Every time a Forza game is announced, there’s a large number of people wondering what could Playground Games possibly do to make the game feel better than its predecessor. Forza Horizon 2 promised dynamic weather, which was a pretty big deal two years ago. With Forza Motorsport 3, Playground Games and Microsoft Studios are bringing the most massive open-world driving experience to the Xbox One.
The Horizon Festival is on its third leg and has moved from Colorado to Europe and now, we’re finally in Australia. Right off the bat, what’s clear is that Forza Horizon 3 is really making the most of the “open-world” concept. You can drive as recklessly as you please through the roads, wreaking havoc on public property, you can even decide to go off-road and drive through the forest or the long stretches of sand on the Australian outback. You can drive through the water-bodies too, and I particularly enjoyed going through the ocean waters in a Range Rover (you can choose from any one of the 350 cars though).
The game itself truly expands its offerings by not making the races the central experience. For starters, you’re no longer an under-dog at the festival, but you’re the Director. You’re in-charge of setting up the festival sites before the races are to commence and the way to do that is to participate in exhibition events, win the hearts of your audience. Once you’ve earned enough audience interest, the festival site is made ready. The exhibition events are simple races across the wild terrain and quite a lot of fun.
At the core of the Forza Horizon experience is the car you drive and for the first time, we’re seeing a whole new level of detail when it comes to customization. Besides the usual paint-jobs, body-kits and engine tune-ups, you can now also customize the number plate on your ride (to make it truly yours), choose the sound of the horn and then there’s also the ability to choose your own drive. The finishing touch is a call-sign that you can choose for yourself, a way for in-game characters to address you in a more personal manner than just a “hey, you should probably do this.”
The Environment Fiesta
If you thought Forza Horizon 2 offered a vast selection of terrain to thrash around in, wait till you’re seated in a Chevrolet Camaro Super Sport, with the controller equivalent of “pedal-to-the-metal” zipping through the Australian outback. While many of the environmental zones in Forza Horizon 2 felt homogeneous, the environment in Horizon 3 is sure to blow your mind. The light changes with the terrain, with a softer glow emanating from the scene if you’re driving in the thick forest cover and takes on a subtle orange shade if you’re out in the desert because that’s what happens when light bounces off the red-orange soil.
The intricate play with light really sets you up to take in the landscape through which you may be zipping through. Driving through the beaches reveals a deep blue sky with soft white clouds littered in careless patches. I’ve driven through fields of what look like buttercup flowers, stopped at the edge of the hill just to be able to take in the view of the snow-capped mountains in the far distance.
What is definitely different (an maybe even unique) is the experience of driving on the beach itself, with some races pushing you to take your car off the sand and into the waves that always seem to be gracing the shores rather gently. The entire Australian map that you drive through feels incredibly diverse in terms of the terrain and at some point, you may think that “hey, these are just hills we are driving through” it doesn’t mean you’re not going to it.
At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 3 is a driving competition, but unlike the cut-throat scenarios most games tend to present, Horizon 3 is all about the community and comradery. There’s always the sprints and lap-based races you need to partake in, but where Forza Horizon 3 REALLY outshines its predecessors are the Showcase events where you must race against drivers who are being ferried across the track in a chopper or you’re supposed to beat a fast-moving train to the junction point.
The Showcase events are comfortably in the realm of “outrageous” and Forza Horizon 3 takes it a notch further by introducing something called Drift Zones and Danger Signs. The former is a patch of land flanked by flags within which you can execute drifts and earn extra points, while the latter refers to specific dangerous stunts marked out for you to partake in, just so you can rack up more points.
There’s the usual rap-sheet of PR Stunts you can participate in that range from easy to foolishly-dangerous. The best part about the game is that it mixes up various types of races and events so as to minimise the level of monotony that sets in after you’ve been behind the wheels of a Dodge Viper GTS for 8 hours straight.
