STAFF REVIEW of Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One)

Thursday, September 22, 2016.
by Kirby Yablonski

Forza Horizon 3 Box art I like driving games, and the Forza series as a whole is a franchise that I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I have played other games in the genre, and even those on other platforms, and I can admit that there have been are other racing games that are good to play, but overall, the Forza series has seemed to be the most entertaining for me. From the days of playing the original Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox I was hooked. In 2012 a new racing experience with the Forza name attached to it was released, called Forza Horizon for the Xbox 360. The idea of racing in a ‘festival’ filled with wild music, wild events, and an open world feeling, combined with the Forza Motorsport handling, seemed to be an entertaining mix. Developer Playground Games showed the world that the racing genre was not just about racing on closed circuit tracks. Well, the third iteration of the Horizon franchise is upon us, and if anything, it clearly shows that this series keeps getting bigger, better, and simply put, more addictive and fun.

The past Forza Horizon games had a slight semblance of a story, as you were a “rookie” racer trying to make it big in the Forza Horizon Festival. In Forza Horizon 3 though you are no longer the rookie, as you are now the master. This time around you’re in charge of running and growing the festival, which takes place in beautiful Australia. You’ll compete in exhibitions and championships, take part in PR stunts (e.g. speed traps, speed zones, etc.), and of course race in Showcase Events, all in the effort to grow the Horizon Festival to the biggest it’s ever been. You’ll have Kiera helping you out too, as she keeps you briefed on key points throughout your adventure. Your goal is not just to earn money, or get better cars though, but you also want to gain fans, and the more fans you gain the bigger your festival becomes.

This year welcomes a bit of driver customization. From choosing what your driver looks like (there are pre-created characters that are male and female) to what Kiera and Anna (your virtual assistant and on-board vehicle navigator) call you. There is a wide selection of real life names to choose from, as well as nicknames. They didn’t have my name, but they did have a name that my Fijian friend’s mom calls me, so I went with that. Regardless, there should be something there for everyone, and if there is not, I say “look harder dammit”.

Forza Horizon 3 is a HUGE game (caps put in for emphasis people) as there is so much to do. You’ll be racing for hours upon hours, and I mean that. There are so many events that open up as you progress that you’ll always find something new to do. From circuit races, point to point races, to the now famed bucket list challenges and showcase events, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Playground Games’ goal seems to be to keep you busy throughout your time playing. Along with the regular races and special events you’ll find separate street races, speed traps, speed zones, drift zones, and 150 bonus boards (XP and quick travel discounts) to break. We can’t forget the barn finds either, where you are alerted to hidden barns in a specific area and radius, and it’s up to you to find the barn and discover the treasure within. There are also new ‘danger signs’ where you are treated to a chance to pull off a high octane and high altitude jump. Successfully land it and gain even more fans. The other new feature I wanted to mention are the “beauty spots” that you can discover. These are picturesque spots all over the map of Australia. Find one and with the simple press of the X button you are treated to a quick fly over of the particular spot with a short explanation of what why it is a ‘beauty spot’. It’s not only a bit informative but it also shows off the visuals in Forza Horizon 3.

In Horizon 3 you’ll also be recruiting other gamers ‘drivatars’ for participation in the Horizon Festival, and this is based on those drivatars that you’ll find on your map. You can only have four drivatars on your team, so there will come a time that you have to fire one of those who are not performing well. It’s a neat feature but I think that it could have been fleshed out a bit more. That being said, to have this added ability is kind or cool too and something that has not been done before.

Another new feature that has been incorporated into the game is called Horizon Blueprint. The trick here is that you can take any of the events you go to, edit them to your liking, and share them with other Horizon 3 fans. You can set events to match your own tastes and preferences. With a simple click to the left on whatever event that you want to become the master of, you can change the race route itself, how many routes you may have to race, time of day, weather, car eligibility, and more; you can even name it too. Once you change an event it populates into your friend’s games. You can challenge the Playground Games events or those created by your friends, and all the XP and rewards of either go towards your in-game progression.

One of the coolest features in Forza Horizon 3 is the fact that you can play the game’s campaign cooperatively. You can drop-in and drop-out seamlessly, and when you or a friend drops out, the rewards and progress follows. The game keeps track of what you and your friends do in cooperative mode so there is no having to repeat what anyone did when playing with friends versus when playing solo. The game allows you to progress with friends as much, or as little, as you want, and you don’t lose any progress when going back to a single player experience.

The online experience doesn’t end with the cooperative aspect either, as there is a lot of adversarial mayhem to be had. Of course you’ll find straight up racing, from individuals racing for their own glory to team racing where you try to get your team to accumulate the most points (finish position) in a series of races. There are also the crazy events that you can participate in too, found in the Forza Playground. Specially made games like ‘King’, where individuals are in a walled off arena and some of the drivers are identified as ‘the king’, players need to smash into them to take it away and then try to keep it for as long as they can. There is ‘Flag Rush’, where you must find the coloured flag and then get to the matching score point/area. Finally, you may play ‘Infected’, where one driver is infected and the rest of the drivers try to stay uninfected, last one standing, so to speak, wins. We had a chance to head online with the dev-team playing all of what I just mentioned, and it was quite fun. We played under network conditions that were not heavy given it was during the review period, so if things don’t hold up during the launch week, we’ll address it as needed. Bottom line though, when running well, online adversarial play is fun, from straight up racing to the crazy custom games added by the Playground Games team.

