatory accessory.

Precise control is a key element of making driving enjoyable, but the other half of that equation is offering up varied terrain, and Forza Horizon 3 does that in spades. Whether you're driving on beaches, city streets, the desert, lush green forests, mountains, or sprawling farms, the game does an excellent job of letting you roam. It really doesn't matter what type of environment you like to race in; you're bound to find it here. Because of this, the map feels larger than what we saw in either Forza Horizon or Forza Horizon 2. Even more importantly, though, the map is much more open than the previous games. To be fair, Forza Horizon 2 did a pretty good job of opening up things and letting players race through fields, but there were still a number of "hard barriers" to contend with. Those environmental barriers still appear from time to time in Forza Horizon 3, but they are relatively rare. If you can see something in-game, you can probably drive over to it.

Seeing things is where the PC version of Forza Horizon 3 offers an advantage over its Xbox One counterpart, as the PC release can scale up to 4K if you have the hardware to support it. Running on the Ultra graphics pre-set, in-game screenshots can easily look just as good (some arguably better) than those in taken in photo mode. All of the work that went into making the game look pretty (such as using photogrammetry to capture authentic Australian skies; overcast and rainy never looked so good) really shines here. Forza Horizon 3 looks good on the Xbox One, but it looks fantastic on the PC.

Unfortunately, there is a "but" coming up, and that "but" is in the form of 60 fps support. I was playing Forza Horizon 3 on a high-end rig, but it couldn't maintain a solid 60 fps for an extended period of time. Sure, it could do it for a few minutes at once, but inevitably, the game would either stutter or hitch up, suddenly dropping down to 45 fps before shooting back up to 60 fps, or just freezing on a frame for a second before resuming. There was no consistency as to when or where the frame drops would appear. You can see an example in this video at the 1:12 mark. (For reference, my system drive is a Samsung 840 EVO SSD, and my game drive is a Seagate 7200 RPM SATA.)

Running at 30 fps (the same as the Xbox One version), Forza Horizon 3 was rock solid. Given that it was designed with a 30 fps limit in mind, there's nothing wrong with playing it that way, but if you're playing on a PC that can handle it, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to play at 60 fps without issue.

Another PC annoyance is the lack of offline play. Online play works fantastically, with absolutely seamless cross-platform play between the PC and Xbox One. Tony and I played online with each other, and from my perspective, I couldn't tell that he was playing on the console. Everything from match-matching to in-game chat just worked. So what's the problem with offline play? For one thing, the game just won't start when you're offline. Unlike the console version, there is no ability to play Forza Horizon 3 on the PC when you're not connected to the Internet. The game doesn't even launch.

If you own both a PC and Xbox One, you can use a single copy of the game on both systems at the same time, so long as you play on the PC and a friend plays on the Xbox One under his or her own gamertag. It's a small plus that will benefit roommates and siblings.

Adding to the list of visible disappointments on the PC is the problematic Groove Music support. One of Forza Horizon 3's new features is support for custom soundtracks via Groove Music and OneDrive integration. In practice, I could never get it to work. The Groove Music app on my Windows 10 PC works great, but trying to pull up a playlist in-game was met by silence and a generic error message that told me to check my network. Network issues also cropped up when viewing custom paint jobs, with the game taking an excessively long time to download and display the images.

Finally, there is the Windows Store. Microsoft provided an Ultimate Edition code for review, which included the Car Pass and VIP status. Both worked in-game, yet the store didn't seem to realize that I owned both add-ons. They appeared correctly on the Xbox One, but the Windows Store asked me to purchase both. Of course, that didn't stop Forza Horizon 3 from automatically pausing the game and popping up an in-game message begging me to rate it. "Please Rate Me" nag screens are acceptable on 99-cent apps. This is not appropriate on a $59.99 game.

Given Microsoft's rocky history with the Games for Windows Live storefront, seeing issues like this is a little worrisome.

Taken individually, each of these issues can be considered relatively minor. If you bought Forza Horizon 3 for the Xbox One with PC play being a bonus, then you're not likely to even care much about them. If you don't have a console and are buying this solely as a PC title, then they are worth noting.

In the end, Forza Horizon 3 is still an excellent game that is worth playing. Most of the PC issues should eventually be resolved with an update. It's just mildly disappointing that Microsoft didn't have everything ready to go when the cars crossed the starting line.

Score: 8.9/10

Reviewed on:  Intel i7-6700K 4GHz, 16 GB, GeForce GTX 980 Ti

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