All About the Experience
There’s something very different about Forza Horizon 3 in comparison to not just the previous Horizon games, but also the Motorsport series. For starters, the “people” in the game are just a shell. They’re not important. Your in-game avatar never utters a word and the only people who actually speak are Warren the Mechanic and Kiera the festival manager. Then there’s your car’s GPS, which will occasionally inform you about races, events and challenges. The GPS often breaks up the monotony of going from point A to Point B by suggesting challenges that can be taken up, which is really helpful if you’re trying to score some extra XP.
The GPS is no longer just a voice guiding you to the destination of your choice, but it is now an intelligent assistant that presents you with every opportunity possible to mix things up.
Through all the racing and all the stunts, it is hard to call Forza Horizon 3 a racing game. For the sake of the review, I was often pressed to go from one event to the next, but I often found myself just driving through the open world, honking at fellow racers to form a convoy. If you do any stunts that earn XP during free-roam having a convoy boosts those scores. You can even race your convoy to your destination.
It was interesting to see that a lot of my friends with whom I have raced in Forza Motorsport 6 had their drivatars present in Horizon 3, so it didn’t feel like I was in the company of total strangers.
All The New things
There’s so much new stuff going on in Forza Horizon 3 that its basically essential to make notes. There’s something called Blueprints, which allows you to basically design every race before it starts. You are the Director of the Horizon Festival after all. The campaign mode can be played either solo or in a four-player co-op where your friends can jump in and out of it as and when needed. You can even recruit drivers into your crew by defeating them in pre-determined races.
There’s now a Drone Camera that allows you to free-roam the Australian terrain while you get a view from above. This is excellent for picking up in game footage. My favourite new addition to the game happens to be the musical focus. There’s now eight new radio stations for you to choose from when playing the game (they unlock as the Festival builds) and if that isn’t enough tunes for you, you can ring up your favorite tracks courtesy the Groove Music integration.
Up until now, Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon have maintained somewhat of a distance, often coming together with various elemental overlaps. The dynamic weather system that was introduced as the main USP of Forza Motorsport 5 in 2013 was also showcased as a major feature for Forza Horizon 2 in 2014.
With Forza Horizon 3, Playground Games has worked really hard on separating the two properties. While Forza Horizon 3 does borrow the water dynamics system from FM6, the similarities between the two games pretty much ends at their physics engine. Horizon 3 aims to be a larger than life driving experience while Forza Motorsport 6 was all about the racing experience. If in the past the two games were ever mentioned to be similar, Forza Horizon 3 is going to put a significant number of miles between the two.
While the game is overall a lot of fun regardless of the pace you play at, it isn’t without some problems. For starters, the textures on the road would take a second to load IF the roads were wet. There was often some glitching on the textures the minute water was involved on roads. At several times, the racer I was asked to find and challenge to a race could be found with his car stationary and the game would refuse to pop-up the option to Challenge them.
The only way to get out of it would be to navigate to another race, finish it and then come back to the driver challenge. I should say though, since the game is currently yet to be released, it is very likely that these glitches would get fixed via the means of an update patch.
Unless you hate driving games, there’s hardly a reason for you to not buy Forza Horizon 3. It’s a game that’s as thoughtfully designed as it is beautiful. The vast open-world is bigger than before and a lot more varied. There’s opportunity to earn XP at every turn and a challenge awaiting round the corner. The races are super fun and completely customizable, the convoy system makes getting to destinations a lot more interesting and driving on the beach is an experience like no other Forza game has ever presented.
Forza Horizon 3 tries to sell itself on a world that’s “bigger than any before” but the beauty of the game is that it makes you want to explore this vast open world. Forza Horizon 3 flaunts a garage of over 350 cars, including the Halo Warthog. There will be 52 cars releasing as part of the monthly car packs and some 15 off cars as DLC exclusive. If you order the ultimate edition of the game, you get all the car packs, the DLC cars by default, but you also get early access to the game.
Forza Horizon 3 goes beyond just the campaign-based racing objectives, in the sense that there’s so much more to it than just the races. There’s speed-trap records to best, better air-times to be achieved and not to mention higher rankings to be pulled in. Forza Horizon 3 goes far beyond just the campaign, making it a seriously good investment regardless of the level of interest you have in racing games.