At last, Playground Games’ third iteration of the Forza Horizon series is upon us, and this time we are jetting off to sunny Australia and its gorgeous beaches and outback. But after the amazing Forza Horizon 2, can Playground outdo themselves with Forza Horizon 3? Yes, and no. Let’s see what’s under the bonnet.
Forza Horizon 3 begins with a beautiful drive to the first Horizon festival event, giving you a taste of some of the cars, the music and the gorgeous surroundings. This time around, you’re the boss of the Horizon festival, an annual meetup for music fans and car enthusiasts. It’s your job to set up all of the events, create fun experiences and encourage a really good time. It’s not a resource management sim by any account, you still do a tonne of driving, but the game throws hundreds of features at you early into the game.
Personally, I found the map and ‘game loop’ confusing and overwhelming. All of the little challenges like jumps, speed cameras, drift zones, and Bucket List challenges are displayed as “PR Stunts” on the map, while races are displayed as ‘undiscovered route’ until you drive to them. Highlighting a race with your cursor will give you information on the event, and whether or not you have raced it yet. It took me a day or two to figure the latter bit out.
Taking part in a championship event, I couldn’t figure out where the next race in the series was taking place. There was no clear indicator at all. Not even the map legends would tell me where the next event was. A lot of searching around the map screen to eventually find my target destination. Forza Horizon 2 had you drive to a festival location, take part in 4 races, then cruise away to another festival, with the odd showcase race thrown your direction.
The map can be a little overwhelming at first, with so much going on and so many events to take part in, but I’m relieved to have found that ANNA makes a return. She is your voice activated navigation assistant, which can now be accessed by pressing Down on the D-pad, or by saying “Anna” to your Kinect.
Showcase races make a return in Forza Horizon 3 and of the ones I have raced so far, they are great fun! A race against a jeep being airlifted by a chinook, or a race against a freight train, to name a couple, are so much fun, you’d want to do them again and again!
Variety is the spice of life
As you take part in races, you earn the ability to upgrade your Horizon festival, which unlocks more PR Stunts and race events. With each upgrade, you’re offered a selection of cars at a discounted price. However, I noticed that money doesn’t come as easy in Horizon 3, which I’m not at all argumentative of. In Forza games, credits are thrown at you so quickly, you can buy a number of cars within an hour of gameplay. Forza Horizon 3 almost forces you to work for new cars, and gives you time to enjoy each of your cars for a longer amount of time.
There are more than 350 cars to check out in Forza Horizon 3, including Halo’s Warthog if you happened to play a Halo game on the Xbox One! A neat little addition. There are a wealth of Australian cars like Holden to experience, as well as your favourite exotics, Japanese imports and American muscle. So much variety, you might not even get to experience them all.
Eventually you have to expand the festival and go find new location, such as Surfers Paradise or the Outback, so a road trip will take place, letting you restart the process of taking part in PR Stunts and races to upgrade those festivals further. Each location offers races accustomed to that location, so for example, expect a lot of awesome off-road racing events in the dessert outback areas, more so than the street racing events of Surfers Paradise.
Leveling up as you go, you earn Wheelspins, which can grant you a tasty cash payout, or a sparkling new car. Playground Games have included a new selection of vehicles called ‘Horizon Edition’ models, taking some of the coolest cars and applying special bonus boosts to your scores when you are driving them. A Jaguar F-Type Project 7 Horizon Edition offers a boost to your skill moves, meaning drifting, near misses and jumps get an increase in scores for example.
Forza Horizon 3 also comes with a decent selection of in-game radio stations, from the traditional stations of Horizon Bass Arena and Horizon Pulse from previous titles, to Future Classics, alt rock, hip-hop or street, and even classical music. A new addition which is great, is the option to take advantage of Microsoft’s Groove music. This lets you create an account like Spotify, and apply your own custom music and playlists into the game, letting you drive to your own favourite music. A nice touch!
Due to the addition of Groove music, I think that explains why radio stations don’t shuffle like they used to on previous games. There’s no option to turn on shuffle either, meaning that you’ll eventually hear all the songs on a radio station before having to manually change station yourself to mix things up. I enjoy discovering new music but it’s always on the same station in Horizon 3. A minor issue I feel, that won’t affect everyone.
Of course, what makes Forza Horizon 3 stand out most is the driving, and the places the game takes you. If you’re looking for a simulation racing game, this is not the one you should be looking at. While Forza Motorsport is for closed circuits and racing lines and laptimes, Forza Horizon 3 to me is the cars version of a ‘girls night out’, with each of the cars hitting the town, looking all glammed up with spoilers, bodykits, racing tires and colourful liveries. Think Cindi Lauper and ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’. Forza Motorsport is the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 in comparison.
All of the terrains offer different handling experiences, and the rumble on the controller or even the steering wheel;if you’re fortunate enough to own a setup, gives you a great sense of rocking through uneven surfaces, battling to keep the car facing the right way, even with rain pouring down. Water effects are brilliant, and puddles, making their way over from Forza 6 can similarly slow you down, and affect your steering.
Like with previous Forza titles, you can upgrade your cars with new parts and custom liveries. Download a community made paint job or tune set up, or spend hours honing your own designs and set ups. Stick them up on the marketplace and earn money from downloads, which you can spend on buying new cars. It’s an economy within itself!
Forza Horizon 3 also brings back the much loved Auction House too, letting you put cars up for sale with a buyout price and a starting bid price. While some prices may be a bit extreme, it will appeal to those who want a particular, unique car, and some painters could make a fortune only selling their greatest designs on particular cars.
Never Drive Alone
Forza Horizon 3 also features co-op racing this time around. Instead of taking part in events on your own, invite up to three other friends to race with you, or create a private 12 player lobby and fill it with your buddies. Loads of races, events and playground games to enjoy. Modes such as King and Infected return, with the addition of a few new ones like Flag Capture, which sees a few random flags spawn in an arena, and players must race to grab and deposit them in a dedicated space. However, if someone bumps you, they take your flag and must try deposit the flag. More flags will appear in random places, and it can get very hectic!
There is also an emphasis on acquiring a Line-up in Forza Horizon 3. Kiera, your assistant will notify you of nearby Drivatars (other players you know but in AI form) who you can challenge to a race. Beat them, and you can add them to your line-up of 4. The better they are, the more money you will make after events, and if you come across new Drivatars to hire, you’ll have to carefully choose who to fire in order to replace them.
Another addition is convoy driving. Just honk your horn, a Forza first, at a Drivatar and they will travel with you. Some will even direct you towards collectibles such as XP boards, Barn finds, and more.
The Road Goes on Forever
Forza Horizon 3 packs in an immense amount of content, and you’ll find that hours will have passed doing anything and everything the game has to offer, before realising you were initially meant to be traveling to a race to take part in a championship. With ‘Beauty points’ to locate, roughly 12 barn finds or so, XP boards, challenges, races, showcase events and loads of cars to check out, as well as all the multiplayer content, you won’t find yourself bored anytime soon!
The inclusion of the game with the Play Anywhere program means you can play it on your Xbox One and your PC, with the save file syncing to both. The game also offers cross-platform play between PC and console, so you can play with friends across either setup.
Despite a few niggling issues I have found with the game, Forza Horizon 3 is a fantastic experience, and I can’t begin to guess where Playground Games will take the series next. Definitely one of the best looking games on the console, and filled to the brim with quality content.