I always thought Forza Horizon 2 was the closest a racing game was ever going to get to perfection.
I was wrong.
Forza Horizon 3 is.
Now, let’s get the big question out of the way before I even begin. How good is Forza Horizon 3? Well, it’s very, very good. In fact, it’s so good I’m not sure that any game, on any console can compete with it. Granted, you’ll get your RPG fans who will always point to Skyrim, and the shooting community will obviously raise the roof for Battlefield or Call of Duty. Hell, a football fan will probably kick off big time should the latest FIFA title not be mentioned. You may even find a racing fan prefers the more simulation based antics of Forza Motorsport over its open world, go-anywhere, do-anything sibling.
But in the end, they’d all be wrong. Because Forza Horizon 3 is absolutely spot on.
Taking the action down under, bringing the Australian outback and beach lined cities to the Horizon masses has been a masterstroke by Playground Games, Turn 10 and Microsoft Studios. It allows for a great mix of racing, one which will test all your skills and gives you the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of a wide range of vehicles.
And a wide range of vehicles is exactly what you’ve got to play around with as the roster is just simply stunning. With 300 odd cars to choose from and all the usual race categories in place, whether you’re messing around in the slow lane with a D class super mini, moving up a gear with a race ready family saloon, or going the whole hog and jumping behind the wheel of the latest million pound hypercar, then Horizon 3 delivers. Each runs as you would expect, with just enough draw for both arcade racers and full-on simulation fans to both be as happy as a pig in muck. As long as you’ve got the credits in the bank too, then the sky is the limit to how you upgrade these cars with a multitude of options all available. You will of course need to upgrade your stable in order to compete at the highest level because the Drivatars that you will compete against you won’t give you an easy route to victory.
In fact, no matter whether you drop into a race which sees you caning it round the streets of Surfers Paradise, or jumping the lumps and bumps of the open Outback, every race you compete in will push your skills to the limit. Of course various difficulty levels, custom settings and car assists ultimately allow you to make Horizon 3 as tough or as easy as you so wish, but you’ll need to ensure the fine balance between winning easily and obtaining enough credits to earn greater rewards – and better cars – is well managed.
Standard exhibition races, full on Championships, drift events, speed traps and hardcore street races all bring a huge amount of variety to the stunning world Playground have created, ensuring that you’ll quite possibly not get bored for months to follow. With the usual Bonus boards, now iconic Barn Finds and the Horizon staple Showcase Events dropping even more content and race variation, the way the action is slowly drip fed in works well. You see, as the Horizon Festival boss, what you say may well be what goes, but if you don’t spend the time earning the reputation from the fans, and pushing the upgrades on your Festival spots as soon as you can, then the majority of the events will stay hidden forever more.
Should you tire of what Playground have given you, then the option to create your own events at will, with the addition of Blueprint challenges is superb. These give you the chance to pick, choose and create the bucket lists, speed camera events, drift zones and more – exactly how you want them to be. Fed up of hitting the dunes in a buggy and want to see how the new Ford GT will cope with a few lumps and bumps? Do it – and make sure you tell your friends in the process because they can also get involved in your own personally presented races as well.
The brilliantly addictive Photo Mode is also now back, ensuring that just when you think you’re ready to get involved in another race, a car that you haven’t previously photographed whizzes past and you need to go chase him down to get a pic. Grabbing a new photo of the newest speed machine quite possibly gives a bigger hit than crack, and I urge you to even try and drive past in the knowledge that the vehicle which is heading off in the opposite direction will push you closer to that magical full house of photos. No matter how much you try, you just won’t be able to leave it alone.
Forza Horizon 3 isn’t all about racing fast cars as hard as you can. It’s also about collection, exploration, relaxation and dropping the racing for a few hours in order to go searching the latest Barn Find or Dangersign jump. Looking for a new bonus or fast travel board is also hugely rewarding. It’s enhanced slightly this time round with the inclusion of a wonderful Drone mode that allows you to escape the confines of your fast friend in order to hover around searching out that cleverly hidden board. It’s a simple introduction, but one that works superbly well. And if you really, really, really don’t want to go racing cars around, then Horizon 3 allows you to kick back, on the edge of a cliff, staring out to sea as your favourite tunes get blasted out on the radio. With numerous stations to tune into, and the ability to drag your own lists in from Groove Music, the banging beats that accompany your Forza experience will always be to your liking.
And then we have online. Something else that Forza absolutely excels at. Obviously.
If I’m honest, it’s a little fiddly to grab a load of friends and initially get things started, but once you are all in, and ready to roll, the ease in which the leader of the group can place waypoints, create races, private sessions, or just allow the group to mess around in the online freeroam is great. The inclusion of a co-op campaign allows friends to experience everything great about Horizon 3 together and things are pretty damn seamless throughout. It’s a bit of a shame that Bucket List events can’t seemingly be actioned with more than two racers though – I would just have loved to have seen a number of events that catered for a varying number of party players much like that old hand, Burnout Paradise, attempted many moons ago.
If you prefer to go it alone, but still feel the need to take on your friends, then the very comprehensive Rivals mode brings even more action. With monthly events, rival recommendations and an overall ease in which you can check yourself out against friends, if ever there was a racer which just allowed for intense competition at every turn, then this really is it. Or of course you work with your mates via the Clubs section to earn extra dough and push your names up in lights on the overall Clubs leaderboards.
The Skill Shop in Forza Horizon 3 is also a well defined section of its own. In place to ‘help you out’ and see your progression through the game come just that little bit easier, whether you decide to focus on your skills as the Festival Boss, allowing for the likes of Fast Travel, extra credits, new cars, bigger bounties, extra skill increases or just plain old instant reward hits, the Skill Shop is essential. It will however, without you wishing it to, play havoc with your mind and I’ve spent many a time at the front of a race slowing down slightly in order to preserve a huge skill chain instead of concentrating on the race at hand, if only because I know the reward behind it is well worth the hit. There’s a fine balance between earning big, and blowing it all, and just occasionally it may be worth losing a race in order to ensure your skill points get banked.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the racing that holds Forza Horizon 3 together (and I’m sure somewhere there must be that sole person), then you can still find some excitement with the community side of the action. The creation of paint jobs, vinyl kits, tuning setups and more give those wannabee artists and petrolhead mechanics out there a platform to ply their wares, earning credits and recognition from the rest of the community as they do so. Personally, I prefer to just sit back and let the racing do the talking, but I fully understand the need for such an in-depth, and hugely vibrant community aspect. How else am I going to get my cars looking so damn pretty!?
Forza Horizon 3 has been built on everything that the series previously stood for, even bringing an upgraded ANNA to the party – although there are the odd times when I’d like to rip her from her navigation unit and chuck her into the deepest water found in Surfers Paradise. The visuals are stunning, the cars have been created in immense detail and the racing is hot, fast and hugely rewarding. Weather effects are nothing short of superb and the way the action seemlessly flows through the day/night cycle is gloriously well done. The events that sit besides the hardcore races are well thought out and ensure boredom will never creep in, whilst the signature Showcase events that the Horizon series has become famous for are right up there with some of the best – although perhaps fail to really ignite the enthusiasm like before. Online is super smooth and should anyone ever fully complete the single experience, then both a co-operative avenue and a street that is lined with multiplayer goodness awaits. And that’s not even taking into account the multitude of community side projects and Rivals races that are also in place.
Forza Horizon 3 is quite simply, perfection perfected.