Yes, there is lots of racing to do, but Playground Games didn’t stop there, as the game does have the franchise word “Forza” in its’ title. There are a lot of options for tuning your car. Head into your garage and you’ll discover you can tune your car’s setup to your liking. Yep, just like in Forza Motorsport, you can tinker away with so many facets of your car that you can get every horse power to the wheels and improve your acceleration, braking, and cornering. That being said, for those like me, who just want to race or don’t have the true gear-head mentality, there is the option to ‘auto tune’ that will add parts to your car to take it to the top of its current car class, or make meet the requirements for any class above it. Simple but yet effective.

Customization once again plays a role in the cars themselves. You’ll find a lot of options to make your ‘rides’ the way you want to look including rally racing parts, off-road racing parts, street racing parts, etc. There are 30 new styles of rims as well wide selection of body kits from the likes of Rocket Bunny and Liberty Watts. You can also customize your liveries and your license. For those that have made custom liveries and designs in the past when playing other Forza games, you can import them from Forza Motorsports 6, Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsports 5, so you won’t have to re-do all your designs from scratch.

It should be noted that the Forza Auction House and Storefront are back. For the uninitiated, the Auction House is a place to buy and sell cars with the community. You can buy low, sell high, simply do what works for you. You can find the car you want or sell the car that you don’t need. There is an “Elite” tab where you can view the top Forza creators. If you see one you like, you can visit their Storefront. You’ll see all their creations (e.g. vinyls, liveries, tuning, pictures, etc) and you will be able to pick something you like and get it for yourself. As of writing this, the Auction House was live and it I even purchased a 100K+ car for just under half of its’ regular value.

The visuals in Forza Horizon 3 are nothing short of amazing. Now, I have never been to Australia, but man does it ever look beautiful in the game. From the sun soaked beaches, the city skyline of Surfer’s Paradise, the flat and sandy Outback, to the lush green rainforests, the visual diversity of the game is incredible. Weather changes dynamically too, from sunny, to overcast, to wet and rainy. Each state of weather has amazing effects, from the sun breaking through the clouds and hitting all the scenery, including your car, to rain drops hitting your windshield, beading up, and running off. I was in awe a few times as I raced through the game’s rainforest just after a rainstorm, and the roads were slick and wet while the sun cast down it’s beams of light through the trees. Seeing this game in motion is truly a delight. If I had one, and I say only one, complaint about the visuals, it is that you’ll notice textures pop in now and then, but only when you are going at a slow speed; however, it definitely doesn’t take away from the game experience.

Technically speaking, the game runs at 1080p/30fps, but I honestly have to say it’s the fastest 30fps racer I have played. When driving any of the supercars and racing down an open stretch of highway, the sense of speed is almost unmatched in a racing game that is only 30fps, especially when using the inside or hood view. As for the framerate, it stays solid and I did not notice any slowdown throughout my antics all over Forza Horizon’s virtual Australia. I was happy to see that even with lots of traffic on the streets, the varying environments (e.g. city vs. outback vs. rainforest), different times of day (e.g. sunrise vs. afternoon vs. sundown vs middle of the night), and all the scenery around the map, nothing affected the framerate when playing.

Finally, there is the game’s sound, and I have to say that Playground Games did a fabulous job here too. Each car sounds like its own beast, from the buggy like Ariel Nomad (one of my favourites), a Ford Woody Wagon, to the cover car, the Lamborghini Centenario, your TV, headphones, or home theater speakers will sound great. As for the environmental effects, they too are spot on. Race in a flooded roadway and you’ll hear the splash surround you as you go through, race on the sand and you’ll hear it being kicked up under you, race on a wet road and you can hear the spray of the water, and race on dry pavement and you’ll hear your tires squeal as you start to lose traction. Of course if you’re near the beach you’ll hear the sound of the rolling surf, and if you’re in the rainforest you’ll hear your car’s sound amongst all the trees. It’s amazing to hear all the variance in the sounds, but it pays off in spades.

Of course we can’t forget the music of the Forza Horizon 3 either. There are 8 radio stations to listen to, and new to this year’s game is the integration of Groove and the ability to play any playlists/music you have on your Onedrive. In terms of the latter, the fact that the feature is offered is great, and you may find driving to your own music fun, but for me personally, driving to the radio stations found in Horizon 3 is a treat. From heavy metal, alternative, and even classical music, there is a lot to choose from. And of course you have the DJ’s to listen to as well, and they can spout off in-game time sensitive lines, which is perfect. You’ll also get some skill songs popping up now and then, which increases your bonus multiplier for the duration of the song and can make for some serious skill scores. In the end it will be up to you to decide what you listen too, but there are a lot of options to choose from, and you’ll enjoy them all.

Forza Horizon 3 manages to capture much of the familiarity of the previous two games while adding a whole lot more to do, making it as close to a perfect racing experience than ever before. The addition of cooperative campaign is smart as it allows you to play through the game with a friend or two and enjoy everything that there is to do in the game’s virtual land down under. The Horizon Blueprint feature is also a great addition as you are truly in charge of the festival’s events. I honestly tried to look for something wrong with the game, but each time I played, I had a blast, and when I was done I wanted to play more, and that speaks volumes. All in all, Playground Games has done an excellent job with the series’ third iteration and made it something that racing fans of all levels, from the diehard racer to the casual driving game fan, will enjoy. Forza Horizon 3 is a game that deserves your attention as you’ll be playing well into the late hours of the night, it’s that big.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.7 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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